Brief Lives is the seventh graphic novel collecting the works of the comic The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman
. Here I offer a rather detailed synopsis of the plot, so if you wish to be surprised when reading it, stop here. Most major and some minor plot details have been included.
This story opens with the caretaker of Orpheus's head, Andros, beginning his day. He puts a flower on Johanna Constantine's grave every day as thanks for rescuing Orpheus a long time ago, as a tribute. Orpheus is by this time 3000 or so years old.
In the marketplace of the Greek city where he lives, a woman is begging for change--not money, but actual change. Delirium sits beside her, and decides she needs a change too. She wants to find Destruction, the only one of her siblings who has really been kind to her. She asks for help from Desire and Despair, but they say no, so Dream is her next option.
Dream, having been recently "dumped" by a girl and in a foul mood, agrees just because he wants to seek her in the waking world. They get help from various people along the way, but everyone on Delirium's list of Destruction's friends keeps dying or disappearing as if something is trying to stop them from finding their brother. Ruby DeLonge starts out as thir chauffer, but after she dies in a fire caused by her cigarette, Delirium takes a turn at driving and ends up making a cop go crazy to avoid a ticket. Destruction's friend Bernie Capax dies before they can find him, being smashed under a wall; a stupid way to die after thousands of years. Next is Ishtar, a goddess of old, now working in a strip club. Her last dance as she destroys herself kills everyone in the club as well. His friend Etain dives out a window to escape her apartment's explosion, and she hightails it to another plane of reality. His friend the Aldar Man changes himself into a bear to escape the danger he knows is coming, and leaves his shadow in his place to be destroyed.
Dream feels guilty for causing so much misfortune and calls off he quest so that innocent lives might be spared, and Delirium takes this personally and goes to hide in her realm. Dream decides, however, to keep looking for Destruction on his own, in a more stealthy way, and asks the feline goddess Bast, who claimed at one time to know where Destruction was. He finds she was lying, just to see him again, and have a bargaining chip, but she does tell him to seek a family oracle.
He doesn't know quite what this means and goes to ask a family member, noticing Delirium has shut up her realm. Death is angry at him for this, so she tells him to set things straight with his baby sister before he does anything else. For once he apologizes, and agrees to begin taking the quest to find Destruction seriously. They visit the eldest Endless brother, Destiny, and he tells them to forget their quest for an oracle and "go home."
Delirium shows her "other side" by demonstrating her wisdom to Destiny, and Destiny suggests that an oracle is IN the family . . . meaning Dream's beheaded son, Orpheus, to whom Dream swore he would never speak again. Delirium helps her brother find the strength to visit Orpheus, and he does so.
Orpheus tells them where Destruction is in return for the promise of a favor. They finally arrive at Destruction's home, where he is living as a mortal would, with his dog. He invites his siblings to dinner. In a conversation, it is revealed that Despair once replaced a member of the Endless before her.
Dream demands to know why Destruction quit three hundred years ago, and one of his answers is that once technology to make the atom bomb began to become clear in theories, he wanted to escape that fate, since he liked Earth. If he abandons his realm, it runs itself, he says, and that way it's no longer his fault. Destruction ruminates on the impermanence of life, even their own, and invites Dream to change, or at least to realize that he is capable of change. He says that the Endless are only "patterns and recurring motifs," and that they therefore change at humanity's whims rather than the other way around.
Now that his family has found him, Destruction announces he must leave again. Delirium urges him to come live with her, but since he's not willing to do so, he leaves her his dog, Barnabas. And he urges Dream to remember why he left and to know it wasn't his fault. Then Destruction leaves, walking into the sky, and Dream must keep his promise to Orpheus, who wishes to die after 3000 years. Though it violates a law, Dream kills his son on his request, and blood on his hand falls on the ground and produces new red flowers.
Dream returns to the Dreaming, where he has apparently changed so much his guards can't tell it's really him. Dream mourns, and fulfills other promises he's made . . . and Andros, guardian of Orpheus, buries his head and wishes his spirit peace. The spilling of family blood can have consequences (i.e., involving the wrath of the Kindly Ones), but Desire has been attempting to make Dream kill someone in the family, and now that exactly has happened.
See the next Sandman book: World's End