by Jason Sproule
And all I can taste is this moment,
And all I can breathe is your life,
And sooner or later it's over,
I just don't want to miss you tonight..."
- Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris"
|The rain was streaming down over the slick streets of Manhattan, white
hot streaks of lightning splitting the night. The wind howled like a mournful
spirit, calling out in the darkness as the thunder rumbled like the guttural
growls of some demon of the sky. The conditions outside mirrored most poetically
the state of Demona's soul.
For three days she had hidden herself away in the darkness of her cavernous home, alone with the priceless antiques she had always regarded as worthless trinkets. Now more than ever they seemed empty, meaningless. For three storm-torn nights she'd wandered the city, vainly seeking the answer to her torment in the depths of her dark soul. Now she stood atop the Empire State Building, her face turned toward the turbulent sky, rain streaming down over her body.
It all started when Elisa Maza had interfered in her business yet again. That damned human had set a trap for her during one of her attempts to steal a useful magical amulet. She'd ended up taking a hostage; a man named John Delacroix. Now that man was dead, and his name was forever etched into her tortured mind. No other human had ever tried to find something good within her; even she had given up hope that anything like that existed. She had lived for her vengeance for a thousand years, but that one single man had managed to find his way through a millenium of anger and hate and loss, and recognize something deep within her that she'd long since forgotten. No, she would never, ever forget him.
She wondered now if she could forgive herself for his death. His last act in life had been to selflessly throw his body between her and a hail of deadly bullets. "Just live" he'd told her. Now she wasn't sure what she had to live for. Watching his funeral on the news had been painful for her; she almost turned away, but she had forced herself to see the result of her actions. Maybe that in itself was a start... a step in the right direction. She didn't know.
"Damn you, John..." Demona whispered to herself, "why did you have to do it? Why did you have to show me the truth...?"
She turned her face down, gazing across the city toward the cemetery where she knew his body was laid to rest. She had to go there, had to bring an end to this, one way or another.
She glided down into the cemetery and landed heavily a few minutes after midnight. The rain was still pounding furiously and the sky still shrouded in darkness. No one would bother her tonight. She looked around, trying to recognize something in the hazy, rain streaked gloom that would help her find John's grave. Suddenly, Demona spotted a large oak tree, barely visible through the storm. It was the same mighty oak that had stood behind John's grave in the video they showed on the news.
She walked solemnly to the standing stone that marked his freshly dug grave. She stood before it for a moment, bracing herself for the gravity of the moment before she knelt down. The earth was wet and muddy beneath her claws. Slowly, she reached out with her soiled claw and traced the letters carved into the stone:
"Here lies John Delacroix, beloved son and brother. He learned the value of life and cherished it to the end"
A fitting epitaph, Demona thought, if understated.
"'A heart of stone sheds no tears'...interesting words, don't you agree?"
Demona stood up quickly, nearly toppling over backwards in her surprise, "Wh..who is there?! show yourself!!"she snarled into the darkness.
"Do not be afraid, I am not here to harm you...I am here to make you a generous offer...." the voice from the darkness continued. It was deep, echoing; a fearsome voice that split the night, penetrating through the howling wind and beating rain. "I can give you everything you desire..."
Demona strained to see into the darkness; her night vision was far beyond that of a human, but she could see nothing through the storm. Suddenly, she caught sight of a massive shadow slowly moving toward her. As its form gradually became clear, she found herself frozen with shock and fear; it was a man, or at least had the form of a man. It was seven feet tall, enshrouded in a long, flowing cape as black as the night that surrounded them both. Its head was concealed beneath a hood that joined the cape. It came to within five feet of her and she could finally see it all. Its arms, lower legs and torso were encased in blood-red armor entwined in black, serpentine coils. In the center of its chest was a blood red ruby, and its face was nothing but an emotionless white mask, featureless save its abyssal eye sockets and four crimson slashes above and below the eyes. It looked like a vision from a half-remembered nightmare, its towering form surrounded by a terrible aura of dread and awesome, unfeeling power. Demona took a step back, bringing her claws up, ready to defend herself, though she feared it might be a feeble gesture, "Wh..what are you?!" she gasped, the fear in her voice evident.
"Why Demona, don't you know me?" he asked in that same terrible voice, "You wound me."
"How do you know my name?!" Demona demanded, her eyes flashing red.
"I know everything about you, my dear..." came the cold reply, "Absolutely everything."
"But how?!" Demona reeled. Who or what was this?? Had she met him before?? Suddenly the thought flashed through her mind that this might be some new Hunter come to seek her death. She snarled and lowered her stance, ready for a fight.
"...'He whose name means Sorrow, whose soul is as deep and black as the River which flows in the Deepest Darkness; speak not his name lest he take notice of you...'" the enormous figure spoke, as if quoting a passage.
Suddenly, she knew. Her eyes wide with fear and realization, she spoke the words she remembered from centuries ago as if compelled to by his very voice, "'Lest he consume you and make you his own.'" Demona was trembling visibly now, her voice was barely a whisper, "Acheron."
"Yes, the very same. You know who I am; the Grimorum Arcanorum told you of me a thousand years ago."
"Yes..." Demona said, reganing her composure somewhat, "But I never thought it was true...just a human legend..."
"It is all true, Demona. I have come for you." Acheron's voice was like ice; it chilled her very soul.
"What do you want with me?" she asked, trying to hide her fear.
"I wish to offer you your greatest desire. Tell me, what is it your heart yearns for?"
She clenched her fists, looking into his blank, emotionless mask, "I want...." she paused a moment, looking down at John's grave, "I....I wanted to destroy humanity...to have my vengeance...but now..."
Suddenly, Acheron was behind her, leaning down to speak into her ear, "No...that was never what you really wanted, was it Demona?"
"It was all I wanted for a thousand years" she said bitterly, shutting her eyes against the memories that still haunted her.
"I know you better than you know yourself, child..." Acheron whispered, if it could be called that, in her ear. It was strange for her, to be considered young, but she knew that he was as old as time itself, and perhaps much older. "I know that your true desire was for peace...for an end to your agony, your torment....Humanity was the symbol of that torment for you, but you always knew the real cause was something different...something deeper that you could never reach, but that you knew was there..."
Acheron's voice had an almost hypnotic effect; it seemed at times to be inside her mind rather than spoken from outside her. In the blink of an eye, he was there standing before her again, "You wanted to be free of your pain, of suffering and guilt...to be free of the imperfection of your existence."
"Yes..." Demona whispered, each word ringing true from the depths of herself, "I lost everything I loved...I tried to make a perfect life...no humans or their wars...just me, Goliath and the clan, together forver...I didn't hate the humans then...I just wanted them gone; what they did to each other was their concern...I just wanted to be happy..."
"But your happiness was not to be, was it?" Acheron's voice continued, deep and slow and calm, "No. You betrayed your clan, and the humans betrayed you, and everything was lost."
"Yes..." Demona whispered, a tear escaping her eye, quite invisible among a million raindrops.
Acheron brushed aside his cape, extending his hand to her, "This existence is imperfect...full of pain and sorrow and hate. Come with me, Demona, aid me and serve me, and together we will shatter this vile, twisted universe and recreate it into the glorious paradise it should have been...ours are tales of sorrow, studies in the intricacies of angony and suffering. Only you and I understand! Only we can begin the world again to end that suffering. Only you and I together, along with my legions, will be able to concieve the perfect world."
Slowly, almost helpless to resist even if she had wanted to, Demona reached out her hand to him, clasping it inside the cold steel of his own. She knelt before him in the midst of the raging night, bowing her head, her soaked auburn hair falling limply down her back, her free hand across her heart.
"I swear to serve you faithfully and with all my strength, Lord Acheron, until the end of my days."
The words coursed through the whole of her being; this was what she
had been searching for. There, in front of the grave of the man who had
revealed the truth to her, she had clasped her destiny.
Elisa Maza looked up at the 23rd precinct clock tower with a smile on her lips; she could see Goliath's massive stone form looking out over the city, stoic, immutable, imperterbable, and as always, ruggedly handsome. It seemed like she looked forward to seeing him more and more each day, though the routine of greeting her friends as they awakened each night had been part of her life for some time now. "Careful girl," she thought, a wry smile crossing her lips, "you've fallen hard for that big manly Gargoyle." With a spring in her step characteristic of a woman in love, she bounded up the steps and into the station house. She enjoyed the times when the clan stayed over at the rebuilt clocktower. Xanatos had welcomed them back into the castle after their home had been destroyed, even paid to have it refurbished, but they sometimes stayed in the precinct attic just to be closer to her.
A few mintues, a cup of coffee and a donut later, she climbed the stairs to the precinct attic. An exhuberant Goliath managed to beat the others to the top of the stairs and he picked her up cheerily, setting her down with such care one would think she was a priceless porceline vase. She jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck, thinking as she kissed him how for all his brutish strengh, there was such gentleness in his massive hands.
"Hey Elisa, how goes it?" Brooklyn asked cheerily, waving to her from slightly behind Goliath. Suddenly, and with a fleeting look of embarassment, Goliath stepped aside and allowed his clan to greet their beloved friend. Broadway characteristically asked when the food was coming, and was pleasantly surprised when Elisa produced Chinese food from a bag she had been carrying. He immediately began to chow down, heading for the floor in front of the tv. Lex peered into the bag, asking if there might be something high-tech for him to play with, but was disappointed to find no such thing. A serving of piping hot chinese food consoled him sufficently, however. Brooklyn politely waved off the offered fare, as did Angela, and they went off to join the others. Elisa and Goliath, arm in arm, retired to the balcony outside the massive clock face.
The storms that had assaulted the city the past few nights had faded away, and an eerie calm had descended over the Manhattan skyline. Xanatos' massive tower dwarfed the other buildings surrounding it, partially obscuring the moon behind the castle turret atop it. It was very beautiful, Elisa had to admit, even if it held some unpleasant memories for both her and Goliath. Goliath too was struck by the beauty and serenity that had enveloped the New York night; it was perfect, he thought, the perfect night to be alone with Elisa.
They stood in comfortable silence for a moment, just drinking in the moment and savoring it like a fine red wine. At length, Elisa gazed up at Goliath's features; a small smile had crept onto that normally grim face, making him look all the more handsome to her in the pale moonlight. "What are you thinking about?" she asked him, secretly feeling as if she already knew the answer.
"Many things..." came the reply, "Mostly how lucky I am to share this moment with you..." he added, gazing down into her dark eyes. Elisa let out a sigh, nuzzling against his massive arm, "Yeah.....I just wish it didn't have to end."
"You have your city to protect," he said smiling, "you know you would not be happy without that duty." He knew her well; he'd watched her, almost since the beginning of their friendship he'd been captivated by her. This being that was so fragile, so frail even by human standards but was at the same time so very strong, so determined and driven. That was only part of the reason his feelings for her had grown beyond freindship; her strength of will and character, her charm, her wit and tenacity, her courage, that subtle cheekyness in her manner all drew him inexorably to her. That, and her stunning beauty. He hadn't really noticed it at first; he wasn't used to thinking of humans that way. But as the allure of her personality had taken hold of his heart, he'd realized just how lovely she really was. At that moment, he felt she must be the most beautiful creature in the world.
As Goliath stood there admiring her beauty, however, he slowly became aware of something strange; it seemed to be getting colder, yet there was no breeze. Elisa shivered a little bit and hugged his arm tighter, nuzzling in even more. Though he was quite happy to enjoy her closeness, he knew something wasn't right; he could just sense it somehow. He began to have the very uneasy feeling that someone was standing behind him, though his sensitive ears had detected not a trace of sound. Gradually, he began to look behind him, as did Elisa, unnerved by the same odd feeling.
Both of them jumped back in shock at what they saw; there behind them stood a massive figure, shrouded in a cape and hood as black as pitch whose face was a snow-white mask with no mouth or definite nose, and only four red streaks as decoration. Beside him, smiling with silent amusement at their reaction, was Demona.
Before Elisa or Goliath could sufficently recover from their astonishment to utter a single sylable, Brooklyn stepped out onto the balcony, "Sorry you two, but we've got....what the HELL?!" The young gargoyle nearly fell over backwards upon seeing Demona; even from behind he recognized that harpy anywhere. Brooklyn's furious snarl was cut off by a quick dismissive gesture from the monumental caped figure. With a quick flick of his wrist, the figure snapped his fingers. Brooklyn, who hadn't taken his eyes off Demona, snorted in disgust,"Just who the hell does this guy think he is?" Lexington tugged on Brooklyn's wing, "Uhh, I don't know, but you better look around..."
The entire clan was bewildered to find themselves in a field of tall grass which was waving in the now stiff breeze. Cracks of white hot lightning split the sky in the distance, momentarily illuminating the shadowy field each time. As the clan looked about them in stunned silence, the figure spoke, "I am Acheron, and I believe you are already aquainted with Demona. We have come to make you a very generous offer."
Hudson, highly suspicious, motioned to their surroundings, "Why did ye have to bring us here? We could just as easily 'ave talked at the clock tower."
"I did not wish to risk this dealing being disturbed." came the cold reply.
Elisa didn't like this guy. It didn't take a genius to figure out he was bad news, but he went above and beyond. He reminded her of Hannibal Lecter; he had the same tone of voice. The big difference was that this guy's voice was deeper, more resonant, and had a disturbing reverberant quality to it. She hated to admit it, but he scared her, big time. None of the others admitted it either, but they were all quite intimidated. And why did this Acheron have Demona with him? What was their connection? Elisa's mind reeled with questions but she kept them to herself. Instead, Goliath was the first to speak, "What is this...offer?"
This time, Demona answered, "We will make a new world, Goliath. A world where there will be no more suffering or pain. A world John would be proud of...don't pass this up, Goliath...it's what you have wanted ever since the massacre at Wyvern."
Goliath was shocked. He hadn't heard that tone in Demona's voice for a long, long time. He felt she must truly mean what she was saying. "But...a new world? What do you mean??"
"Think, Goliath," Acheron's chilling voice cut in, "You know better than any of your bretheren just how corrupt this world has become. Think of all the suffering you have endured in your life...the loss of your clan, the loss of your love, betrayal after betrayal by corrupt humans and gargoyles alike. And what did you do to deserve this? You have lived every day of your life according to a code of honor, a noble code that has made you a hero in the eyes of many....but has failed to stop many more from seeing you as nothing but a ravenous beast and a thing to be feared. Tell me, where is the justice in this existence?" Acheron's cape flapped vigorously in the strong, steady wind, his words seemed to cut right to Goliath's heart, as if they held some secret power.
Broadway stepped forward, somewhat confused by this massive, masked figure, "Yeah, so life's not all sunshine and daisies. What are you gonna do about it? That's just how it is."
"Yes, but not how it has to remain." Acheron said, turning his blank mask toward the young gargoyle.
"Wait...I know I have heard the name Acheron before..." Goliath said, trying to dredge his memory for the source of the recollection.
"Ah yes..." Acheron said, himself coming to somewhat of a realisation, "You are quite the scholar, are you not, Goliath? Perhaps you have come across a work titled, 'Paradise Lost'?"
Goliath was suddenly siezed with the look of realisation, "Yes! The river!"
Hudson looked puzzled, "An' just what is that supposed to mean?" he questioned.
Goliath's mind was racing, "Paradise Lost is a narrative poem written
about the events before the creation of the world...it talks about a war
in Heaven, the expulsion of the rebelious angels, and the loss of the fabled
Eden. It speaks of rivers flowing in Hell, Styx is one I remember....and.....Acheron,
the River of Sorrow.."
Brooklyn's eyes went wide, "You mean, a demon?!"
Goliath looked at his second, then back to Acheron, "Yes..." Demona waved her arm to the side as if to dismiss Brookyln's comment, "Not just any demon; he was cast away from the others...his power is astonishing." she said.
"All quite true." Acheron confirmed.
Goliath was completely incredulous, the idea finally dawning on him what Acheron meant by "creating a new world," "You mean to...to overthrow God and destroy all of creation!!" He was shocked beyond all reason; how could this possibly be?!
Acheron drew aside his cape, raising his clenched fist as he spoke, "Yes! And you, Goliath, will help me achieve my ambition."
The entire clan was incredulous; this guy was nuts! He had to be! Goliath shook his head, trying to fathom what he was being told, "But...how is that even concievable?! You think you can overthrow your own creator with the help of a few gargoyles?! You must be insane!"
"I am far from insane, Goliath." Acheron's voice became even more chilling than before. "The Gargoyles and Humanity possess a hidden power, a power which exceeds the Fallen, and even the Angels. United, this power would be incomprehensible. You, Goliath, are a Chosen One. You possess even more power than any of the rest. Much, much more."
Brooklyn growled at Acheron and Demona, "This is nuts!" He spat angrily, "He's lying, Goliath! It's just another one of Demona's tricks!"
"No trick." Acheron said, reaching out his massive, red steel claw to Goliath, "Join me, Goliath, bring me the Grimorum, whose secret knowledge is the key to my design. I can teach you to unleash your true power. I can teach all of you! Come with me, and together we will storm the very gates of Heaven and Hell, lay waste to this corrupt, imperfect creation and build a paradise in its place. A paradise where humanity and the gargoyle race will live forever in peace. Imagine it! A world without pain, a world without suffering, a world without loss!!" these last words seemed tinged with bitterness.
Goliath just stood silently, absorbing the words and letting them float around his mind. He looked to Elisa, who glared angrily at Acheron and Demona. He wondered if she ever considered the possibility...the possibility of a perfect world where he and she...No! No, he knew this was wrong!
Suddenly, Demona interrupted his thoughts, "Think about it, Goliath!! Isn't this what you wanted? Peace between humans and gargoyles? It can be yours!! Just bow to Lord Acheron and you can be a part of this!" Demona's eyes were flashing with excitement as she spoke, her claw raised, as if already holding this new perfect world in its grasp.
"Join me Goliath!!" Acheron roared, his voice powerful and commanding, almost shaking the very earth upon which they stood, "Join me and glory will be OURS!!"
The other gargoyles all looked to Goliath; he gazed down to Elisa who gazed back up to him, telling him with her eyes that she wasn't going to make this choice. It was his alone.
"Your offer is a tempting one, Acheron..." Goliath began, his voice low, "But you cannot build a perfect world on the corpses of the innocent..."
Acheron let his armored fist drop and disappear into the folds of his flowing cape as Goliath continued, "I have no doubt that your power is great...but your ambition cannot be allowed to succeed." His face twisting into a sneer and his eyes glowing in the darkness, Goliath bent his legs, his claws raised for battle, "I will NOT allow it!"
"You fool." Acheron's voice was dripping with malice now, "You have no say in the matter."
Demona stepped back elegantly, crossing her arms, "You should have taken my advice, Goliath...you always were a fool..."
Goliath growled, every muscle in his body ready to spring into action against the massive Acheron. The towering figure slowly began to walk toward him, "You are unwise to defy me...now you will see what happens to those who stand in my way..."
Elisa backed off, half pulled by Hudson. The other Gargoyles got ready for a fight, "We can take him, Goliath!" Brooklyn growled impetuously, not entirely believing it himself. Before any of them could move, Broadway leapt forward, snarling angrily and letting fly with a punch none of them would want to be on the recieving end of.
To their horror, Acheron merely sidestepped, grabbing Broadway by the wrist and drawing him forward, his knee simulateneously slamming straight into the gargoyle's stomach. The massive Acheron released Broadway's wrist, letting him stumble forward a step, his eyes wide and his mouth open, gasping for air. With a movement so fast it was barely visible, Acheron slammed his armored elbow squarely between Broadway's shoulderblades, sending him hurtling through the air. Before he'd even drawn a single breath, Acheron had dashed backwards and spun around, slamming his other elbow into the stunned gargoyle's face. He spat up blood as he flew helplessly back toward his dismayed friends, bowling over Hudson and Lexington and landing on top of them in a heap. Lex scrambled out from under the ponderous weight, inspecting his fallen comrade. "Oh man...." he said, his voice shaking, "He's out cold...." The small gargoyle shot a concerned look at Goliath, who turned his attention back to Acheron. "All of you stay back, protect Elisa and Broadway" he commanded prudently, "I will handle this alone."
"I admire your courage," Acheron said cooly, "Misguided though it may be."
With a gutteral snarl, Goliath leapt forward, drawing back his fist and striking furiously at Acheron's masked face. He caught the massive fist without the slightest effort, his own red steel claws enveloping it almost completely. The black void of Acheron's eyes stared unblinkingly into Goliath's rage contorted face, "Is that all?"
Goliath roared, swinging his free fist. The result was the same, his strongest punch was caught as easily as a softball thrown by a child. Acheron began to constrict his fists, crushing Golaith's. The ensnared gargolye roared in pain, lashing with his tail. Acheron was already gone, the tail slicing through thin air. Acheron's cape flapped around him as he landed gracefully a few feet back from where he'd just been. He raised his hand to Goliath, "Give up this foolishness!! You have no chance of defeating me; I do not wish to destroy you..."
"You had better listen to him, Goliath," Demona chimed in, a small smile curling her lips, "Not that I wouldn't enjoy seeing it, but there's no sense throwing your life away for foolish pride." Goliath was incensed; he struck out his wings, clenching his fists and screaming with rage at the tempestuous sky. He lowered his gaze, staring at Acheron with fury in his eyes, his blood boiling; he had NEVER been toppled that easily before!! He was beginning to think this Acheron hadn't been bluffing. Maybe there really was no way he could win this fight...but even if that was true, what did it matter? He was no coward, no matter what the odds! He would sooner die than give up the fight. The thought of surrender only served to incite him more; his powerful tail thrashed visciously at the ground.
"I understand your feelings, Goliath. I know how much the thought of surrender gores you...but this time you have no choice. Join me, serve me and I will unlock your potential, lead you down the path of blood and glory!!. Don't pretend you do not live for the fight; you are a warrior!! The only thing that makes you feel alive is the fire in your veins when you crush your opponent! You and I are the same, Goliath!"
"NO!!" Goliath shouted, "I am NOTHING LIKE YOU!!" he rushed forward again, the thought of crushing Acheron, tearing him apart, was consuming him. He lunged, swinging one fist, then the other. His attacks struck empty air, and the rage of his attack was replaced by searing pain as Acheron's fist slammed across his face, sending him reeling backwards. The next two blows slammed into his stomach, doubling him over.
With one massive kick, Acheron slammed Goliath's entire bulk into flight, blasting him like a missle right toward the others. Just before he would have struck Elisa, however, Acheron materialized between them and unleashed a bone crushing elbow strike, sending him off in the opposite direction. Before any of them could focus on what had happened, Acheron teleported to another point along Goliath's trajectory, fiercely kicking him and blasting him off again in another direction. He was smashing the mighty gargoyle around like a pinball between the bumpers. Another brutal kick sent Goliath rocketing upward; the clan and Elisa watched in sheer horror as Acheron appeared a hundred feet above them and brought his elbow down right into the dazed Goliath's back. He sputtered helplessly, blood erupting from his mouth, his eyes wide with agony, then fell, tumbling through the air and slamming into the ground with a dull thud.
Acheron crossed his arms as he hovered in the air, watching as Elisa fought her way free of Brooklyn's grip. He grasped for her, but she was gone like a shot, dashing toward her fallen love. She reached his motionless form just as Acheron landed softly, his arms still crossed. As he watched, Elisa desperately shook Goliath's shoulder, calling his name. Her heart leapt for sheer joy and relief as he stirred. Slowly, painfully, he tried to raise himself, but the best he could manage was to prop himself up on one arm. His head hung down, blood trickling from his mouth and nose. Every bone in his body ached, stabbing him with pain.
"Truly magnificent." Acheron said, admiring the gargolye's stamina and indominable spirit; most mere mortals would have been dead by now, but Goliath would not give in. "A pity you will now die; you could have been truly great, Goliath." As he spoke, a long spear with a cruel, curved blade materialized in Acheron's hand and he stepped toward the fallen warrior, preparing to strike off his head.
Elisa's eyes flashed with anger and she stepped forward, standing between Acheron and the helpless Goliath, her arms spread wide, "Stop it! You've won, that's enough!"
Acheron stopped in front of her, his empty black eyes studying her, seeming to penetrate to the depths of her soul, "Don't you see you only hurt his warrior's pride? He deserves an honorable death."
"I won't let you hurt him!!" Elisa said firmly, her face a mask of dogged determination. Acheron regarded her for a moment, then brought his spear blade up to her neck; the razor edge was so close that she could feel it press into her flesh with every pulse of her jugular. Still, she was undeterred; she returned Acheron's unfeeling gaze with a look of steadfast defiance. Goliath roared in impotent fury, but he didn't dare move, lest Acheron press the blade home and kill his beloved Elisa. He looked on, rage and helpless dread tearing him apart from within.
"It is a dangerous game you play, human. Is this gargoyle worth sacrifcing your life for?"
"Yes." There was no hesitation; the reply came quickly and without reservation.
"Because I love him. I love him with all my heart and soul."
The instant Acheron heard the words, his blade moved back, almost imperceptibly, away from Elisa's neck. He held it up for a moment longer, his cold black eye sockets locked on Elisa's dark brown eyes. At length, he drew it away, letting it dissolve into nothingness from whence it had come. Goliath tried to lunge for Elisa, shield her from Acheron, but he barely managed to raise himself slightly before the pain slammed him back down again. He uttered a tortured growl, trying to regain his composure. Elisa knelt beside him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, trying to take some of the burden of his tremendous weight off his battered and broken bones.
"Very well, I shall spare his life. I grant you one week to consider my offer before I return for you. You will either join me, or I will crush you; there will be no mercy." Acheron said without emotion. Without another word, he turned and strode back to Demona. He turned and faced them, raising his hand and snapping his fingers. In an instant, Elisa and the gargoyles found themselves back on the 23 precinct roof. Broadway got up, rubbing his bloodied mouth as he mumbled angrily. Lex and Angela helped him stand.
Goliath managed to sit up, and Elisa joyfully threw her arms around
his neck. He winced in pain but returned her embrace, so grateful that
she was unharmed. "I thought I was going to lose you..." she whispered
in his ear. "And I you, my love..." he said, cringing through the searing
pain, "But please....do not ever put yourself at risk like that again...I
don't know what I would do if anything ever happened to you..."
Elisa didn't answer, she just held him close. At length, she let go and helped Hudson lift Goliath to his feet. Brooklyn took Goliath's other arm, and together they walked into the clock tower. The softest thing they had was a rickety old sofa, so they set him down gently on it. Goliath winced again, his broken bones felt as if they were burning inside his flesh. He looked down at his chest; it was soaked in his blood, little crimson rivulets coursing from his mouth and nose. His face was badly bruised. He looked up at his mentor, "How do I look?" he asked weakly.
"Ye look like hell, lad." Hudson said matter of factly. Goliath managed to crack a smile, though it felt like he cracked more than that. "Thank you for that assessment, old friend." he said dryly. Elisa knelt beside him with a warm wet cloth in her hand, gently wiping up the blood. Goliath motioned for Brooklyn, and the young gargoyle stepped forward, "You must lead patrol tonight, Brooklyn." he said painfully.
"Now wait a second, Goliath!" Lexington spoke up, "We can't just leave you here!" The others nodded in silent agreement. "I agree, lad, what if Demona and Acheron come back te finish ye off?" Hudson added.
Goliath shook his head, "No...they will not be back. If he meant to kill me, Acheron would certainly have done it. You must go out and protect the city, I will remain here and recover." They could all tell how much it hurt Goliath not to be able to go and protect; it was what he lived for. The fact that he was useless as a warrior until his injuries healed made his defeat all the more painful.
"You guys go, I'll take care of Goliath. I'll call Matt and have him cover for me." Elisa said without looking up.
Brooklyn looked at Goliath and nodded, understanding how important it was to Goliath that the city be protected, "Alright guys, let's move out." he said, unwittingly imitating the old John Wayne war films he sometimes watched with the others.
They walked out the clock face door, leaving Goliath and Elisa alone in the shadowy gloom of the tower; the clock's mechanical whirrings and Goliath's labored breath's were the only sounds. Elisa gingerly applied a splint to Goliath's arm. He growled in pain as she tightened it up, looking away and clenching his teeth. When she finished, he looked over to her, gazing into her eyes as she stood up beside him. He motioned with his hand and she placed her soft, delicate palm into his, "Elisa..." he began. She silenced him with a finger on her lips, "Don't talk now..." she said softly, "we'll talk when this is all over and done with." She leaned down and softly kissed his lips, running her hands through his long black hair, "I'm just glad you're safe. I'll stay here, right beside you. Just rest."
She sat down , her back to the chair, all the while never taking her
hand from his. "Thank you, Elisa...." he said before drifting off into
a fitful, concussion-induced sleep.
"Why did you let him live?!"
Demona had been silent during their trek to the massive doors of Acheron's ebon fortress, but he knew she couldn't keep quiet indefinitely. He merely waved his hand, silencing her as he opened the monumental oak doors. They stepped through them into a murky, eerie darkness; they were in an enormous entrance hall, the light of small candelabras flickered off the black obsidian walls creating bizarre shapes and shadows. The effect was truly dramatic. Demona looked around, impressed at the grandiose scale.
A servant clad in an impeccable black uniform, his boots polished to a brilliant shene, came forward and accepted Acheron's cloak as he removed it, handing him a set of black velvet robes. He donned these, then a large golden shoulder guard, and finally, his back to Demona, he removed his white mask and put on a headdress with a white snake like mask incorporated into it. He then took a pair of velvet gloves, as black as the rest of his robes, and placed them over his hands, his armor melting away into his flesh. He turned back to her, the serpentine grin strangely presenting only a black void, though she should have been able to see half his face. He was careful not to reveal his form to her; all she had seen was his long silver hair when he took off his cape.
"Impressive," she said, smiling. She meant it; he was a sight to behold. His fearsome mask and long flowing robes made him look almost like a god. She remembered her annoyance, though, and frowned, "Why did you let Goliath live?" she pressed.
The empty eyes of Acheron's new mask bored into her, just as the others had done, "I spared him because love is a precious thing; a thing not to be taken lightly or cast aside without due care."
His words stung her; she wondered if he meant to remind her of her past or if it had merely been a coincidence. He watched her for a moment longer before reaching out his velvet-gloved hand to her, "Come," he said softly, "allow me to guide you through my palace."
It was impressive to be sure; a massive black castle, sitting like a silent monolith atop a rocky crag in a snow blanketed wilderness. A wilderness hidden away in another dimension, no less. Here and there throughout its drafty halls hung priceless paintings and statues, some of them created by the human world's greatest masters. They would be worth a fortune, Demona mused; most of them were works that were totally unknown, presumably commissioned and taken by Acheron and hidden away here in his castle.
He guided her this way and that, through labrynthine corridors and massive rooms. His arm linked with hers in a gentlemanly fashion that belied his awesome power, he guided her through his storehouse of wonders; there were some truly astonishing works in his palace, even Demona had to admit. More of the beauty in man that she had ignored. He brought her to a portrait of a battle of the Napoleonic era, speaking with such spirit and reverence of the glory and courage of the warriors that she herself felt she could hear the clashing steel and the crack of the muskets. Who was this being? She mused, staring in frustration at the white vineer that betrayed nothing of the mind behind it. Clearly, he was so much more than an unfeeling demi-god.
Suddenly, Demona found herself standing before a gigantic pair of wooden doors. Their panels were carved with scenes of angels in flight, their wings outstreched, pitched in battle with other angels. Below, the downcast angels tumbled helplessly to the waiting arms of Hell and its demons at the base of the doors. It was the war in Heaven, Demona realised. Acheron pressed against one of the doors; it groaned in protest as it swung wide, revealing an airy room dimly lit by a hundred candles. It was Acheron's throne room; at the back, set high upon a raised platform, stood his ebony throne. Its carved decorations mirrored the ones on the door, effigies of angels atop it, and demons lining its base. The walls were lined with windows through almost their entire length. Reaching close to the lofted ceiling a hundred feet above, their black velvet curtains were closed tightly. To the right, a large set of french doors opened onto a stone patio, offering a breathtaking view of Acheron's icy realm. To the left, another set of doors, smaller, led to another room.
Acheron motioned toward those doors, "The banquet room is there, you may eat your fill. The servants will attend any need you may have."
She turned to him, "Will you not join me? Your victory over Goliath is cause for celebration," she said, a cruel smile crossing her lips. Acheron shook his head, "No, thank you." he replied politely.
Somewhat disappointed, she turned for the dining room, taking one last backward glance at Acheron before she entered, shuttng the door behind her. She wasn't going to give up that easily, she thought; she was going to find out who this Acheron really was, one way or another.
Settling into his throne, Acheron beconed one of his attendants and asked for a book from his library. When the servant returned, he opened the massive tome and began silently studying the archaic knowledge contained between its pages. Nearly an hour passed as he leafed through the venerable book, never faltering in his razor sharp concentration. He was about to call up the servant to return the volume when the door to the dining room opened. He feigned disinterest, leafing slowly through the pages, but his attention was drawn to Demona the instant she stepped through the door; she was wearing a long white gown, lace and satin, which hugged her slim, taught body tightly. Its low cut back accomodated her large wings, which she allowed to flow out, moving with her. The skirts of the dress ruffled silently as she crossed the floor, walking slowly but directly across the room toward the large french doors that led to the patio. Acheron could not pretend to ignore her any longer, he placed his book on the floor beside his throne and watched her, enchanted, as she made her way across the tiled marble floor. She knew he was watching her, and it excited her, making her heart pound hard in her chest. She stopped at the window, reaching out and gracefully unlatching its pane and stepping out of his vison onto the moonlit patio.
Acheron stood, moving quickly and gracefully down the stairs of his throne and stopping in the middle of the room, looking at Demona's form haloed in moonlight on the patio. Slowly, he moved toward her, coming very near and gently running his gloved hand down her bare arm. She smiled and closed her eyes as his face moved just to her ear,
"She walks in beauty, like the night
he whispered in her ear, his voice as smooth as silk. She turned, looking into his cold white mask, and reached up, her hand passing just beside his face. He caught her hand suddenly, but gently, and stepped back, "Come my dear," he said soflty, leading her into the middle of the room. "Beauty such as yours...must be seen in the light!" As he spoke, he waved both his hands out to the side, and instantly every curtain in the room flew wide, flooding the floor with pale moonlight that caressed every feature of her body. He waved dismissively at the guards and attendants, and they silently slipped from the room. Slowly, he circled her, inspecting every curve, every shape of her veluptuous form. "Oh yes..." he said at last, "you are truly a beauty to behold..."
She smiled at him, as charmed by his gentle manner as he was by her stunning beauty. Stepping near, she gently slid her claw up his arm, tracing the curves of his mask with her other claw. "What are you hiding?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper. He reached up, holding her small hand against his cheek, then turning his face away slightly. "If you desire..." he said, looking back to her, "I can be any lover you wish..." as he spoke, his face and body metamorphosed into that of a gargoyle. Long black hair fell down his back, blood red eyes stared out at her from beneath proud, jutting horns, and majestic wings sprouted gloriously from his back. She had to admit he was stunning; his taut muscles rippled beneath his dark blue flesh as he ran his claws through her auburn hair, the warmth of his breath caressing her face, her neck. But no...she wanted the truth, not another mask. She pushed him back gently, looking into his face as it faded back into the pale snake mask.
"Show me who you are..." she said, never taking her eyes off him, "Why did you come for me in the graveyard? Why should I have caught your notice....and why do you fight for a perfect world? Why should you care about humanity or the gargoyles...or me?"
Slowly, hesitantly, Acheron reached up, grasping his mask and lifting the headdress up and away from his face. As he lowered it, Demona gazed upon his countenance for the first time; his hair was long and silver, falling down his back and in front of his long pointed ears. His skin was that of a snake, taut and smooth over his chiseled, sharp features. His eyes, red as blood, burned from beneath his noble, spined brow. A long, jagged scar ran diagonally across the bridge of his nose from the right side of his forehead to his left cheek. It didn't ruin his looks, she thought, but rather added the air of a proud veteran, a warrior who had fought many battles and knew many secrets. "So now you see my true face..." he said softly, his voice very deep and smooth, but without the supernatural reverberance that the mask added to it, "Do you think me an ugly thing?" he asked grimly.
"No my Lord..." she replied, "You are magnificent."
He took hold of her shoulders, looking deeply into her eyes, "You said you wished to know my secrets, Demona....if you truly wish it, I will share all that I am with you."
"Yes..." she replied without hesitation, "please...show me."
Acheron slowly moved forward, allowing Demona to wrap her arms around his neck as their lips drew closer. The instant they touched, Demona felt a surge of pleasure ripple through her entire body; she drew a breath, but had no time to release it before an overwhelming wave of intense pleasure tore through her. She gasped, her vision going dark as she felt something inside her mind; Acheron was reaching out to her through the darkness. She eagerly reached out with her own soul, feeling through the void between them and touching, grasping him. Slowly, their minds and souls began to merge, piece by piece, unveiling the sorrow and agony that formed their memories. She felt his pain, knew his loss, the sorrow he felt at losing his love, a human woman whom he had married during his time on earth; it mirrored the terrible emptyness she felt upon losing Goliath to stony sleep a thousand years ago. She felt how integral his honor was to his very soul; it was bound to every fibre of his being. She began to understand what it meant, began to feel that maybe she had a chance to try and dredge something decent from the abyss of her own tormented spirit. He too felt the terrible rage that clung like a malignancy inside her. Joy, sorrow, love, regret, hope, loss, all melded and mirrored each other, blending two minds like the weaving of a tapestry. She knew everything he knew, felt everything he felt, and he likewise shared her deepest, darkest emotions and longings. The intensity of the moment was overwhelming. Slowly, gently, he released the bond, allowing their minds to slip back into their isolation again.
Demona's eyes opened, tears welling up in them, and she gazed again on the face of Acheron. She gasped a breath and threw her arms around him, barely able to stand after the sheer intensity of what she had just experienced. Her claws slid down his shoulder blades, right where she knew his once proud gossamer wings had sprouted; she thought with new perspective about the ability to soar through the heavens that she had taken for granted. He let out a gasp, half pain, half pleasure, and drew her closer, his hands clasping her head to his chest, enfolding her in his embrace. She in turn wrapped her wings around him.
They stood there in silence, not moving, not speaking. No words were
needed; everything they needed to express to each other had already been
emparted. Now she understood; Demona silently wept for the joy of finally
finding solace and compassion after a millenium of empty solitude.
Goliath awakened still feeling as if he'd be run over by a subway train. Most of the searing agony of his wounds had passed, but he nonetheless felt like death warmed over. Brooklyn was astute enough to point out that he looked the part as he entered from the ledge outside. Elisa was still just where she'd been before; he could tell she hadn't had much sleep. He gently squeezed her hand, silently expressing his deep gratitude for what she'd done, and more than that when their eyes met.
"What now, lad?" Hudson asked, folding his wings down over his shoulders. Lexington scratched his chin thoughtfully, "Yeah, we've only got a week, and I don't think we're gonna be able to bulk up enough to face Acheron in that short a period...." Broadway scowled, rubbing his jaw, "Yeah, I don't even know if bulk is gonna do it with this guy...." he hated to admit it, but his sore jaw and the slight ringing in his ears were proof enough.
"I do not plan to fight alone," Goliath said, "We will enlist Xanatos and his technology to help us." The clan looked a little surprised. "Uhhh, Goliath?" Brooklyn began, an eyebrow raised incredulously, "I hate to break this to you, but Xanatos isn't exactly the most trustworthy guy in the world..." Goliath smiled a bit, "True, but I'm willing to bet that the destruction of the world doesn't bode well for his profit margin." Elisa grinned, though the tiredness on her face was unmistakable, "Clever...you know the way to that man's heart is through his wallet."
"Exactly," Goliath continued, "and with his robots and weaponry, we may be able to overcome Acheron's powers, or at least nullify them somehow." Lex grinned, raising an instructionary finger, "Energy is energy, whether generated by magic or science," he quoted.
Brooklyn considered this for a moment, then nodded his approval, "Alright, sounds good. I guess we have no choice anyhow." Goliath nodded, "Broadway, fetch the Grimorum; I am loathe to let Xanatos near it, but it may contain some secret knowledge that will help us."
In a few minutes, they'd sailed across the city and landed in the castle courtyard. They were ushered into the interior by a somewhat surprised, but always unflappable Owen Burnett. Xanatos, although caught off guard by the unexpected visit by the gargoyles, immediately assumed his usual false courtesy, "Goliath! To what do I owe the honor?" he said, rising from his large leather chair.
Goliath waved his hand dismissively, sneering ever so slightly, "Spare me your platitudes, Xanatos. We are here to talk business." Xanatos wasn't entirely sure what to say, Goliath wanting to "talk business" with him wasn't something that happened every night. He was intrigued. "Very well," he said, sitting down at his desk again and pouring himself a bourbon, "Let's hear what this is all about."
As Xanatos listened, his mind already spinning with possibilities for personal gain, Goliath recounted the sudden appearance of Demona and Acheron, the fearsome request he made of them, the ensuing battle, and, reluctantly, his own defeat at the hands of the monster. He was sure to stress the apparent extent of Acheron's power. Xanatos gently tugged at his goatee, considering what might be done.
At length, Xanatos sat back in his chair, resting his leg on his knee, "I'm glad you brought this to my attention...the destruction of the world wasn't part of the economic forecast this quarter...." Lexington tried to supress a smile, recalling Goliath's wry comment earlier on. "Unfortunately, it seems that confronting him directly is out of the question..." Everyone's heart sank at hearing that; Brooklyn spoke up, "I thought you were the wizard of freaky robots and high tech weapons, isn't there something you've got that might work??"
Xanatos shook his head, "I'm afraid the chance of defeating this Acheron in a head to head battle are slim to none. Our technology was ultimately ineffective against Oberon, and apparently even Oberon is afraid to face Acheron....if Goliath can't beat him, none of my robots can; you've made scrap out of them without much trouble, I hate to admit."
The others couldn't argue with that. But what option was left? They had to do something. Xanatos stood and looked out his large window for a moment, watching the moon cross the sky. "You said he was a fallen angel, did you?" he asked, not taking his gaze off the full moon. Goliath nodded, "Yes...a book called "Paradise Lost" tells the story of how he and his cohorts were cast out of Heaven and condemned to Hell. Aparently he turned against their leader and was cast out of Hell as well."
"Owen," Xanatos said at length, "Will you please tap into the database concerning 'Paradise Lost' and feed the information to my desk top?" Owen nodded curtly, "Of course, Mr. Xanatos."
David Xantos sat at his desk, skimming through the information and images as they appeared on his screen. After flipping through the files for a few minutes, he stopped on one, a smile crossing his face. "Aha...here we are." he said somewhat triumphantly, tapping a few keys in rapid succession.
On the monitor across the room, an image appeared of a nude male figure locked in mortal combat with a gigantic leviathan, its tail that of a serpent, its torso that of a humanoid with a distinctly unpleasant look on its face. The human figure was constricting the beast in a chain he carried. Xanatos stepped out from behind his desk, motioning to the screen, "'The Angel Michael Binding Satan,'" he said, "A watercolor by William Blake."
Broadway scratched his head, "Nice picture, but how does that help us?" he asked incredulously. Xantos continued, undaunted, "It's common knowledge that practitioners of black magic sometimes use elaborate spells or rituals to summon up demons to serve them. Generally, summoning demons is a dangerous business, as is attempting to control any supernatural being." The Puck fiasco had taught them all that lesson, and Puck could hardly be considered a demon. "Isn't it reasonable to assume, then, that there are also spells for sending them back where they came from?"
Brooklyn crossed his arms, "Sure, maybe. The Grimorum might even have one, seeing as how it's a book of white magic. Problem is, none of us is a wizard, and we'd be dead before we had the chance to use the spell on Acheron...."
Xanatos grinned, "I can read latin, and I've been meaning to try my hand at sorcery one of these days."he was already imagining the uses he could put the Grimorum to, but of course those would have to wait for now. Goliath immediate spoke up, recognizing all too well the greedy glint in Xanatos' eye, "Assuming we decide to let you use the Grimorum, how do you propose to get close enough to do so, let alone buy enough time?"
"Firstly, I have to remind you that technically the Grimorum is my property....it was my agents that discovered it again after it was aparently lost. But at any rate, the plan is a simple one; you're going to accept his offer and join him." Xanatos said matter-of-factly. "What?!" Goliath asked, taken aback. Xanatos leaned back in his chair, "You said yourself that Acheron seemed to operate by a code of honor; you're going to take advantage of that. You'll make him believe that you've decided to join him, make him believe that you're totally loyal. The fact that he seems to know a lot about you will make that easier; he'd never think the noble Goliath would break his word!"
Goliath was becoming angry, "I would not break my word!!" he growled. Xanatos lowered his gaze at Goliath, "I know how much honor means to you, Goliath, but honor is not a luxury we have right now." Goliath clenched his fists, leaning forward just a bit, "Honor is not a luxury, Xanatos! It is not some accessory or status symbol that you can throw away whenever it suits you to do so!!"
"Welcome to the real world Goliath; you have the choice of maintaining your integrity and condeming yourself and everyone you love to death, along with the entire human race and everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies, or breaking your word of honor in the attempt to save it all. Is your honor worth the lives of five billion people?"
Goliath relaxed his clenched fists slightly, but he didn't take his eyes off Xanatos; he was right, there was no choice. No matter how much it gored him, he had no choice. "Very well....." Goliath said angrily, "....I will do what I must."
Owen, who had meanwhile taken the Grimorum and was flipping through it now stepped beside Xanatos, quietly pointing out a spell to him. Xanatos grinned, "Well I'll be...'The Chains of Michael'. That sounds like it'll do just fine...." He opened his desk and produced a tiny box. Opening it, he removed a pair of tiny, tick-like devices, "These are a covert communication system," he said, reaching up and planting one on Goliath's neck just under his chin, and another on his ear lobe. The device on his ear actually crawled inside his ear canal, creating a distinctly unpleasant sensation, and the other attached itself firmly to his neck. "We can monitor this frequency from here. You will go with Acheron back to his base of operations, and, if permitting, radio back any and everything you find out. It may be that Acheron makes his home somewhere other than this world, in which case you'll have to save the report for the first available moment you have once you get back here. Based on your information, we'll formulate a plan of action. We can then make preparations to foil his plans."
Goliath felt the receiver planted against his neck with the tip of his claw, "So, once we are ready to attack, I will move to distract or restrain Acheron so that you can perform the incantation. What about Demona?"
"Well, it's going to be tricky, but we'll try to bring as much backup as we can. Everyone will have to move as fast as possible to try and hold him and her at the same time. I guess at best it's a dubious plan, but we're low on options at this point."
Goliath looked extremely displeased with the entire affair, "So be it. We will return to the tower and await Acheron's arrival. Hudson and Broadway will remain here while you study the spell. As much as you've changed, I still cannot risk leaving the Grimorum unattended.....I wouldn't want the temptation to cause you to backslide."
Xanatos smiled, "No offense taken, Goliath. I would do the same thing, were I in your....claws."
Without another word, Goliath and Brooklyn turned and departed, leaving Hudson and Broadway behind to make sure Xanatos used the Grimorum as he said he would. The flight back to the tower was a silent one; Brooklyn could tell that Goliath was stewing about the situation. It was no secret how fundamental honor was to Goliath, so the idea of using underhanded tactics and outright treachery must have been extremely unpalatable. He found out just how unpalatable as soon as they landed.
Goliath took five steps before he slammed his fist angrily into the concrete wall of the clock tower, letting out a furious growl. Brooklyn held back a second unsure of what to do, but spoke up before Goliath could punch another hole in the wall, "Goliath..." The massive gargoyle did an about face, looking furious. Brooklyn clenched his fist, "Listen....I understand how you feel about this. I wouldn't want to play dirty either, but this is bigger than any of us!" Goliath's expression softened a bit and he walked to the railing, leaning on it and grasping it tightly. Brooklyn continued, "Goliath, every time you start to doubt what you're doing, when you're there face to face with Acheron and every part of you is screaming to be honorable, I want you to think of Elisa and Angela."
Goliath let out a gruff sigh, not something he did often. Just then
Angela stepped out the door, "Father!" she said happily, running up and
hugging him, "Did Xanatos agree to help?" Goliath nodded, "Yes."
was all he said. He held her close, cherishing her, steeling himself for
what he knew he must do. If only he'd been stronger, he thought, he might
have defeated Acheron. No....there was no chance of that; he was merely
a mortal, no matter how strong he was. Acheron, he was something entirely
different, what the humans called a fallen angel; once a servant of God,
now a creature of darkness. As he stood there, Goliath recalled Acheron's
words to him: "You and I are the same" he had said. Now Goliath feared
that those words might come to ring true.
The remainder of the week was tense; Xanatos and the gargoyles had been planning their attack as carefully as was possible, but there was still a major chance things would go disastrously wrong. Goliath had been on edge, brooding about the situation and trying desperately to concoct some possible alternative; there was none. They had to do this, or everything that existed, good and bad would be wiped out.
Finally, the night arrived. Goliath, Elisa at his side, and his clan waited atop the 23rd precinct building. The night was restless, the wind howling in and out of the skyscrapers. At the stroke of midnight, a swirling black vortex opened onto the tower balcony and Acheron stepped out, followed immediately by Demona. He moved his cape aside, examining the clan with his black, cold eye sockets. "So...what is your choice?" he asked, his voice as cold as the wind.
Goliath stepped forward, producing the Grimorum from under his wing. Kneeling down, he presented it, "I will serve you, Lord Acheron." Acheron let out a low chuckle that made all their blood run cold, "Excellent. Now, swear your allegiance to me." Goliath hesitated a moment, but quickly fought back the nauseating feeling rising in his throat, "I swear to serve you faithfully and unquestioningly, Lord Acheron."
Acheron extended his hand, "Then rise, Goliath!! Tonight, we will celebrate our coming glory!" Quietly, Goliath rose and started toward the portal; he stopped part way there, turning to face his clan, "My Lord..." he said. Acheron turned, "Yes?" Goliath looked at him, bowing his head slightly, "I ask that you spare my clan and Elisa....they have refused to join us, but I ask that you show them mercy..."
Acheron looked them over once again, "It shall be done; they are no threat to my grand design now, and they posses certain virtues that endear them to me..." Goliath bowed lower, then stood up, "Thank you, Lord Acheron." With that, they were gone.
"Goliath must have been practically choking on those words...." Elisa said quietly. Brooklyn nodded, "Yeah... I hope he can hold things together long enough for us to pull this off.
Goliath had never before beheld a sight so awesome or intimidating as Acheron's mighty obsidian citadel. Perched high on a rocky crag, it towered over the walled city which spread out at its feet. The brooding winter sky silouhetted the massive, spired form; Its windows were ablaze, making faint fiery ripples over the glistening snow that crowned its parapets. Goliath could not help but hang his head out of the black ebony coach that carried them down the road toward the city.
Acheron watched him a moment, smiling to himself, "An impressive sight, is it not?" he asked at length. Goliath quickly brought his head back inside the carriage; Acheron and demona sat side by side across from him, Demona eyeing him with a slightly bemused expression. "Yes, my Lord," he said. "It must be...five times the size of Wyvern...at least..."
Acheron noded, "Yes, and tonight, there shall be a banquet there. You ought to feel honored, Goliath; it is not often that those halls are alight and filled with guests." Goliath gave Acheron a puzzled look, "You...mean that you live there alone? In the dark....?"
Acheron looked out the carriage window, "I am not in the habit of allowing many of my servants in the palace at once. I prefer the solitude."
Goliath said nothing, merely looked briefly to Demona, then back at the snow covered wilderness that panned by the coach window.
Upon reaching the castle gates, Goliath was shocked to see row upon row of armored soldiers standing rigidly at attention. The moment Acheron's boot struck the earth, each and every warrior crossed his right fist over his heart, then thrust it enthusiastically outward in salute. Their movement was in perfect unison, as if they were merely extensions of one body. As the trio climbed the great stone steps, the venerable oak doors swung wide, ushering them into a great entrance hall lit by hundreds of torches. Acheron stepped forward, removing his cloak with a flourish and handing it to a nearby servant. "My dear, would you show Goliath to the wardrobe? I will meet you outside the dining hall once I am prepared." Demona smiled and bowed graciously, "Of course, my Lord."
Goliath was stunned, Demona was never like this! She was smiling at Acheron, perhaps willing to do anything he asked. How was this possible? He hoped he might learn what had happened to change her so dramatically. As Acheron departed to another part of the castle, Demona led Goliath down a long hallway and up a flight of spiral stairs to a great dressing chamber. The walls were lined from one end of the room to the other with countless fine clothes. Goliath stepped closer and examined a suit; they appeared to be of the style worn by humans in the 16th or 17th centures. Not wanting to offend his host so early in the game, he selected a royal blue suit and retreated behind a screen. He noted that Demona did not leave the room, and took the opportunity to address her, "Demona...I must say I am at a loss as to what has caused you such a profound change of heart...have you forsaken your hatred for humanity?"
Demona let out a small laugh, "Let's just say that my eyes were opened...humanity was never the real problem, just a symptom thereof." Goliath wasn't sure what to make of that; he pressed on, "So, why the change? What enlightened you, as you put it?"
Demona 's tone grew harsher, "Mind your business, Goliath. You'll know what you need to know to serve Acheron, nothing more."
Once finished, Goliath stepped out from behind the screen, moving to observe himself in the full length mirror. He had wrapped his wings tightly around his chest, leaving the tips to dangle behind like a second set of tails. Surprisingly, the suit fit him very well. "Here," Demona said, stepping up behind him, "This will finish the ensemble." She took his hair in hand and slid a golden ring around it, snugging it up and pulling his hair tight back over his head. Goliath stepped back from the mirror, "Thank you..." he said.
Demona stepped beside the door, tuggng on a bellcord as she did so. Immediately, a servant stepped through the door, "Yes, M'lady?" he said respectfully. Demona motioned to Goliath, "Show him to the dining hall doors." The servant clicked his heels and bowed smartly, turning to lead Goliath out the door. As he passed her, Goliath stopped momentarily, "I would still like to hear the reasons for your being here, if it please you." he said quietly, then continued after the servant.
A few minutes of winding marble halls passed as Goliath quietly followed the servant to the dining room. As they rounded a corner, he saw that Acheron was already there; he had changed into a set of long black robes, a golden shoulder guard and a black headdress incorporating a snake-like mask, white like the other one. Acheron nodded his acknowledgement to Goliath as he approached, "Once Demona arrives, the banquet shall begin." he said flatly.
Goliath shifted from foot to foot somwhat uncomfortably; he wasn't used to wearing much clothing at all, let alone such finery. He wondered briefly if Acheron had known this and was using the formality as an excuse to throw him off his game, to see whether he was really trustworthy....no, that was just paranoia; Acheron believed his loyalty....he had to.
Suddenly, both Acheron and Goliath were thrown quite off their respective trains of thought by Demona's arrival; she strode confidently, hips swaying gently, around the corner of the hall, in a long sleeveless black asian-styled dress. It was buttoned to one side, the trim done in fine golden silk, a dragon motif embroidered on the lapel and a long slit that made its way nearly all the way up her thigh. She had tied her wild auburn hair back into a pony tail and let it fall down her front. Goliath's jaw nearly dropped off his face when he saw her, and by Acheron's subtle yet marked reaction, he supposed beneath that mask his host's jaw was hanging just as low. The massive Acheron stepped toward her as if floating on air, and took her hand, gently kissing it through the the strangely abyssal mouth of his snake mask. "Now, let us begin the feast!" Acheron said, linking his arm graciously with Demona's, "You will sit left of me, Goliath."
The great oak doors swung wide, revealing a long narrow table, much like the sort used back in Goliath's time. All along its lengh, finely dressed warriors rose to their feet and drew their sabres, crossing them across the table, "All hail Lord Acheron!!" they chanted in unison. Goliath walked slowly, matching Acheron and Demona's pace on the other side of the table. At the head, Acheron sat down, Demona to his right and Goliath his left. Acheron raised his wine glass, curiously the only implement at his seat, and addressed them, "I raise my glass to Demona and Goliath, the chosen ones who will lead you to victory and bring swift death to my enemies!"
The warriors along the table raised their glasses and gave a mighty cheer, drinking heartily. Acheron snapped his fingers and an orchestra which sat to the rear corner of the hall began to play a sweet concerto. Goliath was dazzled by the spectacle; he had never seen a banquet such as this! The great black marble walls reflected the light of a thousand candles, creating a bizzare and eerie atmosphere in the room, made more pronounced by the wafting orhcestral music that echoed throughout. Acheron sat back in his chair, observing for a moment before engaging Demona in conversation. Goliath took the opportunity to examine the warriors about the table; they were a fearsome lot, even decked out in the gentile garb that Goliath himself wore. They were grizzled warriors, bearing the scars of many battles. Goliath wondered who they could be. Probably humans from eras long past whose souls Acheron had recruited to his cause and granted immortality. He was quickly engaged in conversation by the warriors nearby, most of them genuinely excited to speak with him. Well, he thought, he was a "Chosen One", whatever that really meant...
He talked, laughed, drank and ate with the old warriors, unable to keep from being swept up by the comraderie of sharing old war stories. Some of these men had lived and died five thousand years or more before Goliath was even hatched. As he conversed with the others, however, he couldn't help but keep at least part of his attention focused on Demona and Acheron. As the night progressed, they laughed, drank and talked, almost utterly oblivious to anyone else's prescence. He saw expressions on Demona's face he hadn't seen in a thousand years, expressions he thought he would never see again. She was laughing, truly and genuinely laughing! She smiled so sweetly that he couldn't help but see her great beauty. Yes, he'd seen her smile and heard her laugh since he awakened in Manhattan, but they were cruel, without joy; this was different, this was real. For a moment, he almost saw his angel of the night sitting across the table from him. He knew he didn't love her anymore, but there was still something good about seeing her happy. He thought how she'd lived with her hate for a thousand years, how bitter and empty it must have been. He actually found himself pitying her, the gargolye who had betrayed his love and forsaken him.
After the eating had been done, and a good bit more drinking, one of Acheron's generals stood up gallantly and bowed to Demona, extending his hand, "My lady, would you do me the honor of this dance?" She smiled at him, placing her hand in his. The entire group stood and moved to the dance floor beside the table. Demona and the old warrior were encircled as Acheron commanded a waltz from the orchestra. She danced well, obliging another general after the first. Finally, once the second dance had finished, she addressed the group, "Now, it is time our great leader showed us his skill at the dance!" they all laughed, including Demona herself and Acheron obligingly stepped forward, talking Demona's slender hand into this own, their gazes locking for a moment. Acheron turned and called to the players, "Nocturne of the Serpent" he commanded. All but a few of the torches were extinguished, leaving Acheron and Demona bathed in pale moonlight in the midst of the party. Then, as Achron took Demona in his arms, they began a majestic dance, mesmerising and sensual. The music was almost like a cross between a tango and a stirring organ recital. As Goliath watched from the rear of the crowd, Acheron and Demona danced with passion and grace, moving in perfect unison. A dance of the night performed by two dark souls.
Once the dance had finished and the music died away, the room erupted with uproarious applause. Demona and Acheron bowed gracefully. With a wave of his mighty hand, Acheron silenced the crowd and thanked them for their attendance. A final salute marked their departure, and finally the room was silent. Only Goliath, Acheron and Demona remained. Goliath cleared his throat, "My Lord, I will take my leave of you now. I shall meet the dawn atop the parapets, if that pleases you."
Acheron laughed slightly, "Goliath, there is no dawn. This world is one of perpetual twilight. You are free to roam about the palace or the city, or if you would like to sleep, you may use one of the bed chambers." Goliath nodded, leaving swiftly to prowl about the castle a bit. Demona smiled at Acheron and retired, leaving him alone.
The passage of several hours found Acheron standing at his balcony, his hands resting on the stone rail and the gentle wind flowing through his silver hair, ruffling his coat tails. He thought about the coming battle, savored the taste of victory he was sure was now within his grasp, remembering the bitter defeats he had experienced so many eons ago and thinking how sweet it would be to avenge them. His mind wandered back to better days, to the gentle embrace of his sweet beloved, her kind voice, her soft hands, her beautiful blue eyes. Further back still to days beyond the reach of time itself, to the joy and freedom he had felt soaring on his majestic wings through the heavens. Yet, for all his recollections, he found himself always coming back to Demona; her laugh, her smile, the small white tips of her fangs, the fire of her lips and in her eyes, the curves of her body. No matter what he did, nothing could banish her from his mind; she was so beautiful, yet so dark at the same time. It drew him to her like a moth to a flame.
Just then, Demona stepped up behind him; he had been so deep in meditation that her approach went unnoticed until she was a stride behind him. She did not approach, but stood back, waiting for him to acknowledge her. "Good evening, Demona..." he said without looking back at her.
Demona stood back, not acknowledging his greeting; she just stared at him. He stood solidly on the balcony, haloed in the moonlight, the wind playing through his long hair. He wore his original plain white mask, but rather than his battle armor, he wore a midnight black coat and matching pants. A red stripe extended down the side of his slacks and disappeared beneath his highly polished black boots. He was a vision; powerful, beautiful, dark and mysterious. She swallowed hard, trying to slow her racing heart, "Acheron..." she began, "Tell me about Katherine...."
Acheron turned to look at her, apparently somewhat surprised, "You already know all there is to know..."
Demona shook her head, "No...tell me in your words..."
Acheron observed her for a moment, his blank white mask betraying nothing to her, "....she was very beautiful...very peaceful, like a lake on an early spring morning. Her voice was soft and kind, she spoke with such gentleness...I don't believe that in all the years I knew her she ever once raised her voice. Her eyes....so deep and so blue, windows to her beautiful soul. If.....if anything could have ever...... redeemed me.....it was her love. I loved her with all my heart and soul...everything that was left of me. I still love her..."
These words cut Demona like a dagger to her heart, "You...still love her." more a statement than a question.
Demona looked down and away, a torrent of emotions rising within her; was it all a lie, what he had shown her? No...no, it was real. She had felt the love he'd felt for Katherine, coveted it. It was so pure and so deep; she wondered if Goliath ever felt that for her, or she for him. Should she leave him now? Protect her heart from the same loss she'd suffered so many times before? She could just go back to hating again, add Acheron to the long list of those who had betrayed her trust.....no, she knew that would be a meaningless gesture.
"but...." Acheron's voice drew Demona's attention back to his masked face; he reached up and drew aside his pale mask, his blood red eyes fixing her gaze.
"I love you, also...."
Demona said nothing, merely gazed deeply into his crimson eyes; it was true, his eyes confirmed every word. "But...what am I compared to an angel like your Katherine....?" she said falteringly, "I ...I betrayed my clan...there's so much blood on my hands...."
Acheron stepped forward, gently caressing her cheek with his hand, lifting her face to gaze into her jade green eyes, "I know you better than you know yourself...." he said softly, echoing his words to her in the graveyard that fateful night. "I see beauty and passion within you, Demona...a fire that burns deep in your soul. You also have something that Katherine could never have...the darkness within you...the same darkness that dwells in me. Katherine....she loved me, forgave me, even took pity on me.......but you, you understand me."
Demona reached up, wrapping her arms around Acheron's massive neck and
kissing him deeply. They stood there for a long time, drenched in moonlight,
savoring the moment, until Demona drew back, "I love you..." she whispered
in his ear. He tightened his embrace, letting her head rest against his
chest, "And I you...my dark angel..."
Several hours later, the snow had begun to lightly blanket the castle turrets once again, covering Acheron's twilight realm in icy spendor. Acheron and Goliath stood facing each other in the fortress courtyard with Demona looking on in amusement. The wind gently played among the folds of Acheron's cloak and Goliath's now folded down wings. Acheron drew aside his cape, motioning to Goliath to attack. The gargoyle dashed forward, throwing a punch which Acheron easily caught. He allowed Goliath to step back, "Now, tell me, why did I block your attack?"
Goliath frowned, "You were too fast." Acheron tilted his head, "Hmm."
He waved to Demona, who brought a blindfold, tying it around Acheron's mask, covering his eyes. The massive warrior then turned his back to Goliath. "Step back and try your attack again." Goliath was shocked, "b..but." Acheron brought his hand up to silence him, "Do as I say."
Goliath lunged at Acheron, aiming a fierce punch for the back of his head. With one quick motion, Acheron side stepped at the last moment, grabbing Goliath's massive fist and twisting him over, sending him onto his back and turning his arm around backwards, achieving a very painful hold. Goliath looked up at him, wincing in pain, but incredulous nonetheless, "How?!" he growled.
Acheron released him and stood up, "You must learn not to rely only on your sense of sight, or hearing, or any of your other senses; you must learn to use all of them together, in addition to your spirit, what the humans often call the sixth sense." he said, untying his blindfold.
Goliath got up off the ground, "But I thought only some humans were gifted with that sense...." Acheron shook his head, "Some are more adept at using it, but they all possess it. You see, all living beings possess a life force, or chi. Chi can be trained to detect other Chi; once you become adept at using this skill, you can identify a person by his or her own unique chi. You see, I felt your chi, sensed the movement of the air, the vibrations of the earth, all of it, long before you reached me. I can teach you to do the same; who knows what untapped power lies within you."
"The chi can make you more powerful as well?" Goliath asked.
"Yes, the more life force you can channel into your attack, the more devastating it becomes; it can even be projected..." As Acheron spoke, he signaled a nearby servant to throw a pot he was holding into the air; with a swift thrust of his arm, Acheron unleashed a small blast, vaporizing the pot in mid air.
"And this, this is nothing! A mere pittance of my true power. You will learn to use your own power now...and when your training is complete, you will lead my armies and crush all who oppose me!!"
So it began: nearly constant battle; a rigorous training regimen designed to push Goliath to the limits of his power and beyond. It did; many times it nearly destroyed him. Nonetheless, he fought back each time, never quite falling over the edge. Slowly, painfully, he began to see what Acheron had been trying to teach him; he ceased to see merely with his eyes, hear merely with his ears. What began as little more than vicious beatings for him became desperate losing battles, and then, gradually, battles he could last through. He felt a terrible power stirring within him, still veiled, still obscured, but nonetheless emerging.
Every day his body ached, every muscle begging him to quit, but he would not; the faces of Elisa, Angela and his clan drove him on; ironically, Acheron was training him to destroy the very people whose love kept him going, allowed him to push through every obstacle that Acheron threw in his way. Demona had shut herself in the castle library, pouring constantly over the pages of the Grimorum, preparing to play her part in Acheron's grand design.
He began to see Acheron differently, too. Cold and ruthless as he was, the fallen angel bore himself with unwavering dignity; his honor was without flaw. He might be willing to crush anything and anyone who stood in his way, but he was not cruel for cruelty's sake. He pushed Goliath, delivered blow upon crushing blow, but Goliath could tell he took no pleasure in it. Demona, when she came out to witness the the training, sometimes smiled gleefully when she was lucky enough to see Goliath recieve a particularly painful kick or punch, but Acheron used only as much force as was needed to serve his purpose. And always, without fail, Acheron would bow before every match, and after helping Goliath up off the dirt, end the match with the same respectful bow. To Acheron, battle was something sacred; something to be cherished and honored, never defiled.
If he was surprised by his growing respect for Acheron, Goliath was shocked as he began to realize the love that was growing between Acheron and Demona. He had many times observed them standing quietly together on the marble balconies of the obsidian towers, or walking through the great airy halls. Once, he had even seen Acheron standing silently at a window, his hand resting against the icy pane, as he watched Demona soar across the twilight sky. All of this made his task agonizingly difficult. He had taken a vow that he must soon break, betraying a warrior whom he had come to deeply respect and even in some ways admire. He must also betray Demona, once his angel of the night, and take from her the only true love she'd known in a thousand years. It made him sick to think of it; every noble impulse in his being screamed at him not to betray his honor, but he knew there was no choice. Nothing would ever change Acheron's mind, and no matter how much his skills had improved, he was no match for Acheron's might.
This was like nothing he had ever faced before; it was always so cut and dry the other times....the enemies he'd faced had been greedy, selfish, dishonorable. They cared nothing for those whose lives they destroyed; they lusted after power or wealth and all for no one but themselves. He'd fought and defeated them because it was the right thing to do, it was black and white. Not this time. This time, he fought an enemy more noble than any warrior he had ever known, one whose goal was to create a paradise for humanity and the gargoyles, a world free of pain, where there would be only joy. This fallen angel, once favored among the host of Heaven, had boldly rejected his own kind, chosing instead to maintain his integrity even though the cost was utter isolation. As dark and terrible as Hell must be, at least the devils imprisoned there had each other, Acheron was completely alone. Alone, at least, until he found Demona.
And now Goliath would take even that away from him. Why was he doing this? Why shouldn't he aid Acheron in creating a new world? Because the cost of destroying billions upon billions of innocent lives was too high, because the end did not justify the means; how bitterly ironic, Goliath thought, that he himself rationalized betraying his vow to Acheron by claiming the end justified it. As if the memories of all the times he'd lectured or been lectured himself on matters of honor weren't enough, he was about to be put to the ultimate test.
He'd been wandering for hours, going over and over in his mind the terrible, shameful, yet all too nescessary betrayal he would soon execute, when Acheron suddenly stepped, as if from nowhere, into his path. Goliath nearly jumped out of his skin, but his sudden fright and fear that his treachery had somehow been revealed were only exposed by two backward steps. "A..acheron! My Lord, what....is something wrong?" he asked, stammering over his words. Acheron shook his head, "Far from it. Come with me."
Goliath obligingly followed the simple command, as he did every command Acheron gave. They walked through the great oak doors of the throne room and out onto the massive balcony into the streaming moonlight. The gigantic white moon of Acheron's realm was unobscured by clouds now, and it's great full face seemed to fill the sky.
Acheron stepped to the rail, parting his long black cloak and resting his gloved hand on its ice cold surface. Goliath had wondered briefly why Acheron was wearing formal dress this evening, and not his robes or battle attire. He would soon find out.
"Goliath..." Acheron began, his voice low, deep, powerful, but not quite so cold as it usually was, "Soon, I will ascend to gates of Heaven; you, Demona, and my vast armies will battle by my side and together, we will overthrow the so called 'Almighty God', and use his power to shatter this vile creation, this Purgatory that you and your race, and all of humanity have languished in since the dawn of time. This will be a dire enterprise indeed, Goliath....a host of angels, some of them greater and brighter than nearly the remainder combined, could not topple that terrible power...."
Goliath listened, still after all this time awed by Acheron's sheer prescence, his vaunting ambition, "No matter the outcome, I will not surrender...there will be no retreat. I will fight until I am blasted to dust, if needs be."
Goliath was forced to interrupt, his deep seated honor and his respect for Acheron compelling him to speak, "Lord Acheron...why do you do this? I never understood.....why do you, who could use your great power to dominate and control the world, instead choose to try and reform it? Why are humanity and the gargoyle race so important to you?"
Acheron turned his gaze, regarding Goliath with his black empty eyes for a moment, "Do you remember when I told you that you and I are very much alike?" Goliath nodded, "Yes."
"Long ago, after I was cast away from Hell by my former master, I wandered the void between dimensions, eventually arriving, by chance....or perhaps by fate, in the new mortal world. All the host of Heaven knew of a prophecy...an archaic prediction, older than even most of us Archangels, that foretold the coming of a new being. A creature not angel, not spirit...a physical being, who would be placed in dominion over a new world. I was always fascinated by this, and I was given a chance to bear witness to it. Ten times a thousand years I watched, followed mankind through its humble beginnings to the first stirrings of greatness. I saw the boundless nobility of makind as well as their corruption at the hands of the fallen. I also learned of another race, one barely hinted at in the Prophecy...a race of Guardians, a brother race to Humanity, also not spirits, but whose dominion was the night as man's was the day. I came to believe that humanity and the gargoyles could be made to serve me, that their secret power might actually overthrow Heaven's armies and help me win my vengeance. I went to live among them, using my power to hide my true form beneath a facade. It was then that I met Katherine...."
Goliath was surprised, though he said nothing. He continued to listen, transfixed by the sudden revelations Acheron was making to him, "Even I was surprised when I found myself falling deeply, madly in love with her...for a time, I almost forgot all the agony, the humiliation of my defeat and my fall. I married her, and we lived together in bliss as husband and wife. It all ended when she became....deathly ill, making all too clear the cruelty of mortal existence. Before she died, I revealed to her my true form; I will never forget her eyes that day....they did not change. She did not recoil in disgust or terror, but rather looked upon me with the same tender love she always had; she forgave me....and then her soul was taken beyond my reach, leaving me alone once again." Acheron paused, turning back to Goliath once again, "So you see, Goliath, you and I are very much the same.....I chose you partly because you possess the capacity to understand me, appreciate why I must do what I must do."
Goliath was stunned into silence, he could only stare in disbelief, the horrible, sickening realization that Acheron was right all along rising within him; he and Acheron were similar indeed. Acheron's voice once again cut into his thoughts, "It is for that same reason, Goliath, and because I hold so very great an admiration for your honor and your loyalty as a warrior, that I ask this of you now...." As he spoke, Acheron drew a dagger from his belt, holding it high above his head. From a tower across the citadel, Goliath saw a flash of red and a great shadow sweeping into flight. "Go, stand within the darkness Goliath, and bear witness to this for me...."
Goliath stepped back, half recoiling against the thought of being a part of what he would very soon lay waste. Demona glided silently across the sky and landed on the balcony beside Acheron, both of them haloed in moonlight, their features blacked out by shadow. Acheron and Demona faced each other as Acheron removed his mask and gloves, gently laying them on the balcony rail. Clasping the dagger in his left hand, Acheron began to speak, "Demona, child of the gargoyle race; in the view of this warrior, Goliath, I pledge to you my body, my mind and my soul for as long as I shall exist. This I pledge..." Acheron said, quickly slashing the palm of his right hand against the blade, "... by my own life's blood."
Demona took the dagger, never letting her jade eyes waver from his gaze, "Acheron, child of Heaven; in the view of Goliath, a noble warrior, I pledge my mind, body and soul to you for as long as I shall exist. This I pledge..." she slashed her right palm in the same way as Acheron had, "...by my own life's blood."
Simultaneously, they reached out to each other and clasped their bleeding hands tightly, all the while their eyes locked together, "I love you now and forever, Demona." Acheron said, his voice softer and more gentle than Goliath had ever expected to hear. "And I you, now and forever." Demona said in the same sweet and gentle voice she once spoke to Goliath in. Their eyes said more than their words ever could; as their blood minlged and oozed down between their palms, their eyes silently conveyed most eloquently the overwhelming joy, the intense passion, and the deep, pure love they felt for each other. After aeons of isolation, bitterness, terrible aching lonliness, two dark, blood-stained souls had found something good and innocent, something unfalteringly pure.
At length Acheron turned his darknened face to Goliath, "Thank you, my servant, my friend," he said quietly.
Goliath nodded solemnly, though he was overwhelmed with grief. He knew that his betrayal would tear Acheron and Demona from each other, condemning them to isolation once again. After centuries, in Acheron' case millenia, of solitude, they had finally found love, and now Goliath would take it away by his deceit. No matter what Demona had done, he didn't wish that on her. "My Lord," Goliath began, speaking in a low voice, "I would like to visit my clan one last time before we begin our conquest...I would like to make my peace with them."
Acheron nodded, replacing his mask and gloves, "Of course. Go out of the citadel and walk for a mile down the road, and you will come to a small house. Tell the man there that I sent you, and that you wish to visit your home."
Goliath nodded, turning to exit and leaving the two dark lovers to embrace
silently in the pale moonlight.
The night was clear and bitter cold. The snow shone like a sheet of diamonds in the bright moonlight; it must have been the most beautiful night Goliath had seen since he arrived in this dimension of eternal twilight, but sadly he was beyond noticing it. He trudged down the snow covered road, his head hung low, shame hanging on him like a mesh of ponderous chains. His mind groped desperately for some other alternative, some possibility of avoiding the tragedy that loomed closer with every step he took. He found nothing.
In the distance, the small cabin slowly became visible. It was a very
small rickety thing; a weather worn lantern burned from its front porch.
As he got closer, Goliath could see a figure standing near the porch, backlit
by the lantern. It was an old man. He was leaning on his knurled cane and
stroking his very long white beard. Goliath stopped just in front of him,
waiting for the old man to speak. He shuffled over to the porch, taking
the lantern off the nail in the post and holding it up between them, "Let's
get a look at you," he said, his voice dry and raspy.
Goliath and the ancient man observed each other silently; the old man had long white hair and a long white beard and moustache that fell more than half way down his chest. His skin was aged and wrinkled, like old gray leather; he looked emaciated and skeletal, and his thin eyes were sunken into his skull. On his gray wrinkled forehead, a small mark, almost like two curved horns with a triangle above them, was branded into his skin. Two triangular brands slashed across his cheek bones below his eyes. Incredibly, the man actually looked even older than Reynard, the oldest human Goliath had ever seen. The man looked as if he could turn to dust and blow away at any moment, but his long bony fingers held the lantern steadily as his faded grey eyes studied Goliath from head to foot, "So....you're the one, are you?" he said at length in that same raspy voice.
"Uhhh..." was all Goliath could manage. The old man didn't seem to care, "What's your name, son?" he asked.
"I am Goliath..." the huge gargoyle said. The edges of the old man's moustache curled upward as his ancient lips curved into a smile, "Heh....fancy that.." He stepped back and shuffled over to the post, placing the lantern back onto its nail. "So....you want to go back and visit your...clan..is it?" he asked.
Goliath furrowed his brow, "Yes....but..how did you know? And how did you know that I was coming?"
"Ahhh..." the old man said, waving a long bony finger at Goliath, "That would be telling..." He turned around and walked to the door, "Come." Goliath obligingly followed, ducking low under the small doorway.
The small house was clearly not built to gargoyle scale; Goliath was forced to bend uncomfortably to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. The ancient little man scurried over to a pot that was hanging over the fire, taking it off and placing it on the table, "Would you like some tea, young man?"he asked in his crackly old voice. Goliath shook his head, "I wish only to be on my way, I have to see my clan."
"Why is that? Having second thoughts, are you? It must be a tough decision lad....a tough decision...." the old man said, solemnly pouring his tea. Goliath was startled, "Wh..what do you mean?"
The old man glanced up at Goliath, his sunken eyes peering out from beneath his bony brow and folds of wrinkled skin, "Not an easy thing the master is asking of you....help destroy the whole human race....and of course, the ah...gargoyles, is it?" The old man set his cane by the table and sat down in a large soft chair, "You might be a warrior, but plain cold-blooded killing isn't your...cup of tea, " the old man said with a slight cackle, "Is it, son?"
Goliath frowned, "I will do whatever lord Acheron asks of me." he lied.
"Oh, is that so?"
Goliath took the opportunity to change the subject, "That mark..." he said, pointing to the unusual brand on the man's forehead, "What is that?"
The old man peered up at Goliath suddenly from over the rim of his cracked tea cup; he paused for a moment, as if considering his reply, "...a curse disguised as a blessing...or just an old scar. Take your pick..." Goliath said nothing; the man sipped his tea and looked toward the fire, "Cold blooded killing, son....it's not an easy thing, take my word on that." He turned back, "I don't recon you've got what it takes."
Goliath growled, "I am afraid of nothing. I will do whatever Acheron asks of me," he said, repeating his lie.
"Fear's got nothing to do with it, sonny."
The old man set down his cup and took up his cane, examining Goliath, "You know....I bet you'd rather betray the master than send all those innocent people to their deaths....even if you thought he'd win and bring em all back." Goliath stiffened, trying to keep his poker face intact, "If that's what you think, why don't you just tell him so?"
The old man shook his head, getting up and walking to a nearby shelf and rumaging around, "I owe Acheron a great deal of loyalty, and indeed I am loyal to him......but I'll not be involved in this business of his. I am far too old.....heh, besides...if I told him, he would kill you. That wouldn't be any fun...would it?"
"Why should you care if I live or die?"
The old man cackled loudly, "Truth be known, it's no skin off my old nose if you die. Don't go thinking this old heart is any kind of soft....hehe, but you're an interesting one. I think you may be more use alive....especially to the master."
Goliath was thoroughly confused, "I appreciated your hospitality, but I really must go...mr..what is your name?"
The old man smiled a little, taking Goliath's huge hand and dropping a small ruby pendant in it, "I might tell you, but not now.....you have to be going, don't you, son? Just hold the pendant in your hand and invision the place you want to be, and away you go..."
The old man turned and sat down. By the time he reached for his teacup again, the gargoyle was gone.
"Hehehe....this will prove to be interesting...."
"You're worried about him, aren't you?"
"No...he's alright. No big deal."
"You're a very bad liar."
Brooklyn sighed and pulled Angela closer, wrapping his wings around her, "You always can tell, can't you?" he said quietly.
"Father has never let us down before...he'll follow through just as he always does."
"It's not so simple this time, Angela..."
Brooklyn looked down, gazing deeply into Angel's dark eyes. He realized how Goliath must feel about Elisa as he sank into their beautiful depths. She just stared up at him, searching with those beautiful eyes for what he might be thinking. He just ran his fingers through her jet black hair, bending to gently kiss her. "You're right....he will come through. He'll do it for you and Elisa."
Just then, in a flash of Brilliance, Goliath appeared on the clock tower balcony. He barely even noticed them as he stepped to the door, pausing to lean against its frame for a moment before stepping inside. Brooklyn and Angela nearly fell off the ledge in their surprise, and scrambled in after him.
"Father!" Angela said, rushing to greet him, "What has happened, what have you learned?"
Brooklyn smiled, "Yeah, Mr. Bond, let's hear the intel you brought."
Both their smiles faded instantly when they saw the expression on Goliath' face: a look of total dismay. Angela set her hand gently on Goliath's shoulder, "Father...what's wrong?"
"Nothing." he lied, sitting in Hudson's arm chair and resting his head against his hand for a moment. He couldn't get Demona and Acheron out of his mind. It was torturing him. "Brooklyn, gather the others."
Brooklyn nodded, leaving to fetch the other gargoyles. Elisa joined them shortly after that, and immediately noticed Goliath's less than positive frame of mind. He explained Acheron's plan in detail to them: In two days, Demona, Acherona and he would journey to Stone Henge on the Salsbury Plain, there to begin the rites that would open the dimensional gates that separated Heaven, Hell, and Earth. It would be Armageddon. Acheron's forces would pour forth, led by Goliath, Demona and Acheron, and at first aid the angels in destroying the hordes of Hell. Of course, Acheron would then turn his forces on the Heavenly Host and destroy them all, leaving the way open for his ascension. That's the way Acheron wanted it to go; of course it would never get that far. At the appointed time, Goliath would use Xanatos' communcation devices to signal the clan. All of them, including Xanatos in full battle armor, would emerge through the gate's flames in the middle of the Henge. Goliath, Broadway and Hudson would blind side Acheron and hold him down as long as possible while Brooklyn, Angela, Bronx and Lexington held back Demona. Xanatos would immedaitely begin casting the spell of binding against Acheron, and it would all be over....the Chains of Michael would send Acheron back to Hell again, and the world would be safe....
Xanatos heard the entire speech through the tiny commucators, "Excellent Goliath! Simple, direct, ruthless. Having Angela attack Demona is really very clever; Demona's love for Angela is one of her few weaknesses. She would never harm her daughter." Goliath snarled angrily, clenching his fist in annoyance, "I told you once before, Xanatos, love is NOT a weakness!"
Xanatos chuckled, "So you did. Either way, it's clever."
"Well, good luck to you. I'll see you in two days time. Don't be late..."
That conversation finished, Goliath turned toward the clock tower window. Elisa quickly clapped her hand over his shoulder, "Goliath wait....we need to talk." Goliath nodded and walked out the door with Elisa, the others looking on with concern.
"....something's happened, hasn't it?"
"What is it?"
Goliath stood near the railing, half turned from Elisa, and gazed thoughtfully at the moon, "It's about Demona...."
Elisa's heart sank; she was never fanatical about it like Demona was, but there was always emnity between them that went above and beyond their conventional conflicts. Demona hated and resented Elisa for her...bond...with Goliath, and Elisa herself always held some resentment, jealousy, even fear of Demona for what she had shared with Goliath. After all, Elisa was only human no matter how fond Goliath might be of her....Demona was a full blooded gargoyle, and not a bad looking one at that. Goliath's brain was hard wired to be attracted to Demona, and his heart had once been hers....
"Demona has fallen in love with Acheron."
Elisa was a little surprised, and more than a little worried at why this was bothering Goliath; was he now jealous of Acheron?? Was it the "Don't know what you've got till it's gone" syndrome showing its ugly head? No, it couldn't be. Elisa set her jaw slightly without knowing it, "So? Just another Thailog..."
Goliath shook his head, "No... Acheron has fallen just as deeply in love with her. They swore their eternal love to one another by their own blood, before my very eyes. Acheron will never, ever break that vow. Nor Demona, I believe...."
Now Elisa was utterly shocked, "I...didn't think a devil like him was capable of love...."
Goliath turned, looking directly into her eyes, "Love is a powerful thing....David Xantos proved that. And there's something else...."
"Acheron's movtives.....when he first came to us, I believed he was nothing but a raving lunatic whose ambition and megalomania drove him to madness. I was wrong, Elisa......I was so wrong. Acheron is not just some proud fallen angel seeking revenge....he has pledged himself to this, like a crusade. He actually feels pity for humanity and the gargoyles. He truly wants to build a perfect world....he confided in me that he once loved a human woman, and that her loss was partly what drove him to try and change things."
Elisa frowned, "Whoa, Goliath....you're starting to scare me....it sounds like you actually sympathise with this guy...."
"How can I not Elisa? When I know that I would be driven mad if I ever lost you....how can I pretend I don't understand what he feels?"
"Maybe you're right, Goliath. Maybe you and he are similar in some ways...but you change the world, and you don't have to kill anyone to do it!"
"What have I ever done? No matter how many criminals we help put in jail, or how many people Avalon sent us to help, it's never enough....we never changed anything!"
"Don't say that!"
"It is true! There's so much suffering in the world...."
"Listen to me, Goliath....maybe we can't save everyone, but we've helped more than our fair share. That counts for something, damnit! It has to!"
"Look, maybe Acheron's motives aren't as evil as we thought...maybe he has a few redeeming qualites, but he's going to kill every man, woman, child, and gargoyle on this planet!! Their lives don't matter to him, they're just collateral damage! You can't let him do that, Goliath, you can't let him kill everyone! The end doesn't justify the means!!"
"Exactly!!" Goliath roared, "So what right do I have to betray him!? How can I justify selling my own soul for the sake of defeating him, when the only reason I have to oppose him is that his means are not justified by the end?!"
Elisa looked away sadly, knowing how tortured Goliath must be; he never raised his voice to her, "Such is life, Goliath......sometimes it comes right down to the numbers. It's either your integrity, our integrity, or the lives of every creature on Earth. I think you know what the right choice is..."
Goliath sank down, his back against the stone rail, "You are wrong about one thing Elisa.....it's not just my integrity.....it's my integrity, Demona and Acheron's love, and very possibly Acheron's life....against the world. I suppose the result is the same, but it is a terrible cost........if only there was some other way...."
"That's life too....sometimes you lose either way."
Goliath buried his face in his hands and then ran his fingers back through his hair, "So it seems."
Slowly, wordlessly, Elisa knelt down beside Goliath. She gently ran her fingers up his arm and kissed his forehead. He opened his arms and she let herself be enfolded within them, wrapping her own arms around his thick neck. He sighed heavily and held her close, letting the cool night air envelop them both. "Thank you, Elisa.....you are my rock. I would be lost without you...."
"I'd be worse than that without you, Goliath....."
Goliath said nothing more, merely tightened his embrace a moment, then
released her. Standing up , he gave her one last forlorn glance and clasped
the pendant tightly in his fist. In a flash of brilliance, he was gone.
The snow was falling lightly as Goliath appeared back in Acheron's twlight world; the light was still burning in the old man's cabin, so he plodded to the door and let himself in.
"Ahh, back again are you?" the old man asked, not looking up from the book he was reading.
"Yes..." Goliath said solemnly.
"hmmm..........been with a woman, have you? And a human at that...."
Goliath was taken aback, "What?! How did you know that??"
"I can smell her on you.....human women have a certain scent you know..."
"Who are you old man??"
"I did say I would tell you, didn't I? Well, I'd better keep my word then. Why don't you sit down, son?" the old man said, gesturing to a large wingback leather chair. It seemed sturdy enough, so Goliath sat down.
"My name...." said the old man, leaning back and bringing his hands together, "Is Cain...."
Goliath's eyes went wide, "Surely not...the Cain??"
"And now thou art cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to recieve thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not yield its strengh unto thee; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the Earth."
"Does it really surprise you so much, boy?"
"Listen, son. What I told you.....that you aren't made for cold killing; I meant it. You've got a good heart, I can see it. I know you're going to betray Acheron, and I know that it pains you. Just remember something, son, when it gets worst for you.....it isn't over until it's over, y'understand?"
Goliath nodded, "I thank you for your advice....but I fear nothing can make this task any easier. I will probably never regret anything more in my life."
"I know a little something about regret, too. Unfortunately that doesn't get any easier to deal with as you get older...."
Goliath nodded, dropping the pendant on the table in front of Cain, "Thank you, Cain. I needed to see Elisa and my clan one last time before I did this..."
Cain took up the pendant, letting it swing in front of him for a moment, watching the light of the fire play through its crimson depths, "You're a better man than I ever was, Goliath....it's a noble thing you'll do."
"Betrayal isn't ever noble...."
"That's not what I meant."
Cain turned back to the fire, signalling that he meant to say no more. Goliath stood up and quietly exited the small lonley cabin, leaving the aged immortal to stare at the leaping flames in melancholy remembrance of ages long gone.
The night wind blew hard against Goliath's face, stinging him with icy shards. In the far distance, looming like some great monolith, some dark beacon upon the barren expanse of snow, was Acheron's fortress. How lonley it seemed; there was virtually nothing for thousands and thousands of miles. A few small mountains here and there, but nothing else. It was an eloquent metaphor for Acheron himself, and indeed for Demona, at least as they had been until recently: totally alone, and standing against the world.
In silence, with the wind flowing around him, Goliath walked. He'd come so far in this short span of time. He'd learned things about his own abilities that he could never have imagined before he met Acheron. He'd also learned to appreciate how precious Elisa and his clan was to him; he'd faced the very real threat of losing them all.
His feelings about Demona had changed too. He hadn't loved her for a very long time, that would never be again, but he did still care for her in spite of all she'd done. Apparently, Demona had been deeply moved by the sacrifice that John Delacroix had made for her. Elisa had recounted the sad tale of the lawyer's death to him, quite shaken by it herself, he remembered. The man had lept between Demona and a hail of bullets, ending his own life so that she could live. How bitterly ironic that they would both still be alive if he had not done so; in a sense, the uselessness of John's act gave it all the more meaning. That surely had not been lost on Demona. That, and whatever else had passed between them seemed to have finally opened Demona's heart, frozen like ice since the time of Wyvern; now she had found love, true love, once again. All that would die, he knew, by his own hand. "I am sorry Demona...." Goliath whispered as he passed beneath the castle gate, "Please forgive me...."
Suddenly, Goliath spotted Acheron standing on the stone balcony outside his throne room, his long black cloak flapping gently in the breeze as he stared out over his domain. His massive figure beconed to Goliath.
With a powerful leap, Goliath jumped up onto the wall of a nearby tower and climbed to the top, pushing off and into a glide. He soared across the castle grounds, landing beside Acheron on the balcony. He caped his wings and turned out to look over the snowy wilderness outside the black stone walls. A moment of silence passed between them, though not an uneasy one.
"Something troubles you, Goliath..."
"Hmm. I believe that is not true..."
".....tell me, Goliath....can you taste it?"
Goliath turned toward Acheron, looking at his masked face in profile, its pale surface shadowed beneath his black hood.
"You know.....I haven't felt alive...truly alive, for eons. But now.....now I feel utterly alive. I can taste victory...blood and battle. It is what I was created for, Goliath! Nothing will ever change what I am: a warrior."
"Yes." Acheron leaned forward, resting his steel cased hand on the stone railing, "Yes. Her love gives me life." The simple expression was more than eloquent enough; Goliath already knew full well how Acheron felt about Demona, but hearing it this way made it all the more real. He imagined that it made Acheron feel more alive than all the battle in the world, in creation, ever could.
"Will you let her fight?"
"What if she dies?" Goliath surmised that doing battle with angels and demons could prove deadly regardless of what magic protected Demona.
"Then we die together. She and I are one, and we will live and die as one, if need be."
Goliath clenched his fist so tightly that his palm bled, cut by his claws.
"Go now and rest, my servant. Soon, we will crush all who oppose us and give birth to a shining new world."
Acheron turned and departed, leaving Goliath alone to face the biting
cold wind and his own tragic, immutable destiny.
The standing stones of Salsbury Plain: Stoic, silent, immovable, and imperterbable. For centuries, their blank stone faces had borne witness to rituals, battles, lives and deaths, and the innumerable tales of the people who had wandered the plain through the ages. Tonight, under a dark, storm-swept sky, they would bear witness either to the end of the world, or its bitersweet salvation.
Three figures, the principle players in a universal drama, were assembled on the ageless stage, each one chosen by fate to play their part. They stood silently under the pounding rain as streaks of white hot lightning split the night, illuminating the drama unfolding below.
Acheron stepped forward, his long black cape flowing out behind him as he set the Grimorum Arcanorum on the monolithic stone altar, "I have waited for this moment for ten thousand lifetimes....eons of agony...strife...solitude...have led up to this one moment. Finally, I shall unleash the Apocalypse, and I will take what is rightfully mine!!"
Turning toward Demona, he reached out his hand, taking hers and bringing her to the altar and the Grimorm, "Now my love, cleanse this foul creation in the flames of destruction.... throw open the gates of Heaven and Hell for me, and let the battle begin." He said softly, but purposefully.
Demona smiled at him, reaching up and kissing his mask softly, "For you, my love, there is nothing I would not do....nowhere I would not go." She turned to the book and opened it, scanning the pages and preparing herself for the intense focus that the spell would require. Closing her eyes, she began to make a series of mystic gestures over the open book, her fingers forming very precise alignments as she focused her life energies and the magical power of the Grimorum.
Slowly, the standing stones began to pulsate with a cold blue light, soft at first, and growing in intensity. The pulsations seemed to have a rythym, Goliath thought....three beats and a slight pause...three beats and a slight pause. Suddenly, Goliath realized what it was; the stones were resonating to the beat of Demona's heart.
"By the power of this book and by the power of my hand, the time has come, it is written; I command thee, stones of ages, do my bidding and ARISE!!!!!"
As Demona spoke, she thrust her hands upward forcefully. The stones all around Goliath and Acheron began to rumble, shaking violently. Slowly, grinding against the earth, they began to ascend out of the ground, the broken and fallen pieces floating back to their original orientations. Stone Henge was re-forming itself to what it once was.
"YES!!!" Acheron roared, "YES! THIS IS IT!!! AHA HA HA!!"
Goliath looked at Acheron, knowing the time of his betrayal was close at hand.
"WELCOME TO ARMAGEDDON MY SERVANTS!!!! PREPARE TO BECOME GODS!!"
Goliath knew his clan and Xanatos would have heard all this by now;
he knew they were waiting, ready to attack. All he had to do was set his
plan in motion and it would all be over. Clenching his fist, Goliath roared
and leapt with all his strength, unleashing a vicious punch that slammed
into Acheron's face from the side, sending him right off his feet, "FORGIVE
ME!!!" He snarled.
In a burst of light, a transport spell courtesy of young Alexander Xanatos and his able teacher, Puck, the other gargoyles, Xanatos in his battle armor, and a few Steel Clan robots appeared in the middle of Stone Henge. In a breathless instant, they exploded into action; Goliath grabbed Acheron and constricted him into a hold while the robots, Broadway and Hudson dashed to his aid. At the same time, Angela, Brooklyn and Bronx grabbed Demona and slammed her to the ground away from the Grimorum.
"WHAT?!!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
Xanatos wasted no time; he grabbed the Grimorum and flipped to the page containing the spell he already knew almost by heart.
Acheron raged, trying to fight off two massive gargoyles and a pair of robots. Finally, he let out an otherworldly roar of pure fury and unleashed a blast of energy, throwing them all off him, "GOLIATH, WHAT IS THIS TREACHERY?!"
Demona thrashed, trying to get free, " NOOO GOLIATH PLEASE!!!"
Xanatos suddenly made a mystic symbol with his hand, speaking the final words of the incantation none of them had heard over the noise, "CHAINS COME FORTH!!"
A flashing silver chain tore out of the ground, instantly wrapping itself around Acheron's arm. He looked down at it, then back at Goliath, "No......NOOO!!!"
More chains burst from the earth, ensnaring Acheron's ankles and wrists. He strained against their adamantine strength, but he could not break them. Turning his face to the black, turbulent sky, he unleashed a tortured scream of rage and agony.
Brooklyn and Angela had subdued Demona, placing her on her knees with her arm twisted behind her back. She stared at Acheron with a blank, despairing look on her face.
"It's done," Xanatos said, closing the book, "The chains will draw him back into the underworld. Nothing can stop them now."
Acheron was still struggling in vain to break the chains that bound him. Still more had come and wrapped around his torso, ensaring him in a shining silver web.
"DAMN YOU GOLIATH, WHY?!?! I WOULD HAVE MADE YOU A GOD!!!!! YOU WOULD HAVE HAD EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED!! WHY!?"
Goliath stood and stared as the chains pulled harder and harder, trying to force Acheron down into the earth, "I'm sorry......I didn't want it to be this way. I could not let you destroy the world...."
"YOU SWORE TO ME!!! YOU GAVE ME YOUR WORD!! HAVE YOU NO HONOR!?"
Goliath flinched, turning away slightly. He said nothing.
The chains pulled harder, forcing Acheron painfully to his knees. He continued to strain against their inescapable grasp, "...you.....betrayed me.....you betrayed yourself....your honor!!"
Acheron stared hard at Goliath for a moment, his blank white mask betraying none of the emotions behind it.
"So you saved this corrupt, decrepid creation. Most impressive. Tell me, was it worth the cost of your integrity?"
"Then tell me this, Goliath," Acheron said, his words dripping with bitterness and spite, "'For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'"
"Matthew 16:26, I believe," Xanatos said, stepping out from the altar, "I'm sure you're aware of the irony."
Goliath hung his head, "There was no joy in this for me, Acheron....but you left me no choice. I grew to respect you....even admire you.."
"Spare me your apologies. You are a disgrace to me, and I will be avenged on you, Goliath. You have my word on that. And my words are not empty, I am not empty...."
Goliath looked at Acheron, watching him continue to struggle uselessly against the chains. It was incredible; he knew better than any of them how impossible his situation was, how terrible the fate that awaited him would be, yet he continued to fight with all his strength, refusing even for an instant to resign himself. It made a twinge of terrible sorrow rise in Goliath to see Acheron that way; he was indeed the most noble creature Goliath had ever met. He was unrepentant of anything he'd done, dark and driven, most would say utterly ruthless in pursuit of his ends, yet at the same time, honor was everything to him. Nothing was worth betraying his code of honor. He was a warrior until the bitter end; his great act of defiance was the ultimate symbol of integrity. Even Reynard would have been in awe of that kind of unwavering fortitude.
"What?!" Brooklyn gasped, eyes wide.
"I said release her......let them have this one last moment together."
Demona, who had been stunned into an almost comatose state, suddenly looked up at Goliath, not knowing what to say. Her heart was being ripped to shreds by a tempest of emotions; pain, sorrow, rage, and dread all swirled within her, overwhelming in their intensity.
Angela put her hand on Brooklyn's arm, "I think I understand......let her go."
Brooklyn gave Angela a sideways glance and found himself unable to refuse the pleading look in her eyes. He let go of Demona and stepped back, allowing her to stand. She got to her feet and ran to Acheron, paying no attention to anyone else. Kneeling before him, she gently touched his mask; he was almost half way into the ground now, and sinking faster.
"M..my love....please forgive me...I have failed you.."
"No, Demona! It was I who failed you."
"Never! You are my champion....my rock. Without you, I am lost..."
Acheron stared deeply into Demona's green eyes, feeling his body sinking deeper and deeper toward the searing flames of Hell. He drank in her beauty, savoring it one last time before darkness enveloped him, "Please, my love, one last kiss?"
"yes...." she said, gently removing his mask while shielding them from the others with her wing.
Their lips met in a passionate embrace, communicating most eloquently the love they shared. It was Heaven in a moment; a small taste of paradise. For one brief shining moment, all the pain and darkness of their tortured lives slipped away; Acheron wept silently, his hard, bitter heart becoming soft, overwhelmed with emotion, all of his ponderous mental armor, built up over millenia, slipping away.
"Your love preserves me, my dark angel.....I will love you for all eternity."
"I shall love you as long, my love, longer....." Demona said, kising him one last time before she replaced his mask. In another moment, the cold, blank, white face was consumed by the earth, leaving no trace.
Demona collapsed, pressing her head down against the stubby grass, heavy sobs wracking her body. Suddenly, she bolted up, leaning back, her hands over her face, as a terrible, agonized scream of rage and torturous sorrow erupted from her throat. The others merely looked on in silence, not one of them completely unmoved by Demona's despair. Their sympathy was tempered, of course, by the knowledge that she would now hate them all more bitterly than ever.
That fact was vividly illustrated moments later; Demona turned to Goliath, her eyes burning red, her face wearing an expression of unbrildled rage and grief. She screamed with fury, throwing herself at him, teeth and claws bared, blood boiling. Two of Xanatos' robots immediately stepped in, grabbing her wrists and forcing her to her knees, their claws pressing sharply into her shoulders. She unleashed a screaming howl that made even Xanatos' blood run cold. Hot tears streaked down her face as she knashed her teeth at Goliath, "I HATE YOU!!! I SWEAR YOU"LL PAY FOR THIS, I SWEAR IT!"
Xantos opened his armor's forearm laser, pointing it at Demona, "Sorry, you'll have to defer payment on that one. I'd rather not shoot you, if it's all the same to you. I suggest you cut your losses and leave now."
Demona shot Xanatos a look of pure loathing, but turned back to Goliath, "So be it." She said, her voice a low growl. The robots released her, letting her walk past them and off over the plains. They all stood, watching her leave. "But know this, Goliath, " said half turning and pointing at him, "this is NOT OVER!" A few more minutes put her out of sight, gliding over the nearby hills into the darkness.
"I guess we won...." Brooklyn said, giving Angela's hand a soft squeeze, thankful he had not lost her.
Goliath shook his head solemnly, "No......there is no victory without honor. This is merely survival."
Brooklyn sighed, giving Goliath a sideways glance, "Well, that's good enough for me....", he said, wrapping his wing around Angela as she rested her head on his shoulder.
".....let's go home."
Life in Manhattan returned to normal fairly quickly. The clan had moved back to the Erie building, Xanatos was back to his slightly shady dealings, and Elisa was back to work protecting the city, as was the clan. Angela and Brooklyn continued their playful courtship, and Lex and Broadway continued to be slightly green about it. Only Goliath seemed not to have recovered from the ordeal. He was restless, moody. More than once, he had snapped at one or another of his friends. Elisa finally decided to confront him.
It was a quiet night; Elisa found Goliath sitting out on the castle tower under the full moon, leafing through one of his books but clearly not able to focus on it.
"Hey big guy...."
"Hello Elisa." He replied without turning around.
Elisa stepped up beside him, gently resting her hand on his shoulder. He responded by placing his claw over her small hand, enveloping it. His great shoulders heaved a heavy sigh, "We may have temporarily halted Acheron's plan, but Demona will never rest until he is avenged...you know as well as I do she is nothing if not single minded..."
"Yeah, only now instead of hatred for humans being her single purpose in life, it's hatred for you. For all of us I guess."
Goliath nodded, "Only I fear her wrath will be all the more terrible now, as it was born of her love for Acheron."
Elisa looked down, gently squeezing Goliath's massive shoulder. She leaned forward, resting her chin on his shoulder and running her hands around his sides, "We'll be alright. We've dealt with her before."
Goliath closed his eyes, taking Elisa's hand in his.
"But that's not all that's bothering you, is it Goliath?"
"..........I don't deserve you, Elisa."
"What? What kind of talk is that?"
"I am nothing.....I am worse than anything I ever accused Xanatos of being."
"Don't be stupid! You're a hero!"
"Ha! Am I?"
"Heroes do not sell out everything they hold dear in order to defeat their opponents. That is what villains do."
Elisa frowned, stepping back for a moment to look him over. Finally, she decided what to do, "Goliath, turn around."
"Look at me."
Goliath obligingly turned, his face more sullen than Elisa had ever seen it. She grabbed him around his shoulders and looked into his dark eyes, "Tell me, what is a hero?"
"A protector...a warrior...one who is good and true...one whose integrity is without question..."
Elisa shook her head, "Might be that, but not nescessarily."
Goliath gave her a quizzical look, "Then what?"
Elisa gazed deeply into Goliath's eyes, smiling softly, "A hero is someone who gives of himself, who puts the good of others ahead of his own welfare and interests.....someone who is willing to make personal sacrifices for others. Goliath, how can you say you're not a hero when you made the ultimate sacrifice for people you don't even know, many of whom hate you for being what you are? You didn't give up a limb, or your life, to protect them...you gave up a piece of your soul. That's the most selfless act of heroism I can imagine."
Goliath threw his arms around Elisa, pulling her close, their cheeks touching, "I'm so sorry Elisa.....I am not the hero you think I am..."
"I'll tell you something else.....heroes are always the last to admit
to being one."