by Jason Sproule
|Blood, rain, mud and the swirling rainbow of used gasoline streamed
along the curb of a run down street in a bad corner of Manhattan. Kyusai
stumbled aimlessly, wracked with pain, through the raging night. The rain
pounded so furiously that the passers by on the street were unaware, either
because of the sheeting rain, or the fact that they were too wet to care,
that a seven foot man-cobra was slunking past them.
As his dim sight pierced through the gloom, he became aware of a massive, hulking structure rising out of the mist; the ruin of St. Damien's cathedral, still laying half destroyed and desolate in the shadows of a decrepid back street, towered ominously in the mists. Slowly, agonizingly, the battered warrior made his way toward the unlikely sanctuary.
His face was smashed, his teeth bent and his gums bleeding, and his lower back felt like there were six knives embedded in the flesh. It would heal quickly, but it burned like an inferno for the time being...and he had company. One of the gargoyles had followed him. Goliath? No, Goliath would not have reason to follow. Perhaps impetuous Brooklyn had decided it would be safer to be rid of him now rather than wait for more criminals to recieve the kind of justice Kyusai specialised in.
No matter, he thought, he still had more than enough fight left to deal with Brooklyn. With a sigh of exhasperation and resignation to his continued suffering, Kyusai shoved aside the great oak door and stepped into the dank air inside the cathedral.
Here and there, strewn about the floor, were shards of stone, bits of the slate roof, and several overturned pews. At the front of the aisle, a few hard but not uninviting pews remained upright, facing toward the great crucifix that still hung above the altar. Kyusai could hear the faint scratching of clawed feet on the cathedral roof, barely audible above the din of a billion raindrops. He slipped to his knees, more out of anguish than piety, and braced himself on his hands, listening to the quiet rush of air under the outstretched wings of his pursuer. He was in worse shape than the thought....perhaps Brooklyn wouldn't be such a push over after all...
"Kyusai....are you alright?"
NO! It was Angela! Kyusai whirled on his knee, almost falling over, which would have been an agonizing accident. He braced himself against the pew, "A..angela....what.. why did you follow me?"
Angela hesitated, she seemed unsure of herself, "Um...I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude...I just wanted to speak with you..."
Kyusai shifted slightly and winced in pain, holding his side as a few droplets of blood dripped to the cold floor. Angela was by his side in two steps, kneeling and trying to support him, "You're hurt!! You're bleeding...." she looked at the blood that had dropped onto her claws.
Angela looked sternly at him, "Nonsense, you're bleeding all over yourself and your ribs are broken." Without another word of coversation, she tore a small piece off her clothing and wiped up the blood from Kyusai's jagged teeth, helping him to prop up against a pew. He sighed and looked at her, his slim, serpentine eyes studying her face, "You are too kind to me...."
"You saved my life, it's the least I can do."
Kyusai sat back, letting his gaze drift up to the massive crucifix, barely visible through the darkness. Such a terrible image, Kyusai thought, why would it symbolize mercy and salvation?
"Ssso..." Kyusai began, "What isss it I can do for you?"
Angela knelt down, sitting on her feet, "Well....I wanted to ask you something..."
"It was something....something about the way you looked at me. You seemed to know me...but that's impossible..."
Kyusai sighed heavily and metamorphosed into Kagami. He took out a cigarette, lighting it and taking a long, slow drag before turning his good eye to regard Angela. He moved the little red ember away from his face, "I had a sister once...but she's dead now. You remind me of her; she was kind and forgiving, the way you are. You even look a bit like her...same hair, same eyes." Turning away, Kagami took another puff and stared at the floor, "When I look at you, I keep seeing her face."
"How did she die?"
"I already told you I used to be an assassin."
"I was a very good one. Finally, the rival gangs got sick of their thugs coming back home in body bags; they planted a bomb in my car. The trouble was, it was the day that my sister came to visit me. She was going to borrow the car and go buy some food at the market for me....she was always thinking of others, especially me....." Kagami leaned forward, rubbing his forehead, his cigarette dangling limply from his other hand, "I was standing ten feet away when the car exploded....I watched my sister burn to death. I lost my eye, my sister, and whatever was left of my soul that day."
Angela gently put her hand over Kagami's shoulder, "I'm so sorry...."
"Yeah" He said, taking another long drag, his hand shaking ever so slightly.
Angela gently squeezed his shoulder, trying in vain to somehow comfort him. He was so cold, so violent and full of rage, and yet he was so comepletely devastated by the memory of his sister's death. She felt a connection with him, and wanted desperately to help him, though she didn't know how she could.
"There's something I want to tell you..." Angela said quietly.
Kagami said nothing, merely turned back to her, moving a lock of his long black hair out of his eye.
"There's another connection between us...well, between Kyusai and me..."
As soon as she mentioned his name, Kyusai's shadowy form quivered and moved across the floor onto the wall, watching her intently, his red eyes burning intensely in the gloom.
Angela turned to Kyusai's black form, "My mother, Demona, has fallen in love with Acheron, and he with her....they've pledged themselves to each other...so I guess in a way, you're my brother."
"WHAT?!" Kyusai recoiled, sliding up the wall even further, "NO, THAT'SSS IMPOSSIBLE!!"
"It's true....my father witnessed it himself..."
"How could he?! HOW COULD HE BETRAY HER!?"
Angela was confused, "What? What do you mean? Betray whom?"
Kyusai shadowy form sunk to the floor in despair and anguish, "My mother, Katherine...how could he betray her memory?!"
"Acheron was married to a human?"
Kagami chimed in, sensing that Kyusai didn't wish to speak, "Yes. Her name was Katherine. Lady Katherine Von Richter. Acheron went by the name Siegfried Von Richter during his time on earth."
Angela jumped to her feet, "But..." she began, "When humans pledge themselves to each other, they vow to remain faithful till death separates them... and if Katherine has passed on, then he hasn't broken his vow.....think of it this way, Kyusai, their love is probably the first truly pure and decent thing my mother or your father have had in a long time."
Kyusai turned his blood red eyes toward her, ".....your mother...is she corrupted like my father?"
Angela shook her head, "She's...done a lot of wrong in her life. But I don't believe she's really evil! If she can love Acheron, and he can love her in return, then maybe neither of them is beyond redemption..."
Kagami and Kyusai sighed simultaneously, their forms combining back into the massive reptillian warrior. "You are perhapssss too merciful for your own good....father isss beyond redemption, he must be dessstroyed utterly!"
Clenching his fist, the massive creature looked up to the great stained glass window, its panes shining with the light of the pale moon. "Your mother, Demona....I mussst see her."
A look of concern swept over Angela's face, "Why?"
"I must see for myself if she isss as you say..."
"Kyusai, please, you can't hurt her..."
"Please!! Promise me!"
"I promise. She will not be harmed. Where can I find her?"
"...by day, she's a human called Dominique Destine..."
"She isss the CEO of Nightssstone Unlimited?!"
"Hmmmm. That makes our job much easier."
Kyusai turned to regard Angela's lovely features framed in the multicolored light of the stained glass. He smiled slightly and approached her, gently resting his hand on her shoulder, "Fear not, Angela...we will not fail you...not ever." Turning solemly, he strode out the door, his form fading into the shape of Kagami, his long green trenchcoat and flowing black hair swaying with his motion. Angela saw the small point of light burst from his match as he lit up another cigarette and called after him, "You be careful, alright?"
He stared for a moment, then noded his head slightly and disappeared into the driving rain.
"IDIOTS!! Why do I pay you fools when you can't even fullfill one simple request!?"
"With due respect, Ms. Destine, the request is hardly simple..."
"I DON'T WANT EXCUSES! I WANT RESULTS!! Money is no object; NOTHING can be allowed to hinder us, do you understand?!"
"Yes, Ms. Destine..."
The two dark suited figures bowed and retreated from Demona's office, not wanting to stay one moment longer in the presence of the firey red head. Angrily, Demona slammed down a glass and poured what probably amounted to six shots of scotch, grabbing it and downing half of it before she reached the massive picture window behind her desk. Exhaustedly, she rested her forearm against the glass and looked down into her drink, "My love...I will not fail you again...I will find a way to free you..."
"Uhhh...Ms. Destine...I'm afraid you have a visitor...." the voice of Demona's secretary broke into her thoughts through the speaker on her desk.
"For god's sake, Lauren, no more vistors! Tell whoever it is to go away..."
"Not an option, Ms. Destine..I'm sorry..." The fear in Lauren's voice was apparent, even to Demona; a look of surprise and confusion crossed her face as she turned from the window. The double oak doors of her office swung wide, revealing a tall, black haired man in a green trench coat. His right eye was covered by an eyepatch and in his gloved hand he held a long, thin sword.
"What is the meaning of this?!"
"My name is Kagami Shinosuke. I'm here for you, Demona." He said quietly.
"How do you know who I am!?" Demona exclaimed, dropping her scotch glass.
"A little angel told me..."
Demona growled and jumped to the side, grabbing a japanese Katana from its display stand beside her desk. She leaped and slashed hard at the intruder, but he brought his blade up and parried the attack easily, his dark brown eye cooly examining her. She screamed furiously and drew back, thrusting the katana blade with vicious speed. Kagami merely sidestepped and parried another slash as Demona turned back on him.
"You do have quite the temper, don't you? You're making this much harder than it has to be." Kagami said dispassionately,
Demona ignored him and attempted another thrust, but Kagami twisted his blade and slashed the sword from her grasp and sent it sailing across the room. The blade slammed into the floor, standing upright. Immediately, Kagami brought the point of his blade to her neck. Demona sneered angrily, "Well, do it!!"
Kagami shook his head, "Don't be so eager to die. I'm not here to kill you, though I probably should. I promised Angela I would not hurt you."
Demona was shocked, "You know Angela?!"
"Why did you come here...?"
Kagami smiled, "Perhaps this might shed some light on that for you..." as he spoke, his face and body began to morph and change, his skin becoming a shiny green snakeskin, his muscles bulging and his frame expanding. In a moment, a huge serpent-man, his body clad in black armor and his long sharp teeth gleaming in the light, stood before a bewildered Demona. The creature hissed at her, its long forked tongue slipping between its fangs, "I am Kyusai, the ssson of Acheron."
"LIAR!" Demona spat, her mind reeling with shock and confusion, "Acheron has no son!"
"Yesss, he doesss...Katherine bore him a ssson, and I am he."
Demona's mind was reeling, she put her hand over her forehead and stumbled back a step, "Why...why didn't he tell me..?"
"Acheron...isss not fond of me. He considers me responsible for my mother's death, as it was complications from my birth that ended her life."
"Did you come here to tell me this?" Demona was visibly shaken; she believed that Acheron had shared everything with her that night, as she had with him. It hurt that he had hidden this from her. Did he hide other things? What if it was all a lie? His love for her? Could he truly be so callous, so terribly false as that..? No, NO!! He had his reasons for keeping this to himself; the thought of Acheron's love, his vow to her, being false was too agonizing a thought to bear. No, she would not foolishly throw away this love she had found after so many lonely centuries. He had taken off his mask to her, swore to her by his own blood to love her for all eternity. She would not lose faith now.
Kyusai shook his head, "No. I must know, now that Acheron is gone, will you repent of your sssins and atone?"
"I will free Acheron from his prison, and together we will exact our revenge!" she growled.
"You fool. How do you propose to free him? Walk through the gatesss of Hell and drag him back?"
"If that is what I must do, yes." The tone of Demona's voice made it adamantly clear there was no exagerration here; all the hordes of Hell would not stay her from the attempt.
Kyusai said nothing; he seemed to be pondering over her, trying to decide what to think. At length, he turned to the window, "I should dessstroy you here and now; you are as corrupt as Acheron. Unfortunately, I made a promise to an angel, and I will not break it..."
With a running leap, Kyusai's massive form smashed through Demona's office window and sailed across the street, bounding off a rooftop before disappearing through an alley. The police sirens screamed on the street below as Lauren dashed into the room, "Ms. Destine, are you alright?!" she gasped.
Demona merely stood in silence, looking down at her palm where the dagger blade had marked her that night, sealing her pledge to her mate of eternal and undying love. She clenched her fist and clasped it against her chest with the other hand.
"Yes, Lauren, I'm fine..."
A cold wind blew into the room from the double oak doors, "Are you?"
The two women turned to see an ancient man in a black overcoat and hat standing in the doorway; his frail body was supported by a crooked wooden cane and his long white beard flowed out over his coat. His eyes and forehead were obscured in the shadow of his hat brim, "Have you found a way to bring Lord Acheron back from the abyss, then?"
"Sir, you can't just....Acheron?" Lauren turned to Demona, giving her a quizzical look.
Demona turned to Lauren, motioning for her to leave the room. Lauren looked at Demona a moment longer, then retreated out the door. The old man smiled, stroking his long white beard.
"Who are you? How do you know Acheron?"
The old man reached up and removed his hat, revealing his wizened face and the strange symbol branded into his forehead, "I am Cain, Acheron's humble servant, and yours, my lady," he said, bowing slightly.
"Why have you come here?"
"Why, to help you bring Lord Acheron back to this world, and to pave the way for his vengeance..."
Cain walked slowly to the window, peering out over the street below, "Hmm...well, are you a woman of your word? I imagine you must be if Lord Acheron thinks so highly of you..."
"What? What are you talking about, old man?" Demona asked peevishly.
Cain turned back to her, a glint in his faded gray eyes and a wide grin barely visible beneath his long beard and moustache, "You said you would walk through the gates of Hell to save him. Are you prepared to back up those words, my lady?"
"Splendid! Lord Acheron's faith in you is not misplaced, I see...Come, I will show you the way..."
The halls of Acheron's great ebon fortress echoed with the chanting of his loyal warriors, their voices harsh and guttural, rising toward a crechendo of ominous incantation. In the midst of them, standing over a massive pentragram drawn onto the stone floor in blood red candle wax, was Demona.
The light of a thousand candles danced off the gleeming steel of her polished armor, glinting off the hilt of the sword that hung at her side. The blade and the armor were not merely steel; they were enchanted weapons endowed with holy power. Demona shifted her weight slightly, unable to ignore the strange throbbing sensation that came from the sword. It was the Lightbringer Blade, an ancient weapon forged to destroy demons, and one of Acheron's most prized posessions.
It was a strange scene indeed; Demona stood, shining brilliantly, like a beacon on a black ocean, amid a mob of black robed figures. It occurred to her how ironic her situation was; they were using the darkest of magic to send a warrior armed with the holiest of weapons into the depths of Hell, all for the sake of rescuing a fallen angel....but not merely a fallen angel. She reflected for a moment, before the incantation had finished, on the depths of her feelings for Acheron. She realized as she tied her red hair back that she had never felt a single emotion more passionately in her entire millenial lifetime as her love for Acheron. She grasped the jewel encrusted hilt of the Lightbringer with grim determination and nodded to Cain.
"Powers of Darkness, hearken unto our command! Open unto us the mouth of Hell, and let no force impede us! By the Book of the Dead, we command thee, OPEN!!"
Demona shut her eyes as a terrible black mist began rising from the floor, enveloping her. She felt a rush of dread, sorrow, hatred, rage and madness crash over her body; she gritted her teeth and forced her mind to focus on Acheron as she was devoured by the mouth of Hell, its black void surrounding her in darkness.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing on a great barren hill overlooking the Hellscape. The sheer terrifying monstrosity of it was beyond anything she had ever imagined; a massive valley spread out before her, its floor seemingly alive with the writhing of tortured souls, their minds consumed forever in a wash of despair and torment. Amid them, a legion of black demons flew and crawled, creatures of every horrific description scrambled across the living nightmare, gorging themselves in an orgy of cruelty and never-ending violence. They tore and slashed at the lost souls, biting and gouging them with every tooth, claw, and spine on their grotesque bodies; no matter how much agony the hapless spirits sustained, they were never destroyed, no matter how many times they were ripped to shreds, they would reform and continue the cycle of torture. The sky was covered in an endless sea of swirling black nothingness, broken only occaisionally by the flaming streak of a fallen soul crashing down to its damnation.
Across the sea of horror, a great black fortress, its walls burning with a fire that gave off not light, but darkness, rose out of the chaos. It was Pandemonium, the stronghold of sin, the monolithic citadel of wickedness.
Demona turned from the horror and braced herself against the twisted trunk of a distorted tree, gagging violently and emptying her stomach. She gritted her teeth and grasped the hilt of the Lightbringer, letting out a furious scream and turning to face the hordes of Hell. She dashed across the hill, decapitating a demon that had scrambled toward her as she dove into the putrid air, gliding toward Pandemonium and Acheron. She soared higher and higher, steeling her heart for the coming battle; she would save Acheron or join him in doom forever.
A swarm of winged demons ascended from the fortress, screeching angrily as they flapped toward her like rabid bats. She folded her wings and dove through them, eviscerating one and slashing an arm off another. The screaming demons plummeted toward the sea of despair, their bodies being consumed in a holy flame. Sensing the remaining demons turning to give chase, Demona rolled over in mid fall, holding the holy blade toward them and willing a massive blast of power to burst from it. The demons became a flaming cloud of shattered pieces.
She turned just in time to raise her arms and fold back her wings as she crashed through a blood red window, descending like some dark, avenging angel onto the startled demons in the room below. She slammed down onto the back of a winged demon before it even turned to face her, burying the shining blade into its back and blasting it into a thousand burning fragments. The other demons backed away in horror, the terror in their cold black eyes apparent as they spotted the holy sword, "LIGHTBRINGER!!!" one of them screamed, its demonic voice almost shrill enough to shatter glass. "KILL HER, KILL HER!!!" the others screeched.
There was no time to think; in an instant, Demona was enveloped in a mob of desperate demons. Her blade spun and slashed, twisting through their grizzled flesh and spattering her, the walls, and the others with their blood. She weaved and dodged, running on instinct, through the frenzied mob, her blade singing as it tore through the demons as if they were made of paper.
In a few moments it was over; she turned around and slashed the blade over her head, cleaving the last demon in two from head to crotch. It's face twitched as its body split in two, sending a torrent of blood splashing onto the floor as it fell. She stood amid the carnage, breathing heavily, the ichor dripping off her body onto the corpse riddled floor. Only her armor and the Lightbringer remained unsullied, their holy power repelling the unclean demon's blood as oilskin repels water.
With grim determination, she dashed across the floor and slammed her shoulder into the great oak doors at the end of the room; they groaned in protest but did not give way. She stepped back and focused her energy into the sword, then slashed a large "x" into the wood, causing it to split and fall apart. She stepped through the doorway, holding the blade at the ready, prepared to fight anything and everything that might spring from the shadows.
A great throne room spread out before her, twisted and distorted by the chaos of the realm. It was a monument to arrogance; the throne was at least a hundred feet high, flanked on each side by gigantic spiral columns. Around the outer edges of the room was a gallery, presumably where the court of Hell came to congregate. This was the heart of evil, the inner sanctum of everything vile and impure. As her sight penetrated the gloom, she could see Acheron facing the throne, suspended by chains attached to his wrists. He hung just off the floor, his legs slightly bent and his head hanging low; he did not move.
Demona inched toward him, sensing something wasn't right; her eyes remained locked on Acheron as she got closer and closer.
"I'm impressed...I didn't think you'd have the wherewithal to even attempt this...dear Acheron never doubted you, of course..."
Demona turned suddenly, her weapon raised and ready. Behind her, looking quite nonchalant, was a tall, slender, red gargoyle with black hair and a large, smirking grin. She knew without introduction exactly who she was looking at. He brought his claw up to his pointed chin and regarded her with his black eyes, all the while maintaining that bemused smirk.
Demona crouched lower, preparing to leap forward and strike, "Release Acheron and we'll be on our way...otherwise..." she threatened, her voice unwavering.
Satan grinned wider, "I can see why Acheron likes you so much..."
Demona growled at him, curling her lip into a vicious sneer.
Suddenly, the Devil was behind her, his arms crossed, "Tell you what, Demona...did I mention I love that name?...I'll make you a deal. Ditch this washed-up has-been and join me; I can give you the world; you know that...think of the fun you could have exacting your vengeance on human kind! You could rule with an iron fist....all you have to do is give me your soul. Considering you're bound to wind up here anyway, you might as well be in my good books, right? Hehehe."
Demona raised the blade and slashed viciously at him, missing as he disappeared into a formless mist. Echoing laughter shook the room as the throne slowly began to disappear beneath a shadowy form. As the mist consolidated into a shape, Demona found herself standing before a gigantic demon; its head was a goat-like skull, as black as ink with long jutting spines protruding from it like the quills of a porcupine. Its eyes were burning red pits buried deep in the cavernous eye sockets. Its sinuey body was covered in tiny spikes, its fingers ended in long sharp claws and a rat-like tail swished back and forth between its legs. The Devil, his true form a horrific vision, dug his claws into the arm rests of his throne and leaned toward Demona, his eternal, mocking grin shining in the dim light, "Come now, you did not truly believe you could destroy me so easily, did you?"
Demona forced more power into the blade, ready to strike again. Satan merely laughed and waved his hand; black tentacles reached up from the floor and ensnared Demona's arms and legs, holding her motionless. She struggled in vain as the Devil reached down and picked up Acheron, breaking the chains that held him and dangling his limp form in front of his face.
Leaning back and resting his jaw on his hand, the Devil swung Acheron back and forth as he observed him, "Ah, torturing Acheron gets old so fast...his vaunted honor takes so much of the fun out of it...he refuses to scream, no matter what agony I dream up for him. This vengeance you two are planning intrigues me....regardless of whether you succeed, you are likely to provide me with many souls."
Demona said nothing, merely growled helplessly. At length, Satan let out a quiet chuckle and waved his free hand, dissipating the coils that bound Demona. "Very well, my dear, you may have your beloved Acheron back. I am very eager to see what chaos and pain you two can cause." With a flick of his wrist, the Devil tossed Acheron into Demona, nearly bowling her over. She caught him and cradled his head in her arms as he stirred slightly, taking hold of her. "Now," the Devil snorted, sitting upright in his throne, his tail swishing annoyedly, "get out of my realm before you make me vomit. You two are positively sacchrine when you get together..." A wave of his huge black claw instantly transported Demona and Acheron back to the throne room of Acheron's obsidian palace.
Slowly, Acheron began to stir. He slid his bare claw up Demona's arm as his armor began to re-form on his body. "My...love..." he started, coughing slightly, "You came for me..."
Demona smiled, tears filling her eyes, "Of course...you and I are one."
Acheron said nothing, merely smiled slightly and gazed into Demona's eyes. "Please, help me to my chamber..." he said at length. Demona slung his arm over her neck and lifted him, helping him walk up the monumental staircase to the upper fortress floors.
The bedchamber was dark and dusty; it looked as if it had not been opened in years, perhaps centuries. Demona looked about for a moment, wondering why it had been shut up and unused for so long. She moved over to the large four poster bed and drew aside the heavy curtains. The bed itself was relatively dust free, having been protected for so long by the thick drapery. She gently laid Acheron down on the bed and moved to the large french doors at the end of the room. As she cast aside the drapes and opened the doors, bright moonlight flooded into the room, illuminating everything in a pale glow.
Acheron was watching Demona's every movement, examining the way the moonlight caressed her lithe body. She was stunning, he thought, more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. Demona spotted a large oil painting hung above the dark, vacant fireplace across from the foot of the bed and moved cautiously to it, examining it carefully and then gently touching it; the painting showed Acheron in his human guise, looking very regal in a blue suit of the 16th century, standing behind a fine looking young woman clad in a beautiful lace and silk gown. As she sat quietly posing for the artist, the young woman's face wore a look of total peace and happiness, utter contentment and kindness; even Demona was awed by her, "This is her...your Katherine?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," came the gentle reply.
"As are you."
Demona turned to face Acheron, who had removed his mask and placed it on the side table. He reclined against the headboard, his piercing crimson eyes locked on her. Without a word, Demona moved to the bedside and sat down; Acheron immediately slid his hand against her cheek and kissed her passionately, his red armor melting away as he did so. She returned his embrace and lost herself in his kiss, but suddenly the thought of the innocent and pure woman whose painted gaze fell upon them both sent a pulse of shame and sorrow through her. She pulled away and turned from him, "But...this was her bed...is it right for us to...?"
Acheron looked at her, then at the painting, "My Katherine taught me many things, but more than anything, she taught me how precious love is...the love you and I share is more precious than anything on earth, than anything in existence...she would understand. What we share, you and I, is never wrong...no matter what we were...what we are...our love is good and pure, I know it."
Demona turned to Acheron, examining the forms of his reptilian face; she saw truth there, truth and honor and love. She reached for him and melted into his embrace as their lips met in the pale moonlight. Acheron ran his razor sharp claws down her back, their sharp tips teasing her flesh and making her shiver. Gingerly, he slid her top over her head, revealing her full, sensuous breasts. She let out a gasp of pleasure and ran her own claws down his muscular back as his kisses found their way down her chest, exploring, kneading with tenderness and dexterity.
Together they fell into a tide of passion, deep and intense, each expressing to the other a love beyond words, beyond the bounds of mere physical intimacy. Their souls intertwined in a psychic embrace, they made love fiercely, like the warriors they were. Finally, locked together mind and body, they exploded into an overwhelming climax, each shuddering in sheer fervent, impassioned ecstacy before passing out, exhausted, into the other's arms.
Hours later, Acheron lay awake as Demona slept peacefully, her head cradled against his chest. He stared out the window at the moon as thoughts of love and hate battled for primacy in his mind. He had not felt so at peace since his life with Katherine, but still Goliath's betrayal nagged him. The blight on his honor must be avenged, the traitor must die.
Finally, Acheron slid out from beneath Demona, trying not to wake her as he did so. He began pacing the room, his armor reforming onto him. Demona began to stir; she rubbed her eyes, looking so uncharacteristically like an innocent child, and gazed up at Acheron, "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry, I did not mean to wake you....I am...restless..."
"Yes...Goliath must be made to suffer for his betrayal...he has selfishly robbed this world of its cleansing, taken from the wretched mortals of the world their one true chance at peace. Furthermore, he betrayed his vow and took you from me!! For this...for this he will suffer greatly. But what punishment is fitting for an outrage such as his?"
Demona smiled, reclining seductlively against the silken sheets, "Why not make him beg for mercy as you crush the life from his body?" she purred, her voice low.
Acheron smiled at her, "No, my dear...that would be too easy...too uninspired. No, I want Goliath's agony to be a work of art..."
Demona grinned, her long, sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight, "Then take from him what he took from you. It's poetic justice..."
Acheron chuckled cruelly to himself, "Yes...and I know just how my vengeance will be carried out." he said, a sneer curling his lips. Demona rested her chin against her hand, "How is that my love?" she asked, looking into his eyes.
"Patience...all will be revealed in time."
Demona slinked from the silken sheets and strode across the room, pressing her bare flesh against Acheron and wrapping her arms around his neck, "I wholeheartedly agree..." she said softly, her lips gently contacting his, "first things first..."
"It's bugging you, isn't it?"
"No...why do you say that?"
"You're a terrible liar....I can tell these things, you ought to know that by now"
"Yes...," Goliath said, sighing, "I suppose I should."
Goliath and Elisa stood atop the parapet of the castle tower, watching the others glide off into the night as the cool breeze played around them. Elisa brushed a lock of her raven hair out of her face and looked up at Goliath with her chocolate brown eyes, "It's that Kyusai guy, isn't it? Why don't you just let me arrest him? Well, the human him, anyway..."
Goliath looked down at Elisa with the expression of overprotective concern she knew so well, "Elisa, stay away from him, he's far too dangerous..."
"I'm a cop, Goliath! The guy has killed...what, fifteen, twenty people? And he's only been in New York for a day!"
Goliath crossed his arms, "I don't like his methods any more than you do, Elisa, but the fact remains he is far too much for any of the NYPD to handle, even you! Besides that, we can't ignore the fact that he saved Angela's life...and perhaps the lives of many more innocent people."
Elisa frowned, not particularly happy with Goliath's answer, "So? What's the problem then?"
Goliath looked into Elisa beautiful eyes, then back out at the glowing lights of the New York night, "I...don't know...something feels wrong."
Elisa sighed and rolled her eyes, moving in front of Goliath and jumping up, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. Goliath took a step back, but quickly wrapped his arms around her and returned her kiss, running his massive hands up her back and losing himself in her warm, sweet lips. Slowly, Elisa drew back and looked deeply into Goliath's dark eyes, "You worry too much...Acheron is roasting down below, Demona...well, she's still out there, but how many times have we kicked her butt? And this new guy at least says he's on our side. I'd say things are looking up, wouldn't you, lover...?"
Goliath smiled in spite of himself; somehow, Elisa could always make him smile, no matter how bad things were, her voice, her eyes, her hair, her scent all made the world seem insignificant, unthreatening. She felt like home.
"Whadda ya say we skip patrol tonight and take a walk in the park? I hear it's lovely this time of night..."
Goliath laughed, "no you don't!", he thought to himself, "but you're due on duty in twenty minutes, and I must protect the city..." he protested weakly.
"Who deserves a night off more than you and me? I'll call in sick and you can just tell Owen to let the others know you're out for a while..." Elisa suggested, a wry smile curling her full lips. Goliath tried to think of all the reasons he should say no, but they were overpowered by the look in his love's eyes and the sweet smell of her perfume. "Mmmph." He grunted, "Alright, but just this once!" he said with mock seriousness. Leaning over the tower's ledge, he spotted Owen passing just below in the courtyard; after recovering from his momentary surprise at such a coincidence, he called down to him and asked if he would convey their messages. Owen nodded and turned back to his business with what Elisa could have sworn was a bemused, knowing smile.
Elisa jumped into Goliath's arms as she had so many times before, wrapping her arms around his thick neck, "Take me away, big guy," she said, smiling. Goliath smiled back and took a running leap off the tower, feeling as light as a feather. Elisa let out a yelp of joy and excitement that made Goliath's blood run hot. He sailed through the night air, speeding his way to the dark patch in mid-Manhattan that was Central Park.
They landed softly in the middle of a large field surrounded by trees and bordered on one side by a still pond. The moon shimmered on the clear water, its reflection nearly undisturbed except for the slight ripples caused by the gentle night breeze. Goliath set Elisa down gently, as if she were made of glass. She smiled and took his hand, walking slowly toward the pond, "It's a beautiful night..." she said wistfully. Goliath squeezed her hand gently, "It is...but your beauty outshines it all..."
Elisa looked up at Goliath, then sat down beside the pond. Goliath, still holding her hand, sat down close to her, wrapping his wings around her shoulders. Elisa leaned against his firm chest, gazing out over the placid waters and letting out a quiet sigh of contentment, "It's as if this night was made for us...just us, all alone here..."
Goliath shut his eyes, listening to the still night and feeling the gentle rise and fall of each sweet breath Elisa took. She nestled against him, coyly running her fingertips over his chest, feeling enveloped by his warmth. It was strange for her to feel this way; usually she was the tough-as-nails New York cop. She had to be hard, tough, thick skinned...she had to take whatever the scumbags, the pimps and the junkies could throw at her and still come back for more, but now the shell was peeled away, now every tender, passionate feeling she'd had to bury was coming to the surface. She felt so safe, so validated, so loved in Goliath's arms that she never wanted to leave them. She slid her hand against his cheek and kissed him deeply, passionately, trying to tell him what her words could never express.
Goliath kissed her as passionately and as eagerly as she kissed him, but he drew back, sensing that she wanted to go further, "..Elisa...we...you're a human and I'm a gargoyle...I mean...what if I hurt you?"
Elisa held onto his arms, a sad, longing, loving look in her eyes, "You've never hurt me, Goliath, you never would, I know that..."
Goliath looked deeply into Elisa's eyes, every fibre of his being consumed with conflict as he struggled to know what he should do; his heart told him to take Elisa in his arms and make passionate love to her, to stay with her forever, to cherish every precious moment he had with her, yet his mind threw one stumbling block after another before him. She was human, he was a gargoyle, it wasn't right, they couldn't make it work, what about her family, what about the clan, her duties, his responsiblities, one after another the objections came forward to battle with his passions. "E..Elisa, our worlds are so different..we are so different!"
"Does it matter?!" she asked pointedly, her dark eyes pleading with him.
Goliath hesitated for a moment, "No...no!" he said at last, brushing a lock of Elisa's hair from her eyes, "I love you, Elisa Maza, I love you with all my heart and soul!" With that, all hesitation was gone; Goliath leaned forward, gently laying Elisa down against the cool grass, his hands softly caressing her sides as he kissed her silky neck. Elisa let out a sigh of pleasure, running her fingertips over his back, tilting her neck to allow Goliath's lips to roam free.
Elisa chanced to open her eyes to look at the moon, but was startled to see the growing outline of a massive winged body plummeting toward her. She let out a startled yelp and scrambled out from under Goliath. He jolted back, "Elisa, I'm sorry, did I hurt you?!" She shook her head and stared wild eyed at the sky, pointing up. "What the...!?" Goliath turned just in time to see a large form plunge into the middle of the lake, creating a massive splash. Goliath turned to Elisa with a look of complete incredulity on his face, "Was that a person!?" He asked, bewildered. "I think it was a gargoyle!!" Elisa replied, looking every bit as incredulous as Goliath.
Goliath stood up, hesitating for a moment and casting a longing, defeated look at Elisa. She sighed and shrugged her shoulders, putting her coat back on. Goliath turned and dived into the water, the disappointment and irritation clearly visible on his face.
Moments later, Goliath emerged from the pond dragging a massive body with him. He laid it out on the grass and he and Elisa knelt beside it; He was a blue gargoyle, a little bigger than Goliath and heavily muscled. His long, black hair ran half way down his back and long, slender horns similar to Brooklyn's jutted from his forehead. He looked as if he'd been beaten savagely; his nose was bleeding, his face cut, and he was wounded in at least a dozen places. He coughed and sputtered, blood and water running from his mouth. Slowly, his eyelids opened. "ACHERON!!" he snarled suddenly, slamming his fist into Goliath's chin and sending him onto his back. The blue gargoyle got up to attack Goliath again, but suddenly stopped, looking around at his surroundings, "Wh..what?!" he said, looking confused, "Where am I?!"
Goliath leapt to his feet and grabbed the gargoyle by his shoulders, "Stop, I am not your enemy!" he snarled.
The blue gargoyle struggled a moment, then stopped, looking at Goliath more carefully, "Forgive me...I..I seem to be confused..."
Elisa suddenly stepped forward, resting her hand on the newcomer's arm, "Did you say Acheron just now? Did I hear you right?"
The gargoyle looked down at her and nodded, "Yes...a man...a creature named Acheron has attacked my people and the humans under our protection...he did this to me...told me to tell Goliath that every river would run red with blood if he did not come to face him. Tell me, please, do you know this 'Goliath'?!"
Elisa and Goliath looked at each other, shock and fear gripping their hearts like claws of ice cold steel.
An hour later, the stranger lay in an infirmary bed at the Eerie building and several doctors, the clan, Elisa, Xanatos and Owen stood attentively around him, waiting to hear his story.
"What did you say your name was?" Elisa asked, trying to recall if he had said it in all the confusion in the park.
"I didn't...but the humans call me Roland; I am leader of a clan of gargoyles that has lived in Romania for three centuries. We got along peacefully with the humans in our remote village, living side by side happily for all that time...until he came."
"Yes...a few days ago, a great black fortress appeared on the hill overlooking our village...most of the humans were terrified, and more than a few of our own were too. The elders thought it was an evil omen, and they were right; just after the castle appeared, horsemen in black armor, led by a cloaked man in blood red armor and wearing a white mask rode forth from the castle and began slaying the people...they...killed my friends...they killed my mate..my love.."
Elisa instinctively put her hand over Roland's shoulder, "It's alright, you don't have to go on if you don't want to..."
Rolan shook his head, "No, I must..." he sat up, grunting in pain but waving off the doctors who tried to assist him, "Acheron...his power is immense...he incinerated three of my rookery brothers in one blast...just destroyed them as if they were nothing...I tried to fight him, but he defeated me easily. He didn't kill me...he just stood over me, laughing...he told me to find you, Goliath, and deliver his message to you...I got up again and lunged at him, wanting to tear his head from his shoulders, but he struck me away like I was a weakling child!" Roland recounted, his fists clenched in burning rage.
"I tried, but he just struck me aside...I suppose he must have transported me while I was laying unconscious...and I dropped into your pond in the park..."
Roland looked up at Goliath, "He told me that my clan, my village, and the world would suffer unless you go to face him, Goliath...please, help me save what few of my clan still live."
Goliath was visibly shaken; he knew the extent of Acheron's power first hand. More than once he'd been on the recieving end of those steel fists. Now Acheron was back and more innocent people would die unless he did something. Goliath turned to Xanatos, "I must get to Romania...please, can you help?" Xanatos nodded, "Of course, Goliath. I know as well as you do how dangerous Acheron is."
"Ye know it's a trap, lad..." Hudson grumbled.
"Yes...I know...but what choice is there? I cannot let Acheron slaughter innocent people because of me! Perhaps...perhaps if I surrender myself to him, he will not harm anyone else..."
Elisa shook her head, "Not a chance, big guy! We're all in this with you!" The clan nodded and grumbled their agreement. Goliath clenched his fist, "Blast it, Elisa! For once, please listen to me! You saw for yourself how powerful Acheron is! I don't want all of you getting killed because of his hatred of me!"
Elisa leaned over the bed, staring hard into Goliath's eyes, "We're all going with you, Goliath, whether you like it or not!" Goliath growled frustratedly, knowing that there wasn't a chance of changing Elisa's mind once she'd made it up. Suddenly, Roland interjected, putting his hands on Elisa and Goliath's shoulders, "My friends, please! We should not be fighting each other...Acheron is enough of an opponent for all of us!"
Brooklyn stepped forward, "He's right, Goliath...I know you're worried about us, but we're not about to let you just give up your life! We're a clan; we stand together, and we fall together, if need be! You know that."
Goliath looked around at all of them, then crossed his arms resignedly, "You all know full well how dangerous Acheron is....but..I cannot make descisions for you. I am lucky to have you as my friends and my clan..."
Broadway smiled, "That's the spirit, Goliath! We'll take this sucker down once and for all!"
The others roared in approval and Elisa moved around the bed and hugged Goliath's neck. Roland smiled, "Inspiring...perhaps there is a chance after all...thank you, all of you!"
Xanatos had been deep in thought, tugging gently on his beard, "You know...I think there's someone else who might provide us with a certain edge..."
Roland looked to Xanatos, "...someone else?"
Xanatos grinned mischeviously, "A certain recent aquaintance of yours, Goliath...Kyusai."
Roland frowned momentarily, "Who..is this Kyusai?"
Goliath turned to him, a concerned look on his face, "He is the son of Acheron...he despises his father. He came here to New York a short time ago in search of him."
"Can we trust him?"
"I don't know...he's dangerous, unpredictable..."
Suddenly, Angela broke in, "Father, I went to see him after the fight..." Brooklyn nearly fell over backwards, "Angela!"
Angela waved him off, "I followed him; we talked for quite a while...I believe we can trust him. He's not as bad as he seems...he's just...scarred. He told me about his past, so I understand why he's so driven. Besides all that, in a way, he's my brother..."
Goliath was shocked; Brooklyn's jaw was nearly on the floor. The young gargoyle put his hand over Angela's shoulder, "Angela...you can't be serious! Just because Acheron and Demona are shacked up together doesn't make this freakshow your half brother!"
"I think it does..." Angela said sternly, crossing her arms and turning away from him. Brooklyn's mouth hung open; he struggled for the right words, trying to avoid having Angela give him the cold shoulder for the next week. "Alright!" he said finally, "alright, I trust you...I'll help you find him...okay?" Angela smiled warmly and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly, "Thank you, Brooklyn...it means a lot to me."
"Whpishhhhhh!!" Lex hissed under his breath. Broadway suppressed a chortle as Brooklyn pulled down his eyelid and stuck his tongue out at Lex.
Roland's blood red eyes scanned the group approvingly, "With such good and loyal allies, how can we fail? We will make Acheron pay for every drop of innocent blood he has spilled!"
Goliath sighed, his arms crossed and a distinctly un-optimistic look on his face. Xanatos produced a cellular phone from his pocket and quickly dialed a number, "Captain? Yes, this is Xanatos. Do you have the target in sight?"
The was a short pause as Xanatos listened to the voice on the other end of the line, "...very good, Captain. Approach the subject with extreme caution and in a non-agressive manner. Do you copy that? Non-agressive! Tell him to come to the Eerie building; we'll be waiting."
Lex grinned, "I should have known you'd be keeping tabs on that guy."
Xanatos smiled wryly as he slid his phone back into his jacket, "Of course. I keep track of everything that happens in my city."
Everyone looked to Goliath; he stood stoically, looking back at them. "Alright, everyone get some rest. Xanatos, if you would, please take us all aboard the plane while we are still asleep; we cannot afford to lose a moment in this battle with Acheron...we must defeat him in one night, or all is lost..."
Outside the window, the first rays of the morning sun were slicing through the cool night air, shining like a million diamonds among the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. Inside the infirmary, eight gargoyle faces froze into cold stone masks, each one expressing a different emotion. For Elisa, it was Goliath's face that worried her; it bore a look of more fearsome dread than she had ever seen in her life.
"I hope you're wrong about this one, big guy," Elisa sighed, "Though you rarely are..."
The sun began to sink below the horizon as Xanatos' plane cruised high over the Eastern European countryside. Inside, the gargoyles were just awakening from their stone sleep to the steady whirring of the propellers outside; Goliath was the first to emerge, throwing off his stone shell with slightly less of a roar than usual. The others in turn shed their stone crust, shaking their wings and stretching their muscles, shards of stone flying about the cargo bay of the massive aircraft. Elisa, clad in full kevlar body armor, racked the slide on an Mp5 submachinegun; several other weapons including two Beretta 9mms, several fragmentation grenades, and a large combat knife hung from her gear harness. "Glad I had a few favors to call in from SWAT..." she remarked to herself, inspecting her weaponry and gear with a smirk. Aloof from the rest of the group, Kyusai sat quietly, ignoring everyone and leaning thoughtfully on his sword. Roland stretched and rolled his shoulder, making sure that his wounds had healed, "Grrr.. much better," he muttered to himself.
Once the clan had fully awakened, Xanatos, clad in his red battle armor, outlined the plan, "Alright, listen up!" he said briskly, "The fortress is seven clicks from the drop point, through these woods. We're going to approach from the west side and try to enter here, through the side gate. Ideally, we want to try and surprise Acheron, so avoid contact with anyone, if at all possible."
Brooklyn crossed his arms, looking reserved, "So, once we find Acheron, then what do we do? We won't have another chance like the one we had last time....we're going to have to confront him at some point..."
"I doubt you'll sssurprise him," Kyusai broke in, "My father isss not one to be caught unawaressss, dessspite your luck the firssst time you faced him."
Goliath nodded solemnly, "I agree...he is holding all the cards this time...just as he wants it."
"I will be the one to dessstroy my father! I have waited half my life for a chance to sslay him....I will not fail now."
"And what about Demona, lad? Ye've not locked horns with her before..." Hudson interjected, somewhat annoyed at what appeared to be youthful bravado. Kagami hissed quietly at him, his forked tongue slipping between his teeth, "I faced her a short time ago...she wassss nothing...I would have killed her then, if not for my promise to Angela..."
Hudson growled, "Aye? And did she 'ave a chance te use her sorcery on ye?"
Kyusai stared unwaveringly into Hudson's one good eye, "Sorcery does not concern me, only Acheron's death matters."
Xanatos broke in, "Alright, save it for the badguys!", he barked, seeming somewhat less collected than usual, "We're nearing the drop point..anyone who needs a chute, put it on, anyone else, get ready to fly..."
Elisa quietly took her pace beside Goliath, "I think everyone's edgier than they're letting on...," she whispered. Goliath nodded, his arms still crossed, "I'm glad we were able to convince Angela to stay home with Bronx..."
Elisa grinned, "You know she's going to be furious with you when we get back, don't you? She might not speak to you for a week."
Goliath smiled slightly, closing his eyes and picturing Angela's irate expression as she would growl about not being allowed to go, being treated like a child or some other such complaint; suddenly, his smile faded, "I'll gladly listen to every word...if we get back."
Elisa rested her head against Goliath's arm, "We've been through the fire before, we'll make it through this too." Goliath quietly scooped up Elisa, preparing to leap out the now open rear door of the cargo plane; he couldn't help but be reminded of what started out as a magical evening, but led to yet another nightmare. With a running leap, he dove out the door and spread his wings wide, spiraling downward and looking for the landing point Xanatos had marked on his map. One after another, the gargoyles leaped from the plane, spreading their wings and soaring through the chill night air. Finally, Kyusai dove from the plane, a large, modified cargo parachute strapped securely around him. He plunged fearlessly through the air, flashing past Brooklyn and Lexington as they spiraled down toward the ground. The two startled gargoyles looked first at Kyusai's rapidly shrinking figure, then at each other, "Geeze....is there anything that scares that lunatic?!" Brooklyn said, shaking his head slightly. Lex, who had continued to watch Kyusai fall, "I don't know, but he'd better open his chute fast, or he's gonna be a crater in about fifteen seconds..."
Wide eyed, Brooklyn watched as Kyusai waited until he was within about a hundred and fifty feet of the ground before pulling his chute, cutting it loose after falling only about a hundred twenty five feet and free-falling the rest of the way, slamming into the ground hard, but apparently unharmed as he dashed forward, drawing his blade and scanning for any possible threat, "Uh, Lex...what do they call that style of jumping...doesn't the army do that?"
Lex swallowed hard, "It's called HALO...high altitude, low opening...only they do it over water..."
"Shit..." was all Brooklyn could manage as he folded back his wings and dove, his rookery brother close behind him.
In a few minutes, the group had landed and assembled in a small clearing; standing close together, they faced outward, scanning the dark, mist enshrouded woods, listening for anything that might be lurking in its shadowy depths. Elisa fitted her night vision goggles, scanning the tree line with even greater acuity than the gargoyle's natural night vision could manage, "Coast looks clear..." Xanatos, his helmet now fitted, nodded slowly, "I don't see anything on my scanners either..."
Roland moved forward, "Follow me, my friends, and be wary...Acheron's warriors could be anywhere..." The others followed behind, first Kyusai, then Goliath, then the others, moving along through the dark forest, their eyes and ears constantly scanning for any movement. "I have a bad feeling about this..." Lex said quietly. Broadway frowned, "Lex, can you go five minutes without quoting Star Wars?"
Kyusai snarled quietly, "The runt isss right...I ssssense evil...all around usss..."
Goliath reached out into the darkness, feeling with his ki, using the technique taught to him by the very foe he would soon face, "Yes...I sense it too...something very dark...very evil..."
Roland, who had been leading the group, suddenly stopped; looking around, he gasped quietly, "Oh no..." The group had wandered into a half overgrown cemetery, its headstones covered in moss, some fallen over, some cracked, others leaning slightly; not one of them could escape the overwhelming feeling of dread and dark, malicious power that hung over the graveyard like a shroud. Suddenly, the night was split by a blood curdling scream; the group turned to see Elisa, her face pale, looking down at her leg. A rotted, withered hand hand grasped ahold of her ankle from out of the ground; she carefully pointed her Mp5 at it and fired a burst, splitting it apart into a fetid cloud of corruption. From out of the night, the sounds of moans mingled with cracking twigs and rustling bushes wafted ominously toward the warriors. Broadway and Lexington jumped up, stepping aside as more corpses grasped at their legs from under the earth. "SHIT!! What the hell is going on here?!" Brooklyn snarled, kicking the head off another zombie as it clawed its way out from under the stinking earth.
Roland growled, punching the head off a walking corpse that had shambled at him from the shadows, "Is this Acheron's doing?! He makes the dead to walk the earth!?"
Goliath snarled, slicing a zombie in half with his tail, "No! He is powerful, but he is not a wizard...this is Demona's doing!"
Elisa opened up with her submachinegun, lighting up the night with blazing fury, her bullets ripping through the chests of several more zombies, sending them to the ground in pools of fetid rancor. More walking dead began to slink from their graves, moaning and reaching for the living gargoyes; Xanatos vaporized several with his arm laser, "I think it's time we moved on," he said, punching a hole in another's chest, then smashing its head off with the other hand. Hudson slashed another across the chest, then buried his blade in its skull, putting his foot on its chest and shoving it off, "Aye, we're wasting time here..." Lex jumped from foot to foot, trying to shake off the putrid ooze that was covering his fist, "And this is DISGUSTING!!"
Ahead, Kyusai snarled angrily, his blade ripping through zombies left and right, spraying blood and rotted flesh in every direction, "Fine, enough of thisss!!" Taking a step back, he extended his open hand and roared as he sent a blast of white hot energy ripping through several zombies and cut a wide swath of burnt destruction through the forest two hundred meters long. "Let'sss GO!" he growled impatiently, punching a zombie's head into a fine mist as he charged ahead. Xantos sighed and shook his head, "Why is subtlety always the first thing to go out the window in these situations...?"
They dashed ahead, shoving the unsteady corpses off their feet as they passed. Slowly, the sounds of moaning died off into the background and the forest closed in around them once again. Moving quickly, the group dodged around the trees, staying close, but keeping some distance between them, their senses keen, searching for anything that might ambush them from the shadows. The palpable sense of evil hung in the air all around them; powerful scorcery was at work, and they all knew it.
Roland walked just ahead of Goliath, scanning the quiet woods as he moved, "Forgive me, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with Miss Maza...your daughter...Angela? Sounds like a fiery youngster" he said quietly over his shoulder. Goliath looked at Roland, then back to the gloomy woods, "She is...she's very special. Do you have any children?"
Roland, seemed to flinch at the question, "I...did not have the chance...my mate and I had not yet concieved an egg before she was killed..."
Goliath sighed quietly, chastising himself for being so indelicate, "I'm sorry...what was her name?"
"She had no name...I called her my Angel of the night."
Silence reigned; Goliath walked a few more paces, then tapped Roland's shoulder, crouching down. Roland turned to him and was about to say something when Goliath silenced him with a claw to his lips, "I sense something..." he whispered. Ahead, Kyusai had also stopped and taken cover behind a large bramble patch, his eyes searching the gloom for any sign of a silent enemy.
Suddenly, Roland tackled Goliath to the ground just as a blinding flash of red light ripped through the air where his head had just been. "Sorcery??" he asked naievely, "I saw a red light on your forehead...."
"Get down, everyone!" Goliath growled, trying to be heard by the others without giving away their position to the unseen foe, "It's a sniper using a beam rifle..."
Roland looked confused, but remained cautiously hidden behind a fallen log, "Sniper? Beam rifle?"
Nearby, Elisa lay against a tree, cautiously peering out into the shadows, "I think I know where he is..." she whispered to Goliath, "he shouldn't have used a beam weapon..." Goliath was about to ask why, but Elisa had crawled away behind another tree and rested her Mp5 against a low branch, cautiously flicking the selector switch to three round burst, "Here goes..." she breathed.
Three rapid cracks sounded as the weapon spat fire into the night; Elisa dove behind the tree again, not waiting to see if the bullets found their mark. The sound of a startled yell, a crashing in the bushes, the blood curdling snarl from Kyusai and the resulting shrill, albeit short, screaming of his victim confirmed that the shots had flown true; once again stillness claimed the night. Goliath could see Elisa grinning through the gloom, "His beam traced right back to his position...pointed out exactly where he was hiding."
Behind her, Brooklyn snarled, "Great....first zombies, now snipers...what next, ninjas?" Broadway curled his lip in frustration, "It could be anything...Acheron and Demona are bad enough on their own, but together..."
"Just like Dezzy and Lucy, aren't they? What a pair..." Brooklyn said, his voice dripping with his characteristic sarcasm. Lex smirked, "Yeah, but Lucy and Dezzy weren't as likely to kill you..."
The group continued to walk quietly through the murky undergrowth, the occaisonaly hoot of an owl or the nocturnal scratchings of some animal would make them freeze, statues of aprehension and readiness. After another half hour of walking, they neared the edge of the forest, taking up their positions concealed behind fallen trees, bushes and stumps. Before them, looming ominously against the darkened sky, stood Acheron's obsidian fortress, just as Goliath remembered it. The massive form, black and cold, sent a shiver through all of them save Roland and Kyusai, both of whom had dashed ahead, eager to confront Acheron.
"Wait, damnit..." Goliath growled under his breath as he watched the two creep up and hide behind a rock. The Fortress seemed deserted; no guards were visible on the side gatehouse. High in the castle, though, on the other side of the courtyard, Goliath could see the warm, soft flickering of candle light; it was the library, Goliath knew, Acheron's sanctuary. Many times during his stay with Acheron, Goliath would find himself in the library, quietly reading in the upper balconies as Acheron would glide in through the doors below, across the marble floor to the massive pipe organ that stood below the great stained glass window. As the moonlight flooded in through the tall side windows and the multi-coloured panes of the stained glass cast their eerie glow over him, Acheron would sit at his organ and begin to play a haunting melody. Goliath supposed that he must know virtually every masterpiece ever written for the organ, and he played many, but there was one tune that he played more than any other: a powerful, dramatic piece, forceful, yet with a hint of sadness woven into its melody. Many, many times the two warriors would sit alone, not speaking, not even seeing one another, though aware of each other's presence, and share that haunting, melancholy music. The memory sent a shiver of guilt through Goliath, though he shook it off and crept forward, eyes locked on the gatehouse ahead for any sign of movement.
Nothing moved; only the cool night wind disturbed the stillness and silence, rustling and whispering in the leaves that concealed the clan and their allies from view. In unision and with lightning speed they dashed across the open ground separating them from the outer fortress wall. In a breathless instant, they sped across the expanse and flattened themselves against the wall, all but Kyusai; he leapt through the air and slashed across the door, slamming his shoulder against it and crashing through it a spit second later. Landing on the floor inside, he brandished his weapon and scanned for an opponent; he saw nothing, only black walls and murky shadows.
Roland followed, sniffing the air tentatively, searching for any sign of danger. Slowly, cautiously, the group moved among the shadows toward the castle's outer wall; nothing moved but them. Roland looked up at a window above them, its pane left slightly ajar. "There's our way inside..." he whispered; the others nodded, following his lead up the wall. Elisa hung off of Goliath's neck, reminiscing for a moment about the night she first met him. She remembered being terrified, yet at the same time enjoying the feel of his muscles as they rolled against her chest and the soft, earthy scent of his hair. It was the same again, fear and fascination merged into one vivid experience. She allowed her head to rest softly against the back of his, closing her eyes for a moment, trying to keep at bay the fear that this would be the last time she and he would be together. One by one, the gargoyles and their allies slipped onto the marble floor, immediately shrinking back into the shadows, peering nervously out into the moonlit hallways and corridors that stretched out into the castle's dark heart. Only silence stared back at them, penetrating, overwhelming them with its unwavering gaze. Roland moved first, boldly dashing along the halway, the faint sound of his talons tapping the marble echoing back at them through the long, drafty halls of the black fortress. Brooklyn followed him, then Goliath and Elisa, the others forming a chain with Kyusai at the rear, watchful for any movement that might follow them.
Slowly, wafting its way into the edges of their perception, came the soft melody of a classical march, its beat slow and ominous, low, deep, throaty notes played on a pipe organ. As if calling to them, beconing them, the music became louder as they walked deeper into the darkened fortress, their steps keeping time to the beat of the ancient melody.
Suddenly, the movement changed to a lighter tune, upbeat and stirring, lighthearted, as they entered a massive hall, its vaulted roof supported by huge black columns; strangely, there was not a stick of furniture in the middle of the room. Only a few sofas and chairs lined the edges of the room. It was as if the hall had been cleared in preparation for a dance.
Suddenly, as the organ dove into a low, bellowing note, a dagger zipped from the shadows and slammed into Elisa's submachinegun, penetrating almost right through and knocking it from her hands. The others whirled to see from where the dagger had come, but they saw only shadows and heard only silence. As if mimicking their situation, the organ's wafting notes became tense and sharp, lending to the suspense.
"I shall taste your blood, each in turn......the hour of your deaths has come."
The clan turned to see a tall slender figure step from the shadows; he was clad in black leather from head to foot, straps and belts clasped tightly around his arms and legs, and another over his eyes. Long, ghost-white hair fell down his back and over his face, wafting slightly as the cold air swirled in the cavernous ballroom. Between each of his fingers he held a dagger, and a short tanto blade was strapped across the small of his back.
"Forgive my companion's theatrics, but I'm afraid he is quite right.....you will all die here." came another voice, softer and deeper than the first, bearing a hint of a british accent. From another shadowy corner, a tall, muscular figure emerged, his body clad in black steel armor. Staring out at the warriors from under spiked red hair, he rested his gauntletted hands on a large double edged sword whose hilt was encrusted with rubies.
"So..." came another voice from another well of shadow, "The prodigal son has returned...I thought you were dead, Kyusai...."
"I wasss, Kusanagi....and you will be too, very shortly..."
"I think not."
As he spoke, a third figured emerged from the shadows, a shorter man with long black hair tied back in a pony tail and clad in a flame-red japanese kimono. One half of his tunic was drawn aside, revealing a muscular arm tatooed over the shoulder with an elaborate design depicting a fire demon. At his sash he wore a black katana, which to the untrained eye might look like merely a stick of ebony, as it had no hand guard.
Goliath stepped forward, snarling as his eyes blazed, "Where is Acheron?! We have come for him!"
Roland growled furiously, barely able to contain his rage, his claws clenched so tightly that his palms nearly bled, "We have come to give him his just reward...."
Each warrior in turn gave his distinctive salute; the black leather clad warrior slid one arm behind his back and bowed with a dramatic flourish, "I am Malachai" he hissed.
The black knight held his blade upright in the center of his body, "Duke Mathias Blackthorne"
The samurai stood upright, his arms rigidly at his side and bowed, "My name is Kusanagi, once bodyguard to the Tokugawa Shogun, now leader of Lord Acheron's elite guards. You shall take not a step closer to our master." With that, the three dark warriors slid into their fighting stances, ready to strike with lethal skill at any moment.
With a blood curdling snarl, Kyusai blasted between Roland and Goliath and slashed with all his might, his blade crashing against Kusanagi's, sparking brightly as battle was joined; in a split second the room erupted with the sounds of clashing steel, snarls, whipping tails, gunfire and the cries of desperate warriors locked in mortal combat.
Malachai leapt backwards, turning in the air and letting fly with five daggers aimed straight for Elisa's heart; she dove backward and snapped her berettas from their holsters, firing akimbo at him as she fell back and hit the floor, sliding back, the daggers slamming down just between her legs. The bullets whizzed within inches of his body as Malachi twisted and turned in the air, bouncing off the wall and sailing through the air.
Below, Kusanagi weaved and dodged, clashing his blade against Kyusai's and avoiding attacks from Roland and Goliath together. Kusanagi brought his katana up with lightning speed, parrying an overhead thrust from Kyusai's Blade of Vengeance, and grabbed his wrist with his free hand, "You will not defeat me!!" he snarled.
"Do you think you can beat all of usss, Kusssanagi!? Don't be a fool!!
"A samurai cares not about the odds!!" He said, knocking Kyusai off balance and flipping him aside, slashing out at Goliath and narrowly missing his chest. With a quick movement, he slammed his elbow with tremendous force into Roland's chest, sending him onto his back.
A few feet away, Xanatos, Hudson and Blackthorne traded blows, steel meeting steel as the trio looked on, not entirely sure what to do. Hudson deflected a thrust from Blackthorne's sword, returning a slash which was parried in turn, "Yer a fine swordsman....a shame ye keep such poor company," Hudson growled begrudgingly.
"You speak boldly for one who keeps company with a band of fools, old one!" the black knight spat back, slashing hard against Hudson's blade and landing a fierce punch to his face, the force sending the old gargoyle staggering backwards. Xanatos opened his wrist laser, about to blast a hole through the black knight, but one swipe of his opponent's blade slashed it off. Blackthorne quickly swung his sword back, intent on decapitating his foe with one massive strike; Xanatos blocked the blade with both armored forearms, the edge cutting into his armor slightly, but thankfully not penetrating.
Meanwhile, Malachai was about to drive his tanto into Elisa's throat; she lay on the floor beneath him, her beretta's both slide locked. Just as the blade was about to fall, she slammed the guns into his head on either side, making him yell out and fall backward, holding his head. Roland, having just stood again after being slashed across the chest by Kusanagi, took the opportunity to dash across the room and slam his fist across Malachai's face, sending the gaunt fighter crashing through a window. His scream could be heard fading away into the night outside.
Blackthorne was distracted just long enough for Hudson to backfist him in the face with his sword and Xanatos to sink his steel claws into his armor and throw him across the room and into a wall. He slammed into it and clattered to the floor, not moving for a moment and then groggily trying to stand.
Kyusai and Kusanagi's swords met with a strident clash, their razor sharp edges grinding against one another as the two warrior's faced off, pushing with all their strength, "You cannot win, Sssamurai!! Give in!!"
Kusanagi sneered, "I would rather die than be dishonored, but my alegiance is to Lord Acheron above all else...."
With that, the samurai pushed Kyusai back and leapt to his fallen comrade, sheathing his sword and supporting the black knight, "This is not over, Kyusai....our blades will cross again!" he said ruefully, stepping backward and disappearing completely into a shadow on the wall.
Goliath rubbed his neck, feeling the sting of a small cut that missed his jugular by millimeters, "That...was too close..."
Elisa dashed to Goliath's side, checking to see if he was alright, "Hey...no problem...right big guy?" she asked somewhat shakily. Roland groaned and clutched his chest, the blood streaming down him. The others rushed to his aid, but he waved them off, "It's alright....just a flesh wound..."
Kyusai sheathed his blade, his eyes narrowing, "Sssomething is wrong here..."
Brooklyn crossed his arms, "Is anything *right* here?"
Roland growled, "I'm sorry my friends, I know it is my fault that you've all become involved in this.....but Acheron must be stopped..."
Hudson nodded solemnly, "Aye, 'e's right, we've no other choice at this point, lads..."
Goliath nodded, moving to the exit door and peering out cautiously, "We're very close...the library is just at the end of this hall...."
The clan, Elisa, Kuisai, Roland and Xanatos crept to the door behind Goliath, following as he slinked out into the hall, keeping behind the little cover afforded by various statues and empty suits of armor on display. An ominous silence acted as the backdrop for the chilling organ music that wafted to them from the library. Every step brought them closer and close to the melancholy sound. Half way down the hall, Goliath stopped, "Alright.....on the count of three, we rush the door and break it down....ready?" The others nodded.
Three seconds never took so long; as soon as the word left his mouth, Goliath threw himself into a headlong dash, Kyusai and Roland flanking him on either side. Together, they slammed their shoulders into the massive wooden doors, ripping the latches apart and swinging the doors wide; the music stopped as they hit the floor, spreading out as the others rushed in behind them, blocking any hope of escape for Acheron.
Across the marble floor, sitting silent and motionless at the keys of a gigantic pipe organ, sat a black cloaked figure. The silence was deafening; the warriors waited for a grandiose introduction, but Acheron remained mute and completely still. Goliath stepped forward, his fists clenched, "I am here, Acheron! Your reign of terror ends now...and this time it is final!"
Still Acheron did not move or speak, merely sat completely still. Finally, Goliath dashed forward angrily, grabbing Acheron's shoulder and pulling hard; to his horor, the cloak came away in his hand. There was nothing but an empty seat beneath; on the keys, staring up at him with black, empty, mocking eyes, was Acheron's mask. Behind him, a massive iron door slammed down, cutting off the library from the hall. Goliath whirled, realizing to his horror that he had led his friends into a trap, "ACHERON!!" he bellowed furiously, casting aside the cloak.
Roland stepped up behind Goliath, placing a talon gently on his shoulder and turning him slightly to look into his eyes; when their eyes met, however, Roland's face twisted into a grin of the most cruel, malicious glee and he dug his claws into Goliath's flesh, throwing him back onto the floor without effort. Goliath slammed hard into the floor and looked up at the tall blue gargoyle with a look of total horror and disbelief, "Oh god, no....NO!"
"OH YES, GOLIATH!!" Roland growled, picking up the pale mask from off the keys, "Oh yes indeed..." he chuckled cruelly.
Lifting the mask to his face, Roland's blue gargoyle body metamorphosed into a blood red steel, its surface criss-crossed with black vine-like forms. Great wings shrank and twisted, taking the form of a long black cloak; in a matter of seconds, the clan looked with sheer horror into the deathly-white mask of Acheron, the Lord of Sorrow.
Demona stepped from the shadows behind the organ and raised her hand, chanting a phrase in latin; the floor instantly erupted with long black tentacles, their ends ensnaring the gargoyles, Elisa and Xanatos and pulling hard against them. Only Kyusai slashed away the tentacles with his sword, leaping high into the air and grabbing onto the railing from the catwalk above; with a blood curdling screech, he threw himself off the balcony and dove toward the organ, "DIE, ACHERON!!!!" he roared, his blade drawn back, ready to strike his father dead.
"Wall of light!!" Demona snarled, holding her palm out in front of her. Kyusai swung his blade with all his fury, but it struck an invisible wall, is surface blazing into brilliance as he did so. Suddenly, a burst of energy erupted from the invisible barrier, slamming Kusai back across the room. He sailed through the air and slammed into the steel door, dropping onto his feet. He snarled with rage and raised his blade to attack again, but Demona raised her hand above her head, "Chains of light, hear my plea, bind the one who opposes me!"
From out of the door, six chains of brilliant white steel ripped forth, wrapping themselves around Kyusai with lightning speed. He let out a scream of pure agony as they began to shine with blinding light; his body melted into that of Kagami as the shadow spirit was ripped from him, its black outline slinking quickly into the shadows, pain still stinging it.
Acheron roared with laughter, "I'm afraid that without Kyusai, you are nothing but a mere human, Kagami...and without you, my son is nothing but a harmless shadow." A furious screech from the shadowy corner of the library responded to Acheron's taunt, illiciting an amused chuckle from beneath his mask, "I will deal with you later, my wayward son..."
Together, Demona and Acheron strode triumphantly amidst their captured enemies, regarding them with cruel merriment. Demona turned to Elisa, looking down at her, "I'm so glad you could make it, I've been waiting a long time to even the score with you, human!" She spat angrily, the last word dripping with loathing.
"Spare me, you skan..." Elisa's word was cut short by the back of Demona's claw; it struck her so hard that the slap almost echoed in the room, "SHUT UP, BITCH!" Demona growled, her eyes flaring red in the gloom.
Goliath roared impotantly at Demona, but she merely stepped up and slammed her fist across his face, making him wince and growl in pain, "That's enough out of you!." she said, grinning wickedly.
Acheron stood over Goliath triumphantly, his armed cross, "And thus the circle is complete, my student. You have betrayed me, and now I have lured you into a betrayal of my own. How does it feel to be betrayed by one you trusted? How does it feel to take another into your midst only to have him lure you to your destruction? Tell me!"
Goliath struggled uselessly against the herculean strength of the shadow bonds that held him, growling furiously at Acheron, his anger partly spawned of the shame and regret that he still felt; this was poetic justice indeed. Half of him felt as if he was getting what he deserved, but he dreaded what Acheron might do to the others, "Acheron, you have me, let the rest go!!"
Acheron chuckled cruelly, crossing his arms, "Oh no, Goliath...I am going to take from you what you took from me....everything you hold dear." Acheron's voice was uncharacteristically bitter, dripping with malicious spite.
Demona's lip curled into a mirthless smirk as she watched Acheron walk slowly around the group of helpess prisoners, examining each of them through the empty black eye sockets of his mask, "The only question that remains is which will die first..."
Goliath's eyes went wide with fear as he watched Acheron draw a long dagger from beneath his cloak and press the tip against Hudson's chin, lifting his face slightly, "Shall I kill your mentor? Your oldest friend and comrade in arms? What say you, Goliath, should he die first?"
Goliath said nothing, merely stared at Hudson with a look of total apologetic helplessness. Hudson shook his head at Goliath then turned to Acheron, "I've lived long enough....if ye intend to kill me, get on with it."
Acheron moved the dagger away from Hudson, "Ha ha ha....well met, old soldier. But no, you have, as you say, lived long enough. Your death would not cause the traitor enough suffering, not yet..." Acheron growled as he moved slowly to the next of his victims, "But what about the young one? Lexington? His life is barely begun...how tragic it would be to see such promise wasted..." Again the dagger pressed against a bare neck, threatening to drive through the flesh and spill precious life's blood. "No...no, I think..."
Acheron suddenly stepped forward and grabbed Elisa, yanking her by the back of her flak jacket away from the shadow bonds and toward Goliath, only her hands remained constricted by the black chains, "I think we must get at the heart of the matter, so to speak, don't you agree Goliath?!" he snarled, holding Elisa's head back and pressing the blade to her neck, "Are you ready to find out what innocent blood tastes like, Goliath?! ARE YOU READY TO WATCH THE WOMAN YOU LOVE DIE BEFORE YOUR EYES!?"
Goliath shut his eyes and howled with pain and fury, straining every muscle in his body against the adamantine strength of the shadow chains. They creaked in protest as he forced himself to his feet, taking a steep toward Acheron and staring into his blank white mask with a look of burning rage in his eyes, "ENOUGH!! NO MORE!! NO MORE DISHONOR!!!" he roared, his body beginning to glow, his muscles bulging, "FACE ME ACHERON, I WILL DESTROY YOU!!!" as he spoke these words, his voice an animalistic cry, the black chains shattered and fell away, leaving him free.
Acheron threw Elisa across the room to Demona, who caught her and held her on her knees, "So, you challenge me, Goliath? You believe you can defeat me in honorable combat and save your friends, those you love?!" With a snap of his fingers, the group found themselves in the same storm tossed field where Acheron had first asked them to join his cause; they knelt in the long grass, bound and immoble, forced to watch Acheron and Goliath face off.
"So be it, Goliath! COME TO ME!!" Acheron roared, grasping his cloak and tearing it from his neck with a flourish, letting it sail away on the raging wind, "SHOW ME YOUR TRUE POWER!!"
This time, Acheron did not merely stand dispassionately, regarding his opponent; with a forceful thrust, cast the dagger aside, clenching his fists and pulling them back toward him. As he bent his knees, his body became engulfed in an inferno of blazing blue flame. "GYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
Goliath snarled, showing his teeth and crouching lower, clenching his fists and thrusting out his tail as his body, too, became engulfed in a blazing yellow aura. He roared furiously, throwing his head back and letting every ounce of adrenaline gush through his blood, every bit of life force become agitated, ready for battle.
Acheron allowed his blazing aura to die down, replacing it with a constant blue mist surrounding his massive form, "Now you see my true power, mortal. Face me and die."
Goliath slipped into the battle stance he had learned from his opponent, tilting his head forward and staring unwaveringly into the black pits of Acheron's eyes, "It is you who will die." he growled, his voice gutteral and harsh.
A breathless instant passed as the wind whipped through their hair and Goliath's wings, stirring the grass into a frenzy of anticipation. A thunderous boom shattered the silence as Goliath and Acheron rocketed toward each other, Acheron's fist slamming into Goliath's block in a blow that nearly shook the earth. Their eyes met for a split second before Goliath exploded with a flurry of fierce punches; the arms of the two warriors blurred almost into invisibility as they exchanged blows at close range, each one parrying the other's attacks.
Acheron deflected a blow off his armored forearm and quickly landed a crushing punch to Goliath's midsection; the gargoyle barely winced and immediately thrust Acheron's fist downward, throwing him off balance and twisting, landing his elbow directly onto Acheron's cheek. Acheron recovered almost instantly and executed a perfect backflip, cracking Goliath on the chin with his steel boots and springing from his hands, landing gracefully on his feet. Goliath sailed backward, crashing to the earth but immediately springing to his feet. Acheron stood perfectly upright, his arms crossed and his shoulders shaking with laugher, "HA HA HA HA! I'm impressed, you actually landed a blow. Perhaps I should fight you with my eyes open in the future...."
Goliath roared and leapt across the space between them, his fist swiping through empty air as Acheron teleported away at the last instant. The searing pain of Acheron's elbow crashing into his back blasted the air from Goliath's lungs, sending him forward. Acheron appeared in front of him, landing a brutal punch to stomach and one to his face. Acheron slid his heel back, thrusting his knee at Goliath with such force that he lifted from the ground; to his shock, Goliath recovered and grunted with the tremendous effort as he blocked the strike with both hands. The two warriors glided apart, but thrust toward each other again the instant their feet hit the ground.
Goliath twisted and threw his weight aside, dodging a furious punch from Acheron. Quickly, he planted his leg in mid flight and sprang upward, his massive fist slamming into Acheron's vulnerable chin like the piston of a piledriver. Acheron grunted in pain and turned over backwards; Goliath flipped over and curled into a ball, slamming both feet into Acheron's back and sending him rocketing into the sky. Springing off his hands, Goliath landed and launched himself toward Acheron, constricting tightly, ready to unleash all his strength into a bone shattering kick.
To Goliath's horror, Acheron righted himself and twisted into a vicious roundhouse kick that slammed directly into his face; the opposing forces of Acheron's kick and his own nearly snapped Goliath's neck and he remained motionless in mid air for a moment as the forces cancelled each other. It was all Acheron needed; he slammed his other armored boot into Goliath's chest, instantly teleporting behind him and delivering a crushing elbow strike, then balled his fists together and brought them crashing down on Goliath after another teleport. Goliath spiraled out of control, plummetting toward the earth hundreds of feet below. Acheron's aura blazed as he forced a massive flow of energy between his palms, drawing it back above his head and snarling as he thrust it down, blasting it toward Goliath.
Elisa screamed, snapping Goliath out of his haze and allowing him to narrowly dodge the flaming ball of energy. He could feel its heat and hear the slight hum it made as it ripped past him. Goliath turned and landed on his feet, but felt a ripple of dread move through him as he looked up to see Acheron floating upright with arms crossed, looking down at him. In a split second, he knew why; the ground beneath his feet exploded in a pillar of burning blackness, engulfing him and drowning out his scream.
The clan and Elisa looked on in horror as Goliath emerged from the pillar of energy hundreds of feet in the air, apparently unconscious as he fell backward in an arc. Demona clenched her fist, looking at Acheron and silently willing...praying...for him to win. She was unaware that Elisa was staring desperately at Goliath and issuing the same silent prayer.
Acheron descended directly to the ground, his arms still crossed, as Goliath turned over in the air and spread his wings, sailing downward and nosing into an uncontrolled dive directly at Acheron. His fist slammed into the ground just where Acheron had been as he leapt backward out of the way. Goliath stood up and refocused his power, enflaming his aura once again.
The two warriors crashed togehter again, each delivering crushing blows to the other; every punch and kick seemed to get harder and harder till the earth shook with the force of their attacks. Suddenly, Acheron dodged and grabbed Goliath's arm, swinging him over his head and slamming him down onto the dirt with tremendous force. Goliath held onto Acheron's arm and rolled over, sending him hurtling into a nearby boulder, shattering it.
The onlookers watched breathlessly as Acheron and Goliath stood shakily, breathing heavily, staring at each other across the field. Acheron took hold of his cracked mask and drew it away, crushing it in his fist and revealing his bloodied face; Goliath drew his breath in surprise as his eyes met Acheron's for the first time. He stared into those crimson eyes, watched the blood trickle from Acheron's partially open mouth and from his nose, as Acheron looked into Goliath's bruised and bleeding visage. Something passed between them in that moment, something deep and unspoken; mutual respect and admiration, a tacit acknowledgement of the purity of their deadly struggle, an acceptance of the truth of the warrior's way. Was it regret that Goliath saw in Acheron's vermillion gaze? Remorse? Bitterness, perhaps, that fate had forced this drama to unfold as it had? Certainly Goliath's own dark eyes betrayed those very emotions to Acheron.
Suddenly, the massive warrior straightened himself, his blue aura seeming to disappear. He cracked his neck from side to side, wiped the blood from his nose and mouth and then looked directly at Goliath, his blood red eyes fixed hard on those of his opponent. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes before opening them again; his entire body seemed to slip into total relaxation, "Superb! Excellent! You do so impress me, Goliath." Goliath narrowed his eyes, lowering his stance; something was up, and he didn't like it.
"I must confess something to you, though, Goliath," Acheron continued, cold as ice, "I lied when I said you had witnessed my true power; in truth it was only about half," he said with a slight smile. Goliath was shocked, his jaw dropped, "WHAT?!" Everyone else looking on had the same reaction, with the exception of Demona, who struggled to keep from bursting into laughter.
"I'm afraid it's quite true. You have impressed me immensely, however, so I will offer you the chance to surrender. Give up now, and your death shall be swift and painless, as will that of your friends; once you are all out of my way, I will conquer existence and remake it into a paradise. What say you?"
Goliath roared fiercely, enflaming his aura even further, "I will never allow you to win, Acheron....this battle...is to the DEATH!!"
Acheron smiled and crossed his arms, "Good, I thought as much. Come then and die."
Goliath's eyes burned with fierce white light as he exploded into flight, rocketing toward Acheron like a bolt of lightning, his fist drawn back, ready to unleash his full fury in one thunderous strike. To his horror, his fist struck empty air as the image of Acheron faded to nothing before his eyes.
"Is that it?"
Goliath whirled around and struck empty air again with his backfist, leaving a trail of white hot energy behind his clenched fist. Seeing Acheron reappear several yards ahead of him, he dashed forward again and unleashed a flurry of punches and kicks, each one missing its mark as Acheron dodged left and right, barely moving at all, his arms still crossed nonchalantly over his chest.
Suddenly, as Goliath threw a particularly vicious punch, Acheron brought his elbow crashing down over Goliath's face, spun around and delivered a crushing kick to his head, then flashed into position to slam his iron fist into Goliath's stomach, sending him drifting up into the air slightly, his eyes wide and his mouth agape, gasping uselessly for air. A fierce elbow strike from behind sent Goliath hurtling through the air, and a sudden teleport and kick to the face sent him skyward, spiraling out of control. Shooting past him like a bullet, Acheron slammed Goliath downward with a cross body chop to the face, pausing barely a second before teleporting again. In a blinding, mind spinning instant, Acheron slammed his armored boot into Goliath's back just before he struck the ground, sending him off again across the ground. Goliath's limp body skidded hundreds of yards before finally coming to a stop. Acheron appeared above his head, hovering a moment, regarding Goliath's battered form before landing and crossing his arms again across his chest, "Hm. A pity..." he murmured to himself.
Several hundred feet away, Elisa's face dropped in utter despair; there was no way anyone could survive that kind of punishment, not even Goliath. She hung her head, covering her face with one hand as Brooklyn gently put his arm around her, trying to console her even as he himself felt a terrible grief and rage building within. Suddenly, Hudson's frantic, shock-stricken voice burst through their thoughts, "No...no, 'e's not dead!! The lad's alive, look!!"
Acheron smiled silently to himself as he watched Goliath's bruised and broken body stir, slowling rising from the blood and dirt and righting itself. Goliath stood, bleeding, wounded, but alive, staring defiantly into Acheron's smile. "Bravo, my student," Acheron thought proudly, "Bravo."
Goliath's body erupted with brighter and fiercer power than ever before, and he dashed forward, striking with all the speed and power he could muster, but Acheron merely blocked every punch and kick, weaving and dodging, occaisionally landing a crushing blow. Goliath retaliated with six quick kicks and a three punch combination; the kicks missed their marks, and the first two punches were effortlessly blocked, setting up the third to be ensnared. There was a split-second smile on Acheron's face before he rocked Goliath's midsection with three lightning fast kicks in the space of a single breath. As the air was still rushing from Goliath's battered lungs, Acheron swung his leg up and over Goliath's ensnared arm and kicked him back and forth across his head seven times with blinding speed; as his opponents knees began to give way, Acheron pulled his leg back as far as it would go and slammed it into Goliath's head with earth shattering force, releasing his arm and letting him spin through the air.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl; Goliath spun through the air, his face frozen in a blank look of total agony. The clan felt horror claw at their hearts again as they began to believe it was all over. Goliath, however, began to feel a burning deep within himself. Just as he began to lose consciousness, seeing the fading image of the earth getting nearer and nearer, he felt something well up from deep within himself, something that screamed at him to fight, to save his clan, his lover, his world. Like a bolt of lightning from heaven, something siezed Goliath's entire body and forced him to right himself in the air.
The instant his foot touched the ground, he vanished in a blur of motion and appeared again as his fist crashed into Acheron's shocked visage. The mighty warrior toppled backward, quickly regaining his balance and retaliating with three rapid punches; Goliath dodged and deflected the attacks before forcing Acheron back with a blast of force.
With a growl, Acheron launched himself into a furious burst of attacks, swinging hundreds of kicks and punches in the space of a few seconds; Goliath met and countered his attacks, causing the ground to shake furiously and the dust to blast out in great clouds beneath their lightning quick feet. Fist met fist, leg met leg as the titans clashed, the sound of their blows like pealing thunder, echoing across the vast plateau. Acheron landed a sharp blow to Goliath's face and Goliath in turn sent a clenched fist slamming into Acheron's stomach; a kick to the head followed the blow, but Acheron ducked it and punched once in the stomach, then slammed his leg into his opponent's vulnerable side. This time Goliath grabbed Acheron's leg and sent his foot slamming into Acheron's head, releasing at the point of impact and letting him sail. Acheron spun, planted his foot and rocketed back at Goliath with an explosive roundhouse kick, smashing his foot against Goliath's face with such force that the grass for a hundred yards behind Goliath was flattened by the shockwave.
To Acheron's horror, Goliath immediately twisted back and grabbed his leg, swinging him over and slamming his massive body into the earth with such force that it created a crater of shattered stone. The ancient warrior bounced to his feet but stumbled slightly from his injuries. NEVER had he faced a warrior like this! Goliath should have been dead from the crushing punishment he'd inflicted on him, but still he fought on! Goliath too showed signs of his wounds, standing somewhat off balance and breathing heavily, his face cut, broken and bleeding, yet his stare was steadfast and defiant; he would not yield. Not even God himself could make Goliath yield, Acheron mused, and that was something he could admire.
"You are impressive...I am well pleased with you. It is a pity you must still die..." Acheron said coldly.
Acheron thrust his palms downward, bowing his head and forcing his aura to flare up furiously around him; shutting his eyes, he slowly brought his open hands upward, forming a circle and drawing them slowly toward the center of his chest, "Now it ends, betrayer; now you die and thus am I revenged....I am sorry it had to be this way..." Turning his face upward, Acheron brought the massive, blazing ball of energy to his side, aiming for Goliath's chest with the intent of vaporizing him and minimizing his suffering. How strange, Acheron mused momentarily, that even in his lust for vengeance, his rage at Goliath's betrayal, he still meant to grant swift, merciful death. For a split second he wondered if this might be a mistake; if perhaps his vaunted honor had led him astray. That thought evaporated as he thrust his arms forward, unleashing the raging torrent of hellfire across the stormy night.
Time seemed to slow as Goliath launched himself forward directly into the oncoming blast, shutting his eyes and forcing every fibre of his being to lend its power to his will; The clan and Elisa gasped in horror, barely able to contemplate the unthinkable as Goliath disappeared into the stream of white hot light.
The night was shattered by a thunderous impact that seemed to threaten to shake the world to pieces. The dust slowly settled and the beam of bliding light disspiated; there, in the midst of a circle of flattened grass, stood Goliath, his fist partially buried in Acheron's shattered breastplate. He had used his ki to form a shield, diving directly through Acheron's beam and striking him before Acheron had ever realized what was happening. The mighty Lord Acheron stood breathless, his arms apart, his hands gnarled into clawing motions by the agonizing pain that shot through his whole being. His eyes wide with utter shock, his mouth open, blood oozing from it, he fell backward off Goliath's clenched fist and to his knees, looking up at the black swirling clouds.
His eyes still staring skyward, a slight smile curled Acheron's upper lip. His whole body screamed with pain, but it was glorious! He had never felt this kind of pain, never been defeated so completely before. Once, defeat brought him shame, but now, this defeat brought him pride. Somehow, it pleased him that Goliath had been the one to finally bring him down; he felt pride, even happiness, that Goliath had chosen honor in the end, and had won out. It meant that his legacy would be one of honor. With a hacking cough, he fell onto his back, his arms laying limp at his sides. Goliath fell to one knee, almost exhausted to the point of death, but holding on, and coughed up a pint of blood. Acheron smiled, "Finish it now...end my existence."
"What?!" Acheron sputtered, forcing himself to raise his head as he propped himself up shakily on his elbows, "Do...you INSULT MY HONOR!?"
"THEN FINISH IT!!"
Goliath growled and clenched his fist, turning to face Acheron, "NO!! THIS MUST END, ACHERON! I have defeated you; by your own code of honor, your life is mine! I choose to spare it!"
Demona instantly dashed to Acheron's side, throwing her arms around his shoulders and helping him to his knees. He wiped away the blood from his mouth and looked up at Goliath, "Why?"
"Because," Goliath began, coughing, "vengeance is not the way....vengeance begets vengeance...there comes a time when mercy is what's needed."
Acheron stared silently, somewhat dumbfounded that anyone would speak to him of mercy. Goliath continued, looking into the face of his fallen opponent, "You need not walk this path, Acheron...... There is still a chance for you, still hope! You may never reclaim what you have lost...but your life need not be consumed by hatred and vengeance..."
Acheron scowled, "What do you know of this? You never understood my quest...my dream of making a perfect world, if you had, you would not have betrayed me..."
Goliath shook his head, "Is this world so far gone? You and Demona found each other...if love as pure as yours can flourish even between fallen angels, perhaps there is still hope..."
Demona looked at Goliath, silently realizing the truth about him she'd refused to believe since he denied her that night atop Xanatos' tower.
"How can you condemn a world where there is still honor, and still love? It isn't perfect, but even in this imperfect world, there are pieces of paradise..." As he spoke, Goliath gently took Elisa's hand in his as she dashed to his side, "Please, do not throw away what heaven you already hold in pursuit of your ambition....isn't it enough that you have each other?"
Acheron got to his feet, accepting Demona's embrace as she threw her arms around him. He gently stroked her auburn hair, resting his chin against her head as he let Goliath's words seep through his mind. Thousands of years of memories, spanning back before the begginning of time flooded back into his thoughts, bringing with them emotions he had believed long dead. He remembered the days before the fall, his innocence, the purity he and his bretheren had existed in. Could he still attain a measure of that purity again? Was it possible for him to shed at least some of the taint that had stained him after his fall? He looked down at Demona, stroking her soft hair and feeling the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed; he smiled and a tear ran down his cheek as he realized that she was all the heaven he would ever need. He pulled her closer and offered a silent apology; there in the night, in the arms of his dark angel, he asked forgiveness for his indiscretion, the one fatal mistake that cast him into damnation, and for all the pain and suffering he'd caused in pursuit of his hubristic dream. He finally accepted that the true impurity, the true imperfection, lay in himself.
Demona too, came to a quiet epiphany; Goliath's words finally rang true to her. She realized that she held everything she ever needed in her arms, and she would never let it go. She was finally able to accept, safe as she was in the arms of her lover, that she was the architect of her own suffering. Nothing she could do would ever change the past, but it didn't matter. As long as she had Acheron, nothing else mattered. Maybe it was enough to live...if she could honor John's memory, live and love as he had asked her to, maybe it was pennance enough.
Aided by his clan, Goliath struggled to his feet; turning to Acheron, he extended his blood soaked hand, his face expressing respect and admiration beyond words. Acheron looked first to Goliath's hand, then to his pupil's face, "Thank you..." he said quietly, taking Goliath's hand in shared respect.
Suddenly, as if his heart had been clasped by hands of ice, Acheron's face twisted into a look of utter shock and pain; he stumbled back and fell to his knees, holding his head as if in agony, "What...is..happening to me?!" he growled. Demona reached out to him in alarm, but he was too hot to touch and she pulled back, holding her hand which stung where she had touched him. Acheron's body began to glow with blinding white light as cracks appeared in his blood-red armor. "AaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!", Acheron let out a deafening houl as his body was snapped upright, floating a foot off the ground. His face turned toward the sky and his armor shattered into a million pieces; the others shielded their faces against the blinding light and flying shards of steel, and were astounded at what they saw next. From out of Acheron's back, two mighty gossamer wings ripped through his flesh, spreading high above his head and stretching like the wings of some great phoenix rising from its ashes. Acheron's body shuddered and he fell back to the earth on his knees with a grunt, his hands over his face as the glowing of his body subsided.
Cautiously, Demona stepped forward and knelt beside him, gingerly setting her hand against his now smooth pink skin. Acheron rasied his head to look at her and then the others, and they couldn't believe what they saw; the hard reptilian scales of his skin were replaced with soft pink flesh, the narrow slits of his pupils were replaced with circular human ones, and his hair had turned from grayish white to sable black. The only thing that had not changed about his appearance were his blood red eyes and the long jagged scar that ran across the bridge of his nose. "How...can this be?!" Acheron gasped, looking at his now human hands, "I am....restored...!"
"You are restored because your heart has been restored, my Lord..."
The group turned to see Cain, suddenly standing beside them, his robes and long white beard blowing gently in the wind as he clutched his staff in knurled and ancient fingers, "The Hell armor can only bind you as long as your heart is full of hate and darkness...now that you have repented, it cannot live within you any longer. As for your wings...well, that is a question even I cannot answer....a gift from Heaven perhaps...?" the ancient man said with a slight smile.
Acheron shook his head slowly, still staring at his hands in disbelief, "I...don't understand...what have I done to deserve this? After all I've done...the suffering I've caused...after I rebelled against everything righteous, why should I be given this gift?" he asked, his unmasked face finally betraying his angish and remorse. Cain stroked his beard thoughtfully, his sunken eyes closed, "Forgive me, my lord, but you are wrong on one count..." he said, opening his eyes and looking directly at his master, "You did not abandon everything righteous...you held fast to your honor, and to your faith in the power of love...it is these things that have saved you."
Goliath nodded, "He is right, Acheron...the good in your heart never died, it was merely buried beneath your pain and your pride...and chained by your hate. I saw it in you almost immediately...I know that every warrior who has followed you saw it too...they believed in you because you believed in your heart that you could make a better world, because you believed in the depths of your soul that your honor was truly precious. That is why they would follow you anywhere; because they respect and admire you, as I do."
With a beaming smile, Demona threw her arms around Acheron's neck and held him tightly. Together they stood up, but Demona smirked and reached around behind him, patting his now bare behind. What almost looked like a blush came over Acheron and he wrapped his wings around himself and Demona, at which point Demona chuckled heartily. Lex scampered off and grabbed Acheron's cape, throwing it to him. Acheron quickly wrapped it around his waist and unfolded his wings, regarding Goliath with renewed grim, though momentary silence, "How can I ever repay you? I...owe you everything."
Goliath shook his head, "You taught me a great deal, Acheron. I owe you as much as you owe me. Your friendship is all I can ask for."
Acheron nodded, "You have it. Whenever you have need of my aid, I will stand by your side,...my friend."
Taking Demona's hand in his, Acheron took one last look at the clan, turning finally to Cain, "And what of you, my servant? What will you do now that my ambitions are at an end?"
"If it please you, my lord..." Cain began, "I shall remain by your side, ever your faithful servant" he said with a slight bow. Acheron smiled warmly, "Nothing would please me more, old friend."
Finally, Acheron half turned and allowed his eyes to meet those of his son, who had recovered now that he was free from the chains of light. Only cold, bitter hatred and silence met his gaze. He shut his eyes and turned away, saying nothing.
As Acheron and Demona glided away on a cold wind, the clan and their leader stood silently, motionless among the waving blades of grass; Kyusai walked quietly to Goliath's side, "You should have killed him when you had the chance. You will regret thisss..." he said quietly. Goliath shook his head, "No...finally I can be free of regret. The nightmare is over." Kyusai turned and looked to Goliath for a moment, then turned away, walking silently into the pre-dawn darkness.
The battle weary warriors sighed in quiet relief, their hearts aflame with conflicting emotions, not least of which was pride at what they had all done. As the morning sun crept to the edges of the eastern horizon, Goliath knelt beside Elisa and took her hand, gently squeezing it before turning to face the rising sun. As stone washed over his flesh, Elisa rested her hand against his hair, "You did it, big guy...just like I knew you would. And you said you weren't a hero..."
A cool wind blew from the east, bringing with it the sweet smells of autumn, a potpourri borne upon the breath of the sky, its magical scent enveloping two lovers in silent bliss. Demona, her head resting softly against Acheron's broad chest, sighed quietly, closing her eyes and wondering if her heart would be able to contain the unbridled joy she felt. Acheron, as if reading her mind, squeezed her shoulder softly, his wing coming down to envelop her in soft white down. "I never thought I would find such happiness again..." he said quietly, his voice deep and low, "I...never dared to hope, even after that night so very long ago, that I would win your love..."
"Not so very long ago, my love...how far we've come in as many months..." she said, smiling, her wing softly rubbing up and down against his.
Acheron shook his head, "No...that was not the night I fell in love with you...it was centuries ago...on a cold, bitter night in Rome..."
Demona frowned slightly, thinking back over ages of memory. Suddenly, her claw clenched against Acheron's chest as the memory burst into her consciousness like a light through the darkness.
It was a cold, bitter night, just as Acheron said. She had been gliding around, busy with her vengeance, when she had suddenly caught sight of a figure standing high atop Constantine's Arch. He was tall, his figure hidden in a long, black hooded cloak. She was capivated; she never knew why, but she landed atop the Forum, not bothering to fold her wings, and stared at him. He turned almost as she landed and stared back. For what seemed like an eternity they stared across the windy expanse, just stared, not moving. Finally, the figure turned its face away as something bright and sparkling fell from beneath its hood, and leaped backward into the shadows, leaving no trace.
Startled, Demona looked up at Acheron's face, his long black hair blowing in a breeze not unlike that night so long ago in Rome, "It was you...it was you I saw that night!"
"Yes. It was the night Katherine died...I stood atop that arch, bitter tears streaming from my eyes, trying to find a way to end my existence...when you appeared...."
Demona listened, her gaze fixed on his face as he stared out over the horizon in the distance.
"You were like an angel in the night...a shining light into the darkness of my soul...I fell in love with you that night, Demona...though I did not know it at first," Acheron said, turning his eyes to gaze deeply into hers, "from that night forward, my soul was bound to yours, my love...I dared not hope to win your love, but still...still I felt it in the deepest part of my soul...you and I are one, and we have been, and we will be, forever."
Hot, joyful tears welled up in Demona's deep green eyes; she threw her arms around Acheron's neck and felt the warmth of his own tears run down her neck. No more words were needed; all that needed to be understood became as crystal in the euphoria of that shining moment. No pain, no sadness, no loss, nor lonliness could live in that moment; only love and joy reigned in the hearts of two fallen angels, angels who had finally found their way back to the light.