Gargoyles, co-created by Greg Weisman, is the property of the Walt Disney Company. Everything else belongs to history.
Special thanks as always to Masterdramon, Gryphinwyrm7 and BookwyrmPendragon13 for providing beta reading and feedback.
Transylvania, 1456 A.D.
"Hurry up!" the young night-winged gargoyle hissed, her whisper carried down the mountain as swiftly as her talons carried her up its rocky face. She looked back to see her rookery sister following behind, climbing up the cliff with more care and precision, if not speed.
"I s-s-still think w-we shouldn't be here," her rookery sister stammered back. She was mouse-brown and especially bulky for their age, little over eighteen winters, though utterly lacking in natural self-assertion. A more forceful personality might have made her the kind of bully who ruled the rookery with an iron talon. Instead, she'd always been the first to concede any argument.
Which is perhaps why the night-winged one had always gravitated towards her out of all their rookery siblings. Her mouse-brown sister needed someone to look out for her interests, to keep her from being taken advantage of. If she happened to occasionally prevail upon her for the odd favor here and there... Well that was only fair.
Which was probably how she had managed to convince her sister, despite a steady flow of complaining and pleading, to stray so far from the rookery on this of all nights.
As they reached the lip of the cliff overlooking a small gorge hidden deep in the mountains, they looked over their shoulders. Behind them a vast sea of rich green forest stretched as far as the eye could see. Just on the horizon, they could make out the warm orange glow that marked the Red City. Scattered among the woods were other lights; cold blue flames that flickered enticingly on only a few very special nights of the year.
"Y-y-you realize our mothers and fathers would k-kill us if they found out we were out here t-tonight?"
"Well then, we'll just have to keep this to ourselves, won't we? Now be quiet!"
They huddled amid the crags, becoming as still and silent as true stone, and waited. The gorge was empty and lifeless for what seemed like an eternity.
"M-m-maybe they're not coming?" her sister whispered, turning to leave. "M-maybe we should head back and forget the whole…"
"Shhh…" she hissed, yanking her sibling back down.
They watched as several figures began making their way down the gorge in a slow silent procession. Each was clad in a hooded white robe. The robes were so all-concealing that the young gargoyles wondered if some of their own race might not hide beneath those hoods.
There had always been whispered rookery tales of long forgotten ancestors who had dared to make the trek to the hidden lake where the Evil One taught all secrets of nature, the language of animals, and every imaginable magic spell. Their elders never spoke of such things of course, save to make clear in no uncertain terms that any clan member even attempting such a thing should not bother returning… assuming they could.
Not that the night-winged one was that foolhardy. This was as close as they had ever dared come to the lake, and it was quite enough excitement even for her.
Her sister chewed a talon pensively. "Ar-aren't there supposed to be ten of them?"
The night-winged hatchling peered over the cliff, counting the unholy pilgrims passing below. Her sister was right, only nine remained. "One has already been claimed," she whispered.
"D-d-dawn's only a f-few hours. W-w-we should head back."
The night-winged hatchling leaned forward just as the last white-robed figure was passing below. "Just a minute, I want to…"
A small stone came loose underneath the weight of her talons. Little more than a pebble, it bounced down the side of the gorge with carelessly merry abandon before softly striking the pale cowl of the last hooded shape.
It gazed upward.
The two sisters immediately dived behind the crags, not daring to so much as breath.
"Dawn's only a few hours, we should head back." the night-winged one conceded.
Her sister nodded silently as they both scrambled for a better vantage point to take wing. A little while later, they were riding the wind, the clear night air soothing and emboldening them.
"T-t-that was close,"
"Bah," she barked. "I'm just glad I didn't have to hurt them. If one of them had made a move…" She let out a modest roar, talons slashing defiantly at her immaterial foes.
Her sister giggled. "J-j-just promise me we won't do that again."
She gave an uncommitted shrug.
"Fine… If you're going to be a big hatchling about it! Besides, I don't know what you're so worried about. We'll be back before anyone even realizes we're gone. It'll be like we never… Whoa!" She fluttered uncertainly in mid-air.
"Are y-you alright?"
"Yeah… must have been a freak updraft or…" Another gust of wind threw her off course.
"SISTER!" Her rookery sibling cried out as shrieking gales suddenly enveloped them, her hand desperately reaching out before they were both sent hurtling in opposite directions by the elements.
The night-winged gargoyle found herself utterly alone as the maelstrom buffeted her across the black sky, twisting and turning to the point she could no longer tell up from down. Icy winds clawed at her like countless unseen talons, and her ears ached with a sound like the howling of a thousand wolves. Next thing she knew, pain shot through her wing and she was plummeting through the tree tops, before coming to a sharp painful stop on the earthy forest floor.
She staggered to her feet as the storm continued to rage above and the rain began to pound down upon her. One of her wings hung limp in an unnatural manner, her shoulder burning in agony. She looked about the forest, trying to get her bearings. It all looked so different from down here. She vaguely recalled something about moss growing on the south of trees.
A bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, revealing several pairs of yellow eyes gleaming wickedly as they watched her from the undergrowth.
Her rookery parents had always thought her that wolves almost never attack gargoyles. She kept eye contact just as she had been thought and began to slowly, silently back away.
With every step she took back, the pack took one forward. Their white teeth gleamed wetly in their blood red maws. Her rookery parents had all agreed the most important thing when confronted by a wolf was to never ever run.
Obeying her rookery parents had never been her strong suit.
She tore through the undergrowth, heedless of her direction as claw like branches ripped at her skin. Her flight was cut short by a treacherous root catching her foot, sending her hurtling once more to the cold mud as a rock impacted against her skull. Her hand raised to probe her forehead, only to draw back with a hiss of pain. She looked down to see her talons covered with blood, then she looked up to see herself surrounded by at least a dozen wolves.
Her vision blurred, the wolves parted, and the last thing she saw before slipping into merciful unconsciousness was a white-robed figure silently stepping towards her.
Wallachia, 1476 A.D.
The warhorses' breath rose from their nostrils like smoke from a furnace, snow crunching under their heavy iron shod hooves. The Scot patted his own steed affectionately as he drew his heavy black cloak tightly against the chill of the Carpathian winter. All in all, it provided only marginal protection against the biting mountain winds. "With all due respect, Lord Bathory, I thought I was hired to hunt demons; not cow rogue Boyars into submission?" he said.
Beside the Scot rode a hulking figure clad entirely in ebon plate armor. His face was hard and angular like chiseled stone, framed by a wild black mane. Upon his shield was emblazoned the crest of a serpentine-green dragon entwined about a bone-white wolf's jaw. "You were hired to do as the Voivode commands, Canmore," the armoured giant growled.
"The Voivode?" the Scot mused. "I was under the impression King Corvinius placed you in command of this expedition, my lord?"
"I don't like your insinuations, dog!" the black knight turned on the Scot with a snarl. "It's not the place of whelps to question the pack's elders."
"I only meant, my lord, that…" The Scot's words were drowned out as a thunderous screech, like that of some titanic falcon, shook ground beneath his horse's hooves. The steed reared in blind panic. At the exact same moment, the sky above suddenly filled with flames, forcing the two riders to shield their eyes.
Within moments, the flames vanish almost as swiftly as they had appeared. On the mountain road before the riders, lay two of the most bizarre creatures either men had ever seen. The first looked almost like a reptilian lion, a rich dark brown mane surmounting a jade hide.
The second creature was roughly manlike in shape save for the leather wings wrapped around itself. Its skin was a Hellish crimson. Its face was dominated by a huge vulture-like beak, devilish horns rising from its brow. The fiend was clad in little save a loin cloth, broadsword hanging from the belt.
"Wait!" A crimson talon quickly shot up from the prone form. "Just gonna need a sec," the creature groaned before disgorging the contents of its stomach upon the mountainside. "Okay… I think I'm good." The creature bared its fangs. "Hi, I'm Brooklyn."
"Demons!" The Scott shrieked. With one hand he swiftly donned a sable mask marred by three blood red slashes as the other unhooked a heavy iron mace.
Brooklyn barely had time to dodge before the Hunter's mace nearly crushed his skull. The young gargoyle drew his own weapon in turn. "You'll have to remind me, have we met? You Hunters all kinda blend together after a while."
"I am the last Hunter ye will ever see, monster!" He shrieked as he swung once more.
Brooklyn parried the Hunter's weapon with his own while his free hand reached for the human's black hood and forcibly yanked it down over his face, sending the Scot scrambling into a snow bank. "If only…" the gargoyle sighed wistfully.
He'd barely had time to turn before an armoured fist collided with his face.
"On your feet, ördög!" the armoured figure bellowed as his steel clad boot delivered a vicious kick to the still dazed gargoyle's ribs. "I would see what standard of warrior Hell breeds!"
"And you are?" Brooklyn groaned through clenched teeth.
"I am Lord Bathory Istavan; Knight of the Order of the Dragon, Commander of the Black Army. I was hand chosen by King Corvinus himself restore this land's true Voivode, and cleanse it of heathen and Hellspawn alike! And you, ördög…" The black knight unsheathed a massive broadsword from his scabbard, raising it high above his head. "Are a grave disappointment."
Before the steel blade could fall, something green and snarling slammed into the black knight with all the force of a small rhino. The armoured figure impacted the rocky mountainside with a painfully audible crunch.
"Good Fu-Dog!" Brooklyn staggered to his feet. He hooked his arms beneath the beast's shoulders before leaping into the valley below, allowing the fierce mountain winds to fill his wings.
"This isn't over, demon!" The Hunter shrieked at empty sky. "I'll hunt yer kind to the ends of the Earth and to the Day o' Judgement if I have to! You hear me, demon! You canne hide forever!"
"Enough, Canmore!" A heavy armoured hand pressed down on the Hunter's shoulder. "Raging at empty air accomplishes nothing. Once we find where they roost…" Bathory's lips peeled back in a wolfish sneer. "The Voivode will make that ördög wish we'd gutted him here and now."
Brooklyn's wings gave out after about half a mile under Fu-Dog's weight, forcing gargoyle and beast to make a rather ungracious landing in a snow drift at the foot of the mountains.
"Okay…" Brooklyn grunted as he shoved the lumpy beast off of him. "Time somebody lay off the dumplings."
The Fu-Dog simply cocked his head in response, giving a bemused whine as his master extracted himself from the snow drift.
"I'm guessing by the Hunter and his tin-plated buddy, we're in medieval Europe which… doesn't really narrow things down much." The TimeDancer scanned the horizon 'til his eyes fell upon what looked like half a dozen farmsteads huddled about a crossroads somewhere to the south. "Looks like as good a place to get our bearings as any."
Brooklyn crept stealthily towards the small village at first. His Fu-Dog loping silently behind. The last thing he wanted was to risk provoking a mob of angry torch and pitchfork wielding peasants… again.
As they drew closer to the nearest cottage however, it became clear something was very wrong. Charred huts stood empty and exposed, their thatched roofs burnt. Scattered among the ruins, they occasionally happened upon the bloated carcasses of sheep, goats and other livestock buried under a thin layer of snow. Though not a single human. What disturbed Brooklyn most was that every animal seemed untouched by either predator or scavenger.
Fu-Dog began whimpering in the most pitiful manner, scratching at his master's leg pleadingly.
"Yeah, boy… I don't think I wanna hang around here either." The young gargoyle warrior turned back down the dirt road, only to find his way blocked by about a dozen silent shrouded figures.
"It's okay… I'm not gonna hurt you…" he spoke softly as he raised his talons well away from his weapon. "Me and my uh… dog are just a little lost is all."
The shrouded figures made no response, no movement. Somehow Brooklyn found that more unsettling than the usual panic and screaming most humans greeted him with. Under their tattered shrouds, their limbs looked pale and emancipated in a way that reminded him uncomfortably of famine victims. "Hey… You hungry?" He gingerly reached into a small pouch on his belt, withdrawing some dried meat he'd picked up on his last dance.
Fu-Dog snarled, his eyes flaring white.
"Fu-Dog, quiet!" Brooklyn snapped as he stepped towards the nearest figure. "Sorry 'bout him. He's just a little over protective." He broke off a small piece of his ration, taking a light nibble himself by way of demonstration. "See, it's good… kinda."
As the gargoyle drew within arm's length of the lead figure, a cold wind suddenly picked up, briefly sweeping aside the ragged cloth. From beneath stared a ruined visage that was barely recognizable as human. One eye had withered into little more than a scarlet pinpoint in a hollow eye socket. The other had swollen into a blood soaked plum. Pale shredded strips of what must have once been the thing's lips hung about a fanged and gore-stained maw.
"Holy…" The stunned Brooklyn did not even have time to reach for his broadsword before the entire pack pounced upon him.
Fu-Dog roared as he lunged at the inhuman horde swarming over his master. Fang and claw desperately tore at a wall of cold unliving flesh, before pale talons clamped about the beast's throat and sent him hurtling across the square.
One of the creatures snapped viciously at Brooklyn's throat, only to be blocked at the last minute by the gargoyle's forearm. Pain flared through his arm as the creature's vice-like jaws tightened, tearing flesh and testing bone to its breaking point. Blood began to trickle from the wound, only driving the things into a further frenzy.
Then everything went still. The creatures froze, their swollen eyes turned as one to something further up the road. Brooklyn twisted his neck around to see what had so transfixed them.
A small burst sack lay in the snow. Countless poppy seeds spilled across the road. The next thing Brooklyn knew, the things had abandoned him, leaping upon the pile of scattered seeds. They huddled over it, carefully picking through each minute granule as they whispered unintelligibly to themselves.
Brooklyn scrambled towards the still prone Fu-Dog, the gargoyle beast only now rousing itself back to consciousness. "Come on, boy. We need to move before they…"
The night was suddenly shattered by a pantherish roar as something swooped down upon the undead horrors from the sky above. Brooklyn saw something metallic flash before one of the creature's heads slid from its shoulders. Then his jaw dropped.
A female gargoyle, no older than himself, moved with animalistic grace as she hacked her way through the abominations; fire hardened stake in one hand and silver edged battle-axe in the other. Her skin was a deep, almost black, midnight blue. The lining of her leather wings a rich crimson. Her hair a ghostly white. Her face was unlike that of any gargoyle Brooklyn had ever seen before, almost bat-like with its upturned nose and high sharply pointed ears.
Brooklyn's sluggish thought processes were jolted forward by the sight of a creature leaping at his rescuer from behind. "Look ou…"
With one fluid motion, she drove the stake deep into the thing's rib-cage. With another catlike movement she spun, decapitating the thing before it even had a chance to hit the ground.
Brooklyn blinked for a few moments before function returned to his mouth. "Wow… that… that was…"
"Down!" she roared.
Brooklyn hit the dirt as something whizzed past him, striking the creature that had been stalking up from behind him through its heart. Brooklyn stared as the horror's flesh began to sluice and crumble from its bones, as though he were watching the natural process of decomposition in fast forward.
"Sorry!" a third voice called out as yet another gargoyle dropped from the skies. Despite how young she sounded, Brooklyn thought the newcomer could have given Goliath a run for his money in the muscles department. She was a mouse-brown giant, sharing the same bat-like features as her rookery sister. Her fur was stained black in several places by soot, the mark of a blacksmith. She wore a thick leather belt from which hung a dozen jangling tools. The giant gingerly brandished what could either have been a very large crossbow or a small ballista. "Jammed…" she offered.
Brooklyn's mind raced as he looked down on the swiftly rotting things that had been trying to kill him mere moments ago… "Those… those were…"
"Strigoi, failed experiments cast off by the Scholomance. They're usually not so bold but the slaughter left in the Black Army's wake only encourages them." The night-winged female offered the still prone Brooklyn her hand. "You're fortunate we spotted you when we did."
"Uh... thanks." He took the hand gingerly as she pulled him to his feet. "I'm Brooklyn."
She arched an eyebrow ridge. "What is a… 'brook linn'?"
"No… it's my name," he responded.
"Oh…" She traded a bemused look with her rookery sister before turning back to Brooklyn and nodding politely. "It is very nice."
"I spotted a Hungarian patrol a little to the north as we glided over," the soot covered giant rumbled.
"Let's work swiftly then." The night-skinned female turned back to Brooklyn. "I would hate to save you from the strigoi only to deliver you into the hands of the Impaler."
Now it was Brooklyn's turn to cock an eyebrow ridge. "The who?"
Bathory and Canmore rode through the streets of Wallachia's newly reconquered capital. A few isolated fires still burned across the city, giving the skyline a dull hellish aura.
As the two riders approached the palace walls, they were challenged by two armed footmen. The brightly colored tassels accentuating their mail marked them as Szgany conscripts, members of the Voivode's personal guard.
"Hold," one barked. "What lord do you serve?"
"A lord is a lord," Bathory responded. "Even in Hell."
The guards stood aside, seemingly satisfied, as Bathory and Canmore passed through the gates and into the palace courtyard. Once through the gates, the Scot could not help but cross himself at sight which greeted him.
Dozens of decomposing forms, most of them clad in the robes of Boyars, hung from as many towering wooden spikes. Amid this forest of death, an exquisite banqueting table had been prepared. Its elegance and finery seemed obscene against the backdrop of such carnage.
A single figure sat at the table. He was clad in crimson armor the shade of dried blood, a sable wolf pelt slung across his shoulders. A heavy iron-grey mustache hung over a lupine jaw. Two living wolves sat curled about his feet, their hungry yellow eyes never straying from the newcomers.
Their host rose from his seat, brandishing a golden jeweled chalice high by way of greeting. "Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring!"
Though Canmore had yet to meet the infamous Voivode face to face, there could be little doubt who stood before him. "Yer Highness?" he said interrogatively.
Their host nodded.
"I am Dracula."
To be Continued...