“Way out west, they have a name, for rain and wind and fire, the rain is Tess, Fire is Joe, and they call the wind Mariah”
A solitary pigeon fluttered through the air in south-eastern Connecticut, passing over cars and other vehicles on a wide road populated with workers heading home. All the pigeon knew was that there were nice updrafts, providing an easier time to fly, even the occasional opportunity to glide for short distances. A gush of warm air to its left side drew the bird’s attention. Its body turned to follow its head, riding the current higher. It passed over a driveway of tar in a tunnel of trees. About twenty feet along, the driveway turned leftward and changed to gravel, causing the bird some trouble when it lost the mini-thermal. The pigeon flapped over to a nearby tree and perched on a branch, looking at its new location with first one black eye, then the other.
The trees broke off into a large clearing, somewhat like two circles squashed together, connected by a narrow strip. The drive continued to the left, then straightening out after a ninety degree curve.
The right circle was full of various equipment; a volleyball net, several targets that might be for archery or gun shooting, assorted balls for different sports lying here and there, even a tennis net hidden away at the end. Altogether, it looked as if all of a high school’s sports teams had descended, played for several hours, then literally dropped everything and left. The pigeon searched hopefully for a scrap of food somewhere, but didn’t find anything.
The rear end of the field didn’t end in a wall of trees, but rather two breaks, creating a small clump of bushes and trees with a double path curving on both sides to meet behind the clump of brush. From there, the path went straight until it ended at the edge of a medium size brook, roughly ten feet across and never more then four feet deep. The pigeon, not being that curious, didn’t see any of this.
The bird turned its limited intelligence and attention to the left circle. This was larger then the left by about a third. A piece of the circle was taken up by a garden, part what might be vegetable, part pine trees ready to harvest come Christmas. The rest was about one-third house, a two-story structure of concrete painted green on the bottom floor and white on the top half. The ground rose here, creating a hollow that the house resided in, at the far end totally hiding the fact the building was two stories instead of one. The drive came to an end at a double doorway, the right size for a car to drive into or, a hundred years ago, a buggy or two horses.
The owner of the house apparently had exotic tastes (or none at all), not that the pigeon cared. All of the many windows had ledges, like window seats in reverse. On the roof was a collection of gargoyles, thirty-odd statues in ferocious poses.
The pigeon’s eyes gleamed with stupid excitement. It was in paradise. A pigeon Mecca.
The bird fluttered to the house, in its excitement not noticing the beautiful sunset behind it. It fluttered over the statues for a moment, then selected a gargoyle on the far side of the house. It hung for a moment over the statue’s head, prepared to settle onto its new favorite perch, its miniscule brain not even registering a cracking sound.
A second later, the pigeon’s brain was transmitting its last shocked thoughts. The statue had cracked, then exploded, sending stone shrapnel everywhere, as did the other statues. The one the pigeon had selected as a perch had lashed out with a roar, grabbing the bird by the neck with a four-taloned hand the color of leaves in the spring and giving a practiced twist....
Mariah looked at the dead bird with a smirk of satisfaction. “Mark another one off the pigeon population,” she called to her brother Mector.
He grinned and opened his mouth to reply, but his comment was cut off by the Leader, Serra.
“Can I have your attention?” she called out to the clan. Silence settled over the assembled gargoyles as they turned to their leader. An excited buzz of comments passed through the younger generation as they realized what was going on. A month ago, the Second had been shot during a robbery. The wound was unfortunately fatal. But this meant that tonight, the Leader was going to choose her new Second.
Mariah studied the Leader with a critical eye. The loss of one of the clan had hit Serra hard; there were few enough of them as it stood. But Serra wasn’t leader for nothing. The gargoyle was one of the few animalistic members, resembling a humanoid dragon with glittering red scales dusted with a golden coloring on the edges and entirely golden on the insides of her wings. She was just over seventy-six, about thirty-eight in human years, and had been Leader for nearly twenty-five of them.
The Leader’s reptilian gaze swept over the assembled gargoyles. She smiled a slight, toothy grin at the elders of the clan. She had heard continued protests from many of them, complaining bitterly about the rather wild youngsters, but still, to a member, they were refusing or planning to do so if she offered one of them the position of Second. Several had complained that they were too old for the job, likely getting too hurt or too many pains before it was time for them to quit the eventual position of Leader. Others, slightly more candid, had admitted to wanting fresh ideas in the position, a possibility only coming from a younger Second.
So that left Serra with nineteen choices for her (eventual) replacement. She let her gaze wander over the hopeful warriors, never resting on one or meeting any eyes. She looked them over several times, teasing the hopefuls with a sense of showmanship that she had never lost. Finally, she stepped over to a small cluster at the corner of the house. Serra finally truly smiled and rested a hand on Mector’s shoulder. He was a handsome youngster of Mariah’s rookery; a hunter green with light red hair and wings that had scalloped edges. He was also smart and a natural leader. To Serra, there had really never been much of a choice.
“Congratulations... Second,” she told him.
The new second-in-command gaped at her in shock, while his rookery-mates broke into cheers and began to congratulate him, mostly by pounding him on the back. The elder generation settled for slightly more dignified – but no less exuberant – congratulations.
Serra stood back from the confusion. She would have to pound into young Mector’s head the Leader and Second were not merely rank, but hard work and tough choices. But for now, let him have his celebration. He’d need it in the nights to come. She noticed one of his rookery-kin, a female named Mariah, squeezing out of the chaos and walk over to the roof’s edge. The Leader reached out and grabbed a wing.
“And where do you think you’re going?” she asked sternly. While she seemed to be totally concentrated on the youngster, her mind – the part that was entirely Leader and not simply Serra – analyzed Mariah. The young female was pretty, in a human sort of way. She was in fact one of the most human appearing of the clan, if one discounted the fact that humans simply did not come in the same green color of leaves. Her wings were bat-like, and she had very little in the way of horns; five lengths of bone, all less then a talon’s-length long, that arced from her hairline and back, giving her the illusion of a crown. Her hair was deep black, pulled back by a barrette to fall halfway down her back. Yet she was short, and simply very human looking.
And right now, also very guilty-looking. “Um...”
A battle roar from the stairs instantly silenced all talk. Every gargoyle turned to stare at one of the younger males, a shy dark red with blond hair and “gliding” wings named Art. He blushed a deeper red, then took a deep breath. “Good news bad news. Well, bad news worse news, actually. Early this morning, the Japs bombed Peal Harbor. There were major casualties, but we just entered the war.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, then an eruption of questions. For a stunned moment, the Leader froze, then bellowed out her own roar. This re-silenced the clan.
“Tell me exactly what you heard,” she hissed, pulling Art down the stairs. The other gargoyles hurried after.
Mariah stood on the roof and looked down at her rookery kin’s backs. For a moment, she played with the thought of finding out what was going on, but there would be so many questions and shouting and screaming going on, it would be easier to swallow her curiosity and wait until later to ask one of the others.
She hesitated, unsure of what to do, then flung herself off the roof and into the air. Someone should be on patrol. She did a quick circuit of the field, checking on some of the equipment left out. She curved away to follow the brook until she reached a small wooden bridge, turning to glide above the path that twisted through the woods. While it made it much easier for them to get around on foot, the paths made hunters a problem for the clan. They’d caught three in the last month alone. She followed the path around the clan’s land, passing over a pond, a clearing with the Frog Rock, a five-foot tall stone that glaciers had sculpted to resemble a giant frog, and finally to Porter’s Rock and the Indian. Porter’s Rock was a cliff that overlooked the Mystic River. The Indian was another rock formation, made by glaciers and human blasting earlier in the century until it looked like an Indian’s head with a headdress. Finding nothing of interest, she went back to the brook then followed it to where a small dam had once been set up. From there she moved to the Sand Pit, a clearing about a hundred-fifty feet across that was mostly sand and scrub brush. The woods surrounding it were bordered on one side by the brook, opposite to that was a small lake currently iced over. To the north was a ridge of stone and boulders. To the south were the house and the road.
Expecting nothing more than some deer or similar creatures, Mariah was shocked to see a car and several men below her. Three people were crowded around another figure laying on the ground. The gargoyle swooped lower, determined to find out what the humans were doing on private property.
Pain made up his entire world. There was no room for anything else. Eric coughed weakly, feeling in a distanced way the blood that trickled from the corner of his mouth and the cold from the ground seeping through his jacket. A vicious kick in his side rolled him onto his back, tearing a short wheeze that might have been meant to be a scream from his abused throat. God, make it stop! his mind yelled. Please, just make the pain stop! For a few blissful seconds he stared up at the stars. So bright. I’ve never seen them so bright. Then a human form loomed over him, blocking the sparkling lights out.
“Traitor,” the man snarled. Eric imagined that somehow he could see the man smile; not a reassuring sight, especially considering he had only been watching his goons beat the living daylights out of him. The man had been enjoying the show far too much for Eric’s liking. The man pulled something out of his pocket, something shaped like a revolver. “And now you die.”
Eric stared dully up at the gun pointing at his forehead. So this is how it ends. Looks like I get to make those complaints about the world in person. He closed his eyes and waited. In a few seconds, there would be peace. He would no longer be hurting. Karen... he would be with Karen again. All it took was the one bullet. Let it come.
A deep roar, like a demon or even the Devil himself, shattered the night and snapped Eric’s eyes open. “Deal with it,” the leader snarled, realigning his aim.
A sequence of stuttered images followed. A moment of hesitation, not for feelings, but to aim. Something long and thin wrapped around the man’s arm, pulling the gun away from Eric’s forehead. The bang of the gun as it was fired. Burning pain increasing in his arm and a scream from the leader.
A moment of silence later, someone – something – looked down at him. This time, it wasn’t the leader. At first, Eric was certain it was a demon. With its green skin and blazing red eyes, what else could it be?
But as its eyes died to an ordinary but beautiful hazel, he realized how wrong he was. This... creature was strange, yes, but also eerily beautiful. Her green skin gave her an exotic look, and the five horns from her forehead appeared to be something like a coronet. Most of her long black hair was tied back, but a few strands had managed to escape and framed her face in a manner that hairdressers spend hours trying to recreate. And she had saved him. He reached out with a hand, wanting to touch the perfection God had sent to guide him to the afterlife before he truly died. “Angel,” he croaked. “Thank you.” The effort of speaking proved to be too much. His hand fell back to the ground and the angel’s face faded into blackness.
Mariah stared down at the blond, well built yet battered man. He really was in a bad way if he was calling her an angel. She’d known something smelled when she flew over the men, but this was far worse then she thought. The gargoyle hesitated a moment. The man was a total stranger. There was no guarantee how he would react to the clan. But to leave him here was to let him die. That decided her. She picked the human up, cradling him close, and raced to the house. There was little time.
The first thing Eric became aware of was voices. They were speaking quietly in the background. Three were female, and the other was male.
“How’s he doing?” The voice was a throaty alto, strong sounding with a touch of concern and anger. His training kicked in and he mentally dissected the voice. The person was used to being in charge and in control. The exasperation hinted at a feeling that she thought things were slipping from her grasp. A leader.
“Well enough. He will need to wear the splint for several weeks, if not months. It’s so hard to tell with humans. Angel’s skills kept him alive, and will speed the healing process, but she has to do it nightly. He’ll live.” Old, and female again. She spoke with a deliberateness that implied great wisdom had come with her years.
“So he’ll stay here,” the male voice half asked, half stated. He was young, perhaps just past a teenager or approaching it. There was a tentativeness to his statement. Perhaps a leader in training?
“No!” the leader snapped. “He can’t. Gods know what he’ll do when he wakes up.” He hid a wince at that. He was grateful and all, but he was also a good Christian.
“So you’ll kick him out to die?” another voice snarled. She sounded as young as the man, but many times more stubborn.
“He won’t die,” the leader snarled right back. There was the shuffle of feet and a slight cough in the back. The old woman and the man didn’t want to get involved.
“You let me bring him in! He needs healing, let him stay to get it.”
“It goes against clan law!” the leader practically roared, an almost animalistic tone entering her voice. “I’m more then willing to waive that for the time being, considering the condition he was in when you found him, but we must not get involved.”
“But – ”
“Mariah, please,” the old woman interrupted. “Serra... Leader. There must be a middle path somewhere here. But it will have to wait to be found. It is sunrise. Let this wait.”
There was a tense silence. “All right,” the leader finally agreed. Eric tried to speak or fully awaken as the four left the room, but fell back asleep.
He came fully awake quite a while later on with late afternoon sunlight shining full on his face. He squinted in the light and carefully sat up. The room was plain and functional, radiating a sense of guest room. He was in a comfortable bed and so wrapped in bandages he thought he must surely look like a mummy. Well, if mummies went around in shredded pants and T-shirts. He winced when he saw his leg; it was strapped into a bulky and uncomfortable splint with the destroyed remains of his slacks tied around it. But altogether, he was hurt a lot less then he thought he had been. Eric grinned faintly at the memory of the ‘angel’ he saw. Probably a result of the bumps on the back of his head and the person who saved him. Speaking of which, where were the owners of the house?
He carefully swung his legs over the side of the bed, settling his feet down gingerly. He was sore everywhere. He managed to stand up and get to the doorway. There was a clock hanging on the wall over a huge table. It read 3:25.
He shivered as his body realized the heat was either off or far too low for his abused tolerance. He shuffled back to grab his coat, then worked his way back to the door.
Slowly, cautiously, he explored the floor, searching for his unseen hosts. He didn’t find much except that there were a large number of people living here and that they were rather trustful. Only one door was closed. He saved it for last, not wanting to intrude, but when no one answered his calls and he saw neither hide nor hair of anything alive, he tried it. The door wasn’t even locked. The handle turned easily.
Eric’s jaw dropped to about his knees. He was standing in the doorway to a room preparing for Armageddon. Hanging from the walls, lying on stands, worn by dummies was almost every weapon his mind could conjure up along with many forms of armor he couldn’t imagine. There was everything from the normal handguns and shotguns to swords and spears. The entire back wall held bows. Set in cabinets attached to the walls were boxes of ammunition, or in stacks behind their weapons. “Oh my,” he whispered. “Can you say paranoid?”
Shaking his head in amazement at some people’s capacity for violence and trying to ignore the memories of how he had trained for several months how to kill with similar weapons, and in even worse ways, he quickly left.
Having exhausted all his options on the floor, Eric went to the stairs and mentally struggled with a suddenly important decision: stay and wait for his hosts to appear, go downstairs and search for them, or upstairs? Well, waiting was definitely out. He’d go crazy hanging around for people to return, if they ever did. Even with the massive book collection they had....
He shook away thought of the library and headed up the stairs. By the time he was done, it would be easier to come downstairs than up. He pushed open a trapdoor, groaning as he exerted bruised muscles, and plodded onto the roof. The man stopped and stared.
He was surrounded by statues; gargoyles, magnificent stone sculptures – all life size, no less! – each one different from the last except in general shape. The artist of these creatures was truly a master. In delighted awe, Eric wandered across the roof, wonderingly touching a wing or clawed hand. Over here, a werewolf caught halfway between human and wolf form with feathered wings partially unfurled, captured in stone moments before lunging forward to catch its prey. There, a dragon-like female, each scale carefully carved out, lizard-like muzzle tilted to the side in a fashion that made it look like she was thinking of some obscure problem, and standing tall, unlike many of the others that hunched over in a near lunge. And here, an ancient female, with amazingly intricate detail; somehow the artist had managed to carve wrinkles and age lines around the eyes and mouth.
At the far end of the roof, Eric made the prize discovery; crouched next to a more traditional gargoyle with large ears, protruding muzzle, and brawny build was an angel. From long hair to beautiful face to feathered wings, she would take the chief place at any church willing to pay what would have to be a huge amount to purchase her, even with several aspects that would seriously decrease her value to the church; the expression of rage that twisted her face and revealed fangs, her crouched position, the thin serpentine tail that curled around clawed feet with three talons and a dew claw. But to Eric, these ‘flaws’ only enhanced her beauty. This was no harp-player, but a warrior spirit that actively went out and fought evil. With a small grin he shook away the wild rambling of his imagination. The artist was truly a master.
He turned around to head back down the stairs and to warmth when he saw her. She was crouched in the corner, watching the west like she was searching for the setting sun. Eric reached out with a trembling hand, expecting to meet soft skin rather than stone. But the angel of his dreams was only a rock statue, warmed by the sun. He tried to shake away his dreams of the green skinned angel that saved his life, rationalizing that it was only something he saw when his real savior brought him here, and in his delirious condition had thought she moved and was alive. Impossible, of course. She was clearly a statue. But the image of hazel eyes and green skin hovered behind his eyes as he turned once again to go down.
Again he was distracted, but this time it was not by the gargoyles. A bit of movement in the trees surrounding the house caught his eye and instincts he had hoped were lost kicked in, sending him ducking down behind the raised edge of the roof. A man dressed in clothes that seemed – for lack of a better description – too civilian and carrying a rifle stopped out of the brush, swearing in loud German and swatting at brambles that caught his pant legs. The voice was unmistakable, sending a chill down Eric’s spine. It was one of the men that had taken so much pleasure last night in beating him up.
Eric took a quick look around, scanning the woods. The place was crawling with men, all carrying weapons. He muttered a curse under his breath then turned and raced down the stairs, drawing upon training to ignore the flashes of pain as he pushed his abused body to levels it should not go. He burst into the weapon room and grabbed a rifle, then two handguns, ignoring the type. So long as they worked, that was all that mattered. Snatching up as many boxes of ammo as he could carry or stuff in his pockets, Eric turned and sprinted back up the stairs. As he emerged from the trap door, his foot caught on something, sending him sprawling to the ground and waves of pain up his leg. He bit back a scream at the certainty that his leg was on fire and crawled to the protection of the raised edge of the roof. It took only a second to load the gun.
For an instant, Eric hesitated. It was a sin to take a life. And to take these men away from their families, like Karen had been taken from him...
But it was only an instant. His leg throbbed, reminding him that these were the men that had happily tortured him last night, that would have killed him without a second thought had they not wanted to play. And now they were here, prepared to destroy the sanctuary where some strangers had trusted him enough to leave him alone in their house for the day. And he knew with a certainty that came from his bones that if they got him, they would not stop with his destruction, but also that of this house, and the people that had helped him.
And the gargoyles.
For some reason he could not explain, that thought bothered him the most.
With a quick prayer and apology, he turned, sighted, and fired. It was a game, to see who lasted until sunset. Then, one way or another, it would be over. If his mysterious hosts reappeared, he would be saved. If, by some miracle he lasted until sundown, it would be far too easy for one of them to sneak in and take him out.
One way or another, it ended at sunset.
Sunset. Mariah had seen some reproductions at the movies, heard or read about it, but she would never see it. Yet she knew what it was. To her, and all the gargoyles, it was more a time, a feeling of waking up, of a boundless surge of energy that had to be released in one massive roar and stretch....
With the crackle of stone shards falling to the roof, the gargoyle clan greeted the night as their kind had for centuries. Unlike the normal ritual, however, tonight they had an audience. Mariah’s eyes lost the fiery red color of rage and waking to see a human, the man she had rescued the night before, crouched behind the lip of the roof. He was cradling a rifle and staring with wide, dark blue eyes at her before crossing himself and muttering an oath.
The crack of a gun firing and the sudden roar of pain on the other end of the roof, followed by Serra’s bellow of “Get down!” brought Mariah and the human back to reality.
The gargoyles hit the deck to the sound of gunfire, several wincing at close misses. Most began to work their way downstairs, undoubtedly heading to the armory and a chance to fight back, but Mariah, Angel, and Ferris crawled over to the human. “Are you all right?” she asked. What did he think of them? Surely they were among the strangest in the clan; Angel, who looked like her namesake but was currently cursing quietly in terms that would surprise any bar crawler; Ferris, all gangly seven blue feet of him, with his giant ears, pug nose, single head ridge that went from his eye ridges to the base of his neck, and worn features but among the quietest and gentlest of the clan; and herself. Save Angel, she was the most human looking, and got along the best with their human allies, but that was all. She was nothing special.
He continued to stare at her, then shook his head. “No. My leg – ”
“It needs to be reset,” Angel interrupted. She dragged her long blonde hair out of her eyes with an impatient gesture. “Damn fool went running around and messed it up. You have any idea how long it took me to set that fucking thing?”
Mariah hid a grin. Her sister had the face of an angel but when under stress a mouth like a cess pit.
“Excuse me, but does anyone have the slightest clue as to what’s going on?” Sadie’s calm, aged voice cut through the chaos as she crawled over to the small group, looking as serene as if she were reading in the library instead of a target in a fire fight.
The human stared some more, then nodded. “They’re after me. They’ll destroy anyone and anything that gets in their way.”
The elderly gargoyle nodded, as if to herself, then pointed to the guns he carried. “Do you plan on using those anymore or can we take them?”
“Oh, sorry.” Looking totally lost, he handed over the guns. Sadie kept the rifle and its ammo and handed the pistols to Feris. Casually checking the gun, Sadie calmly rolled up and fired two shots down below. There was a sick cry as she rolled flat again and began reloading.
“You killed him!” the human cried. He ignored Angel, who was fussing over his bandaged leg.
The old gargoyle simply gave him a calm look. “Yes. I care a great deal for the welfare of my clan, which sounds like it would be destroyed if we didn’t fight back. And you described them as hardly the type to stop and negotiate.”
He was saved from making a retort by the arrival of one of Mariah’s rookery; Liam, a young male that resembled nothing more then a humanoid wolf. He carried another gun and a bow with a quiver of arrows, which he handed to Angel.
“Leader wants you to take the human downstairs and out of danger,” he hissed to Mariah. She nodded and helped the man over to the stairs, although he protested vehemently against such treatment. “Can you make it down?” she finally hissed.
He stopped, then gave the stairs an almost triumphant look. “No.”
She bit back a small grin. If he thought that was going to stop her...
She leaned over and lifted him easily into her arms, trotting down while cheerfully ignoring his sputtered, shocked comments. At the middle floor, she caught a glimpse of the clan hunkered down at the windows, sniping away at the humans. There was a disturbing amount of lumps on the yard that Mariah was sure weren’t there last night. She shook the thought away and moved on down, passing through the hatchlings and youngest warriors – many of which were clamoring to go topside to fight – into the workout room and finally to the workshop. She looked around for a second, nibbling on her lip and tail twitching like a serpent, then finally placed the human in the cleanest corner possible. It wouldn’t do for her to get wood chips in his wound.
“Thanks,” he said quietly as she started to unwrap the brace on his leg. She looked up, brushing aside hair that always escaped its tie to get into her eyes. Then she shrugged and turned back to his leg. “Gargoyles protect,” she stated quietly. “It’s what we are, and what we do. You needed help.”
“But you didn’t have to get involved. You could’ve just let them – ” He broke of in a small hiss of pain as the inhuman angel – gargoyle – prodded his leg, sending pain shooting through his leg like an electric shock.
“Sorry,” she said, drawing back and hands fluttering uncertainly over his leg. “I’m just not good with this sort of thing unless I’m dealing it out. You’ll have to wait for Angel to get done, she has a real good touch with wounds, but she’s kind of battle hungry, so... um, I’ll just end up making it worse, and that wouldn’t be good at all – ”
“Whoa!” Eric held up a hand, trying to ignore the flashes of pain any movement sent roaring through his body. He managed a strained smile. “Take a breath! Please, I’m grateful for any assistance. I owe you my life.”
She studied him with those amazing eyes, obviously judging him for something, but somehow appearing emotionless at the same time. “We owe you ours,” she finally said, holding out her hand. “I’m Mariah.”
He took her hand. “Eric Kaylin. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” They shook hands, Eric silently marveling at the oh so restrained power in that green-taloned grip. It was no wonder she had carried him down three flights as if he weighed nothing; he half suspected that she could lift a car with little problem. He realized with a start that she looked no more than a teenager, a well developed one, to be sure, but the trace of gawkiness to her frame.... My god, what will she be like when she’s grown? If they do grow. This is bizarre.
She broke eye contact first, coughing and dropping her gaze to the bloody mess of his leg. She reached out, only to stop inches away from his skin. “Do... do you want me to try and fix that or just leave it alone?”
“No offense, but I figure it can wait for... Angel, is it?”
“All right. Yes. She’s the blonde with the dirty mouth.”
He chuckled and shook his head, hiding shock at the thought that Angel was probably the same age as Mariah. “That was a bit of a surprise. So, um.... what do we do now?”
“Wait,” she answered matter-of-factly, rocking back into a crouch on her oddly shaped feet.
“But....” He glanced upwards despite his best efforts not to. “Shouldn’t you go help them?” She seemed eager enough to fight earlier, as well as the other teens.
She shook her head. “I was ordered to keep you safe. Besides, we have everything taken care of. A few lunatics with guns aren’t normal, even around here, but - ”
“Those aren’t just lunatics.”
She snorted, obviously thinking he was overreacting. “Then what are they, Nazis?” He merely paled, but it was answer enough. “You can’t be serious!” Mariah protested, glancing upwards as well. “Oh dear.” She swiftly stood and headed for the door, grabbing a pencil and scrap of paper. At the door she finished scribbling something, then bellowed, “Indy!”
Within seconds, another gargoyle raced into the room. This one seemed younger, perhaps not quite a teenager. His gangly form was part due to age, but more likely to his resemblance to a humanoid cheetah. If one ignored the jeans cutoffs, odd feet, and feathery wings, speckled like his pelt, the male could possibly pass as the original animal. “Yeah?” he asked.
Mariah folded the paper and handed it over. “This needs to be with the Leader five minutes ago,” she barked. “It’s important info on the attackers.”
His eyes flickered to Eric, then back to her. He nodded and spun around, going onto all fours and sprinting out of the room at high speeds. Satisfied with her warning, the green gargoyle turned and went back to Eric. She crouched down again, but this time the respectful distance was replaced by an aura of cautious captor. Her eyes had gone from the curious hazel to determined steel. “So. Why are Nazis after a crack shooter in a remote corner of Connecticut? Does this have to do with the sub base? What’d you do?” The steel had also entered her voice.
Damn! “As far as I know, this has nothing to do with submarines, boats, or your precious little base.” She visibly bristled at his haughty tone. Well, let her! She didn’t have the faintest clue! “Do you have any idea what’s going on in Europe right now?”
She shrugged. “A war.”
He snorted. “Try genocide. You have no clue at the horrors there!”
She arced one of the bony ridges above her hard eyes. “Guess again, human,” she rumbled. “My kind is well associated with genocide. This Hitler just sinks to hunting his own kind rather than mine.”
He was shaking his head even as she began to speak. “No. You can’t even begin to imagine it.”
“This is neither here nor there,” she interrupted. “Another human is killing more humans. What does it have to do with you?”
He studied his bloody leg. Better than he deserved, really. After all he’d seen and done – and not done.... “I was a spy. It’s not supposed to get around, but what’ll my superiors say if I tell them a – a gargoyle dragged it out of me?” He gave a short, bitter bark of laughter. “I’m in enough of a mess already. My duties began before this godforsaken war even started. Just to keep a general eye on things, report in if events started getting out of hand. And of course, my reports were ignored. I ended up assigned to a place called Auschwitz.” He paled involuntarily. “It.... it was Hell. Hell on earth. And I couldn’t do a fucking thing! I had to watch, I couldn’t help.... oh God. God have mercy on my soul.”
When he finally looked up, she was crouched next to him, offering silent support. His teary, blurred eyes met those calm, ancient hazel orbs that help impossible understanding and comfort. “They see you as a traitor,” she said softly, only half questioning, “and so are hunting you for ‘justice’.”
She nodded and stood. “You picked a good place to be worked over. We shall take care of them.”
“They’re killers. Some of you could very well die.”
She looked down at him, suddenly coldly inhuman, an ancient killer rather than the teen girl he’d been conversing with. “We run that risk every night. They aren’t Superman. They’re only human. We’ll take care of them.”
A shiver worked its way down his spine. ‘Human’ suddenly seemed to mean ‘very breakable’.
They didn’t speak for the next half hour. The cheetah gargoyle – Indy? – returned once, carrying a book and news. He quietly shared the news with Mariah after handing the book to Eric.
Finally, Angel strolled in. She carried a black satchel, splattered with almost as much blood as her shirt. “Sorry I took so long,” she said in a tone that indicated differently. “Let’s see what damage you’ve done.” She casually probed his leg, ignoring Eric’s gasps of pain. When finally satisfied, she gave him a level look. “Congratulations. You’ve ruined a long night’s work, in fact, you’ve probably worsened it a time or two. I need to reset it.” Eric nodded as she placed her hands on his leg. “I’m gonna do this on three, alright?” He nodded again. This would hurt like a bitch. He knew from a tender age of ten that they lied, it was never on three, so two.... The human bit his lip.
“AAAAHHHHH!!!! Jeeeesus Cre-ist! What happened to two?”
That got him a wintery smile. “You were expecting it then.” She finished bandaging without further comment, leaving with a final warning not to move or she’d make him do something he’d always considered anatomically impossible.
Even as Angel left, three more gargoyles entered. One was the elderly, wrinkled female who’d wielded a rifle so well earlier. The other two were a dragon like female with red and gold coloring, and a young –teenage?– male, green with red hair and a nervous expression.
The almost-a-dragon took the forefront. “Nazis?” she asked, the thick, bony ridge over an eye lifting.
Eric itched to stand to attention, busted leg or no. Something about this gargoyle screamed ‘leader,’ and he’d always been one to jump when in the presence of a superior officer. “Yes, ma’am.”
“They know I’m an American spy. Well, was, at this point.”
She nodded, simply accepting the point. “So why here?”
Eric shrugged. “It’s remote, but near where they caught me?”
She nodded again, eyes distant. Finally she looked him in the eyes. “Do you have any identification on you?”
This sent all his instincts screaming to run, hide, or at least lie like a rug. “Excuse me?”
“You’re going to disappear.”
Once again there was the urge to stand, but this time it was most definitely not to salute. The old female apparently noticed. She cleared her throat. “Serra, perhaps you could clarify? We don’t mean to kill you, son, just... deceive some people.”
The dragon gargoyle, apparently Serra, nodded, though he sensed more than a little reluctance. “There’s got to be at least one of the attackers that has about your looks. If we pass him off as you, we’re all a little safer. The kill squad looks like they did their jobs, even if they died doing it.”
Amazing, that after all this time his stomach still churned at the idea, but he had to admit they had a point. “What about afterwards?” At the blank looks, he sighed. “Once you convince everyone I’m dead, what do you intend for me to do?”
Serra hesitated. “We leave you in Angel’s hands until she declares you healed. After that....” It was her turn to shrug. “If you’re willing to swear to silence, we can always use an ally.”
Eric blinked and leaned back, amazed at these beings’ easy acceptance of the situation. How on earth anyone could take the news that they were harboring a former spy which had caused them to be attacked by German soldiers so calmly.... Even the fact that they were not human couldn’t be enough.
He was pulling out his wallet without realizing it, and the young male quickly took it. “By the way,” he said, feeling bizarrely out of control and oddly enough, not really minding, “my name’s Eric Kaylin.”
Thank the Dragon, it’s over! That bedamned war is finally OVER! Germany’s finally surrendered, and Japan can’t be far behind now. I hope this mess finishes soon. None of the children know, or perhaps remember, how nasty war can be. Even the Great War didn’t REALLY touch us. Not like the Civil one or – bah, listen to the ancient woman rant on. THIS war is over, and that is more than enough reason to celebrate!
And I personally expect there is another one too. It still amazes me how blind the children can be, especially to themselves and their feelings. Although this could be willing blindness. I believe I’m the only one to remember the last gargoyle/human pairing.
Probably a good thing, considering how that ended. Very Romeo/Juliet. Still, Eric and Mariah are much more solid youngsters, though by human standards I don’t believe Eric is very young. Be that as it may, he hasn’t really left us for more than a few weeks occasionally in the... what, 4 years since he arrived? He’s long since left the probation period to become one of the clan, and Dragon knows the hatchlings love him.
And I believe our Mariah is starting to, as well.
Please, don’t let that end like the last. Let this be another cause for celebration.
Mariah hurried down the path to the sand pit, absently wondering why Eric felt the need to talk to her there, first thing at night, but apparently not enough to meet her at sunset rather than leaving a rather terse note like he had. One way to find out, she mused, shrugging and turning all her attention onto her surroundings. When she finally broke through the trees and into the artificial field, she paused to take a cautious look around. The only figure, human or otherwise, was Eric’s familiar shape perched on one of the boulders cluttering the hill bordering the sand pit’s far edge.
The few minutes’ walk up to him dredged her worries up from her subconscious. This was not normal. Not normal was not good. Upon joining him, she settled down beside him and joined the human in star gazing.
“I’m leaving,” Eric finally declared.
“What?!” she squawked, almost falling off the boulder in shock. “Leaving? Where? Why?”
He sighed and seemed to slump down. “It’s... rather a long story.”
“I’ve time,” Mariah growled.
That dragged a faint chuckle from him. “Not as much as I’d wish, so I’ll trim it down. There is... a very nasty man who is apparently out to kill me.”
“Really,” she finally managed to say, forcing neutrality into her tone.
Eric snorted. “Yes, really. We met while I was... there. He was- or should it be is?- an American follower. That is, an American Nazi. Nathaniel Johnson. I think he even scared some of the professional bastards there. He certainly scared me, and he didn’t hide his loathing. And now he’s here, and out to get me.”
He shrugged. “I’m a traitor, in their eyes. He was... always very rabid about loyalty. It got him into some very high up groups, some that even I haven’t been able to name. He found me, so he plans to kill me.”
“But dammit, that’s no reason to leave!” Mariah protested, trying to stifle the welter of emotions she didn’t have the time, experience, or patience to deal with. “I thought we proved a long time ago partners defend each other a lot better than-”
“That’s the point, ‘Riah! I don’t dare lead them here! Johnson is smart enough to realize how vulnerable you are in the day, and I can’t hold off a crowd of determined killers.”
“You managed well enough before.”
“For awhile, with surprise on my side.” He sighed with obvious frustration and gripped her arm, forcing the gargoyle to look into his eyes and see the desperation there. “I owe the clan too much to threaten you like this. If I leave now, he’ll follow me instead of sniffing around and finding out about the demons/protectors around here. Please, Mariah, try to understand. I don’t want any of you hurt. I just... wanted to say thank you, and goodbye.”
Eric watched as Mariah looked away to study the ground, her face twisted by emotions he didn’t try to determine. He didn’t want to know, for once. This was hard enough, but he owed her, owed the clan, so he couldn’t just disappear on them.
Finally Mariah looked back up at him, face set with familiar determination that he knew enough to almost fear. “So when do we leave?” she asked.
“We? ‘Riah, there is no ‘we,’ it’s just me.”
She was already shaking her head. “I know you too damn well, Eric Kaylin,” she growled. “You attract trouble like it’s going out of style. You need someone to watch your back, and I for one do not want to spend the rest of my life hiding in these woods. So do you make me follow you or are you going to give in to sense and let me come along?”
“....You’d follow me?” he finally said, trying to make sense of what she was saying.
“Hell yes.” She crossed her arms and glared at him defiantly. “Well?”
He knew better than to argue with her in this mood. He didn’t really mind the company. And besides, after a few weeks on the run, he surely could convince her that it was better here than running....
Mariah entered the house in a daze, wondering how her life had turned so surreal that she was actually going to leave, to see the world, to-
Serra calling her name managed to snap the young female back to the present. “Yes, Leader?”
The draconian gargoyle gestured for her to follow, effectively throwing a metaphorical bucket of cold water on Mariah’s previous mood. What on earth the Leader could want.... This cannot be good. She followed Serra into the library, only barely stifling a panic attack upon seeing Mector. The Leader and the Second? What had she done?
Serra turned to sit in a chair and caught sight of her face. The Leader’s face split into a grin. “Sit and calm down,” she ordered. “We’ve good news, actually.”
Still bewildered but slightly reassured, Mariah sat.
The Leader clasped her hands and gave ‘Riah a serious look. “I’m going to step down soon,” she started bluntly. “I’ve had my fill of leading the clan, and Mector is old enough where he can be the Leader, rather than the snot nosed former Second.”
“Congratulations,” Mariah managed to tell her brother, wondering why on earth she was being told this now, and not with the rest of the clan.
“Thank you.” He leaned forward, resting elbow spurs on knees to give her a level look. “But you haven’t heard the important part. When I move up, the Second’s position opens up. We want you to fill it.”
The world tried to drop out from underneath her. “Me?” she squeaked, unable to believe her ears. “Second?”
“You’re the best choice,” Serra said. “You fight better than most of the clan, you can get others to follow you, and you’ve good relations with the humans. Interacting with them can be an important part of your duties.”
“But – But I can’t!”
The draconian gargoyle snorted. “Don’t put down your abilities, girl. We wouldn’t have chosen you if you didn’t have the skills.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m leaving with Eric.”
The silence was thick enough to stop a nuclear strike. “What?” Serra finally demanded.
“Eric.... He’s leaving... traveling around the country. There’s someone after him, and I’m going with him.”
“No, you’re not.”
The Leader’s simple declaration managed to break through some of Mariah’s shock. “I beg your pardon.”
She snorted and leaned back. “Leave the clan? Your home, your protectorate because some human has some problems with old enemies? No. I won’t allow it.”
Mariah found herself on her feet before she realized it, life gelling into crystal clear shards. “I am not a hatchling, Leader. My life is my own, and I intend to spend it that way: as I choose. And I choose not to be the Second, because I choose to go.”
“This is betrayal!” Serra roared. “This is not the Gargoyle Way!”
Mariah glared back. “Then perhaps it should be.” She walked defiantly from the room, ignoring Serra’s nonplussed look.
Mector followed her into the hall, grabbing her arm and swinging her around. She easily shook the hand off.
“Mariah, don’t do this,” he said, voice low and intense, expression caught between concern and fury.
“Why not?” she challenged. “You have no say over my life! You’re the Second, not a god!”
“But I do care about your welfare!”
“Then let me do what I want!” She was dimly aware of the clan members gathering to see the show, but she was too stunned and too mad to care. “I want to help my friend, I want to protect, and that, as far as I’m concerned, is the gargoyle way, not hiding here for the rest of our lives!”
“I don’t want you to go. I love you.”
She froze, just staring at Mector’s almost begging expression. “What?” she gasped, unable to resist the feeling that her world was crashing down yet again, formerly sturdy supports to her life sinking into the sea. This cannot be happening. It just can’t happen! That didn’t change his expression. “But- but what about Talia?” she stuttered, shock replacing her normal caution. Love? She liked her rookery brother well enough, and admired him, but love? Certainly not! Never mind that she knew Talia was trying her best to claim his attentions. He claimed to love her??
“What about her? Mariah, I love you. I want to be your mate. If you don’t want the Second position, fine, just give up this stupid infatuation with the human, and all will be forgiven. I swear.”
“Infatuation?!” Mariah shrieked, her eyes suddenly glowing a furious, blood red. “You’re a fine one to talk about infatuation! I am helping, protecting a friend! A friend of this entire dragon be damned clan! Fuck looking in the mirror, if I turned away from him now I wouldn’t even dare call myself a gargoyle!” She leaned forward to get in his face. “Take you and your lust to Hell, leader,” she snarled, practically dripping sarcasm on the title, “and may both of you rot there. I’m going to protect.” With that she turned away, pretending not to see the shocked faces on her clan members.
“Fine!” Mector yelled at her. “Go on and be with your stupid little toy! Just remember you can’t come back! Before this clan, as Second and soon Leader, I declare you cast out, a danger to clan and race. You and yours are no longer welcome here. If you’re not gone in an hour, we can and will protect ourselves.”
Mariah continued walking, head high as she pretended to ignore the words as much as her former clan now pretended to ignore her.
The façade lasted until she reached her room. There she finally broke down, crying even as she threw vital mementoes onto the bed in preparation for packing. But somehow the very act of preparing to leave managed to dull the sadness and anger, letting vague excitement and anticipation rise. She was going to do what no gargoyle she knew had done: see the country, maybe the world! Why, it’d been generations since any of the clan had left the city, let alone the state! She continued packing with a bit more eagerness.
“So you’re going with the human.”
Mariah stopped shoving a book into her pack. She knew the voice; it was Angel. But her sister seemed to be stating, rather then asking.
“Yes.” She studied the book, wishing that the floor could swallow her up. Mector she could handle, but Angel...
“What?!” She finally turned and faced her sister. Angel was leaning against the door frame, hands in her pockets. She came in and sat on the edge of the bed. “I said good. You should be with Eric. He needs all the protection he can get; he’s practically a trouble magnet. And if you stay, eventually you’ll give into Mector. He ignores Talia, how, I’ll never know, and she’s so obviously in love with him.” Angel finally looked her in the face. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss you.”
She forced back more tears and hugged her sister. “I know. That reminds me, I have something for you.”
“What? You’re leaving and you have something for me? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?”
Mariah laughed wetly and uncovered the sewing machine. She’d spent a miserable night – how long ago had it been? – lugging it to her room so she could sew in private. On it was a bundle of white fabric. “You remember how you complained about you wanting your mating flight to be unforgettable?”
“Yeah....” She nodded slowly. “So?”
“Try wearing this.” Mariah held up a shimmering white dress, obviously modified for a gargoyle. Angel’s jaw dropped, and she hesitantly reached out to touch it. She drew back as if afraid it would burn her.
“That’s amazing. How did you do it? And the fabric... it’s really... I can’t accept this.”
“Fah. Try it on, at least.”
Angel visibly hesitated. They both knew that would be as good as accepting it. “Oh, all right.” She slipped behind the sheet that served as a screen. “So where are you two going?”
“Tell the truth, I don’t know. The West Coast sounds like it might be good. We’re just trying to get away.”
Mariah sighed. “Apparently Eric wasn’t as good a spy as he could’ve been. There’s someone after him, and so he’s running away.”
Angel snorted. “That’ll do a lot of good; you’ll get caught on unknown territory.”
“Well, be that as it may, I don’t really mind. I always wanted to see more then just little ol’ Connecticut.”
The rustling sounds behind the sheet stopped. “I guess so. Is there anyone else besides you out there?”
“Nope. Why should there be? Remember, I’m cast out. You’re breaking Clan Law by being here.”
“The hell with that. Oh, I can’t believe I’m wearing this.” Angel stepped out. “What do you think?”
Mariah’s jaw dropped. She already knew her sister was beautiful, something Angel always refused to believe, and she had made the dress to flatter her. But the combination was shocking. Angel saw her shell-shocked look and smoothed the front of the dress. “That bad?” she asked resignedly.
“No!! No, no. Not at all. But... your hair. We need to so something with your hair.”
“Mariah! I came to say goodbye, not play dress up!” Despite her protest, she sat on the edge of the bed.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got at least half an hour. It won’t take more then five minutes to finish packing up.”
When she finished, Mariah pulled Angel over to the mirror. “Ready?” she asked, hand on the sheet covering the mirror.
“What, no makeup?”
“Don’t tempt me. Ready?” At her sister’s nod, she pulled off the cloth.
Angel’s mouth dropped open. “Is that... me?” she squeaked.
The dress was made mostly from a white, satiny material that had (courtesy of several crooks) cost Mariah an arm and a leg. It was shoulder-less, and form-hugging with a dangerously low neckline, and backless to accommodate her wings. From the waist down it was two materials, the satin and a lacy, nearly translucent cloth. The satin shockingly ended about mid-thigh, covered by the second cloth to fall decorously to Angel’s ankles, allowing the first layer to be just barely seen. Angel’s golden hair was pulled back in two rolls to form a crown that went back into an elaborate braid that stopped short, leaving some of her hair free.
Mariah grinned, looking like the cat that ate the canary. “Yes. Have I managed to convince you that you are normally stunning, and can now be classified as total knockout?”
“If the dress had any more decoration, or any less, I’d look like a prostitute.”
Mariah laughed helplessly so hard she fell back onto the bed. She continued to giggle like an idiot when Angel pranced around in mocking imitation of a hooker.
A sigh from the doorway sent Angel shooting behind the curtain and Mariah to her feet. “Stop trying to scandalize an old woman,” a voice chided gently.
“S-Sadie. I – I was just about to leave. Um, just give me a minute, I need to get a few things....” Mariah fumbled around the bed, picking things up randomly and throwing them into the bag.
Sadie cleared her throat and leveled a glare at her. “Without saying goodbye? I thought I raised you better then that. And child, get out from behind there. Show me what your sister made.”
“You won’t like it,” Angel whispered.
“Why, because I’m an old fuddy-duddy that wouldn’t know fashion if it bit her on the tail? Stop quivering in there and come out.”
Angel edged out into view, studying the floor and blushing furiously. Sadie paced around her, examining her head to tail. “Sinful,” the elder finally declared, before looking Angel in the eye and grinning impishly. “You’ll have Feris wrapped around your talon in no time.”
Angel couldn’t stop an embarrassed grin, while Mariah smiled. “That was the intention.”
“Good. Would you mind changing? I’d like to talk with Mariah in private.” Angel nodded and ducked behind the curtain again, swiftly changing and leaving with the dress, pausing only long enough to give her sister a hug and whispered wish for luck.
Left alone with the Elder, Mariah could only shift from foot to foot, wondering where this was going. She’d had too many surprises tonight. Finally the Elder sat on the bed with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”
Huh? She looked up in confusion. “What for?”
“I tried to talk sense into Serra, but she’s so worried about Mector taking over as Leader....” The old female sighed. “She refuses to fight the Outcast declaration.”
“I.... Elder, it was my choice. All of it, it is my decision. I am....” Happy didn’t seem to be quite the right word. “Able to live with it.”
Sadie studied her for awhile, then nodded. “Then I wish you the best possible path, child. And know that if you come back, for any reason, I will be right there with Angel to welcome you home.” A swift hug, and then Mariah was alone again.
Eric was startled when Mariah almost ripped the car door off before climbing in, throwing a pack into the back seat, and slamming the door before fighting with the seatbelt. Deciding to go with the better part of valor, he simply started the car. As they went around the driveway’s curve, Mariah twisted around, watching the house disappear.
“I’m glad you were there,” she finally said, resuming the normal position.
Eric shrugged. “I almost wasn’t,” he admitted. “I’m just glad there wasn’t the farewell reception I expected.”
The gargoyle’s features seemed frozen. “They wouldn’t do that.”
She seemed to be pushing, making him ask rather than simply telling him why she was in such a mood. “Why not?”
“Clan law. When someone goes against the clan’s intentions, puts us as a whole at risk.... They can be cast out. No longer a part of the clan, at worst considered an enemy, never allowed aid of any sort....”
“They did that to you??” Eric couldn’t believe that, not of the kind, if insane beings who had welcomed him into their home and lives.
“They didn’t like my choices.” Mariah shrugged, face placid and uncaring except for the way unshed tears glittered in her eyes.
So what's happens? Onward to part 2
Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I want to read something else! To get back to the fic archive
As always, questions, comments, etc. can be sent to Norcumi@backtick.net. Actually, feedback is ALWAYS appreciated. No, really, it is!
DISCLAIMERS: All characters belong to me. You can't use them without my permission. But if you ask, you're most like to get it. But you still have to ask. The gargoyle race in general, along with a bit of gargoyle lore are owned by Buena Vista and therefore the Great Mouse, used with great reverence, respect, and without permission. Various random brand names are not mine, you'll know 'em if you see 'em. The song snippet is a slightly mangled version of "Maria" (that's pronounced like Mariah) from the movie Paint Your Wagon. Borrowed without permission, no infringement intended, ect. ect.