This is an excerpt from "Dark Beauty,"
a work-in-progress in my ongoing fanfic
saga, due to be released sometime in early March.
Illustration by Jennifer "CrzyDemona"
"Second in command," Brooklyn
scolded himself. "Get it together. Come
on. Goliath's right. If it is a spell, no matter what Aiden says, then we'll go
after Demona. Demona and Jericho. I still owe him one anyway. Jerk."
He glided away from the castle, trying to let the cool autumn wind
wash away his worries. It didn't help. All it did was remind him that his hair
was still damp from the shower and tacky with the remnants of the shampoo he
hadn't finished rinsing out.
Almost two in the morning, and not a siren or a scream to be heard.
No crimes to take his mind off his troubles. Just the sleeping city. He
considered swinging by the station to see if Elisa needed a hand on her current
case, but the way his luck was going tonight, he figured it would be a bad idea.
Coming up ahead was a new skyscraper apartment building that
boasted a rooftop garden which was probably described as a "private parklike
setting" to the prospective tenants. Carefully landscaped and tended, free of
graffiti and junkies and muggers, only admissible by key card.
Key card, or wings. Brooklyn and Angela had discovered the place
last summer during the breeding season, when Fox was getting ticked about
one too many awkward question from Alexander as to just what was going on,
were they fighting?
He did a quick sweep around the perimeter to make sure no one was
enjoying a late-night stroll in the garden, then descended. The trees and lush
vegetation seemed to absorb the city noise, so that he could almost imagine he
was somewhere out in the country.
Being in such a pastoral place with so many good memories turned
out to be just what he needed. He relaxed for the first time since he'd heard the
alarm call and seen Angela. Here, it was impossible to believe that this would
turn out badly. Here, he could tell himself that she would be fine, and the
words didn't sound like an empty delusion.
He sat in the grass where the two of them had once spent long, lazy
hours of tantalizing loveplay, watching the moon as it slid along the edge of
the wall, slowly disappearing as if it was a silver craft submerging in a dark sea.
Tilting his head back, he picked out what few stars could be seen. He
wondered, though not with the same scientific interest that might have consumed
Lex, what it would be like to be in space. Couldn't glide on currents of air when
there was no air. What would happen at dawn?
The swoop of wings caught his attention in a hurry. He saw a female
shape atop the wall, silhouetted against the half-arc of the moon. A familiar
She was okay! She'd known where he would go, and had come to find him!
He tapped his communicator, only a little bit miffed. Top of the line
technology, right, sure. They'd probably been trying to reach him ever since he
left the castle.
Brooklyn started toward her. "Over here!"
She hopped down from the wall and he paused, struck by the way the moon's
light seemed to shine so brightly on the thick cable of hair swinging behind her. Too
brightly. But then she was in the deep shadows, almost impossible to see.
"Who's there?" she called.
"Brooklyn." There was something in the way she said his name that made him
shiver in mixed reaction. It was part sexy purr, part savoring hunger. Turned him on,
but was a little spooky all the same.
"How are you doing? What happened? I told Goliath to call me but I guess this
dumb thing is broken." He took it off and dropped it on a bench, grinning ruefully.
"I'm fine," she said. "Now that you're here, I'm fine."
"I was worried about you," he said with a shaky, relieved laugh.
"Don't be." She moved, seeming not so much to step forward into the dim spill of
light but to solidify out of the solid darkness. The solid darkness that made up the deep
black of her skin. Her hair, which had looked too bright under the moon, lay over one
shoulder in a twist of purest white.
Brooklyn froze. "What ... who are you?"
Her eyes, red-purple as pomegranate, looked yearningly at him. "Your mate."
"You're not Angela!" He backpedaled.
"She named me Ventura, but I am Angela. I am. Just give me the chance." She wore
an outfit of tight Kevlar and glossy armor plating that hugged and showcased her figure.
A headpiece of silvery metal covered with intricate black and gold traceries covered
part of her brow.
"You're a clone!"
"I'm real!" She came toward him, opening her arms beseechingly.
"Don't turn from me, my love. I am your mate."
"Angela is my mate."
"You and she are one, she and I are one, so you and I are one," she said with an
implacable logic. "Her blood and mine are the same. I know her thoughts, her
emotions, her every wish and dream. I am Angela and more than Angela. And you
"Huh-uh, no way," he said, still backing up. Then stopped in a burst of
understanding. "You did it! Whatever happened to Angela, it was you behind it!
What did you do? Some sort of spell?"
"It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that I am here. We are together.
I want what is mine. What should be mine."
"Listen ... Ventura. Listen. This is crazy. You're not Angela. You're a clone. A
copy. I'm not your mate, I'm hers. I've never seen you before. Angela and I have two
eggs in the rookery."
"My children!" She smiled beatifically. "Our children!"
"No. Mine and Angela's. Not yours."
"I need my life," she said as if that explained everything. "I need my life, and I mean
to have it."
She reached for him again, and Brooklyn, utterly weirded out by this insane capper to
an already upsetting evening, dodged and used his tail to swipe her feet out from under
her. She thumped to the grass, coming back up cat-quick with an incredulous, hurt look.
"Ventura, you've got to listen to me --"
"Don't deny me. Don't run from me. Or you won't like what will happen."
"What ... what will happen?" Brooklyn asked, more than a little nervously.
Ventura brought her arms from behind her back and cocked the enormous laser
pistol. It began emitting a powering-up hum -- vvvvvvvvrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiii.
A row of red lights along its barrel began to pulse, sending flickers across the
serene ebony planes of her face. "Do you really have to ask, my love?"
"Jalapena!" Brooklyn jumped to the side as she fired. A beam of scarlet seared
through the wrought-iron bench, turning the metal into dripping wax. The two
halves of the bench sagged toward each other.
"I wouldn't really hurt you," she said, "unless you make me."
Brooklyn heard her, but by then he was already sprinting for the wall. If he was
going to take down this psychotic clone who was armed to the teeth, he was going to
need room to maneuver. He couldn't even call for help, since the communicator had
been on the bench and was now melted into slag.
"Don't run from me!"
Just as he reached the wall, the laser went off again and splashed like a bucket of
paint on the wall. He saw mortar bubbling and running. It came apart beneath him as
he tried to vault over it, sending a shower of bricks plummeting toward the street.
Brooklyn recovered, a little battered and with one knee sending signals of pain, and
looped around the building. Another laser beam passed so close over his head that he
smelled vaporizing shampoo.
"I don't want to hurt you, Brooklyn!" she shouted.
Yeah, right! he thought but didn't say, saving his energy for gliding. If that last shot
was her idea of not hurting him, she was either lying or had the most terrifying aim
in the world.
She was fast, too. He'd hoped to outdistance her, or lose her through evasive action,
but she was on his tail like a burr. In a flat-out race, he thought she might even be as
fast as Lex. Which, under the circumstances, he couldn't really appreciate.
He made a sharp turn between two buildings, but instead of overshooting and having
to double back, she stayed right with him. When he went headlong toward the side of a
skyscraper, then pulled up at the absolutle last second to skim along the windows, she
didn't plow into the wall but followed as if she'd anticipated that very move.
"Darn it!" he panted. He was rapidly running out of tricks here, tiring, and Ventura
was after him like some sort of obsidian tracker-missile.
Hadn't Broadway and Elektra noticed the laser fire? Weren't they going to
investigate? Or were they sitting in the sentry tower making out?
He backwinged desperately, coming to a bone-jarring halt in midair. That time, it
worked and Ventura shot over him as he went straight down. She turned on a dime,
but he'd gained enough distance on her to put a block between them.
Ventura screeched in fury and put a laser blast through his left wing membrane. He
actually felt the edges of the hole crisping and curling like a charred piece of
parchment. His speed dropped drastically.
Ahead and below was a rooftop where Goliath and Lex had once evaded and
successfully ambushed the Pack. Brooklyn fluttered clumsily toward it, toward the
ranks of stone gargoyles perched in menacing snarls and poses. Once his feet touched
down, he folded his wings and started running, weaving a football-player's course
among the statues.
They seemed to look down at him with pity. Gargoyle wasn't supposed to
fight gargoyle. It They had enough enemies without making more among their
own kind. But things had changed, changed plenty.
And all thanks to Demona, he thought sourly and perhaps a little unfairly. Maybe
he couldn't blame her for all his woes, but he had no problem blaming her for the
hellion on his heels. It made perfect sense, perfect for a nutcase like Demona. Couldn't
convert the real clan? Okay-fine, make a new one. Couldn't win over the real
daughter? Okay-fine --
The air around him turned red, casting strange plays of light over the
frozen features of the gargoyles around him. His unsettled mind made one of
those cross-connections ... this was how his clan could have looked, red in the
smoke-filled sunlight of their last day, as the Vikings took the castle and
started destroying them.
The laser scorched a bubbling black path at his feet. He knew that
any time Ventura tired of this chase, he'd be toast. The only thing he had going
for him right now was her assurance that she didn't want to permanently
His wounded wing even gave testimony to that. She'd struck in exactly the right
spot to cripple his flight. He wasn't going to get away by air. It either had to end on
this rooftop, or he was going to have to do some really creative escape planning.
Brooklyn ducked between two gargoyles as he heard her land. Quickly and
quietly as he could, he slipped from the concealment of one to the next, trying to
get around behind her.
Not sure what I'll do if I do get the drop on her, he thought. If her
hand-fighting's as good as her gliding and shooting, I'm dead meat.
Still hours until dawn. No way he could carry on a cat-and-mouse like
Hudson and Demona had done. Not for that long.
He could hear her soft steps and tried to make his own even softer. He practically
oozed into a deep alley formed by two rows of back-to-back statues and held
absolutely still, concentrating on trying to breathe without making a sound. No easy
task after his exertions.
Even with his breathing under control, he suddenly became convinced she would
hear his heartbeat. It slammed in his ears like a drum corps.
She came closer. Brooklyn didn't even twitch an eyelid, sure that she would notice
even that much movement. Her posture was tense, her red-tinted eyes keen and alert. He
had plenty of time to study her as she moved slowly down the line of gargoyles.
Her form might be the same as Angela's, but up close, their features
were very different. Or maybe it was just that Angela had never worn such an
expression, such a hard and cold look. It wasn't just the look of a warrior, or
even a hunter. This was the look of an assassin, and it chilled Brooklyn even
more than being on the receiving end of a laser pistol.
His already-shaky confidence about his chances of beating her in single combat
dwindled even further. Psycho she may be, but an effective, efficient psycho. He
noticed that she was also in better physical condition than Angela, her body the lean
sleek muscle of a panther.
Under other circumstances, ie something other than a life-or-death pursuit, he would
even have gone so far as to say she was a total babe. But that thought only barely
registered, because he knew that at any second now, she would whirl ninety degrees,
shove that laser pistol between the stone gargoyles, and blow him away.
She passed by.
A sigh of relief edged toward the front of Brooklyn's line of reactions, but he held it
back. She was playing with him. Didn't want the fun to be over so soon. Waiting for him
to make some move and give himself away.
She reached the end of the line. He slid sideways around the large statue that he'd
been hiding behind, trying to keep it between him and her while also trying not to let his
wings or tail touch against stone. The barest brush would sound loud as a shovel grating
across a tombstone and she'd be on him. Game over.
Ventura peered down the long space between the rows. For one horrible instant,
Brooklyn was sure their eyes met just as he pulled his head behind the shoulder of the
statue. Then he heard metal against stone, exactly the shovel-and-tomb sound he'd
imagined, and knew it was her armored trim scraping as she pushed her way into the space.
A cloud chose that instant to cruise across the face of the moon, cloaking the rooftop
in deeper darkness. Brooklyn darted silently away from the twin ranks of statues, around
several turns and corners.
He reached the edge of the roof and looked longingly at the open air, but a single
stretch of his wing told him that if he was stupid enough to try it, someone on the street
below was going to get a rude and grisly surprise.
Seeking another way down, his ear still cocked toward the stealthy noise of Ventura's
systematic search, he crept toward the other side of the building. There, he found a
roof-access door. But it wasn't going to open without a ruckus. He mouthed a few filthy words.
Climb down the side? No, couldn't risk punching his claws into the wall. It would
bring her on the run, and she would find him neatly trapped.
That only left one option, which was something that worked in the movies but he frankly
didn't put much faith in. He groped around until he found something to throw, coming up
with a baseball-sized chunk of broken concrete. Rising tall as he could, he chucked it at
the far corner of the roof, then ducked down low and made himself small.
The missile cracked against something solid. Oh, if only it had been her skull!
"Aha!" she breathed, and his skin prickled in shock as he realized she'd been practically
on top of him. If she'd been looking the right way when he stood up to throw that ...
Some things just didn't bear dwelling on.
Swift as an eddy of black water, she passed him so close that he could have reached out
and tweaked her tail.
Now or never.
He tried the access door. Locked, of course. So he attacked it, battering it open. He
shoved it wide, but rather than go through, he reversed and headed for the edge of the
roof. The door banged into the inside wall and swung back, slamming with a resounding boom.
Brooklyn hoped that the ledge he'd noticed really did extend all the way around the
building. Hoped, because he didn't have the leisure time to check. Ventura, understanding
that she'd been tricked, was on her way with a rising siren-shriek of outrage.
He grabbed the edge and swung himself over, felt a ledge with his toes, and let go. He
landed, found it to be much narrower than he'd expected, and teetered for balance. He won,
barely, and crouched with his pulse racing and his mouth dry.
Ventura kicked the door open with such force that if he'd been waiting on the other side to
ambush her, he would have been squashed into a cartoon pancake-shape. He heard her go
through, heard the door slam in her wake, and started to straighten up.
Then pulled himself back down, calling himself a hundred kinds of stupid. What if she'd
figured him out and was pulling the exact same stunt? What if she was up there, hiding,
waiting for him to get all overconfident and show himself?
Nuh-uh, no way, forget it.
He shuffled sideways along the ledge. A decorative cornerpiece, carved with all sorts of
fluted designs and knobby bits, offered him plentiful hand- and foot-holds. He climbed down
fast as he could, and when he reached the street with no more laser blasts, finally let himself
breathe that sigh of relief. But he didn't spend a lot of time doing it, aware that Ventura could
put in an appearance any minute. He wanted to get as much distance between himself and
here as possible, preferably damn quick.
Crossing over three blocks and up two, hugging the shadows and feeling more acutely
vulnerable than ever, he kept his eyes open for a phone booth. Call the castle, have Owen
send one of Xanatos' flunkies with the van, and he'd be home and safe. All this madness
Soon, though, he was grumbling because it seemed that all of the phones were, quite
reasonably, situated in pools of light. Although it was ten past three -- this knowledge surprised
him on two levels, because his encounter with Ventura had seemed both to last forever and
to take place in a flash -- he didn't have the street to himself enough to risk sauntering
boldly over to a booth.
A glimmer of movement, a reflection in the windows of an office building up ahead,
made him turn his attention skyward.
There she was.
He crowded into a recessed doorway with a broken bulb jutting from the overhead
socket. Still looking for him. Probably sorely P.O'd by now.
Brooklyn slouched down. This night was never going to end.
A cab pulled up and he looked at it longingly, though knew from experience that, weird
as the Big Apple was, it still wasn't ready to tolerate gargoyles hailing taxis.
Then it occurred to him that he might have a problem.
Two humans, males of about fifteen, got out of the cab and he realized they were
planning to go into this very building. And here he sat, no way to get past them before
they came up the stairs and saw him. The resultant hollering would be sure to draw
Ventura like blood in the water attracting a shark.
They started up, arguing good-naturedly about something called L5R. One of them was
wearing an X-Files t-shirt, the other wore one that read "Chicks dig skinny pale guys." Both
carried bulging bookbags, and the skinny pale guy had a faux-velvet pouch tied to the belt
loop of his jeans.
Figuring he could at least try, Brooklyn stood up. They saw him and stopped, mouths
"Look, I'm not gonna hurt anyone," Brooklyn said. "Just let me get out of your way."
"Hey, you're one of those gargoyles!" the kid in the X-Files shirt gasped.
"This is so cool!" his friend exclaimed. "We've read all about you guys!"
"Yeah?" Brooklyn said, a trifle askance.
"Yeah! You're the best! Better than Batman!" Skinny Pale Guy said.
"I dunno ..." the other said. "Batman's the greatest, in my book."
"He's just a cartoon. These guys are real!"
"Uh ... hey, this is going to sound weird," Brooklyn said, "but can I come in and use