Vessels Part 1
I glided swiftly over the churning obsidian sands. A vast sea of void-black sand as far as the eye could see. It churned and swirled beneath me, moving as though the sand was an ocean in the midst of a storm.
A column of black sand thicker than an obelisk lanced out of the ground and lashed at me like a an asp. I narrowly banked out of the way. Then another column lunged from beneath me. I narrowly avoided that as well. A laughing rasping voice hissed at me from beneath the black sands.
It doesn't matter how far away from the Deshret you take my crown, little Harmakhis, my Chaos is boundless, endless, and will always find you.
I didn't respond, just banked out of the path of the sand-geysers attempting to attack me.
The ground shook and a massive blood-red cobra, as large and as thick as the Nile itself burst forth from the sand. It's evil eyes locked on its prey…The sand columns burst forth from the ground and finally hit me…I tumbled onto the ground and the sands swallowed me up, suffocating me cutting off my air…and everything went black.
A different feeling of suffocation surrounded me. The familiar sensation of my body becoming flesh once more. The familiar urge to breath in fresh air. With a roar that rivaled that of any lion, I burst forth from my stone shell, scattering shards of stone skin around me.
I yawned and dusted myself off. I was within a tiny room on a typical Roman Quinquereme oar ship. The room was meant for storage, but the Centurions, Cornelius and Gauccus who had been charged with escorting me to Rome insisted that I spend the day within the tiny room. They felt I was more secure in there during the day.
It wasn't that I disagreed with them, but more that the room was small, and not meant to hold a 4.16 cubit gargoyle. I couldn't even stretch my wings, and had to keep them cloaked around me at all times. It was cramped.
After ensuring that there were no more flecks of stone skin on my person, I crouched down and gathered up my magician's satchel and clothes, which were neatly folded at my feet. A simple linen loincloth, my khopesh and ornamental scabbard. One gold Wadjet, some bands for my mane, and a deceptively simple ornamental false beard that I placed in my mane hair below my chin. Basic clothes that could be shed easily before the dawn. The Centurions had the clothes washed by the slaves daily, and placed at my feet for when I awakened.
Once clothed, I stepped out of my closet and spread my wings to their full 9-cubit length, stretching and enjoying the early evening cool. I noticed right away that the boat was no longer on the open ocean. The ship was now being rowed up a river. I could see several Roman villas nestled upon the banks of the river.
"Hail, Benuthet," Cornelius called as I exited my 'quarters'.
"Hail, Cornelius," I responded. I genuinely liked Cornelius. He was a friendly and open-minded human. A rare trait for their species, and an even rarer trait in Roman Centurions. Cornelius had never met a Harmakhis (or 'gargoyle' as they say in Rome) before he'd been tasked with escorting me, and was quite curious and inquisitive.
As I was hatched and raised at the Library of Alexandria, I was more than eager to answer the questions of an inquisitive mind. Gauccus, the other Centurion was cordial with me, but clearly had no intention of being friendly or forming any kind of meaningful relationship. He was here because Caesar had ordered two Centurions to escort me to Rome. I was a duty to be fulfilled to him. Frankly, as this was friendlier than most humans get, I was more than willing to accept Gaucus's behavior.
"Good day's sleep?" Cornelius asked.
"Yes. Quite restful," I commented tactfully. I didn't mention the daymares that I'd been having ever since I'd undertaken this trip. And unlike humans and other non-gargate species, stone sleep ensures restfulness regardless of the quality of the dreams.
"Only a few hours until Rome," Cornelius said.
"This is the Tiber River then?" I asked.
"Of course," the Centurion replied. "We should be in port by media noctis inclinatio."
I clutched my satchel close to my body.
"Good," I said. "Will it be possible to-," I started to say, but at that moment, an orange light filled the sky above us.
"What the…?" Cornelius exclaimed, and drew his spatha. I quickly followed suit and drew my khopesh. I almost instinctively reached into my satchel for my wand, but realized at the last second that that was not a good idea, and stopped myself. Habits die hard.
The orange light appeared to be flames of some kind, they lasted only a moment, but a young Harmakhis and a sha tumbled out of the flames and landed haphazardly upon the deck of our ship. Still sprawled out on the ground, he looked up at the small contingent of Roman soldiers pointing weapons at him.
"Great," he muttered.
The sha was on its feet first, taking a defensive stance, protective of his master. It was olive green with a gold-brown mane, not dissimilar to my own leonine mane, although it's face was flat and awkward looking, not at all like my own leonine features. He wore a golden collar around his neck.
"It is just a gargoyle," I said in Latin, sheathing my khopesh and examining the new guest. The Roman Centurions didn't lower their blades, or relax an inch. The Harmakhis stood up and dusted himself off. He had dark red skin, the color of deshret sands, and shock white hair that went all the way down his back. His wings were leathery and he wore a simple leather loincloth with scabbard for a large sword of a kind I had never seen before.
"Whoa!" he said, holding his talons up in a show of arms, indicating that he had no weapons, save his sheathed sword. "Romans…Trippy. I'm guessing…B.C. then?"
The beaked stranger looked up at me. Though he was clearly speaking Latin, his words seemed to have no coherent meaning to me, but I was intrigued by this stranger and his sha that had just appeared from nowhere.
"Greetings, friend," I said. "If I may so call you. I am Benuthet. You appear to be of Pictish stock to me. I have only seen pictures of your clan in Suetonius's Gargoyle Clans of the Empire, but your appearance does match much of what he described."
"Uh…" the stranger intoned. "Sure. I'm Brooklyn. Nice to meet you Benuthet."
He held out his talon, I reached out and clasped it, the universal sign of friendship among Harmakhis. "You have a name?" I commented in genuine surprise.
"Yeah…so do you?" Brooklyn said, rubbing the back of his mane of hair.
"Yes," I said, "but my case is somewhat unusual. Thoth named me when I was a hatchling. Claimed it to be destiny."
"Destiny, huh?" Brooklyn said.
"Yes," I explained further. "Benuthet means 'Phoenix of Thoth'."
Brooklyn's face clouded over, as though my name troubled him.
"Hey," Brooklyn said, "Can you get them to stop?"
It was then that I realized that throughout this entire exchange, the Centurions had not moved. Their spathas still pointed at Brooklyn.
"Cornelius," I intoned my friend. "Please, he clearly means no harm."
"He appeared out of fire," Cornelius replied. "That is not normal."
"I know very little of Pictish sorcery," I admitted. "But is it not clear that he has come for Caesar's call?"
"I suppose," Cornelius said, slowly sheathing his blade. Gaucus remained on guard.
"We were tasked with bringing the Egyptian gargoyle to Rome. Not this Pictish beast," he spat. I winced. Both for Brooklyn's sake, but also somewhat for my own. While Augustus had made the Roman Clan into full citizens of the Empire, with all the rights afforded to said citizens, it was clear that many Romans, like Gaucus, would never see as anything but animals.
"Caesar requested that each clan within the Empire send their leader or Second to Rome to speak with the Roman Clan's leader," I said, drumming my talons along my arm in annoyance.
"Brooklyn," I said, "Are you the Leader or Second of your clan?"
"Second," he piped up, trying and failing hard not to look too smug.
"Then you have clearly come to the Fora?" I asked.
"Sure," Brooklyn said. "We'll go with that."
Gaucus eyed the Pictish Harmakhis suspiciously, but did sheath his blade. Brooklyn looked wistfully at the clear night sky, as if remembering something melancholic. He quietly shook it off, and then turned towards me, we stepped aside, out of the centurions' earshot.
"So…" Brooklyn asked. "This Fora? Not got a lot of information here? Got any details for me?
"The New Olympians have made an offer to the clans throughout the Mediterranean," I said in a lower voice, taking Brooklyn's cue that he didn't want to be overheard.
"They wish to close off their island to outside trade. Too many incidents of human traders committing acts of violence against the Olympian merchants and travelers," I continued. "They wish to cut ties to the Empire entirely. Augustus is graciously allowing them to do so. And as unprecedented as this is…there is more. Apparently they are offering the clans of the Empire the opportunity to join them on their island before they close off their borders. The Roman Clan leader, Proclurus, believes this is not a decision to be taken lightly. So he requested that a representative from every clan in the Empire come to Rome and make a choice together. Proclurus has Augustus's ear, so the Emperor made a proclamation, and now we are on a boat just a few hours from Rome."
"Wow," Brooklyn said, reaching down and petting his sha who nuzzled up against him. "So this is BIG, big."
"And on a personal note," I said. "I must speak to the Magus. Rome's official Sorcerer Supreme. I have a matter of some importance and delicacy that I must speak with him about."
"Is anyone else seeing the weird blue cloud?" Brooklyn asked. I realized that he was looking over my shoulder. I turned around.
"That is concerning," I commented dryly. A massive glowing blue funnel of energy appeared to be coming out of Rome (the city was visible from our ship now) and pouring into a massive glowing blue cloud.
"Someone is casting a spell," I said. "A massive spell. One with possibly a global reach. I think that only two other such spells have been cast in the history of the World."
"I see no cloud," Cornelius said.
Those words froze my blood and made my mane stand on end. I actually dropped my magician's satchel in horror.
"What's wrong?" Brooklyn demanded, as scooped my satchel up. I broke my promise to myself and began riffling through it. Looking for Ankhs, Wadjets, charms, anything that I might be able to use to set up a ward or protection circle. I carefully pushed the large object wrapped in sheepskin aside in the satchel and continued riffling, though I was quickly realizing that the object wrapped in the sheepskin was monopolizing the space in my satchel, and there was very little I had on hand to protect us.
"Brooklyn," I answered him. "If only we can see the spell…then the spell must be targeting us. And any other Har—gargoyles. A global spell targeting literally every member of our species…this can't be good."
I felt a pulse of energy coming from the storm. I was too late.
The magic began to arc across invisible streams above us.
Oh! I thought. Whoever is doing this is using the ley lines to arc the magic across the surface of the sphere of our world. It was very impressive, if not terrifying. The scholar-mage in me couldn't help but be impressed. The gargoyle in me remained terrified however.
And the magic pulsed. A wave of blue light arced from Rome and all directions, and then slammed into us.
The sensation was one of the oddest I have ever felt. I turned to stone. It was the same sensation that I felt every day when the sun came up. My conscious mind drifted to sleep, and my body shifted. But unlike ordinary stone sleep, I did not stay stone for 12 hours…I never even had a chance to begin dreaming. I was stone for the briefest of instants…as when one has had an exhausting night and starts to drift off and lose consciousness before sunrise because it is because you are that tired…That is the nearest sensation to what I felt.
And then I awakened, roaring violently and exploding out of my stone shell, breathing in a huge swallow of air as one does every night right after awakening.
I wasn't alone either. Brooklyn and his sha had both turned to stone as well, and had awakened alongside me.
"What the heck?" Brooklyn asked.
I turned and looked at Cornelius.
"How long were we stone?" I demanded.
"A mere second," he replied. "If even that."
"Someone cast a global spell," I said, sounding confused. "That turned every gargoyle to stone for a mere second? Why would anyone do such a thing? Even a gargoyle in flight wouldn't be harmed by such a spell."
"Yeah," Brooklyn said. "That is very weird."
"Odder still," Cornelius responded. "Your clothing became stone as well. It transformed even as you did. Even your blade. The stranger's too."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Brooklyn asked sounding confused.
But I was examining my clothes in shock. In the fear of the moment, I had not even noticed, but now my attention had shifted to my loincloth, my khopesh, my false beard…all were intact. In fact…I think that they were cleaner that usual. There were no shards of skin caught inside my loincloth, and no rips or tears where the skin should have shredded the linen. Despite standing in a pile of my own stone skin.
"Our clothes are intact," I marveled.
"What?" Brooklyn asked.
"Our clothing became stone with us!" I said, still marveling over this.
Brooklyn blinked for a moment, and then let out a sharp gasp.
"It was the Humility Spell!" he exclaimed in excitement.
"The what?" I asked in confusion.
"I just witnessed one of the most important moments in gargoyle history!" Brooklyn said grinning like an idiot. "This is amazing! The Humility Spell was just cast! Wait…that's not going to reverse its effect on me, is it?"
He examined his loincloth and sword scabbard.
"What do you know of this?" I asked, frowning.
"A mystery that must wait, I'm afraid," Cornelius said. "We've arrived."
It was true. Throughout the entire series of events, the ship had kept rowing, and was now making port at a dock. I could see other ships making port as well. Cornelius lowered the gangplank. I checked my satchel and quickly stepped off the ship. Brooklyn whistled sharply, and his sha was at his side in an instant. We both stepped on the dock.
Several gargoyles from other parts of the Mediterranean were already on the docks, or stepping onto the docks from other ships. I don't know how Augustus planned it, but he had arranged for almost every ship carrying a clan leader to reach Rome around the same time. Many of these ships must have departed over a year prior. My own journey had taken three months. The numbers floored me. I could see that the throng impressed Brooklyn too. This many representatives from this many clans…I had never seen anything like it, even back in Egypt where there were clans in every Nome.
Looking around I recognized the large bull-like features of the Cretan Clan Leader, the pale grey slender body of the Persian Clan Leader, the golden feathers and eagle-like features of the Athenian Clan. I had never met any gargoyles from these clans before, mind you, only read of them in Suetonius's book.
The strange, bat-like face and features of a gargoyle from one of the clans from Gaul caught Brooklyn's eye, and his gaze lingered on her for a few moments. She looked uncomfortable and walked away from him. Other gargoyles from smaller clans were also present, though I did not recognize all of the clans present; I knew that there were extant clans in Damascus, Kush, and Carthage.
"You don't talk to many females, do you Brooklyn?" I asked, noticing the Gaul Second walking away from Brooklyn and begin chatting up the deer-like Hiberian Leader.
"She just reminded me of someone I knew," Brooklyn said. "Didn't mean to creep on her."
He looked forlorn and a bit depressed. A look I knew rather well.
"You lost someone recently?" I asked. "I know this pain."
Brooklyn looked at me, and his sha nuzzled him affectionately.
"I couldn't save her. She had a rough life to begin with, and I wanted so badly to save her…But…"
I placed my hand on his shoulder. I don't know why I felt such a kinship with this strange gargoyle, but I did know what it was like to lose someone you cared about deeply. It was a pain I knew far too well. Brooklyn needed a friend, I could sense that much. I wished that I had had one when I had been in his talons.
"I can't say that the pain goes away," I said. "But some nights will be better than others."
"Greetings," a deep voice boomed in Latin. The various clan leaders turned towards the speaker, a large dark blue colored gargoyle with a white beard, wearing armor similar to that of a Praetor in the Roman Army. Such an outfit baffled me. Why would any gargoyle wear tight restricting armor that would be difficult to remove before dawn?
Nevertheless, this must be Proclurus, the leader of the Roman Clan. Next to him stood a bearded human in long white robes. In his hands was a large leather-bound book, around his neck was a blue colored jewel encircled by two wooden ravens dangling from a leather cord. On the human's belt, was a gold and blue talisman, with the emblem of a phoenix upon it.
Brooklyn's eyes locked onto that talisman.
"Is that the Phoenix Gate?" Brooklyn asked suddenly, his full attention on that tiny talisman.
"The Portal of Benu?" I asked, calling the talisman by its Egyptian name. "Yes I believe so. I believe that Cleopatra the Seventh gave the Talisman to Julius Caesar. Who gave it to his Magus, who in turn gave it to his student, the current Magus."
"Magus?" Brooklyn said uneasily.
"The Sorcerer Supreme of the Roman Empire," I said. I started to say more, but Proclurus began speaking again.
"Greetings once more, my friends," he said. "My brothers and sisters from clans throughout the Empire. Thank you for responding to Caesar's summons, and thank you for taking the time to come to this city, my protectorate."
Proclurus turned towards the Magus. "As a welcome, my friend the Magus has granted you a gift that the Roman Clan has been enjoying for several weeks now."
"Indeed," The Magus spoke shakily. "I have in fact granted this gift to all of your kind. Every member of your bloodlines and all future generations until the end of time. The spell has no release clause."
"Spell?" The Persian Clan Leader demanded. "You cast a spell on us?"
"I call it, the Spell of Humility," the Magus said.
"Booyah," Brooklyn chirped. "Called it."
"You have already briefly experienced its effects, but I think that in the coming months and years, you will enjoy its benefits immensely. From now on, every article of clothing that you wear, every personal object that you keep on your person, will become stone when you do, and revert to its natural state when you become flesh."
I was speechless. Now I understood how Proclurus could wear the armor and uniform of a Roman Praetor with comfort and ease. Clothes were often only donned by gargoyles in close contact with humans, as they were just too inconvenient for clans in remote and rural areas. But now…This changed everything.
I could see that the implications of this spell was having a similar effect on the other clan leaders too, as they had all fallen silent..
"That got their attention," Proclurus joked. "If you would all follow me back to the Temple of Mars, where my clan roosts, you can join us for a feast that we have prepared in honor of your arrival. Tomorrow night, Caesar has granted us use of the Senate Hall for our Forum., and we can begin our discussion of the Olympian offer."
"Before we depart," the Magus said. "Benuthet, Second in Command of the Alexandrian Clan…I received a message that you wished to speak with my in private?"
"That is correct," I called from the back of the crowd. "I am pleased that the messenger arrived safely. But the matter which I must speak of is of some delicacy and urgency."
"Then you shall come with me to my lab," the Magus said. "The rest of you may go onto the feast."
Brooklyn suddenly grabbed my arm and held it tight.
"I need to speak to the Magus too," he said tersely. "It's also very important and urgent. Can you get me an in, Benuthet?"
"Calm yourself, my friend," I said, prying Brooklyn's talons from my arm. "You can come with me."
There was a look of utter relief on Brooklyn's face, as though what I had just said had lifted his spirits higher than the moon itself. However, speaking from experience…I have found that is the furthest place to fall from.