Shortly before Hunter'sMoon
"All right, let's go through it again!" the red-haired detective demanded, pacing behind the seated teenager. She twisted slightly to glare at him, then crossed her arms and sighed disgustedly. Rolling her eyes and blowing an errant strand of ebon hair off her forehead, she started.
"My name is Ember. Just Ember; if I was ever called anything else, I don't remember it. I've been living on the streets since I was 13, when my family died. I'm 19 now. I've tried to do everything to survive but selling drugs or myself. Any other questions?"
"Youlive in a gang controlled area."
"Yeah, the Yantic Lightnings hang there."
"You never mentioned them."
"That's because I don't belong. Look, if you just told me what you're after, this'll go much faster."
"If you didn't belong, then you'd be dead or out of that neighborhood," he persisted, ignoring her exasperated request.
"Well, I don't officially belong, and they haven't brought up anything about initiation or demanded that I join. I help them out occasionally, and stay out of their way."
"Help as in how?"
"Keep an eye out for cops, do a little first aid now and then, and I sell 'em a few of my carvings."
"First aid for what?"
"Infected paper cuts." She sighed. "Bullet or knife wounds, what else?"
"You haven't mentioned carvings before."
"It's how I've managed to get by. I carve wood into small statues, figurines, and then sell 'em. Why?"
"What kind of statues? Who do you sell to?"
She shrugged. "Of anything and everything. Mostly fantasy creatures. Dragons, gargoyles, the usual. I sell them to the Lightnings and Jake, the owner of the Dreaming Dragon on Harper Avenue." She didn't see the detective stiffen at the mention of gargoyles, then force himself to relax.
"How do you get the ideas for shapes?"
"Depends. Sometimes one's asked for. Happens a lot with the Lightnings." She tried to remain poker faced as an annoying, sarcastic little voice in her mind started shrieking.Sure, I'm gonna tell you the truth about this. Yeah, sometimes I pick up a piece of wood and see a shape inside, all I do is get rid of the extra stuff that's not needed. Or in dreams I see something I need to carve. That's how I got the gargoyles. Like you'd really believe that.
"You want to know what this is all about? Okay, there's been a rash of new drugs on the streets."
She shrugged. "Whoop de do."
"The new thing is the way they're sold. In hollowed out wooden carvings. We've caught the Yantic Lightnings dealing most of them."
The girl leaped up. "Hey! I told you I don't mess with drugs! I might have sold those carvings to the Yantics, but they've never been hollow when I did! What they do after buying them is none of my business! And you can't tie me into it!"
The detective sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe, maybe not. But if you happen to get any information that could help, we'd appreciate it."
Ember blinked as a shadow crossed the doorway, putting it down to exhaustion and an overactive imagination. "Look, I don't mind doing the 'right thing' and all that, but I have to live. I can't and won't promise anything." The man seemed about to say something, but was interrupted when a dark-haired woman poked her head into the room. "Hey, Matt. You free for a minute?"
"Sure, Elisa." He turned back to the girl. "We'll finish this in a few minutes," he promised, and followed his partner out into the hall. He heaved a sigh as he leaned against the wall.
"Long night?" Elisa teased.
"You have no idea. And it's not even 10 o'clock yet," Matt replied. "Seems I've either got the best liar under 20 in there or a miracle."
"What do you mean?"
"Ah, the kid. Lived on the streets 6 years, and claims not to've "sold drugs or herself" to survive."
Elisa grimaced. "Quaint. Where'd she pick that up?"
"I don't know. She seems to be telling the truth. She's still most likely the provider for the carvings, but doesn't seem to have anything to do with the drugs."
"Right. Sorry, Matt, but I have a small problem believing that."
"I think she's telling the truth," he said slowly. "Anyway, why'd you want to talk?"
"Just wanted to tell you that my break's coming up soon, Mr. Illuminati, and I was gonna stop by to see some friends of ours."
"Friends with wings?" he asked wryly.
"Yeah. Want to come?"
"Yes, but I still got some more time with the kid."
"Want me to take a message, then?"
"Maybe. Think some of our friends would be willing to keep an eye on her?"
"Seriously?" At Matt's nod, Elisa paused. "I don't see why not. I'll ask them."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate it."
"Sure. See you later."
Matt waved to her and then headed back into the fray.
Ember got back to her home shortly before midnight, exhausted, but too keyed up to sleep. Home,she thought cynically, is supposed to bring to mind images of a 2 story building with a picket fence, a family, and maybe a dog, not a miniature warehouse that should be condemned, and only holds a mattress, a table and lumber. She took the metal box on her work table outside, along with her carving knife. She sat down on the cement step and opened the box. Within was all her best work; her "dream" pieces, the shapes and ideas that came from dreams and what she believed were visions. She picked up her latest work, another gargoyle, and examined it closely. He was about 4 inches high, wings flared and in a battle-ready stance. She only had to put a few finishing touches on, and he would be done. She set in, slowly yet carefully, humming softly to herself. As she cut away the last shaving she said, "Hey, John," without taking her attention from the carving. She had heard her contact to the Yantics before she'd seen him coming down the ally.
"Always. What's up?"
"You were taken in by the cops earlier." Ember finally looked up. John looked determined, not a good sign. He almost always had a look of sleepy disinterest about him, fooling all enemies into thinking he was stupid or slow. Not many would guess that he was one of the fastest shots in the gang.
"Yeah, so? What's it to you?"
"Well, I'm sorry to say that we're getting kinda worried about you squealing on us. So, it seems our relationship is about to come to an end," he declared, drawing his gun.
Brooklyn glided over the city, glad it was a quiet night. Well, quiet for New York, anyways. Someone invariably had a boom box going somewhere. Tonight one was belting out a love song, which reminded him of Maggie, the human genetically turned into a gargoyle-like creature. He had hoped that she would stay with the clan, and perhaps... but no, she had chosen Talon and his clan.
He swooped over the district Elisa had told him about and started looking around. He was supposed to be keeping an eye out for trouble, especially with a human teen. He snorted. From what he'd seen, most street kids were bad news.
Then he saw 2 humans. The girl looked like the right age, and she seemed to fit the description, but.... "Jalapeno!" he muttered. The guy had a gun! He curved and started down into a dive. When he was nearly at ground level, he pulled up slightly and shot past, grabbing the gun as he went by. Brooklyn hit the ground and went into a roll, and came up on his feet. He turned to the kid and scowled. Then he held up the gun in one hand and crushed it. The guy turned pale and ran.
"Are you all right?" he asked the girl. She looked kind of shocked. She did a double take between him and something she was holding. Then she shook her head slightly and replied, "Yeah. No problem. It's just that it's not every night I nearly get killed. Or saved by a gargoyle." She sighed. "Looks like I'm gonna have to move," she declared, grimacing.
She stared at him curiously. "Why do you care?"
He shifted and wondered the same thing. Better come up with a good excuse, and fast! "After saving you once, I don't want you to go and get yourself killed by getting into the wrong gang's turf."
She gave him a wry, lopsided smile. "I getcha. It'd be a waste of time and energy. Yeah, I got another place. No problamo." As he started up a side of the warehouse, she called out, "And hey, thanks for the save."
"Sure, whatever," he replied. Well, that's a major change from 'Kill the monster'. I like it, but it's strange. Weird how she didn't seem phased. Even Maggie freaked out when she first saw me. Oh well. Doesn't matter, I probably won't ever see the kid again.
Ember watched the gargoyle climb up the side of the building, leaping off when he got enough height to glide. Then she froze. He had wings, surely he could fly. But no, for some reason she was sure he could only glide, not fly. She shook her head. She was up too late. But there wasn't any rest in her near future either; she needed to get to her other sanctuary. Not like that was anything to brag about; a shack on the bank of the Hudson. Ah well. She'd claimed it for a reason. She just wished that it wasn't near the end of October; winter would come all too soon, and the place on the Hudson wasn't nearly as comfortable (so to speak) as her regular refuge. Sighing and seeing no other alternative, she sheathed her knife and picked up the box of her carvings, the only belongings she couldn't do without.
Something stabbed her hand. She looked and saw the carving of the gargoyle, a copy the exact same gargoyle that had just saved her life. Well, at least now she knew that one of her 'visions' was real. But, if that piece was of a real, living gargoyle, what about the other gargoyle statues? Trying to ignore the suspicions screaming for attention in her head, she started for her new home.
Ember was on the bank of the Hudson, watching the stars. It was a beautiful night, clear and still. Not to mention cold. Snow had fallen earlier in the evening, coating the city in white, muffling sounds, and generally lending to the holiday atmosphere. Ember had been carving, this time a hunting elf, yet another of her special pieces, but she was done for the night. She yawned and put away the carving and sheathed her knife. She stood and paused a moment longer to savor the peace.
Then her shack exploded. She swore and broke into a run. Man, this has to be one of the stupidest things to do. My 'house' is totaled and I'm running towards it, while anyone in their right mind would be going in the opposite direction. Well, I've never been accused of being normal.
She slowed as she reached the relative protection of a nearby building and peeked around the corner. She saw a woman that looked more machine then human battling a gargoyle. With rust colored skin, white hair, and what could only be called a beak, he was undoubtedly the same one that had saved her from John.
The woman cackled and said, "You know, I'd ask you to surrender, but, hey, that wouldn't be any fun!" She leveled her arm and aimed at the gargoyle, a section of it lifting to reveal a missile.
"Dream on, Hyena," Brooklyn snarled, diving out of the line of fire. He just hoped no humans were near, it would be easy for them to get hurt, and Hyena wouldn't care a bit if any were. He also wished one of the others was out on patrol. He knew it was stupid to go out alone, but everyone else was lost in their own little worlds with each other, and he was the one left out.
He dodged another missile, grinning. Hyena was getting too predictable. But then his luck ran out: he landed right into the path of her next missile. There was an explosion and the world wavered and went black.
A hard slap quickly brought him back to consciousness. Hyena loomed over him, grinning. "This is too good to do without you knowing it. Say good-bye, gargoyle!" she cried.
A wooden board slammed into the side of her head, sending her into the side of a building, and reveling a human teenager that had standing behind her. "Good-bye," the girl hissed, and threw away the plank. His vision swimming, Brooklyn tried to focus on her. She looked vaguely familiar from somewhere.
"Are you all right?" she asked, then paused. "Stupid question, sorry." She helped him stand up. "Look, the firefighters and police'll be here soon. We need to book. Know of a safe place we can hide?" He groaned and tried to make his brain kick in. "The Labyrinth," he mumbled. They'd be safe there. He gave her the directions and blacked out.
When he finally came to, they were in the underground tunnel leading to the home of Talon's clan. How'd she get both of us here? he wondered. A dark figure separated from the shadows and blocked their way.
Ember stared at the cat-like, bat-winged, humanoid creature, similar to a gargoyle, yet somehow she got the feeling that it wasn't. It's eyes widened. "Brooklyn?" he asked. "What happened?" He stepped forward, his eyes starting to glow, and turned to her. "Let him go," he demanded.
The gargoyle sagged a bit. "S'okay, Talon. She helped me. I... need a place ta stay fer th' day." With that he fell unconscious again. Ember was unable to support his full weight any more and started to drop some under him. Then a black furred hand reached down and grabbed the gargoyle.
"Thanks," she gasped.
"No problem. What happened?" he asked as he picked up the gargoyle and started down the tunnel. Ember hurried to keep up.
"He got attacked by some lunatic that looked like a cross between Xena and a giant salad shooter. He called her Hyena." The gargoyle-like creature grimaced. "Figures. She just escaped jail, and she's always hated the Clan."
"Yeah. Don't you know about it?"
"Ah, this is only the second time I've run into him. Brooklyn his name?"
"Yes. So you helped him just like that?" He frowned.
"Well, personally I think they got a bum rap on the police station explosion. And he saved my life." They went through a metal doorway and Ember stopped and stared. "Wow," she breathed. It was incredible. She was in a massive room, not quite filled with people and their homes and the signs of everyday living. She also spotted two more 'gargoyles', one resembling a tiger and the other a lioness, as well as several other inhuman figures in the area.
Her guide smiled at her reaction. "Welcome to the Labyrinth."
"Are all these people...homeless?"
"Not anymore," he said with a slight grin, "We help and protect them." The female 'gargoyle' headed over, and then she caught sight of Brooklyn. "Talon! What happened?"
"He got into a fight with Hyena. Looks like he came out on the losing side." The female glanced at a clock. "Then we'd better get him someplace quick. It's nearly dawn." While the feline creatures were settling the gargoyle, Ember wandered, occasionally asking a question. She finally ended up near the gargoyle and watched as he turned to stone. For some reason she felt it was important that she watch, although she didn't know why or how. For a while she tried to find an answer, any answer, but she finally gave up. It could wait.
Brooklyn woke from his stone sleep with a roar, startling several of the inhabitants of the Labyrinth, although one teenage girl just sat staring at him, unmoving. He yawned and then faced her. "Sorry, kid, show's over. Go on."
She raised an eyebrow and grinned at him. "Is that all the thanks I get?" she asked in an innocent tone. Then his brain kicked in; this was the girl that had saved him the night before. "Uh, well, um." He wasn't quite sure what to say, she had saved him, but she seemed kind of rude. She laughed. "Hey, chill. I'm just teasing. Actually, it's probably me who should be thanking you."
"Well, you saved my life about a month ago, and apparently this Hyena totaled some of the buildings in the area last night after we split." She faltered for a moment, then continued. "Eleven people were injured. Some...might not make it. And if I hadn't poked my nose into your business, it'd probably be twelve people instead." She finally smiled. "And Talon says it's all right for me to live here. So thanks again. Looks like I owe you. By the way, my name's Ember," she said, holding out her hand. He tentatively shook it, waiting for her to show some sign of fear. When she didn't have any reaction at all, he said, "Brooklyn. You don't seem very afraid. Why?" A strange look crossed her face as she shrugged. "I haven't got a clue. It's kind of like I somehow know I don't have to be afraid." He stared, unable to help himself. She seemed to be turning red. Humans. Go figure.
Finally she gave him a lopsided grin. "But you can tell you have a PR problem when you expect people to run screaming every time they see you."
"You have no idea, " he replied dryly, making her chuckle. He stretched and started towards the exit. The others must be going crazy by now. Man, an I gonna get it when I get back. "You'll be safe here. Good luck." Ember stood for a moment, then turned away. "Hang on a minute!" she called, dashing towards one of the tents. She came out holding something. "Here," she said shyly. "I... think you should have this."
He took the object and looked it over. It was a small wooden disk, and carved on both sides was a picture of a gargoyle, silhouetted in front of a rising or setting sun. "It's amazing. Where'd you get this?" he asked.
She squirmed. "Ah, actually, I carved it. Something tells me you should have it." She shrugged and headed back to the tent, pausing only long enough to wave to him.
Two weeks later
Ember sat in her new home. She was restless, and felt like she should be doing something, but she wasn't sure just what. She hoped Brooklyn would come visit tonight, but he'd come last night, so that wasn't likely. She smiled, thinking about the gargoyle. The friendship had been unexpected by both of them, but something had clicked. He came by often, sometimes just a quick visit while on patrol, but other times it was for most of the night.
She shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot, when a spark of light appeared in the air a few inches from her nose. She froze, not knowing what else to do, as the spark grew, changing into a green hole of light in space. Then it flashed, momentarily blinding her. When she finally blinked away the afterimages, there was a book on the ground. It was large, about a foot in height and half that in length and leather bound. On the cover was a picture of a castle, surrounded by a shape vaguely like Manhattan Island. Her hand trembled as she reached out to touch it. She knew this book, had used it before, learned from it. Her mother had been the keeper of it. It was important to her clan. Clan? Where had that thought come from? She shook her head, trying to collect her thoughts, but they skittered haphazardly around her brain, refusing to stay put.
She opened the cover and stared at the faceplate. In flowing, archaic, written script was "The Grimorium Arcnorum of Clan Leif, formally of Castle Wyvern". Ember froze. The names brought back vague memories, of a family, a sister, and...magic?
"No way," she muttered, unwilling to believe it. Yet as she flipped through it, discovering it was much thicker then it looked, about twice as big. "Weird."
Then she got to the last page. It was in a familiar hand, that of her mother. She sat staring at it for over an hour, almost unmoving. Finally, she got up, ignoring her stiffness, and left the Labyrinth, clutching the book in a death grip. She clambered on top of one of the nearby condemned buildings and waited for sunset. A few minutes before nightfall, she opened the book to the last page and began to chant the spell written there.
"Tempo pro pellis praeter, sino error stilla!" There was a hushed pause, then pain began to wrack her body. She fell to the ground and curled into a ball, unable to stand as bones and muscles shifted and changed, some disappearing and others, previously not in existence, appeared.
After a few minutes of agony, Ember finally straightened from her curled position. She looked at her arms and hands in wonder. Four fingers now, not five, the skin a reddish-orange. She could feel the wind tug on wings and brush over a tail as she tentatively stood and stretched. She knew what she looked like, it was an image she had seen in the mirror most of her life. Vaguely like her human form, but with three horns, all reaching up to nearly meet her pony-tail. Her wings were nearly bisected by a vane that went half-way down, and her tail ended in a triangle shape. She had also grown spurs on her elbows, and her coloring had gone from a deep tan to a red-orange mix.
Then the memories began to come flooding back, although some still seemed to be missing. In the forefront was the night of destruction, when the clan died. The flight, away from the killers with her mother and rookery sister. The last spells, disguising them, protecting them from the humans' hate. Finally, the orders from her mother to protect her 'sister', when the older gargoyle had run on, and Ember had failed in her duty. She closed her eyes, moisture gathering there. She shook her head, letting the memories go. There would be time to mourn later.
Then adrenaline kicked in and she whooped, not caring who heard or might see. She ran full speed to the edge of the roof and threw herself over. Her instincts kicked in and her wings snapped open, catching the wind and scaring a few drunks. Free! Finally, after 6 years, free to fly, to be herself! To be a gargoyle!
She spent that night gliding over New York, exalting in her release from gravity, trying to fly her best for her dead clan, and for forgiveness. When it was nearly sunrise, she landed back at the roof where she had started. Ember turned to the east, and stood ready. If she had seen her last sunrise, so be it. It was worth it. The sun peeked over the horizon and she closed her eyes as the first rays hit her eyes. She felt a tingling and snapped them open again. She stared down at her arms. Five fingers again, with tanned, yet human skin. "So that's the way it's gonna be," she muttered. Human by day and gargoyle by night. "I can live with that." Especially if the change is like this; painless. "Yes, I could definitely get used to it."
Ember was once again on top of the condemned building. Her twentieth birthday had come and gone, and she had quickly settled into a comfortable pattern; spending the day in the Labyrinth and the nights patrolling New York. It had its down sides, though. She missed Brooklyn's visits, and she'd had a constant feeling of loneliness invading. She'd avoided any encounters with gargoyles and Talon's clan after dark, unsure of the possible reception.
She stared up at the sky looking for the rare appearance of stars between the clouds, the chill breeze barley registering in her mind, another advantage to being a gargoyle. "Christmas Eve. Huh. Some celebration." Her mind traveled back, vague memories of past Christmases surfacing, along with the bitter taste of utter solitude, of being cut off from everything and everyone. Somehow the holidays seemed to bring out her bad side. She turned back to the Grimorium, her only solace lately, and leafed through the spells, trying to ignore the journal writings, the history of the clan, that previous mages had entered. Then she froze. The answer was right in front of her; a spell to locate someone. A spell to locate her clan.
Ember scanned the page and sighed with relief. She didn't need any material components. She raised her arm and began to chant:
"Scintilla lucem, ducis meus visus, rescisco quidam sum peto hac nocte!" A spark of light gathered at her fingertips and grew to a few inches in diameter. When she finished the incantation, it bounced impatiently around her head as she settled the book into a backpack. She leapt off the building's roof and hovered a moment, waiting for the spark to lead. It shot off into the night, and she followed its glittering trail.
The spark dissipated when it reached a fairly decent neighborhood near the shore. Ember swore softly to herself. The spell should have lasted until it reached someone that belonged to her clan. Just what was going on with her magic?
She scanned the shore, hoping her target would at least be in the area. It was empty of life except for a human woman staring out at the water. Without any other options, Ember landed nearby, folded her wings, and strolled towards her, being careful to stay in the shadows. When she could finally make out the woman's face, the gargoyle froze. The human was younger then she first thought, probably younger then her. With short copper hair tousled by the wind and dark brown eyes, she was striking, and familiar.
"Wheat?" Ember breathed, barely audible, as her memory suddenly surged, bringing a picture of her rookery sister to mind, along with the hated nickname.
"Look Jake, it's over!" the girl said angrily. "And since when have you called me-" She broke off as she turned and realized that the figure in the shadows wasn't who she thought. "Sorry," she said sheepishly, "I thought you were someone else." Grinning shakily, the gargoyle replied, "I'd hope so."
"Why'd you call me that?"
"You... remind me of someone I knew, awhile back."
"Ah." Ember was startled by the girl's abrupt dejection.
"Is something wrong?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because I'm a nosy old fruitcake." Whoa, Ember thought as it barely elicited a chuckle, That's what I call depressed.
"My boyfriend and I just broke up. Other then that, things haven't been too bad."
"Oh really?" They chatted awhile longer, her sister seemingly quite content to tell her life's story to any stranger that came along. Gotta break her of that habit. 'Course, anybody that listens to her for at least five minutes'll come away her best friend or bored to death.
Finally, she made up her mind. "I'd better go," the gargoyle said quietly. Her sister seemed content with her life, and Ember, much as she wanted her clan, wasn't willing to destroy that peace. She turned and started away, pausing a moment for several might-have-beens, listening to the girl shift.
"What the-? Em?" came as strangled gasp from behind her as the clouds finally moved back, reveling the moon and melting the shadows. Busted.
"Ember. Your name is Ember. I... know you." She frowned and rubbed her temples. "Man, what a headache. But I remember you. You're... no, it's impossible."
"You were going to say I'm your sister, weren't you."
"How'd you know? What's going on?"
The gargoyle sighed. "I'm sorry. Tempo pro pellis praeter, sino error stilla!"
The human fell to the ground and cried out as changes began to occur. Finally she stood, assisted by Ember. Now she was a green-blue color, her wings faintly darker. Her tail had several spines on the end, but she had not gained any spurs. "Are... are you all right?"
"Never better. But it sure took you long enough to cast that. By the way, please, do one thing for me."
"Depends on what it is."
"Don't call me Wheat. It's Vita. How'd you come up with that ridiculous nick-name anyway?"
"Done deal. It's from Latin. V's sound like W's, and then it rhymes if you take away the A."
"Whatever. C'mon, let's get inside."
The two gargoyles walked back to the nearest house, and entered. Vita led the way to the second floor and into a kitchen.
"You cook up here?"
"Not often. Tea?"
"Good. I've got some new stuff I've been dying to try out." Ember managed a sickly smile. "Lucky me," she muttered. The drink was quickly heated with the aid of a microwave and the gargoyles were soon seated, drinking. "What... happened to you?" Vita asked hesitantly. Ember, not quite sure of what she meant, raised an eyebrow. "After the spell," her sister clarified.
She shrugged. "I survived. Been on the streets."
Vita blanched. "Homeless?"
"Not quite. I always had a place with a roof. Not always legally, but I made do."
"How? I mean, by stealing?"
"Not that I'll admit to," Ember replied with a slight grin. She removed the straps of the backpack and pulled out the ever-present box of carvings. "I sell these. It's not much, but I get by." Vita picked up a few of the figurines and examined them. "Hey! This is me!"
"Yeah. Subconscious memory or something like that."
"I thought it was unconscious."
"Nothing, nothing. Nothing at all."
"I'm sure. So what happened to you? Looks like you made out well."
"I got taken in by the police the night... well, you know."
"Yeah, I was the one that was supposed to be keeping an eye on you."
"Anyway, they wanted to know what a twelve-year old was doing out at two o'clock in the morning, and since I could only remember my name, thanks to that spell, they figured it was an abuse problem."
"Because the killers were taking pot-shots at you."
"Right. To make a long story short, I ended up getting adopted. My... parents just passed on, so I'm on my own."
"Machine repair, especially computers. But man, it's good to be a gargoyle again." Ember began to take a sudden interest in her cup, setting alarms off in her sister's head. "You did break the spell, didn't you?"
"Uh huh. What's the catch?"
"Out with it."
"During the day we turn back to humans." The was a short pause.
"You say it like that's a bad thing! I mean, think about the advantages!" A sly look began to develop on her face. "We could probably join the Quarrymen. Go in during the day, they'll never know the difference. And then-" A piercing whistle cut her off.
"Two questions. One, what happens at sunset when we grow wings, talons, and whatever else. And, why the heck would we even want to join? What's the purpose?"
"Uh. Exactly. There's no point."
"Yes, there is!"
"Well...." Ember's snort was her only reply. "Gimme a bit, and I'll come up with something."
"You have a one-track mind. Once you get an idea, you just can't let go, can you?," Ember asked in a mild tone. Vita was about to reply when a beep sounded in the next room. "My file's done!" she exclaimed instead, and rushed out. The other gargoyle stared, open-mouthed, and shook her head. She went after her sister and stopped in shock as she entered the room. "I take it back," she said in amazement, "It's two-tracks." She stared around with wonder: she'd never seen this many electronics in her life except in Radio Shack. "Is all this necessary?" she asked dubiously.
"Not all of it," Vita answered absently, never taking her eyes off the screen of a computer, "just most of it."
"Uh huh. Sure." Ember padded around the room, looking at all the devices. She stopped at a stereo and turned it on. Classical music blasted out, making her cringe. She quickly hit the volume and made a face. She fiddled with the tuning until a voice came over clear, "-radio station, bringing you today's hits and yesterday's favorites. And coming up is Ace of Base with "Don't Turn Around", followed by Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me"." The announcer went off air and the band came on, belting out the tune, setting Ember's toes tapping. Vita finally tore herself away from the computer and twisted around. "You like that junk?" she asked incredulously. "It's better the Bach," Ember retorted. "Besides, the beat's cool." Her sister snorted and turned back to the screen as it dinged.
"What're you doing?"
"Talking," Vita replied absently as the machine dinged again.
"Duh. I realized that. I meant what're you doing on the computer."
"Like I said, talking."
"Do you mind speaking English for a second?"
The gargoyle heaved a sigh and moved to the side a bit. "Look. I'm talking to a friend on-line. He has a pro-gargoyle view, and seems pretty well informed. I want to find out how, but I don't want to ask him out right. Might scare him away. We've been talking for awhile."
"All night. He's almost purely nocturnal."
"That's not what I meant."
"I know. We've been chatting for about a month"
"This, that, and everything."
"Ah. You sure it's a he?"
"Yup. If you don't at first, things could get a bit... embarrassing."
"Oh. Right, sending dirty pictures to the wrong person."
Brooklyn awoke groggily in a cell, chained to a wall. Lexington was chained next to him. If he was an example of how Brooklyn was bound, their captors were efficient: they wore handcuffs, connected by a chain to the wall, and manacles on their ankles were directly attached to the wall. He looked around for any clues to the location, but the only decoration was a hammer and circle symbol on the wall, the symbol for the Quarrymen.
"Like I really needed that as a hint," he muttered. He winced as his head throbbed, bring back memories of the ambush he and Lex had been caught in. The Quarrymen had staged a mugging, and he and Lex had fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. That left only 1 question; why were they alive? The Quarrymen hated gargoyles; the only good gargoyle was a dead gargoyle. They had been unconscious, therefore prime targets. He shrugged. The answer could wait until they got out.If we get out. Lex stirred and groaned. "Where are we? Never mind," he said, catching sight of the symbol.
"How come," Brooklyn asked sarcastically, "this always happens when we go out on patrol?" Lex was saved from answering by the sound of footsteps coming. Two women came to a stop at the bars of the cell, both dressed in purple-blue robes and wearing the hoods of the Quarrymen. The shorter one let out a whistle. "Looks like I owe you 5 bucks. You were right. And just about when we were gonna-" The taller figure cut her off. "No time for that. We need to hurry," she insisted. The shorter figure sighed and fumbled with a set of keys while the taller one kept a watch on the hallway. Finally, the door opened and both hurried in.
"If you think this is going to be easy, you've got another think coming," Brooklyn snarled. He had the feeling the taller one was rolling her eyes as she came closer. "You're drugged and wearing handcuffs. Sorry, pal, but you two aren't going anywhere fast." She removed the manacles first, and then the chain, leaving the handcuffs. She was right: as soon as his arms were released, he fell to his knees. She quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. She was surprisingly gentle. "Can you stand on your own?" she asked after a few moments. At his nod, she let go and stood back. He saw that Lex was also standing without any help. The two women pushed them out into the hall, where they waited a moment for the shorter Quarryman to re-lock the cell. They headed down the hall and stopped at a room at the end. Two more Quarrymen were waiting there, playing cards. They jumped up when they saw who was leaving and grabbed their hammers. "Wait an minute! Just where are they going?" one of them shouted. The taller woman stepped forward. "Boss wants 'em. I dunno why. We just carry out orders, we don't make 'em."
"All right. Want us to come along?"
Brooklyn could see the first two Quarrymen tense. "Nah, we can handle these two easy." She demonstrated by jerking him forward. He grunted, and the guards laughed. "Okay. Go ahead." They left to a flight of stairs and went up, the Quarrymen going behind. "Weren't you a little harsh back there?" the shorter one whispered. "Had to be," the other answered, "otherwise they wouldn't have believed us. Do you think I like doing this?"
"As much as I do," the shorter one replied grimly.
They had passed three doors when a siren went off. The taller quarryman cursed. "How'd they miss them so soon?"
"I don't know! Shall we go to plan B?" The Quarryman nodded and turned Brooklyn around. She pulled his arms out straight, and hissed, "Whatever you do, don't move!" She charged her hammer and raised it. He caught a glimpse of the second woman doing the same to Lex. Then the hammers swung down.
The links of the handcuffs barely put up a fight and broke. He stared at her as she examined the broken fetters. "Not pretty," she said, "but it'll do. Well, what are you waiting for?" she exclaimed as he just stood there.
"Nothing," he replied, and he and Lex headed up the stairs, the women right behind them.
They came to another door, this one ahead of them, and he barely paused to kick it open. They were on the roof, and nearly free!
"What are you two going to do?" he asked, wondering if they were looking for a ride out. The women shared a look when a gun went off, and the taller woman screamed. "What the-!" the shorter one exclaimed.
"No time!" the other shouted, heading to the edge of the building, "Everybody up and over!" Before they could be stopped, they leaped off into space. The gargoyles jumped after, hoping they could catch the women. Then, only a few feet off the roof, there came a ripping sound as robes were shredded by sprouting wings. The women tore off their hoods and threw them down, reveling gargoyles, the taller, red-orange one clutching a bullet-wounded arm.
She let out a whoop and yelled back at the Quarrymen, "Better improve your screening!" The shorter one, a green-blue color, sighed and shook her head. "Do you have to rub it in?"
"Yes," the other replied with a smile that quickly turned to a grimace.
"Oh, nothing. I get holes in my arm every night."
"What?!" The red-orange gargoyle sighed, and Brooklyn glanced sideways at her. She reminded him of someone, but he couldn't place who. It nagged at the edge of his mind as the women bantered back and forth, trying to find a face that matched. Lex glided a bit closer. "We can't make it back to the castle before sunrise," he hissed.
"I know. Think they might have some extra space?"
"Why bother, if they fight like this all the time?"
Brooklyn shrugged and cleared his throat, cutting off the females. "Much as I'd love to have you continue, we can't make it back to our home before sunrise. Do you have someplace safe we can stay?" The red-orange gargoyle gave him a lop-sided smile and asked in an innocent tone, "Is that all the thanks we get?", setting off the alarms in his head. He had seen her before! A face and name came to mind, but he shook them off as ridiculous. Ember was a human! There was no doubt about that! But still... something inside hissed at him.
The blue-green glared at the other female. "Don't be an idiot!" She turned to him and Lex. "Of course we have room. Just ignore her, she makes a lousy patient. When she gets hurt, she gets crabby." The other snorted, but led the way to the shore.
The gargoyles made it to the safe-house a few minutes before dawn. Lex yawned and stretched. "Man, what a night," he said. "By the way," he added, "I'm Lexington."
The blue-green gargoyle nodded and grinned. "Vita. Pleased to meet you." The red-orange gargoyle turned to Brooklyn. "And I'm Ember. Good to see you again, Brooklyn."
His mouth fell open, and tried to say something, anything, but the sun came up, stopping him as he turned to stone. Ember and Vita were transformed as well and were soon shivering.
"Friend of yours?" Vita asked as they quickly entered the house.
"You might say that," her sister answered, wondering if Brooklyn would still think so when he woke up.
Shortly before sunset, Ember went onto the roof. She waited for the sun to go down, wondering just what she planned to do. Her watch beeped a warning, and she removed her coat. The sun disappeared over the horizon, and Brooklyn and Lexington broke out of their stone shells. Her transformation was slower. The rookery brothers watched as the human changed into a gargoyle. "Doesn't that hurt?" Lex asked.
"Not really. Sorry Vita's not here, but the computer decided to do an imitation of a doorstop this morning. She's been trying to fix it." A stream of verbal abuse against a machine floated up the stairs. "So far she hasn't been successful."
"Hmm. Maybe I can help," Lex muttered and headed towards the source of the insults. Ember shifted from foot to foot, nibbling on her lip, waiting for Brooklyn to act. He simply watched her.
"Just what's your game, Ember?" he finally asked.
"There's no game. Really."
"Why should I trust you? Why didn't you tell me what you are?"
Ember sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "There's a reason, Brooklyn. You just wouldn't believe it."
She finally looked up and into his eyes. "I didn't know that I was a gargoyle. That's all."
"You're right. I don't believe it," he stated flatly and turned away.
"Please, let me explain."
"Go right ahead."
"Inside." There was a moment of hesitation when Ember was sure he wouldn't come, but then he turned and entered. Breathing a silent thank-you to whoever might be listening, she followed.
They found Lexington and Vita working on the now-functional computer. They sat down, the duo still working.
Ember closed her eyes, and then spoke.
"Our clan has always been small. It was started about the 7th century in Scotland, when our clan split off of a larger one. They left because the original clan was too large. After wandering for a time, they allied with a group of settled Vikings." Brooklyn and Lex shared a look. The last time they ran into Vikings, the encounter had ended with the destruction of their clan.
"But they were driven out of their homes by other humans, invaders from the 'civilized' lands. So the Vikings left to a place of legends, a place now called America. The gargoyle clan went with them. They moved to Manhattan early on, and joined the native tribes, the humans intermarrying.
"And so they and we survived, protecting each other, until about 6 years ago. The humans were only 1 large family. Of the gargoyles, we numbered only 10. One night, we woke up to find 3 members of our clan rubble, with their destroyers ready to kill more. We never found out if we had been betrayed by the humans, or if they suffered with us.
"Most of the clan fought, but the mage took the hatchlings, and tried to run to safety. The killers followed. Finally, she could run no more. She stopped, and cast 2 spells. The first was a guarantee that, if the hatchlings survived, her apprentice, her daughter, would have the book of spells, which also contained the history of the clan. The second was the greatest spell of her life. It transformed the hatchlings into humans, until the counter-spell was cast. The act drained her of her magic. She could cast no more spells, ever." The gargoyle opened her eyes. "We were those hatchlings. A month ago, the terms of the first spell were completed and the book of magic appeared, and the counter-spell was finally cast. We joined the Quarrymen in hopes that we could spread a little trouble with the more...open-minded members, or at least stop a few smashings when it mattered." Vita looked unbelievably smug as Ember snorted. "We were just about to give up when you guys showed up."
"How did you join? Didn't they find out you weren't human?" Lex asked.
"Depends on how you define human," Ember muttered.
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Vita demanded.
Ember looked innocently at her. "Nothing," she said in an injured tone, "absolutely nothing!"
"We just stayed out of everybody's way after sunset, that's all," Vita answered, glaring at her rookery sister. Then she began a discussion with Lex so filled with technobabble the it lost Ember and Brooklyn in about 5 seconds. Ember shrugged and led him off to the kitchen, where the conversation was muted down to a buzz. They sat down next to one another, Ember avoiding his gaze.
"All right, so why didn't you tell this all before?" She shrugged, twisting a napkin to shreds. "Same reason as before. The spell put a block on my memories. Even now I'm sometimes not sure of what I remember, if a face or a name is right. The counterspell wasn't cast right. It left holes in my mind."
"Is that why do you turn into a human?"
"Because I have holes?"
"Sorry. But, yes. Something went wrong. I still haven't figured out just what, though."
"Who's the wizard?"
"Why do you want to know?" It was his turn to shrug. "Just curious." She finally looked up at him. "Can't we leave it that way?" she asked quietly.
"So you're it."
She paused, then grimaced. "Makes sense, doesn't it. But yeah, you're right." Except for the sound of a paper napkin being shredded to bits, silence reigned in the room. Finally Ember cleared her throat. "What about your clan?" she asked. "Tales about gargoyles have only been going around for a year and a half, give or take a bit." He hesitated a bit, then mentally shrugged. What was the harm? He knew her story.
When he finished, she was silent for a moment, then quietly asked, "What's the name of the castle?"
"Wyvern." The corner of her mouth began to twitch. "Why?"
She held up a finger and hurried out of the room, not once opening her mouth and avoided looking directly at him. She quickly returned with a large leather-bound book. His eyes widened as he saw it. It was the Grimorium! Ember sat down and opened the cover. Not sure of what she wanted, he looked. This was not the same. In it was written about a clan Lief, and-. "What the-"
She finally managed to control herself and said, "This has been in my clan since they left their original clan, that was located in a castle named Wyvern." The twitch reappeared and grew into a grin. "Should I call you Grandpa?" she teased. He finally began to see the humor, weak as it was, and they broke into laughter.
A sudden shout of astonishment rang from the other room, quickly followed by more laughter. "What are you two doing in there?" Ember yelled.
Vita's reply came in between gasps for breath and several giggle attacks. "Remember the guy on-line I was chatting with?"
"Yeah, so? Oh no. No. It's not possible," she groaned as mental gears clicked. "Lex wouldn't happen to be a computer nerd, would he?" she asked Brooklyn, her voice muffled as she put her face in her hands.
"Uh, yeah. Vita too?"
"You need to ask?"
Brooklyn chuckled, glanced at a wall-clock and sighed. "We'd better get back to the castle. The others will be worried."
"Ah. All right. Think you can find your way back some other time?"
"You can count on it."
A few weeks later
Over the next few weeks, Brooklyn and Lexington were frequent visitors. They often tried to convince the females to visit the castle, but the offers were always turned down. One night, though, as they were trying once more, they were startled by a voice.
"Ahh, just what I've been looking for," it declared. The gargoyles whirled around. Leaning casually against the wall was human male. "Hi," he said and waved.
"Who're you?" Vita demanded. "How'd you get in here?"
"Oh, well, I was just passing through. As for why, well, it's ah, ah...." He snapped his fingers and waved his arms vaguely, almost as if in hopes the motions would summon forth the desired phrase. "Pedis, maneo taciti sorta thing," he finally finished.
Ember's eyes narrowed. This man was very tricky, and not to be underestimated, especially when he could command magic.
"Yeah? Well, maneo this!" Vita snarled, and lunged forward. At least, she tried to. She fell to her knees as her feet refused to leave the floor.
"Hey, what gives?" "What's going on?" "How the-?"
Ember was the only one to not try to move. She had recognized the spell, and knew the futility of trying to walk. None of them were going anywhere; it was as if their feet were trapped in dried cement. She searched furtively for something to throw. If she could just break his attention, then the spell would also break. Unfortunately, there was nothing near enough, and she didn't dare try a spell; not with her erratic talent. She pounded her fist into her thigh with frustration, nearly cutting herself on her carving knife. Wait a minute.... She drew the small knife from its sheath and hid it behind her back, keeping a close eye on the magician. All his attention was on the others' struggles to move. Finally he yawned. "You won't be able to get anywhere. Well, as for myself, I need to get going, and I need to take one of you with me. That's what I'm being paid for, after all. This'll go much faster if one of you volunteers. Anyone care to come on a little trip?" Silence reigned, and then Ember cleared her throat.
"You wish to come?"
"No!" "Are you crazy?!" "Don't do it!"
"Voces, immoti!" the human snapped. The others continued to try to talk, but no sound came from their mouths. He turned back to her. "You were saying?" he asked.
"I...just want to tell you something."
"And that is?"
"Drop dead." The small blade flew through the air and came home into the human's shoulder. He screamed and clutched at the knife. The gargoyles abruptly found themselves able to move and lunged at him.
"Redeo!" he yelped, and disappeared in a flash of light, blinding the gargoyles and pulling them up short. When they finally blinked the light spots away, all that was left was a bloody knife lying on the floor.
"Well. Looks like that takes care of that," Vita declared.
"Probably not," said Brooklyn.
"What do you mean?"
"He said he was getting paid to do this."
"And it was the only reason he was here," Ember finished slowly.
"Which means he might be back."
Brooklyn and Lex shared a look, talking silently as only siblings can. "It's not safe here anymore," Lex declared. "It'll be best if you two come stay the day at the castle."
"Umm-" Vita started, but her rookery sister interrupted.
"All right. Give us a minute to grab some stuff." Ember dragged her sister by the arm and headed to the computer room. "Get whatever you're working on and let's book."
"Are you crazy?"
"Yes, but that has nothing to do with this."
"You know that's not what I mean! They're the ones that turn to stone, not us!"
"Look!" Ember whirled and glared at her. "That lunatic knows where we live. All he has to do is come in during the day, make the connection, and sell us for triple price! Woman by day, winged monster by night. You want exotic women, there ain't many more exotic then this!"
"Don't be disgusting!"
"I'm being realistic. I hurt that nut. To tell the truth, I wasn't even aiming to hit him, just surprise him."
"You sure did that all right."
"Anyway, he doesn't seem to be the type to forgive a grudge. He'll be back. And he doesn't know about the castle. We will be safer there. Besides, if we don't Lex and Brooklyn'll probably knock us out and take us there whatever we say."
Vita grimaced. "Oh, all right. Just lemme get some disks." Ember grinned as Vita hurried off. She quickly found the battered backpack and put her box of carvings inside. She was still attaching the straps when she came back into the room to find Vita shifting nervously. "What took you so long?" she demanded. Ember just sighed and gestured for the males to lead the way.
Ember and Vita began rubbernecking as soon as they reached the castle. Even to two jaded New York gargoyles, this was impressive. "Wow," Vita breathed. The other two were also looking around, but with a more definite target in mind, along with a growing worry.
"Where is everyone?" Lex finally voiced the question, snapping Ember back to the situation. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Someone should have spotted us," Brooklyn told her, searching the ramparts for any of the clan. A tall, pale-haired man exited a door way and cleared his throat. "I am sorry to say that the rest of the clan will not be able to join you," he stated in a cold, unemotional voice, his deadpan never wavering. "What do you mean by that?" Brooklyn growled.
"They were... detained by a man who insisted they come with him."
"He wouldn't happen to be human, short, with brown hair and gray eyes?" Ember asked.
"As a matter of fact, yes. Now if you'll excuse me, I must tend to Alexander."
The human walked away, leaving the gargoyles standing with sinking hearts in the courtyard.
"I don't believe it," Brooklyn mumbled. "How'd he know where we were headed?"
"He didn't," Ember declared, placing her hand on his shoulder, trying to give him as much silent support as she could. This was a nasty situation, but he was the second-in-command. She could see that he blamed himself for this, for not being there when his clan needed him.
"He probably just found out that gargoyles lived here and at our place, decided to go for us, and when we had too much fight, he came here."
"Does it matter?" Lex asked.
"Nope," Vita declared. "So, what's our next move, boss?"
Brooklyn sighed, then straightened. "Lex, could you find anything with the computer?"
"Possibly. I'm not sure."
"Try anyway. Someone should check the Quarrymen. They might have something to do with this."
"That's me," Vita said.
"Good. Ember, you and I will be bait. If we fly over the city long enough, he'll come to us."
"Um, actually, I thought I might get in touch with a few contacts I have in the streets. They might know something we can't find otherwise."
"All right. Lex, you keep an eye out here and watch the radio. We'll all take transmitters. Any questions?"
"Brooklyn? What's going on? Where is everyone?" A dark haired woman came out of the building and blinked when she saw Ember and Vita. "And who're your friends?" Ember stared back, sure she had seen the human somewhere....
"Elisa, I'll explain in a bit. The rest of you get going. Make sure you're back here by sunrise."
They quickly scattered and started the search.
Vita strode through the hallways of the Quarryman headquarters, seemingly focused on where she was going. Pathetic. Look like you know where you're going and you belong there, and no one ever notices. She paused for a moment to look over a bulletin board. Nothing. Looks like they weren't involved. Who'd've thought. She perked her ears as she caught a snatch of conversation between two men.
"-Get two of the monsters tomorrow night!"
"I dunno. Some guy caught some and are selling 'em to the highest bidder."
"Castaway's actually gonna pay for that? I mean, the seller oughta give 'em to us. Civic duty an' all."
"Yeah, Castaway had the same reaction. Blew up in the guy's face. But the best he got was a discount." The men wandered off, still talking. Vita followed, trying to remain discreet while turning on her radio.
"Lex, can you hear me?" she whispered.
"Not so loud but clear. What's up?" She quickly filled him in, still shadowing the men.
"So you don't know who the dealer is?"
"Right. They're off the subject, so I guess I better split."
"You're still inside?!" Vita winced at his squawk of outrage.
"Not so loud! Yes, I am. But not for long. I'd better go off, I'm getting some strange looks."
"Look, just be careful, all right?"
"Okay, if you insist. Over and out."
Ember glided over the run-down district she had once called home, weaving in and out of the shadows. Has it only been four months, she wondered, gliding over familiar buildings and pathways, since Brooklyn saved my life? She scanned the area, looking for a familiar figure. She found the human walking outside the warehouse she had been living in. Who says there ain't such a thing as justice? she chuckled to herself. She stooped into a dive, swooping down on the human like a hawk on a mouse. When she was within a few feet of him, she pulled up, reaching out.
The man yelled as taloned hands grabbed his jacket and his feet left the ground. He screamed and began to squirm when he came to the level of the rooftops.
"Hey, John," a voice purred into his ear. "Remember me?" He twisted around just enough to see what it was that captured him. It was a gargoyle, he knew that. He just couldn't place who this one was, not that he could even remember ever running into one. They passed into the shadow of a skyscraper and he gasped. In the dim light, it was a dead ringer for Ember. He immediately regretted the choice of words. "Wh- who are you?" he managed to stutter.
"Aww, come on. You mean you can't place the face? I'm surprised. You even tried to kill me." All the blood remaining in his face drained away.
"Ember? But... but how?"
"That's not important. What is important is whether or not you give me the information I want. Otherwise.... Well, you better learn to fly real fast."
Brooklyn was flying aimlessly over the city, quickly losing hope in his plan. It was too close to sunrise to do anything even if they did find something. He started back to the castle, knowing he would be pushing it for time. Then Lex's voice came over the radio. "How's it going?"
"No good. What about on your end?"
"There doesn't seem to be anything that I can find. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. What about the others?"
"Vita says the Quarrymen aren't behind it. They might lead us to the others, but that's about it. She went out to help you with 'target practice'. Elisa and Matt aren't having any luck either."
"She hasn't- Hang on a second." The gargoyle waited impatiently. Just what was his rookery-brother up to? Then Ember's voice came from the radio.
"Lex, did you hear me?" she demanded. "I need to talk to Brooklyn!"
"So talk," the rust colored gargoyle said. There was a short pause.
"Okaaay. Thanks Lex. Brooklyn, listen! I think I found out who's behind it all. Guy named Faben. Word on the streets is he was a low-ranked goon for Dracon. After a while, he decided to split. He's only alive because Dracon got put in jail."
"So what makes you so sure he's the one?"
"He's been pretty successful since he left. Not too long ago, he started asking around for help that didn't mind going against gargoyles. Nobody went for it. But a few days ago, all requests stopped. Most likely reason: someone took the offer."
"Lex, can you ask Elisa about him?"
"Already on it!"
"Ember, anything else?"
"Yeah. I got his address."
"What? Why didn't you say so?"
"Because you and Lex can't do anything about it. It's too far to get to before sunrise. You'll barely make it back to the castle in time."
"All right. All of us should meet back at the castle. Elisa can take care of things from there. Understand?"
"Oh, completely. Uh, hang on a second." There was a moment of muffled conversation. "Just ran into Vita. She says she understands too."
"Good. See you back at the castle."
"Roger. Over and out."
When Brooklyn finally got back to the castle, all he found was Lexington standing on the ramparts. "Elisa couldn't find anything on him, and Vita and Ember aren't back yet."
"Oh no," Brooklyn groaned. He quickly turned on his radio. "Can you hear this?" he demanded.
"Very loud. And clear," came back the cheerful reply.
"Then why aren't you back yet?"
"Cause Vita an' I are scoping out Faben's place."
"What?!" There was a bit of feedback as the female tapped the transmitter.
"I think this thing is working. I just said that-"
"I heard you!"
"Then why'd you ask?"
"Never mind. You two need to get back here now!"
"Sorry, boss, no can do. It's gonna be sunup in... a bit under five minutes. We can't get back in time."
"Why didn't you get back here earlier? I thought you said you were coming back here."
"Well, seems to be a bit of misunderstanding. I just said that I understood your orders. Nothing else." There was a few moments of silence as Brooklyn tried to rein in his temper.
"All right. Just... don't do anything stupid!"
"Too late! Oh, you mean really stupid. Understood and obeying. See you tonight!"
Ember cut the connection with a sigh of relief. She didn't like BS-ing the guys like that, but it was the only way she could think of to keep them safe. The mage probably thought that they were still at the house. That and she hated sounding so cheerful, so... so... perky this early in the morning. It just wasn't natural.
"That went better then expected," Vita commented.
"A lot better."
"Yeah. I thought for sure they'd try to fly over here before sunrise to stop us. When's your contact gonna get here?"
"Great. Try to be a little bit more cryptic next time."
"If you insist."
Finally a blond man came cautiously onto the roof via the fire escape. He blinked when he saw Vita. "I thought you'd be alone," he accused Ember. She shrugged.
"Sorry. I didn't have much choice. John, this is Vita. Vita, John, my contact." Her sister nodded a hello.
"Whatever. Well, let's get going. Faben's place is on the other side of the city."
"Where, exactly, is he?"
"In a- What the...!" He broke off as the sun came over the horizon and the women transformed into humans. He backed off slightly. "What's going on?"
"Hmm? Nothing. Well, nothing unusual," Ember said, as she and her sister pulled on jackets and shoes.
"Look, let's just go already."
"Yeah, well, I was kinda expecting you to fly over there. How you gonna get there now?"
Vita smiled and flourished a small plastic rectangle. "Through some modern magic known as the charge card."
Despite the early hour and the fact they were in a taxi, it still took the three awhile to reach their destination. When they did, Vita paid the driver while John led Ember to what appeared to be a two-story abandoned factory. They stayed in the mouth of an alley, watching the building, which showed no sign of life except for several drunks asleep, both inside and out.
"You sure this is it?" Ember asked dubiously.
"Okay. Do you know how to get in?"
"What do you take me for, a rookie? I'll give you a tour around outside. Ah, that is, as soon as Vita gets here."
"Let's start without her."
"Are you sure? I mean, how do you know you can trust her?"
"She's my sister."
"Oh. Well, if you're sure. See the drunk in front? He's the first guard."
Ember snorted. "He's not very good then."
He rolled his eyes. "He's not really drunk. The others inside are guards too."
"So that means we don't get in the front door."
"Or the back. Same setup there."
"Wonderful. What about the roof and windows?"
"Skylights are boarded up. Windows're welded shut."
"For some reason, I'm beginning to have serious doubts about our chances. Any other entrances?"
"Yeah, but you ain't getting in there. C'mon, I'll show ya." The gang member led her around to the side of the factory, covered in graffiti. It's only other feature was a fire escape.
"Jackpot!" Ember exclaimed quietly.
"Think again. You try to go up, you're extra-crispy."
"Then why bother have it at all? It'd be cheaper to just tear it down."
"Somehow, it doesn't fry you going down. Let's 'em have an escape route."
"Hi guys!" Vita whispered.
"Where've you been?" John hissed back.
"You want to haggle with a New York cab driver over fare? Be my guest. So how we gettin' in?"
Ember pointed at the fire escape. "Through here."
"Uh huh." Vita eyed the exit. "And just what delightful little surprises does it hold?"
"You'll be shocked at the truth."
Vita groaned. "That was horrible. John, anything else to tell us?"
"Yeah. Most of the people are underground. Rumor has it that there's an exit right to the subways."
"Convenient. Okay. Thanks for the help," Ember told him, moving to scan the front of the building.
"Wait a minute. That's it?"
Vita leered at him. "Well, I can always give you a thank-you kiss."
She shrugged. "Your loss."
"That's not what I meant." He turned to Ember. "You two really mean to go in there?"
"Yup," she replied absently.
He sighed in disgust. "It is impossible!"
"Don't know the meaning of the word. Look," she finally faced him, "we're even. If anything, we owe you."
"Hey, hey, hey! Don't drag me into this." Ember paused long enough to glare at her sister.
"But if you're stupid enough to try and come after us, or even stick around much longer, you probably won't live long enough to regret it. Get my drift?"
John sighed again. "Yeah. I see where you're going. All right. We're even. Catch you later." He slowly turned and left, disappearing into the shadows.
"Why'd you threaten him?"
"I didn't. I just told him the truth. With him around, we had better chances of getting killed. It was worst case, though. By the way, tone down to decaf, please."
"Right, sure. Remind me not to play poker with you. So what's the plan?"
"Well, I was hoping you could turn the fryer off."
"Ah. What was it that took you so long, anyway?"
"Hm? Oh, I was getting breakfast. Want a bagel?"
"Sure." The two ate in silence, watching pigeons and trying to brainstorm an idea.
"Eureka!" Vita cried softly.
"Get a load of that pigeon up there." Ember squinted against the early morning sun. "It's not doing anything," she commented dryly.
"No, look at where it is."
"...On the fire escape. Top step, right under the landing."
"Very good! Now if we can just... Gimme some of your bagel."
"Here." Ember handed over the remains of her breakfast. "Why?"
"I've always wanted to do this." Her sister took aim and threw part of the bagel onto the stair beneath the one where the bird perched. "Welcome to Kentucky Fried Pigeon, can I take your order?" she asked with an evil smile.
Ember doubled over with laughter. "That's disgusting!"
"So what's your point?" The bird spotted the food and hopped down. It pecked away at the bagel while Vita tossed the remaining piece up onto the top landing. Catching sight of the bigger prize, the pigeon hopped back up the steps.
"Well, looks like the top stairs aren't charged. It's probably a safety feature. If you give me a boost...." Ember went over to the wall and cupped her hands. "Go ahead." Vita ran forward and stepped into Ember's hands as her sister lifted, giving her the lift needed to reach the top step. She pulled herself around the rail and onto the landing.
"What happened?" Ember called up.
"I hit a step. You're right, it is shocking."
"Yeah. No major damage. Just smarted."
"I doubt it."
"Just gimme a lift." Vita lay on her stomach as Ember backed up against the opposite wall. She ran towards the fire escape and when she reached the wall, planted a foot against it as if trying to climb straight up. At the apex, she grabbed Vita's arms. Her sister grunted as she tried to pull her full weight up onto the landing. "Let's not try this again," Vita suggested when Ember was finally up and safe. "Here here. Well, now comes the fun part."
"I thought we were already there."
"Nope. Now we need to get inside and stay hidden for the day." There was a moment of silence. "What?"
"Now we need to get inside and stay hidden for the day."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time. You mean to say that we are gonna stay inside here the entire day?"
"Nice rhyme. But yeah." She grinned and patted the ever-present backpack. "Always bring a book to read." Vita's only reply was an incoherent growl as she turned to remove the alarm.
When sunset came, the clan greeted it with a roar and the shattering of stone. Goliath, after shaking off the remains of his stone shell, glanced around, seeking their captors and quite ready for another round of tug-of-war with the chains imprisoning him. But what he saw was a total shock. The chains had been removed, not just from him, but the others as well. He turned, looking for some explanation, half-expecting to see Elisa waiting for them. Instead there was two gargoyles, calmly picking up the remains of a card game. The real surprise was that he didn't know them. Both were female, and looked rather bored. The red-orange one smiled. "Hi. So nice to meet you, we've heard lots about you, great to finally meet you face to face...," She turned to the other female. "I think that's it, right?" she asked. The blue-green snorted. "I think so. Either way, you've probably just revolutionized the method of introduction."
"I'll take that as a compliment. I'm Ember, and this is Vita." She gathered up the last of the cards and stowed them in a bag on her back.
"And just how did ye know ta be here?" Hudson asked, suspicious as ever.
"Oh, sorry, forgot that part. Brooklyn and Lex sent us." Vita stifled a sound that was an odd cross between a snort and chuckle, making Goliath doubt that was what had happened. "So they are all right," he asked, trying to get a better grip on events.
"And just how did they meet you?"
"And when?" Broadway chimed in. That was the cue for the others to add in their own questions, Bronx helping the matter by starting to bark along. Ember and Vita shared a look, and then Vita shrugged. The other female put her fingers to her lips and blew a piercing whistle, cutting off the babble.
"We'll answer all your questions, but we've got to leave now. There's Quarrymen coming, and personally, I'd like to be gone by then."
"Agreed," Goliath rumbled, and motioned for them to lead the way.
Brooklyn paced the ramparts, dividing his attention between Lex, who was doing who-knew-what to a computer, and the skyline. "Find anything?" he growled.
"Same answer as the last seven times you asked. No."
"Where are they? It's been an hour since sundown!"
"I don't know!" Lex's patience had finally broken. After hearing his rookery brother complain one too many times about their missing friends, he'd had it. "Look," he snarled, "if you want to annoy someone, then go-." He broke off and smiled as movement behind his rookery brother caught his eye. "-Then go ask them."
"Them wh-?" Brooklyn whirled around, and he saw what Lex had. Six gargoyles were visible on the horizon. He heaved a sigh of relief. "Sorry," he muttered to Lex.
"Whatever." They waited impatiently for the others to arrive, anticipation and worry making the few, short minutes seen to take forever. When they finally landed, Ember casually strolled over and saluted with a grin. "Reporting back for duty, sir. No stupid actions taken, sir! Orders understood and obeyed, sir!" she barked. By now, all the others were looking at her as if she was crazy, and Brooklyn was having doubts about her sanity as well. Vita and Lex were trying to smother bouts of laughter, but without much luck. Finally, Goliath sighed.
"I hope you intend to explain this," he rumbled, "because not much about it makes sense."
"That's us," Ember smirked. "Confuse everything as much as possible."
"Ya got that right," Brooklyn muttered. Goliath sighed. Brooklyn was bad enough for puns and total sarcasm, but now there was two. That was three more then enough.
"Well, if it isn't the whole group together. You know the saying. 'Crooks always return to the scene of the crime and gargoyles always return to their roost'. And you four are here too," a voice commented behind them. They whirled, going into various fighting stances. They saw the mage, once again poised nonchalantly against the parapet. "I'm surprised. I shouldn't be, but I am. Oh well, it makes my life so much easier. And enjoyable."
"We're so glad to make your night," Brooklyn snarled.
"We live to please," Ember added. Goliath didn't waste time making conversation. He charged the wizard, letting out a massive roar. Hudson and Broadway joined him, as the others quickly moved to circle their foe. They nearly had their claws on him when they hit something, invisible yet definitely enough to stop them. There was a brief flash of yellow, and they were thrown back, Broadway slamming into Angela. They, along with Hudson and Goliath, hit a wall and lay still, groaning.
The mage glared at the gargoyles and roared, "I only need one of you! As for the rest...you're expendable. And that's the fun part!" Sections of the now barely visible sphere surrounding lashed out, slamming into Lexington and Bronx, who howled, jerking as if they had just touched a live electrical wire. The wizard pointed at Ember and began to chant. Unsure of what to do, she began to murmur her own incantation, quickly creating a shield against magic. She finished first, but then her capricious talent kicked in; the shield began to break down immediately, just as the mage finished his spell. A glowing sphere of sickly red sped towards her, barely slowing as it shattered her defense. It slammed into her, knocking her backward and unconscious. Lexington and Bronx slumped to the ground, almost smoking as the tendrils of energy retreated back into the sphere.
Then Vita and Brooklyn totally lost it. Their eyes began to glow, his an intense white and hers an odd, brilliant blue. They rushed him. Brooklyn swerved aside at the last moment, and continued to feint at the wizard. Vita was more direct. She didn't stop, but bared her teeth and howled as she came in contact with the shield. It became faintly visible, a glowing sphere of yellow, crackling energy. She stayed, leaning as if into a fierce wind, and battered at the shield. The mage ignore Brooklyn and put his hands together at the wrist and pushed them forward at Vita. The dome bulged outward, slamming her into yet another wall, probably an unnecessary act with the charge the dome had given her. He turned back to Brooklyn and cried out, "Ignesfui mani!"
Ember came back to consciousness to see the wizard pick up Brooklyn with a spell and fling him against a wall of the castle with the aid of a magical burst of energy. There was a loud crunch, of either bones or masonry breaking. From where she was, she could not tell which. The rust-colored gargoyle was released from the magical hold and fell to the ground, where he lay unmoving.
"No," Ember whispered, unable to believe her eyes. The battle couldn't be going this badly. The others had to be all right. Brooklyn had to be all right. Over the past few weeks, he and Lex had become clan. She wasn't sure how or when, but she was totally sure about the fact. And nobody, but nobody messed with her clan. "NO!" She screamed it this time, not caring who heard. Her eyes began to glow a brilliant sapphire, and inside, something broke.
The magical memory block, weakened by her haphazard magic and a slow, gradual leak, had finally succumbed with the stress of the moment, the dam crumbling beneath the flood of memories. The next few seconds were filled with them, recollections of her family, her clan, and all else that had been walled away. In particular, her erratic way of casting magic.
Somehow, she found the strength to pull herself to her feet. She swayed, but managed to stay upright. She then smirked; she had just the song for the mage. She sang softly a section from Madonna's "You'll See", using the music to channel her power, bringing it to the surface, where it would wait for a time. Where she could use it.
"Hey! Pin head!" Her voice reverberated beyond it's normal limits, enhanced by her magic, finally tapped after nearly 7 years, providing her with more magic then she'd ever known. The wizard turned, startled by the flash of magical power and the earsplitting roar. All he saw was the gargoyle he'd chosen as his target, barely able to stand up. She couldn't have magic, he'd have seen it before. But now.... Now her eyes glowed blue as her hair began to writhe like snakes, carried by a gale wind that only effected her.
"Guess what?" the gargoyle shouted in a more normal voice, yet unmistakably the same as before, "You ain't the only mage here anymore!" She smirked, and he felt the first tremors of fear along his spine. He didn't have half as much power as she did; he could practically see it radiating around her. Well, no reason to tell her that. She raised her hands and cried, "You want to play with fire? Then come play with me! Fulmenos, venite!" A ball of lightning, nearly a foot in diameter, collected in her claws. She then held it in one hand, and tossed it back and forth, from claw to claw, and said, "You've got two choices; one, leave us alone, for good, and forget your little 'contract' on us, or two, you can stay and become extra-crispy." She bared her teeth in what might have been called a smile. "Personally, I'd love for you to take number two."
The fear multiplied several times over. This was not good. But still, he could not show her that he was afraid. "Really?" he asked with a fake yawn. "Is that so? You'll have to pardon me for choosing neither." Then he muttered under his breath, "Pluvia et caligo, nix et nivosa grando, defendo ab fragois mordeo." Ha. I'd like to see her get through that. He crossed his arms and sneered. "Hit me with your best shot."
Ember studied the mage for a moment. He was too confident. Probably had a counter-spell. Well, if he was going to play it that way.... She grinned then whispered, "Muto meus cantum; furor fragor, mitto hunc nucem declive sub terra." She shrugged, pretending strength and confidence she didn't feel. "Whatever." Then she released the spell, pushing it with all her power to the mage. He smirked, expecting the glowing ball of energy to slide off his shield. Instead, the gargoyle's spell blasted through it, shattering through his protections. He didn't have time to cry out before her spell hit him. There was a brief, blinding explosion of light, and when Ember blinked away the light spots, the mage was gone.
She suddenly sagged against the parapet, the momentary adrenaline surge wearing off. She clutched her head, trying to keep from blacking out. Musta used up more juice then I thought, gettin' that spell off, she thought through a fog. She sank down, struggling to remain awake. But she lost the battle, and sank into unconsciousness again.
Ember slowly fought her way back to reality. She opened her eyes to see not the stars, but a ceiling. She was in one of the rooms in the castle, lying on a couch. She turned her head, not able to find any strength to do anything else, and found Brooklyn reading. He seemed to have heard her, and put down the book. "You're awake," he commented quietly.
She grinned slightly. "Is that all the thanks I get?" she croaked, relief clear in her voice, along with something else, something Brooklyn wasn't sure he heard or understood. Pushing it away for the moment, he laughed. "Well, now I know you're all right."
"Gimme a second to get up and I will be." He helped her get upright, and she paused to grip her head as he sat down beside her. "Oh, as soon as the room stops spinning, that is," she amended. "Man, did you get the number of that truck?"
"Oh well. A girl can hope."
"The sun'll be up in about half an hour."
"And I want to know just how you fried that wizard. I thought you said your magic was unreliable."
"It is. Somewhat. And the wizard's not a cinder."
"I switched spells on him. So I just sent him on a little trip to the Australia outback with a warning to not mess with us, and that I won't be as nice next time."
"All right," he chuckled, "but how'd you do that it in the first place?"
"Music has power, sometimes similar to magic. Sometimes, it's possible to combine the two. That's how the use of chanting came into effect way back whenever. By using music, I can access my magical talent. Otherwise, it fizzles or backfires."
"Then why didn't you use it earlier?"
"Couldn't remember how."
"Where were the people? The ones that live here, I mean. It's just that an entire clan slamming into the walls might attract just a bit of attention."
"It was their night out. Fancy dinner party or something."
"Of course. Where else would help be?" She paused for a bit and glanced down at the floor. "I'm glad you're all right. Last I knew, you were slammed into the wall and down for the count. Maybe...." She stopped, not wanting to think of what could have happened, what she had thought had happened. She felt the reassuring presence of his hand on her shoulder and pushed the thought away. Might haves, could haves, they weren't important. What was important was now. She turned slightly and leaned back into his arms and sighed. She had found so much lately. What she really was, her family, and perhaps... perhaps something more.
Brooklyn quietly folded his arms and wings around Ember, leaving her to her thoughts as he smiled. He knew what it was in her voice when she had awoken. He finally knew what Goliath and Elisa felt for each other. He echoed her contented, happy sigh.
Together, the two gargoyles waited for the dawn.
Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I actually wanna go back. To see more bloopers.
Questions? Complaints? Flames? Send it all to Norcumi@backtick.net.
Ember belongs to me, though I'm not sure I'd claim her. Same goes for Vita, the magician, and sadly, the whole blorking plot. Don't steal, because this piece of writing sucks. Gargs as a whole, and basically everything in this story, belongs to Buena Vista and the Great Mouse. All used with the utmost respect, but not permission, no money is being made so please don't sue.