Disclaimer: Gargoyles are property of Buena Vista/ Disney. They do not belong to me. No infringement is intended, so please don't sue. However, all original characters are property of DenigoddessMMI.

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Author: Denigoddess2001

Addy: Denigoddess2001yahoo.com

Fandom: Gargoyles

Saga: The Sentinels of Midnight

Episode: The Stone King I

Rating: PG-13

Date: May 02, 2004

All thoughts or psionic communications are contained in brackets. [ :D ]

Author's notes:

I began this story in the winter of 2002. It had been a horrendous year for me. Now, two years later, this story is finally complete (sigh of relief!!!!) This story was the cathartic focus for me to bring myself to wellness. Over time, this tale has taken many twists and turns that I never anticipated (i.e. the dunking Scene between Skylaris and Utakku...where did that come from?!) It reflects and refracts the joy, the fury, anguish and elation I felt as I penned every word. It is a story of Magick, political intrigue, loyalty, action and romance. Above all, it tells the tale of a true love that survives every insurmountable obstacle and the chance for redemption. For without knowing that kind of love, I never could have written this tale. May all who read this take this story into their hearts and learn the lessons of what constant, abiding love TRULY means. It is not about self -but others. It never dies or fades, it remains constant and steadfast as long as time endures. To my readers, I can only say this: choose a destiny, do not resign yourself to fate. Never give up, never give in. Bend, but never break. Never forget how love brings us all to life, awakens our souls and brings us each into completion.

Preface...

"Fire shall reign from the balcony of Amor

Engulfing the Fire Queen

Kissing her love, she shall become as he

Joined for all time with the Stone King.

So shall he rule on in the realm

All creatures shall bow in his name

Wielding and embracing fire

All surveyed shall be his domain."

-Ancient DeMahri Prophecy

The Epoch of Twilight, the Age of Taurus guided an archaic world. Before to the Tower of Babel or the time of the pyramids, fantastic creatures ruled in the night and walked amongst men. The eons of an antediluvian era have long since faded from the remembrance of Simianites. Long thought lost to History's memory, recollections of those times survived only in obscure fragments of legends and fable. In the deserts of the modern Middle East, an ancient Temple, discovered by an archeological team revealed archaic writings long lost to the modern world for thousands of years.

Because of Wren Summers-Nightkind's expansion of the Research and Editing department, Xanatos Publishing in Linoma Bluffs expanded into not only into the Metaphysical and Magickal arms of the publishing industry, but also that of ancient texts long thought elapsed from the indication of olden times. The company realized that he early twenty-first century, henceforth, hails persons other than Human. Ancient, primordial deities gathered followers and sought acceptance in a work filled with Science and Technology. Antediluvian Magickal wellsprings flowed forth into the world, refreshed by the recent parting of the veil between the Abyss the corporeal world.

Earth no longer remained exclusive to the traditional religions dominating the world for millennia. Now, divinities such as Gaia, Skylaris, Tiamat, Aradia, Ares, Enki and other antediluvian powers sought a foothold in this relentlessly changing realm. New pantheons formed and competed for worshippers amongst not only the Demifolke, but also the Human followers of Allah, Jehovah and Buddha. Xanatos Publishing saw an expansive, untapped market and thus, spearheaded an initiative to bring people the ancient writings of those deities reemerging in present days. Many craved and yearned for a way to survive these tumultuous times.

The writings remained enigmas to the archeologists who found it, save for the woman (placed in charged by C.E.O. David Xanatos) of procuring the unfathomable manuscripts. Hair the hue of raven's wing and eyes brown as darkened amber, she smiled as she snatched it from the hands of the unscrupulous archeologist who decided to sell the writings to a greedy, unappreciative art collector. All that remained in the tomb robber's hands was a handful of damson sand and a wisp of lavender smoke. The desert spirit garbed in dark violet veils smiled and knew that all was good in the world. The capricious Child Of Oberon knew that she held the most ancient of books in her hands. Daria Damson guarded zealously the sacred manuscripts entrusted to her care.

The Skylarianite Temple Priestesses from Limona Bluffs, accompanying the Child of Oberon, guarded the ancient tome with their lives. Painstakingly, under the watchful eyes of Xanatos' top researcher, Wren Summers-Nightkind, Daria Damson, and the Priestesses transcribed the inhuman, otherworldly letters into the alphabet into Present-day English. Sit, Gentle

Reader, and let your ears be the first hearing of lost tales from the times of myth and legend. From the primordial cant of the Kah'El (Great Dragon, my friend, is the literal translation of this DeMahri word), come tales from beyond the dawn of time. No longer eluding the grasp of History, they are a gift to you from the Goddess, Skylaris. These writings are no longer solely reserved for Gargoyle clan or tribe, but meant for all beings to enjoy, treasure and embrace in this brave, New Age. Let you be the first ones to hearing and seeing the tales meant only for the Children of Stone. Become enthralled with this epic saga wilder than the blowing sands of the Sahara. Lose yourself in this magnificent tale of stone, sand, sorcery, war and love.

In the earliest of ages, men lived centuries rather than decades. One such man lived to almost see a millennium. He was a mighty warrior of power and wisdom sprung from the lineage of Adam. Of Adam's loins, his great-grandson, Kenan ruled one of the groups of Man. Through hard work and great diligence his family grew in number and prosperity, soon becoming a formidable clan. Within a hundred years of his birth, his clan became a tribe. The tribe of Kenan was a nomadic lot that wandered the deserts from Akkadia to Mesopotamia. Within half a millennium, they were one of the largest tribes in the entire realm. Yet, they were one of the last free, wild tribes.

Alas, those were dark times that fell upon this earth, reader! There were others of Adam's blood who choose darkness over light. One of Adam's own chose spilling his brother's blood so that it disappeared like water upon thirsty ground. All-Father, Maker of All Things, cursed him so that daylight made his skin burn like tinder and become ash. No food or drink sated his hunger; only the life-force of innocents relieved him of the gnawing agony that haunted him. He wandered throughout the world until The Dark Serpent found him. She Of Many Names: Katoramet of the DeMahri, Tiamat or Lillith to the humans chose the wondering outcast to satisfy her whims. She embraced him and they supped on the unlife flowing though her veins. Katoramet taught the eldest son of Adam many dark things.

She made him heinous and unholy. He became Utakku -the first amongst the Soulless. Confused? One of the soulless is a Vampire. Utakku begat many progeny until they were great in number. The Soulless Ones designed and constructed great cities. They feared little but fire and sun. They brought the nomadic tribes to their knees with the exception of two: The Tribe of Azazel and the The Tribe of Kenan. These two proud, noble peoples were the final bastions of freedom standing against a world of darkness and death. With each passing season, more humans became cattle for the growing hungers of Utakku's minions and the free, wild tribes grew fewer in number.

Ah, but there is more to this epic, Dear Reader. They were savage times before the laws of Moses, Nimrod, or Hammerabi. Only brutal strength brought order to an untamed world. Azazel and Kenan worked diligently toward an amalgamation that would unite their two tribes into one massive force to stand against Utakku and his Soulless armies. Therefore, in the age of Taurus, to protect the last vestiges of free Humanity, they two great chieftains signed a treaty. Azazel promised his first son, Halmu, in marriage to the last of Kenan's daughters. This did not set well for all concerned. Read fiercely and well, gentle reader as the tale unfolds.

Prologue

Circa 5000 B.C. Somewhere in ancient Middle East.........

Kenan paced frantically in his tent. The shrill screams of his main wife filled the desert oasis and reminded him of the of the sounds of ten wounded camels. Little or nothing blocked out her cries of agony as she brought his fourteenth child into the world. He fell to his knees and prayed in the ancient language of his people. He begged All-Father as he fell on his face to the ground, 'O All-Father, let Tizir bear me a son."

A handmaiden garbed in sand-hued robes made her way into the tent. "Sire! Sire!"

He abruptly rose to his knees and then jumped to his feet. "You have news?"

"Yes, Sire!" The girl babbled excitedly. "Queen Tizir has given birth to a girl-child."

"A girl?" He voice was a quiet, deadpan response. "Not a boy?"

"No, you have another daughter."

"All-Father has cursed me." Kenan muttered. "He makes me pay for the sins of my Great Grandfather."

"Sire?" The Handmaiden inquired obviously confused by her ruler's dismay.

"Nothing!" Kenan waved his hand dismissively. "Bring the sorceress to me. Tell her I wish to know my daughter's future!"

The Handmaiden bowed low before her chieftain. "Yes, Sire. At once!"

Kenan sat and drank from the golden goblet filled with wine. The desert tribal chief mused over his plight. Fourteen daughters and no male heir meant that all he had worked so hard to build would easily fall into the hands of the Soulless Ones. At night, the men of the tribe lit great bonfires around their oasis and kept constant vigilance. More than once, Utakku's minions had used their hideous gifts of flight to sweep down upon other tribes and steal their women and their children. They simply fed upon the warriors and left them as dried husks in the desert. Without a son to take his throne, Kenan knew that his kingdom would fall into chaos, as many would vie for the crown. This brought the ruler much sorrow.

"My Lord?" A velvety voice lilted into his tent. "I am here to do your bidding."

"Niza, to me!" He barked. He motioned the scarlet-clad sorceress to join him beside the fire. Dark eyes of sapphire stared at the monarch through falling tendrils of ebony. "I have use of your talents this night."

"Father, I have brought my stones as I thought you might require." She bowed her head demurely. "Ask of me what you will."

"I wish to know the future of my kingdom." Kenan growled. "Who will rule after me?"

"I shall cast the stones and they shall tell all." Niza flashed the Chieftain a charming smile. She laid out a leather mat on the floor of the tent. Niza withdrew a small leather pouch from beneath the crimson silk veils that garbed her petite frame. Dainty hands reached into the leather purse and the clattering of stones filled the tent. She grabbed a handful of semi-precious amethyst engraved with archaic symbols. She spoke words that sounded quite inhuman and let her hand throw the stones upon the mat.

She waved her hand over the stones and closed her eyes. Niza's almond eyes snapped open. "No, it cannot be! It's impossible."

"What is it?" Kenan urgently asked. "What do you see?"

"It is not what I see, Father, but what I hear." She muttered. "Your kingdom shall perish beneath the sands of the desert and will be lost unless she marries another chieftain's son."

"I already know this. I had hoped to merely form an alliance but it looks as though my heir will be from the tribe of Azazel." Kenan muttered. "His son Halmu is greedy for power. Yet, if it will keep our tribe free, then let Fate make it so."

"A wise decision, Sire." Niza purred.

Kenan barked an order to a nearby guard to send for his the tribe's greatest Man-At-Arms. The young man nodded quickly and did as he was bid. Within a few heartbeats, the guard returned with a creature of the night well known to the Tribe of Kenan. He motioned to one of his concubine's to pour two goblets of wine. "Gesham, sit beside me on my blankets and take council with me."

Deep, rich, and resounding, a warrior's voice filled the tent. "Yes, Sire."

Kenan coldly survey the cluster of guards, servants and concubines that filled the tent. "Leave us."

"But, Sire!" The young guard exclaimed. "You will have only one warrior beside you."

"One warrior is all I need when he is Gesham." Kenan glared at the young man for his ignorance. "Now go."

The young man bowed deeply and made a hasty exit.

The aging chieftain surveyed the strapping warrior who joined him on his blankets. Skin the creamy, warm color of desert sand was complimented by flaxen hair worn in the customary fashion of kind. Gesham's straight golden-haired tresses were pulled back and fastened with a leather thong in the middle of the back of his head while the rest of his hair fell free down the middle of his broad back. A pronounced brow ridge marked the creature's brow and sheltered a piercing gaze the hue of amber akin to blazing, brilliant sunset. As was the custom of his people, Gesham's smile revealed two polished fire rubies embedded into the white canines. Wings with manila struts and taupe folds cloaked the warrior giving him an aire of imposing presence. Four talons grasped the wine goblet and the warrior sipped gingerly the strong wine. His solid, lengthy tail twitched as he waited silently for his lord to speak.

Kenan grasped the Gargoyle's wrist in a warrior's clasp. "It has been some time since we had share spirits together, old friend."

"Not so old, Sire." A deep chuckle erupted from the warrior. "You and I have counted the same seasons in passing."

"I am coming upon my fiftieth year, Gesham. I am not long for this world." Kenan's melancholy tones became silent as he sipped his wine. A heavy sigh escaped the monarch. "There is much that must be put in order to ensure the survival of both our peoples."

"Agreed." Flaxen locks swayed as the Gargoyle nodded in agreement.

"If you have not yet heard, Gesham, Tizir has given me yet another daughter."

"You are truly blessed by your god to have so many children." A hardy slap on Kenan's back from the Warrior nearly sent the chieftain's wine goblet flying from his grasp.

"No, it is a curse, I tell you." Faded brown eyes flashed with anger that reminded Gesham of a younger Kenan many seasons past. " My time grows short and I have no heir to protect the tribe once I'm gone. Each year the sycophants grow more powerful. They will enslave DeMahri and Human alike. That can not be allowed to happen."

"What will you do?" Gesham asked.

"I have sent an envoy to the tribe of Azazel to arrange a marriage between the girl-child and their oldest son. I did so before Tizir gave birth. I knew All-Father would curse me with yet another daughter. My nephew shall rule as regent until she comes of age and her husband takes his rightful place as chieftain."

"I will be loyal to him." The Gargoyle vowed.

A gnarled sword-hand clasped Gesham's shoulder. "I know you will be, but, I have a special task for you...a favor for an old friend."

"You need only ask, Sire." Gesham set down his wine goblet. Amber eyes stared intently into the weary gaze of Kenan. "How can I serve?"

"There are those from the outside that will hear of my newest daughter's importance. They will seek to kill her. She is only a girl but still important to everyone's survival. Take her into your care, Gesham. Protect her with your life and keep her safe. Teach her the ways of your people and the night so that she won't be easy prey to the those sons-of-dogs that seek our demise."

"I give you my word, Sire. I will do as you ask." He knew that his chieftain spoke little but needed much from him this night.

"You and I have been friends a long time, Gesham." Kenan thought of younger days when a young hatching had been the playmate and guardian of a young prince meant to inherit wealth and title. "How long?"

"The turn of fifty winters, Sire."

"Yes, it's been a long time and you have shown me the ways of your clan." The Chieftain took another sip of the rich, heavy wine. "Do you not have a Seer amongst your people?"

"Yes, Sire. We do." Gesham referred to the Matriarch of the clan. Arana was gifted with sight beyond sight and in earlier times had been a fearless warrior.

"Can she divine the ways of that which has yet to be?"

"On occasion, Sire." Gesham's brow furrowed as he considered Kenan's odd inquiry. "May I ask why?"

"Send for her and bring her to my private chambers this night." The old man rose stiffly from the rich carpet beneath them. "Have her bring her Magick ...and tell no one of this."

"As you wish." Gesham rose quickly to his feet and quickly steadied the teetering monarch. Age and wine were not a good combination for a man of such advanced years. "We shall be there before the moon zeniths."

"Excellent."

Under the dark of night Gesham escorted the wizened Dame discreetly to the Chieftain's quarters. The young warrior led his warden quickly and quietly into Kenan's chambers. It perplexed him greatly to see the chieftain there holding his newborn daughter. "We are here as you command, Sire."

"Good." Kenan's curt reply seemed out of sorts even for the stoic ruler. He focused his gaze upon the imposing cloaked figure. "Remove your cloak and let me see the face of the one who speaks my daughter's fate."

"As you wish, Sire." The voice answered softly. Two taloned hands came from the hemmed sleeves of the coarse cloak and reached for the hood. It slowly fell to her shoulders and the sight that met Kenan's still stole his breath after decades of familiarity.

The aged ruler felt his heart stop as he saw the head of a jackal sitting upon broad shoulders. Covered in mottle fur of forest green and earth tones, Kenan felt as though her were standing before Anubis, god of the dead. There was some of Gesham's clan that resembled the ancient gods and remained out of sight of easily frightened Humans. Through the still-open flap of the tent, golden moonlight illuminated fangs and canines worn by sand and age. Her wings gave the clan elder the appearance of a cloaked demon. "Arana."

"Kenan." She returned the brief greeting.

"I want you to read my daughter's future. I feel there is something more afoot than what the Fates are revealing to me this night." Kenan brushed back a black curl from the infant's brow. "She bears the mark of the crescent moon upon her brow." He pointed to the almost invisible birthmark at the edge of her forehead. "She has been chosen for something more than what Niza is telling me."

"We shall see, Sire." Arana smirked. She took her belt a worn leather bag and laid it on the floor. She sat before the closed pouch and quickly opened it to reveal several polished stones worn smooth by desert storms. Kenan didn't understand the markings upon the stones but he knew them to be ancient symbols of the DeMahri tongue. She grabbed the stones between her palms and shook them fiercely. She growled something that sounded feral and inhuman. As abruptly as she had grabbed them, Arana cast them onto the carpet. She watched them scattered like rolling marbles until they finally stood still. The aged Dame leaned over them and one crooked talon tapped her lips in contemplation.

A grim chuckle escaped the jackal-headed Gargoyle. "Oh, you are an astute one, Sire. There is more to this human female than to be some prince's whore."

"Arana!" Gesham barked harshly. "Watch your tongue."

"Gesham." Arana turned to him and patiently explained to him as though he were a young hatchling. "She is not to be an instrument of the human gods, but of the Great Lady Dragon herself."

"What?" Gesham felt as though all the air had been sucked from his lungs. "Skylaris never meddles in human affairs."

"She will with this one." Arana's worn fangs gleamed in the moonlight as she cast him a knowing smile. "This child is important to many...Gargoyle and Human alike."

"How?" Kenan peered intently at the stones.

"Here." Arana pointed to the first rune. "This is the symbol for our beloved Goddess, Skylaris. She is very interested in your girl child. The Lady has rarely intervenes in Human affairs; how odd." She let her gnarled talons brush along the carpet until they touched the second rune. "This is the symbol for leadership and next to it lies the symbol for a Gargoyle Warrior. And next to that lies a piece of stone skin. I think that she is somehow connected to the Stone King."

"He is but a myth." Gesham scoffed. "He is little more than a fairy tale to keep hatchings happy before sunrise."

"You say that now, young warrior...but I have seen many things." Was Arana's cryptic reply. "He IS coming. He IS here and he shall save our people and rule over the Soulless Ones and Humans that have enslaved us for so long. This girl child must take him into her life and her bed as her master if you humans are to survive."

"We have always protected you while you sleep." Kenan curtly reposted. "Our tribe has kept the Oath of Promise with your clan for well-nigh five centuries."

"Yes, and yet you some of you consider us little more than dogs sniffing around your ankles." Arana spat. She took several deep breaths. "I know you are a good man and a tribute to your kind. But there will come a time when earth and stone shall know one another and a new kith shall rise. And they will flow from the blood of Adam and be etched from the Stone Scales of Skylaris."

"Impossible!" Kenan's bellow filled his bedchamber.

"With Skylaris, all that can be imagined will come to pass." The exotic lilt of the Seer's voice brought an eerie calm to the tension in the tent. "I do not lie, Sire. Your daughter may be the Stone King's consort, she shall give rise to a race greater than either of our kinds."

"No human woman can survive such a union."

"So you say, Kenan." Arana smirked. "It's either that or your tribe falls to Uttaku's minions."

With that, the aged Matriarch cloaked herself in gabardine wings and took leave of Gesham and Kenan. The ominous veil of damnation fell between the two blood brothers. A sand-hued taloned hand rested upon the patriarch's shoulder. "Fear not, Sire. I shall protect her with my life and she will not be easy prey for any man's desire, vampire's hunger or a DeMahri's need. I give you my word."

Yet, that gave Kenan little comfort.

Niza listened in the dark behind the folds of the tent. Her deep blue eyes widened in incredulity as she heard the old conjurer cast her bones for the monarch and his pet golem. [Now, the DeMahri are involved. This is not a good thing. This could wreck all!]

She let her tattooed hand make it's way through her flimsy veils until her finger found their way to a tawny leather pouch hanging from her hip. She pulled out a feather that was a majestic hue of lava. It glowed in the starless darkness that canopied the desert that night. The ancient words of the Draconic tongue fell from her lips as she called upon the Serpent Goddess.

"Tiamat, goddess of deep waters

Mother of Chaos' Daughters

Hear me well and grant me plea

Let thy minions serve and come to me.

Let the firesnake from your sacred place

Come and meet me in this place

And let his tongue take upon gift of speech.

This blessing I earnestly now beseech."

The feather gleamed and caught fire in the sorceress' hand. It lengthened in her hand until it became a blazing column of flame in the palm. Two eyes of saffron came to life in the column of flame and it writhed in a dance older than time. Niza wisely stood back as the column took on the form of a long serpent swayed before her.

"Your mistress has heard you and found you worthy, Niza of Amor. What is your wish?" The languid hiss was accompanied by the flickering of lengthy black forked tongue.

"Take a message to ruler of the Azazel's Tribe. Say to him in my voice. Do you understand?" Niza asked the demon sharply.

"I live to serve, O Great favored one of water goddess."

"To Halmu, son of Azazel, and ruler of the said tribe, greetings. My Love, there is more at work than what we anticipated. Our plans may well be in jeopardy. Kenan has brought in one of his stone pets and now is protecting the girl-child. Our beloved goddess' wretched mother is involved in this. She must not take away our victory. We are the rightful rulers of this tribe. Once you marry the girl-child and she is given to Uttaku, then the gift of endless life shall be ours and the world will belong to us. We must kill the girl soon while she is weak. The DeMahri will make it impossible to reach her. Please, my Love, send me word soon."

She cleared her throat and focused her scrutiny upon the firesnake. "Take those words to Halmu before the next sennight."

"I do as you command, Sorceress." With a brilliant flash and a burst of heavy, acrid black smoke, the firesnake vanished from sight. Niza wrapped her cloak around her as the desert chill sank into her skin. To displease Tiamat and Uttaku would bring destruction to her best-laid plans. Without their aid, her designs of power would be impossible to fulfill. Once Halmu served his purpose, he'd enjoyed one final sunrise before he joined Tiamat in her acidic abyss. Niza quietly surveyed her plan with great pleasure. She always appreciated a good challenge and a velvety laugh filled the silent night.

And two eyes gleamed with silver fire in the dunes only yards away. The rich tones of the sorceress' laugh harmonized with an abrasive titter.

Sixteen Turns of the Seasons....

Under the light of full, argent moon, Ashatsinu pulled back the taut bowstring and aimed toward the moving target gliding effortlessly in the moonlit sky. She raised her bow so that she stared directly down the shaft of the arrow with her victim in sight. His wings extended to cloak the entire sky within their fawn-colored folds. Ashatsinu's dark eyes narrowed in dogged determination as the arrogant sire somersaulted in mid-flight. A rich chuckle filled the night air.

"Fall from the sky like the dog you are, Stone Demon!" Came the muttered words through gritted teeth as she released the arrow into flight. Its path was straight and true as it coursed through the hot desert air. The soft "whissst" was the only indicator of what was about to pierce the Gargoyle's chest. With a flick of wing and a quarter-turn, the Sand-hued Sire caught the flying projectile in his hands.

A string of curses filled the night as Ashatsinu's anger found his ears. With effortless grace, his talons skimmed the shifting sand as he landed only a few inches before her. Camel-hued wings cloaked around the broad shoulders of the flaxen-haired Gargoyle as he offered her the captured arrow. "Your aim is good, Highness, but you must use different feathers to guide your arrows if you wish them to be silent."

"You are too good, Gesham." She gave him a grudging smile. "But finding the feathers of a pure white dove this time of the season is well-nigh impossible."

Gesham studied his apt pupil. She remained the exception rather than the rule regarding his view of humanity. Most of the women from the tribe of Gesham were petite and rounded, made for bearing children. Ashatsinu stood a head taller than many of the women and eye-to-eye with most of the warriors. She lacked the curves of Kenan's women; her body was lean and slender. Years of rigorous training with Gesham sculpted her body into one of pure cord and muscle. The men of the tribe found Kenan's youngest daughter strange and bizarre. He kept with the traditions of her people and refused for her to learn the art of bladed weaponry. She chose to wear men's tunics rather than the flowing veils favored by wives, sisters, and daughters.

Gesham knew that tribal law forbade women wearing their hair unbound and uncovered. Ashatsinu brazenly wore a style chopped at the chin and many found it unbecoming of a daughter of the Chieftain. Women shunned her and men mocked her for her anomalous ways. Gesham knew she hid her loneliness behind a bow and arrow, a spear, or a staff. By day, she slept within the caves deep beneath the oasis and rose instinctually at dusk to greet her mentors.

Gesham sighed. [I have taken much away from her to protect her: her femininity, her friends, and the closeness of tribe. Yet, she is a warrior that surpasses them all. You have made me proud, Ashatsinu.]

"You speak your thoughts too easily, Mentor." A rich feminine voice broke Gesham's train of thought.

"Arana has taught you too well in the ways of mind and heartmagick."

"It isn't meant for Humans." She pointed to the crescent moon birthmark that marked her brow. Gesham remembered how she had demanded upon her passage into woman hood that it be tattooed according to Gargoyle tradition with the metallic inks that Dames and Sires alike used to adorn their bodies. The ink was said to bless its wearer with special gifts. The legend seemed to extended to the princess entrusted to Gesham's care. "But, then again, I was never meant to be purely human."

"You ARE all that is human, Ashatsinu." Gesham quickly reminded her. "Or all that should be."

She turned her head to those in the valley below. He hand pointed to the huge bonfires that surrounded the camp. "There may be my kinsmen but they aren't my family. My heart is DeMahri, as are my passions and my thoughts. If I thought Skylaris would grant it, I'd beg her to make me a Dame."

"You are who you are for good reason." Gesham laid talons upon his pupil's shoulders. "A DeMahri is more than talon and fang, wing and tail. You are right. Your heart and spirit are those of a Child of Stone. But, you may nigh find your home amongst us." He motioned back to the bonfires. "You are to be married next summer to Halmu, chieftain of the Azazel tribe. It is time you assumed your rightful role as Kenan's daughter amongst your people."

"That life isn't for me."

"What other life is there?" Amber eyes gleamed with gold fire. His tan taloned hand motioned in the direction of the Human's camp. "These people are your kin. They are depending upon you to embrace your destiny to save them from the Soulless Ones. You are the one of prophecy that shall join with their savior."

"Halmu is a heartless, cruel dog with less grace than a camel and the tongue of a serpent." Ashatsinu spat. "He has no honor in battle. He is responsible for wiping out an entire village of men, women, and children because they refused to pay him tribute in exchange for his protection. They call him the Stone King for good reason."

"You are of royal lineage, Princess." Came Gesham's stern reproof with more than a hint of a growl. "You were chosen by the gods before you were born and placed above other women. No mere mortal woman will serve her people better or save more lives than you will. You must save your tribe. To do any less will condemn them to agonizing existence. What you must do is a great honor bestowed upon you"

"I can still protect my people without having to become the chattel of a man."

"Your father would consider your words blasphemy. You sound far too much like Arana." Gesham looked away from his young student. It seared a hole in his chest knowing that she would be nothing more than concubine, child-bearer and concierge to an obdurate, barbarous ape so typical of his kind. "Ashatsinu, you must leave behind the Gargoyle Way for it is not the Way of Men. Men rule and women submit. It is your gods' will that you marry, accept your fate and be a paragon amongst women."

"No Dame would ever accept such an enslaving, ridiculous notion." Ashatsinu slung her bow over her shoulder and replaced the last of her arrows into the quiver hanging from her back. "You taught me the ways of the DeMahri far too well."

"Much to my dismay." He mused. Ashatsinu's keen eyesight saw the smirk on Gesham's face that normally would have been veiled by the shadows. He assumed the pensive gaze that hallmarked so many of Skylaris' stone children. "What divine streak of providence could alter your destiny, Princess?"

"I can live with the clan!" Ashatsinu exclaimed quickly. "I can protect them by day and hunt. At night, I can be a warden in the clan rookery. That role often falls to human women past marrying age. I'm almost seventeen, Gesham. I'm too old to be a wife and mother. By serving the clan during the day, they will be guardians to my people at night."

The Gargoyle shook his head sadly. "You dream great dreams and see many paths. Such is the gift of your kind. We Gargoyles think sequentially as is our way. You clutch desperate hopes to your heart, Ashatsinu. Nay. In the eyes of the clan, you are still a hatchling." Tan talons brushed back an errant black strand that fell across her copper sun-kissed skin. Gesham's straight, flaxen hair fell to frame his tawny face so that she couldn't see his dismayed expression. "I have come to a decision about the next stage of your training."

"Will I finally be allowed to take part of the Rite of Passage and become a fully recognized Dame?" She asked eagerly.

"No, 'Shatsu." Gesham's grim reply caused the glowing enthusiasm in her eyes to dim significantly. The princess cringed with his use of his favorite pet name. "You shall be traveling with Arana to the South. She is going to escort you to a village under Kenan's protection. There you shall learn the feminine arts and you shall put aside your warrior ways."

"No! You can't do this to me!" Ashatsinu threw down her Gargoyle-crafted bow in a fit of temper. "That's so unfair. I have trained long and hard for recognition in the clan. I'm only one season away from being considered an adult."

"You are promised to Halmu as his wife and the dowry has been paid." Gesham replied sternly. He held up his hand to silence further protests. "I shall hear nothing more of it. Think of your tribe and what your marriage will bring them. There is more in this world than your desires."

"I didn't ask for this!" Ashatsinu angrily stomped her foot. "Please, Gesham, don't make me go. Don't make me leave my home and my clan. I belong here as much as sand does to the desert."

Gesham closed his amber eyes to block out the plaintive pleas that twisted his heart into painful contortions. He sighed heavily in silent agreement. Ashatsinu had long since left the world of men. He had educated the young princess far too well. She was neither a child of the sun or a daughter of the night. She walked between two worlds, earth and stone, and belonged to neither one. The heaviness of her fate wrenched a feeling of utter helplessness as his heart and mind registered the psionic waves of anger and anguish coming from Ashatsinu. A tawny talon crooked and gently lifted her chin. Flashing dark eyes clashed with blazing amber. The Gargoyle warrior saw two single tears streak down her bronzed cheeks. Those tears became more precious than pearls as they marked her with the heartache she wore.

The proud golden warrior turned away so that the moonlight didn't reflect upon the teardrops threatening to fall from his amber eyes. "Then, do it for me, Princess."

"Gesham," Ashatsinu whispered. Her callused hand gently clasped his wrist. "My heart belongs here....with yo- your clan and the night. If I am made to marry Halmu, it will kill me. I can never love him."

"Love is a luxury that royalty rarely knows, Princess." He gave her a melancholy smile. "You know that you must do this. Too many enemies seek the destruction of your tribe. You have been known since birth to be the savior of your people. You shall marry the man that will protect your tribe. You have never disappointed me when you fought for the greater good."

Ashatsinu heard words resound inside her mind. [Please don't disappoint me now.]

"I'd give up being a princess so that I could be free to love." Ashatsinu whispered softly. Dark eyes rose to meet Gesham's gleaming amber gaze. "Love knows neither logic nor protocol. It wouldn't matter if I were a commoner or a goddess. Love springs unexpectedly anywhere it chooses."

In Gargoyle fashion, the great warrior pressed his brow to hers. No words upon his tongue or hers had the ability to convey the sentiment unspoken between them. He closed his eyes to stem the burning emotions, wet and scalding, behind his eyelids. "Some are never meant to know love. Such is the way of things, Ashatsinu."

Gesham felt the mass of her gaze weigh heavily upon his soul. He left her gaze to stare at the silver mood turning crimson in the sky above them. Tonight was a night that came twice a decade. It was a mating moon. Young Dames and Sires established courtships and consummated sacred, passionate unions. He studied the young virago on the edge of his peripheral vision. [Could the mating moon be stirring your blood, Princess? Surely not. Marked by the Dragon Goddess you are, this I know. Save for the crescent mark she placed upon you, you are human by birth.]

"Ashatsinu, you are young-"

"As are you!" The princess pointed out quickly. "Gargoyles age half the time of humans and you are my father's age. That only makes you, in body, only a few seasons older than me. So, you can't be one to truly advise me on love. How would you know anyway? You've never had a mate."

"I need not to have to have taken a mate to know love." He gazed skywards toward the crimson moon above them. "The Goddess has made it that each of Her chosen have a soulmate."

"She's already made it known to me!" Ashatsinu smiled. Sparkling mischief glimmered in dark eyes. "Tonight it finally came to me, Gesham."

"What came to you, Princess?"

"This!" With swiftness defying her human condition, Ashatsinu tightly embraced the tall warrior to her. Slender fingers found the sensitive apex where wing and back joined. Gentle swirls of her fingertips brushed along creamy ginger skin. Chirapteran wings flared to their extensive span. Fangs exposed glittered in the moonlight. Gesham's tail lashed furiously as an assault of sensual pleasure erupted between his wings and rippled outwards, engulfing him to the primal haze of yearning long suppressed within his warrior heart.

"Princess!" His deep voice carried a hint of hoarseness. Tan talons deftly grasped her slim wrists. "Stop this."

Ashatsinu leaned forward and brought her lips to his. The taste of exotic cloves and cinnamon fell upon her lips. She inhaled deeply of his exhilarating essence of night orchid and frankincense. A faint hint of sandalwood lingered in the air around them. A quiet, deep murmur came from her throat as the tang and scent of her tawny warrior filled her senses. A faint thrumming echoed in her ears as the blood rushed though her veins. Fiery talons of soft heat warmed Ashatsinu from her groin and reached outward to her fingertips.

A wave of flushed excitement rushed over Ashatsinu and she closed her eyes to regain her equilibrium. Fleeting, scintillating images detonated in her mind's eye. Tan talons entwined in ebony tresses, flaxen hair falling across the softness of her cheek. A prehensile tail wrapped possessively around her svelte thigh. She looked into the eyes of the Sire as tawny velvet wings cloaked her. A sense of warmth and familiarity filled her mind. Joy and delight brimmed in her heart and touched her soul. She knew this soul well with its noble integrity and fiery strength. She had known it all her life and before she had ever been born. The soul of Gesham mirrored and reflected the Ashatsinu's ardent fortitude. Compassion complimented grace. Integrity extolled innocence. Virile Hunger yearned for acquiescent sensuality.

Gesham roughly pushed Ashatsinu from him. "You are leaving this evening with Arana and I will hear no more on the matter."

"You felt it too, Gesham. Do not lie to me."

"I know what I felt, Ashatsinu." He said with a grimace. "I felt flattered that a young woman would make me the temple of her affection in her heart. "

"Now, I know why." She retorted. "Gesham, I l-"

"You are young and your heart deceives you, Princess." He closed amber eyes and prayed silently to his Goddess that his hollow words rang with truth, if only for Ashatsinu's sake. "I am privileged to have earned a place in your heart. Nevertheless, your heart remains empty for I feel not the same. If my kind embraced the way of children, then you have always been as a daughter to me."

"Gesham," Tears filled the young woman's eyes. "You lie."

He waved his hand is dismissal. His face became as stern as the stone walls of Skylaris' temple. "In time, you will understand that these supposed feelings of love are little more than childish affection. Now, go and prepare yourself for the journey." He growled. He pointed to the settlement. "Return to your father's tent, Ashatsinu. I will not dishonor your family by mentioning this to him or Halmu."

She nodded mutely. She looked down at her callused hands and inspiration came to her. She removed her birthright ring from her left middle finger and clutched the skin-warmed metal in her palm. Ashatsinu undid the simple leather cord hanging around her neck that she used to hold a medallion he had given her for her fifteenth birthday. She slipped off the pendant and tucked it into the top of her tunic. She slid the golden signet ring onto the leather cord and secured it with a tight knot. "As your Princess, you are mine to command."

Gesham's eyes widened to the size of twin moons at such unusual words falling from her lips. "Princess?"

"You heard me." Her stern stare told him that something within her had changed. "Bow before me, Gesham."

His eyes never left hers as he obeyed her decree. "By your desire."

She slipped the cord over the Gargoyles head and around his brow ridges until it hung from his neck. She pulled the flaxen tresses caught by the cords so that they were free. "This is my signet ring. I give this to you as a token of my undying affection and devotion, true and steadfast."

"Ashatsinu-" Gesham began.

"Be quiet." She demanded. "I know that what my heart says to me is true I give this to you as a token of my undying affection and devotion, true and steadfast However, in my absence, I command you not to remove it."

Gesham remained stunned. Ashatsinu had never dared to give him a command in all of her life. "Swear, Gesham, that you will not remove it upon pain of death. Every time you think of it, remember that I love you."

"I swear." He declared. His eyes blazed as brightly as the hyacinth lilies that bloomed near the center of her father's oasis.

"Now, we shall seal this decree. Rise." Gesham did as Ashatsinu bid him. She grabbed both of his sand-colored hands. "I seal this command with the Seal of Promise."

She kissed one tan palm and then the other. The ancient words she had heard but once on the night of a mating moon came to her. "Where you go so shall I go. Where you lead I shall follow. What you become so shall I be. I will prove myself a worthy mate and protector in your eyes, Gesham. My love for you shall endure longer than the mountain stone. I swear it."

"Princess...." He bowed his head as the betrothal vows came from her lips. His heart both wept and rejoiced as those words fell upon his ears. He took her slender hand in his and brought it to his lips. "The words you say.... they are not to be take lightly. Once said..."

"They can never be retracted." She finished for him. "I know and I make the promise in full knowledge of its meaning."

"Re'Hahl." He muttered. Her dark eyes widened slightly as her warrior uttered the ancient Draconic term-of-endearment. Ashatsinu's umber eyes locked with his brazen realgar gaze. A little gasp escaped her as his lips delicately brushed the back of her hand. His eyes never left her as his gentle kiss lingered upon her sensitive skin. His lips remained against the sensitive area of her hand. He turned her hand slowly so that he turned his lips into her palm and tenderly and branded her with a prolonged languid kiss. Gesham's voice was halfway between a hoarse groan and a primal, possessive growl. "Beware, Shatsu', I just might hold you to that promise."

"I am counting on it, Gesham. What you refuse to tell me your heart betrays. I can live with this now. This matter between is far from done." Without another word, Ashatsinu squared her shoulders. She walked to her father's camp without a backward glance.

She was gone.

"I will never forget you, Shatsu." He murmured in the stillness of the dark.

Gesham remained alone. He remained thunderstruck and intoxicated from Ashatsinu's unforeseen kiss. The warrior remembered alarming clarity the sweet taste of ripe berries and cool melon. Vanilla and creamy milk remained on his tongue. The tangy scent of citrus filled the air. The overwhelming burst of primal lust coupled with endless devotion spilled from him. The anger and desolation of realization and loss gained victory over the normally dauntless Sire. A vociferous bellow erupted from him and filled the night. Talons grasped flowing white sand and Gesham watched as the granules fell like water from his touch. It was the moment that he had yearned for all his life. Such flashfire recognition of a soul mate left him without words. Within an innocent girl's kiss, Skylaris confounded him with completion in the matchless, distinct beauty of Ashatsinu's soul. Both exultation and anguish claimed him when he received the revelation that a human...his dearest friend's daughter, had triggered the Reckoning.

[Skylaris' ingenuity certainly lacks not irony.] Gesham inwardly grimaced.

The ancient teachings of the Gargoyle's goddess rang clear in the Gargoyle's thoughts. He found that he recited them aloud without hesitation. "Take only one mate with adoration and steadfast devotion. Forsake knowing any other as long as love abides betwixt thee. If death parts you from your Soulmate, then find love in whatever form it comes to you. Take heed if you find a Soulmate not of your clan. For such creatures have greatness of spirit, but may be delicate of body. A Gargoyle's love is not a gentle love; it is fierce and devout. It is best choosing one of your own clan, for those not of your kith find death most swiftly from age or injury, for the sun sets upon them and shortens their life."

He chuckled bitterly with new appreciation regarding the admonition of Gargoyles loving Humans. Such a kiss triggered a passionate response, thus, such an act tore asunder the natural order and sequence of the Divine's universe. He cloaked his buff wings around broad shoulders as he buried his face in his hands. Tears more precious than amber fell upon the white sands. Skylaris' wicked humor wasn't lost on the clan leader. What better test for the Gargoyle heart than to present him with a love never meant for him?

He rose to his feet and returned to the other warriors on patrol, resolute in the knowledge that sending Ashatsinu away was for the greater good. Yet, as his heart shattered with every step, he failed to notice small ocher flowers blossoming where his tears had fallen. In the Draconic tongue, they are called RaH'Helsh -Heart's loss. It is said that Gesham's tears inspired Skylaris to give him hope...and a good lesson.

Never accept the obvious at face value.

Arana watched from the darkness as she watched the young human run blindly back to camp. It was a pity that such a brave soul and stout heart resided in a Human. The wise old Dame grudgingly acknowledged that Ashatsinu was certainly a credit to her race. It seemed such a waste that the despotic tendencies of a deviate would squelch a spirited, vibrant soul. [The Goddess is not without her reasons and She has reason for all of this. Still, Gesham is her most devoted follower and to do this to him I can't imagine why. Well, I have a trip to pack for and I don't have much time. Ashatsinu is not going to be a merry traveler on any night.]

Anubis' daughter leaned heavily into her walking stick as she made her way gingerly down the blowing sand dune. She knew that she was, indeed, in for an interesting journey.

Ashatsinu said nothing to her handmaiden as she entered her tent. The young princess quickly glanced around and saw little worth taking with her. She packed her bow and arrow well inside the veils supplied for her sisters. Other than provisions and a few trinkets, she needed nothing. She placed the back under the blankets of her tent and awaited her father's summons.

Plans originally had been made for ten of her father's finest bodyguards to escort her to Ur to begin her training in the harem of one of Kenan's allies. The caravan was scheduled to leave the following evening with many provisions and great wealth to ensure that Ashatsinu received the best accommodations and education available. Yet, it was all being overturned by the arrogance of an ignorant Gargoyle who spurned her love as though it were little more than camel dung. The world she knew was ceasing to be with each passing moment.

Even Ashatsinu could not deny the logic of the clan warrior's clever plan. Traveling by day was dangerous because of the scorching desert heat. Traveling at night with a large caravan laden with food and wealth was both a blessing and a bane. Soulless Ones waited to ambush unsuspecting travelers and drain them dry. Bandits sought the riches of naive trekkers daring to journey in darkness. For reasons known only to the DeMahri, the minions of Utakku dreaded them in Combat. Legend had it that one Gargoyle warrior was enough to handle ten of the Soulless. Ashatsinu and Arana would make the journey by air rather than ground and cut their time in half. Traveling light was essential for a successful flight.

Yet, the heaviest thing traveling with Ashatsinu was the pain slowly breaking her heart.