Pets

Deling City was a living organism. Those who had lived there knew it, knew that it breathed and pulsed around them, feeding off their wealth and the casual expenses of tourists. They were the blood that carried oxygen through its veins, shuttled by buses and taxis - but if any of them were to leave, the city would heal. The city would draw more to replace them.

Some of the historic structures were old, far older than the name Deling. The streets and monuments to figures long otherwise forgotten had heard and seen much, and they carried it all within, imprinted on the city's memory long after those who brought them those memories had passed on.

Those who walked beneath the strange statues that decorated the gate didn't think much upon the iguions - they didn't even know that they had a name beyond "lizard-thing" or "monster" or "gargoyle". They certainly didn't know that when the monument had been built in centuries long past, the twin creatures, who even now watched with a consciousness more deliberate than the city's, were not a part of the design, but workers.

Strong, with tough skin, the iguions had been created by magic to pull carts filled with stone and mortar and metal, to shore up the foundations and make the structure safe for humans to walk about as they worked. The creation of magical beasts was still experimental, imprecise; those created were unstable. The sorceress who had created them was the only one who could adequately communicate enough with their malformed minds to direct them.

She was dissatisfied with her creation - that was obvious to anyone who watched as she stood by the building site, scowling. The iguions were too slow, too thick, too ugly. No doubt she had wanted to create something pleasant to look upon, something that perhaps she would keep as an exotic pet when the project was finished. Who would want to keep such clumsy-looking creatures?

The iguions, however were loyal, because they had to be. When she shouted at them, when she used her magic to punish in ways that physical damage could not, they simply tried to do as she asked. If they pleased her, maybe she would stop hurting them. Maybe she would like them, maybe she would praise them.

The construction of the gateway was long and difficult, but the two iguions labored on, their minds joined by the magic that had given birth to them. The abuse continued despite all their attempts to please their mistress, and their dual dissatisfaction grew slowly, over months, creeping in with such subtlety that their primitive, mutated brains didn't even realize it was there, or how to recognize it as such. They were unhappy - they had always been unhappy. Now that unhappiness had taken a different form.

They had never disobeyed before, nor had the gentle creatures attempted to harm anyone, until the very last day - when the sorceress stood back, looked over the gate that had been constructed in her honor, and let her guard down as she nodded in satisfaction.

She had always regarded the iguions as slow, but now they lunged at her much faster than she had realized they could move, teeth bared and claws swiping.

Only minimal damage had been done before the shock of the attack wore off and she forcibly regained control. The human workers who had labored beside the iguions stared as the sorceress stood with arm raised, smirking at the creatures who now cowered before her. "I wondered what I should do once the gate was complete and I had no more use for you two," she mused. "I might have let you run off into the wild, to spend the rest of your ignorant existences wandering as you would, but after this treachery?" She lowered her arm, suddenly, and her voice sank to a hiss. "Your existence begins and ends with the gate."

Under her absolute control, the iguions climbed the side of the gateway, and positioned themselves carefully to her liking. "Very good. And now..."

Her magic touched the instability in their composition, and urged it to flare up. As pedestrians and workers watched, they went as stiff and rigid as the stone beneath them, taking on even the color.

Years passed, and those who witnessed the event dwindled, while the number of those who had heard it grew. It was a part of the city's history, a bit of folklore for those who walked beneath the gate. More years passed, and the truth of the story was questioned, as sorceresses grew fewer and the creation of magical creatures was forgotten. After a century or so, it was just a legend.

As the city grew and evolved into its own entity, taking on different names and different roles, the iguion remained silent watchers, frozen but still conscious. They saw every person who walked below, and their minds wandered.

Sometimes, when the city had grown fashionable, they saw humans with non-humans. Little four-legged creatures, some of them with a harness around their neck - or sometimes creatures with wings and beaks, comfortably settled on a shoulder or forearm. The humans, for some reason, allowed these creatures to wander aside and investigate anything that caught their interest. They picked them up and held them and stroked fur or feathers, telling them in funny voices how cute they were, and how smart and special.

Those were the words that cut into the stone hearts of the iguions - those were the words that they'd craved from the sorceress, and never heard. They envied the creatures who lived comfortable lives below, their humans cooing pleasantries at them and smiling. They were patted, pampered, loved. Even when these creatures did things that the humans didn't appreciate, they never, ever cried out in pain from a jolt of fire or ice or electricity as the iguions had done so many times.

Wouldn't it have been nice to be such a creature, the iguions thought, their magical bond remaining despite petrification. Mentally they combined their dreams of what they wished to be: small enough to be picked up in a human's arms, with big round eyes. Their coat would be fine and soft, tufted, with a long, fluffy tail and tiny padded paws. More elaborate and fanciful details evolved over time; a crest on the head as was prized in some of the winged ones. And just like the creatures who belonged to the richest of the humans below, they would be adorned with jewels - a bright red one, so that all would know they were cherished.

They would be beautiful. They would be adored. And they would never, ever be stung by a sorceress' magic again.

There was a buzz in the streets - a sorceress was coming. There was going to be a parade for the sorceress. And then one night, there was a crowd gathering beneath the iguions, chanting their support for a woman - whose voice was as cold and harsh and lovely as the one they had never forgotten.

The sorceress spoke again, stretched out a hand... and the iguions' petrification fell away as her instructions were whispered into their minds.

She had recanted. She had given them one more chance - even after they had attacked her all those years before, she was allowing them to be free.

This time, they thought as they bounded through the crowd towards the girl, they would not disappoint her. They would be loved.