Samson and Delilah: Letters From Homes
By: Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Christine Morgan, not Kimberly T.
Author's note: This story begins immediately after the end of Christine's story "Renewal," which was one part of her much larger posting, "Not Forgotten." Some of the events related herein reflect the events of stories further along in Christine's timeline, right up to the end of "The Second World Tour."
May 24th, 2015
The good news is, I'm feeling much better now. The disease isn't just in remission anymore; now it's completely gone, and I'm as healthy as ever.
The bad news is, I'm not going to be able to come home for a while. Not for a long while...
Samson paused in his writing, his heavy brow furrowed in concentration as he absently scratched under his furry chin with the cap end of the pen he'd been writing with. This was undoubtedly the hardest letter he'd ever had to write... and made even harder by how self-conscious he was feeling right now. He'd always disliked being the center of attention, and he was all too aware of how everyone else in the cave was either openly watching him or very deliberately trying not to watch him.
The gargoyle Hippolyta was one of those trying not to watch him; she was engaging the Sasquatch tribe leader Oruulu in conversation, negotiating how often she would be permitted to come to visit Samson and what she would be allowed to bring with her. But little Aanuu, the youngest female in the tribe, was openly gawking at him and slowly edging closer as well, ignoring her mother Nuura's and the tribal elder Haeruu's warning mutters to behave herself. But at least Aanuu's stare seemed to be more from curiosity over the peculiar thing he was doing with his hands right then; though they had the power of speech, the Sasquatch had no written language, and writing a letter was as foreign to their worldview as driving a sports car. Luul, on the other hand... no doubt about it, she was giving him what Samson's stepfather had called the once-over-lightly. And that was by far the most unnerving part; Samson was fairly used to stares from curiosity, because virtually every newcomer to the Labyrinth had stared at him at first, second and usually third sight. But except for his mate Delilah, no one had ever, ever looked at him with even a hint of lust in their eyes...
He wanted to go home, to go back to Delilah and lose himself in her loving embrace. He wanted to see Talon and his family again, even to hear his old friend Amos cracking his usual bad puns and smell Ruth's latest culinary experiment bubbling and/or burning on the Labyrinth's communal kitchen stove. He wanted that with all his heart, and he did not want to stay here in a cave in the woods and be the stud bull for a bunch of desperate Sasquatch females. He didn't! Okay, there was that little voice inside him wondering what it would be like, but really, he didn't...
But he owed these five females, because without their help, he'd probably be dead by now. They had showed him how to heal himself of the rare bone disease that had been killing him; for all their "primitive" ways, these people had an ancient wisdom of their own bodies and healing ways that modern medicine simply could not compete with. They could regulate their own metabolism, control their body temperature, and speed up the healing process for all but immediately fatal wounds... And they had shown him how to do that for himself; how to completely drive out the disease that had been killing him and repair all the damage it had done. In only one week, he'd gone from being on the very brink of death to perfect health again, though he still had some weight to put back on.
He put all that (except for the bit about that little prurient voice inside him) into the letter for Delilah, explaining and probably over-explaining how the tribe had no other males to sire the next generation, and he owed them a few years' worth of stud-duty in exchange for saving his life. And how there were evidently blood-ties to consider as well...
From what the females have told me, I'm pretty sure I have the DNA of Luul's dead mate Hooroon inside me; years ago, three of the tribe's males were captured by "evil humans" (which had to be Sevarius' goons) but only Hooroon escaped alive, and when he returned he had told them of a "sick human" (undoubtedly the old me) who had been changed into "part-People" and had helped him escape. I never saw more than the one captive Sasquatch, so I guess the other two males must have died as a result of Sevarius' experiments before I was kidnapped and taken there. Anyway, since it's basically Hooroon's blood flowing in my veins, in addition to the duty I owe them, I feel sort of an obligation to him as well.
Samson paused in his letter-writing, wondering if he should go into the details of that particular biblical tradition, straight out of the Old Testament; if a man died and his widow was left without sons, it was pretty well expected that one of the dead man's brothers would marry the widow and sire children on her until she had a son to support her in her old age. He finally shook his head; there was really no point in mentioning it. That tradition may be from the Bible, but it hadn't been enforced in Western culture for thousands of years, and even if it were, neither he nor Delilah were exactly avid church-goers. The only reason he knew of that tradition was because of all the time he'd spent in the hospital as a kid; there were times when he'd be lying there in bed with nothing worth watching on TV, and if his parents hadn't brought a fresh set of library books for him to read, he'd flip through the pages of the ubiquitous Gideon Bible, found in virtually every hospital room nightstand. But that was nearly twenty years ago, and he didn't even know why that tidbit of information had popped into his head a while back... it was almost as if part of him was trying to further justify his staying in the forest... He shook his head almost angrily, and went back to writing the letter.
...The females are adamant about only Hippolyta being allowed to visit; they won't allow even other gargoyles to come here, and the first one to try will be "challenged." And as I understand it, a challenge is serious business; the fight wouldn't end until somebody's dead. That poor pilot's accidental death was bad enough; I don't want any more blood spilled because of me, on either side. Tell everyone to stifle their instincts to protect family and clan members; coming to liberate me is not an option.
I promise, Delilah, as soon as the females say my obligation to them is fulfilled, I'll leave and come back to you, my true mate. In the meantime, the females already said Hippolyta's allowed to carry letters and letter-writing supplies back and forth when she visits, which is how I got the paper and pen to write this letter to you. And they just finished agreeing on a regular visiting schedule; she'll be coming by on the full dark of every new moon. Hippolyta said you can send letters to me sealed inside envelopes addressed to her, and she'll be mailing this letter out as soon as she returns home. Please give Talon, and anyone else who wants it, the post office box address written on the outside of this envelope. I'll be waiting to hear from you at the dark of the next new moon.
I love you, forever and always,
He carefully tucked the letter into the envelope, sealed it and wrote "Delilah" on the outside. He couldn't write any more than that; Delilah had no last name, and he was ashamed to admit he didn't know the castle's mailing address. Or even worse, his own mailing address in the Labyrinth! He knew there was a post office box that everyone used if they needed to send or receive mail, but he hadn't mailed or received a letter from anybody in well over a decade. Hippolyta had already said that finding a mailing address for the Aerie Building wouldn't be a problem for her; a one of the policemen working for her would surely be able to glean a suitable address from the Internet. But it was still embarrassing, having no more idea of the mailing address for where he lived than the average five-year-old child...With a wry grimace, he handed the envelope over to Hippolyta and asked her, "Would you write your mailing address on there, please?"
Hippolyta nodded gravely and wrote the address of her post office box on the envelope, saying as she did so, "I'll put this inside another envelope for mailing, so I can include a letter of my own for your mate and her clan." She gave a wry smile of her own before continuing, "I should have done so years ago, but never quite managed... But they are the most likely to have heard what became of the rest of my rookery kin and former companions. I know that my brother Corwin found happiness at last, for I saw a photo of him and his companion Griff after they and their King Arthur foiled that terrorist plot in London, but sometimes I fear the worst for Cassius, Icarus, Ezekiel and Tourmaline."
Samson nodded sympathetically, and told her, "I know Lexington and Alex Xanatos have programs and people that constantly search the Internet and major newspapers for news of gargoyle sightings. If your friends have been seen anywhere, one of them will know about it."
And all too soon after that, Hippolyta was scaling a nearby tree outside the cave entrance, preparing to launch and glide back to Trinity Bay. She said with an encouraging smile, "I'll bring you more paper, pens and suchlike when I return at the new moon, in three weeks, and surely by then I'll have a letter or two for you as well!" Then she grimaced and added, "Indeed, I can virtually guarantee at least one letter, from Sevarius; she was most wroth at being told she could not visit, and she'll likely be pestering you to change Oruulu's mind on the subject."
Samson nodded resignedly; he'd been expecting that sort of letter already. And then there was nothing more to say, and Hippolyta launched and glided off towards the east and south, and Samson was alone in the night.
Well, not actually alone; he could hear, though faintly, snippets of the conversation between the females back in the cave. In the two nights between Hippolyta's first visit-and Samson's discovery of just what the females expected from him-and her second visit with the writing supplies, the females hadn't really pushed the issue; they'd done little more than comb his fur, and include him in the group cuddles that were their usual sleeping arrangements. But now that they were guaranteed to be alone with him for the next three weeks... Oruulu was claiming that as the tribe leader, she had first dibs. And-Haeruu? Yes, that was Haeruu!-was saying that the eldest should go first! And he was pretty sure that Nuura had just protested that Haeruu was well past the age of breeding... to which Haeruu replied that while her breeding ability had ended, her interest in males hadn't! And now... oh, Lord. If he'd heard right, Luul had just suggested that they all just tackle him at once, and see what developed...
Samson slowly rolled his eyes up to the heavens, shook his head, and muttered under his breath, "Dear Penthouse..." He turned around and headed for the cave, mentally continuing, One night I was just minding my own business, when...
Three weeks later, Hippolyta returned with the promised supply of writing paper, envelopes and pens, all thoughtfully packed in a small metal box that would protect them from the elements. She also brought all the mail that had accumulated for him in the last three weeks: five letters, and a package a little larger than a loaf of bread. Sure enough, one of the letters was from Sevarius, but the other four were from Delilah, Talon, Dee and Tom, and the return address on the package suggested it was from the castle. While everyone gathered around in curiosity, Samson slit the package open with a fingernail and pulled out the contents: his favorite currycomb from his quarters in the Labyrinth, a baggie full of Broadway's special-recipe oatmeal-raisin cookies, and a pair of framed 5x7" photos, hinged together and bound shut with a rubber band.
Oruulu was not happy; she took one look at the box's contents and growled, "Horrom meh aan!" #More human things!# She gave both Hippolyta and Samson accusing looks, as if to say they should have known better that to even try to bring such items here. She reminded them emphatically what 'human things' the tribe had agreed to allow, strictly for Samson's emotional well-being: the thinner-than-a-leaf stuff for Samson to make his special markings on, and human marking-twigs like the one Hippolyta had showed them before. While she didn't know exactly what those things were for, she was sure that they were not for making those special markings on or with, and so they were not allowed! Hippolyta could take those human things away or Oruulu could drop them into the burial crevice, but they would not remain in the People's home!
Oruulu's rant was so vehement that at first Samson couldn't get a word in edgewise, but when the clan leader paused for breath, Luul surprisingly stepped in first. While Oruulu had pointedly distanced herself from the box and its contents, Luul had leaned in close enough for a sniff, and now she snatched up the currycomb and waved it in Oruulu's face, commanding her to smell it. Surprised by Luul's sudden defiance, Oruulu automatically inhaled the scent of the currycomb, while Luul made her own argument: these weren't human things; they were their new male's things! Having been used on a regular basis for the last several years, the currycomb was well saturated with Samson's scent. He demonstrated its use for them all, running it through the shaggy hair on his arm; grooming it even more efficiently than the pinecones the tribe regularly used to groom their fur. Oruulu frowned, but finally conceded that the currycomb could stay.
While the adults argued over the currycomb, Aanuu had been poking a curious finger at the bag of cookies. The double seal and freezer-grade plastic had sealed in scent as well as freshness, but one of Aanuu's tough fingernails pierced the plastic, and a second later she said excitedly that there was some sort of food in there!
Samson opened the baggie so everyone could clearly smell the cookies, and another argument ensued. Oruulu, Nuura and Haeruu were all adamant that the cookies had to go; the People were not bears, to sniff around human dwellings and eat their chemical-laced food until they sickened, and make themselves easy prey for human traps and humans' spit-metal! But there are few things more enticing than the scent of "forbidden fruit"... particularly when the raisins in the cookies had been rolled in brown sugar before being added to the dough. Aanuu whined and pleaded as only a preadolescent child can, while Samson very deliberately ate one of the cookies right in front of them, silently daring them to even try to stop him (he was a peaceful man by nature, but some things are worth fighting for!) And Luul quietly pointed out that before Samson had come to them, the tribe had eaten the exotic fresh fruits that Hippolyta had brought to them as peace-offerings; fruit that they knew had been picked and handled by humans, whether they wanted to admit it or not.
Finally, Oruulu muttered the equivalent of "just this once wouldn't hurt," and the cookies were distributed to all. Broadway had sent them two dozen cookies, so everyone got a few, including one for Hippolyta. Hippolyta said with a sparkle in her eyes as she finished her cookie, "Cookies prepared for you especially by the famous chef of 'Cooking Big'! A delicious honor indeed... but I think perhaps you should tell your friends that such 'care packages' should be avoided in the future, lest ill will develop within the tribe over such 'human things.'"
Samson absently nodded agreement, but his attention was focused on the pair of framed photos, as he carefully pulled of the rubber band that was binding them together. The hinge opened, and he saw the two photos, side by side:
One was of Delilah, perched on one of the battlements at the castle; she was in a classic "cheesecake" pose, with a wistful smile on her face. She was as lovely as ever, making his heartstrings tug as he looked at the photo and wished with all his might that he could reach into it and actually touch that smile or stroke her silken white hair. He knew that slightly sad smile was for him, and he tried hard not to think about who might have been taking the picture at the time.
The other photo was of Talon and his kids, Dee and Tom; all of them deliberately clowning for the camera, as if in reminder of all the happy times they'd had together over the last two decades. The lighting in this photo didn't really show all the gray that had been accumulating in Talon's fur lately, and his teeth glistened whitely in a wide mutate grin. Tom, standing to Talon's left, looked almost like his twin instead of his son. Tom had the same pantherish features, the same height, and was growing into the same broad shoulders; near fully adult... except for the mischievous gleam in his eye, and the hand held up behind his sister's head. Dee, dressed in a tunic that complimented her amber-and-black spotted fur, was too busy grinning at the camera to notice, but Samson would have bet money, if he'd had any, that after the photo had been taken she'd turned around and gotten into a fight with her brother for his giving her "bunny ears."
Dee and Tom... He'd been a part of their lives, and they a part of his, since they were babies only a day old; now eighteen years of age, they were legally adults, and chafing at living with their father in the same old Labyrinth they'd grown up in. Come autumn, they were both going up to the Sterling Academy to begin their college education, though Tom was already grumbling that he didn't see what good a college education was going to do for him (though he didn't say it when his father was around, knowing how hard Talon tried to give his children as normal a life as possible.) That would leave Talon alone in the tunnels... and without his closest friends or children around, he might well sink into a dangerous depression again.
Samson knew that after losing Maggie in that horrible way on Devil's Night, only the fact that his kids needed him had kept Talon from completely losing it and slitting his wrists. And despite that being well over a decade ago, Talon had never really recovered from the death of his wife; smiles and laughter were still rare indeed. But in this photo he was being deliberately cheerful; a wordless message to Samson to keep his spirits up. Samson nodded at the smile, and silently hoped that Talon would do the same.
Nuura looked silently at the pictures cradled in Samson's hands for a few long seconds, then asked him, "Oun hmuun?" #Your tribe?# At Samson's confirmation, she turned to Oruulu and the others and said in her quiet but absolutely firm way that those things, too, would stay. And one by one, everyone else gestured agreement.
Now that his "care package" had been dealt with, Samson wanted to tear open the first envelope and start reading Delilah's letter immediately, but he held off long enough for some polite conversation with Hippolyta. She told him that the Manhattan clan had indeed given her news of her missing rookery kin: Cassius had found a mate in Egypt, and according to the updates they occasionally received from the Vandemeres (adventuring archeologists who were investigating the ancient city that Khepri and her ancestors had faithfully guarded), the gargoyle couple's two eggs were due to hatch in another three years. And they had sent a message to London to see what Corwin knew of his rookery kin; the reply had said that he'd not heard from any of them since 2005, but when he'd last seen them, Icarus and Ezekiel were happily settled with their mates in a clan in Alaska, and Tourmaline had fallen in with-gargoyle pirates?-somewhere in the Caribbean.
Samson expressed his relief that at least four of her long-lost kin had found happiness, agreed with Hippolyta's grave doubts about Tourmaline's reported home, and finally could stand it no longer, excused himself and went outside to read the letters by the light of the stars. He was thankful that it was a clear night for once and his night-adapted eyes could read even by starlight, since there was no moon. He read Delilah's letter first:
I am very happy to learn that you are alive and well. I was so very worried that you were dead, and I would never see you again! I am not happy about you staying in California, but I understand why, and at least I have hope of seeing you again in years to come.
When I showed your letter to the clan, Alex said that the you-know-who people knew that a tribe of Sasquatch still lived in that area, but they did not know exactly where and they did not look for the Sasquatch, because of some promise they made, and he would not say any more than that. (Goliath and everyone else agree that Alex is becoming just as bad as his father about that sort of thing.)
Goliath says that it would be terrible if the Sasquatch went extinct, just as it would be terrible if the gargoyle race died out, and he urges you to breed all the children the tribe can support. I want you to do that too, and to hurry up about it, so after they have enough we can be together again.
In the meantime, I will tell you all about what is happening here at the castle, and Talon says he will tell you about what happens in the Labyrinth. Here is the latest news from the castle:
Just after you left, Amber finally got Goliath to agree that she is old enough to join the Guardians on patrol. He still will not let her take any patrol routes besides the easiest one over Central Park, and she is always accompanied by an adult, but last night she was in her first battle, and Brooklyn says she did very well. She caught two muggers armed with knives, and...
The letter continued on for three pages, with tales of the other hatchlings' recent hijinks and accomplishments; Kenneth had finally created his first magical shield, and Aiden and Lexington were proud as peacocks over it. Broadway was now letting Malcolm help in the kitchen, and one night he had stood on a stepstool to stir a saucepan of gravy, lost his balance and accidentally burned his hand on the range burner, but the very next night after stone sleep had healed his burns, he'd been in the kitchen asking his father if he could help again. And D'Artagna was still trying to boss around her brothers, but the Trio were having none of it, and Delilah and Hudson frequently had to step in to break up the squabbling...
The letter ended with,
Everyone misses you, and I miss you most of all. Please ask the other Sasquatch if they will let me visit sometimes; I will promise not to try to bring you back to Manhattan with me (as if I could carry you all by myself, ha-ha!) Until then, I promise to write to you every month, and hope you will do the same.
Your true mate always,
Samson reread the letter twice, then held it to his face and breathed in deeply. Though it was faint, the paper still carried her scent.
After just standing there for a while, lost in reverie, he opened Talon's letter.
Hey, 'Little Brother'! Delilah brought your letter down here last week, the night after she got it, and gave us the address for writing to you. We're all glad to know you're okay; I have to admit, the way you were looking when you left, I was pretty worried. I always thought that innate self-healing stuff was New Age crap, but if these other Sasquatch can do it and showed you how, then maybe our ancestors did have the ability and lost it somehow. But what's important is that you're doing okay now... even if you won't be back for a long while.
I doubt Delilah will say this to you in her letters, but I think she's more than a little jealous of these other Sasquatch females; not only because you're staying with them, but because they're so sure they can have your kids and she knows she can't. (BTW, I still can't believe you guys kept that secret right up until the night of the hatching!) But don't let her jealousy stop you from doing your stud duties; she's a sensible girl, and she knows what needs to be done. She even put a halt to Dee and Tom's plans before I found out about them; believe it or not, the kids were planning to hijack a private plane and fly it out to where you are, and rescue you whether you wanted it or not. Never mind the fact that the kids have never flown anything other than themselves before, or even been anywhere further than the Sterling Academy upstate... I swear I was never this headstrong and foolhardy when I was their age, no matter what my parents say.
Whenever your stud duties are fulfilled, if you still want to come home to the Labyrinth I promise you'll find your rooms here ready and waiting for you. Except for your currycomb, which we gave to Delilah so she could mail it to you, everything will be just as you left it. In the meantime, expect a letter from me every month, and I hope to get the same from you; our P.O. box address is at the bottom of the letter.
The kids are writing letters to you too, although to be frank, I wouldn't expect those on such a regular basis. Amos and Ruth wanted to write you a letter too, but you know how shaky Ruth's hands are these days. And even though he can read now, Amos' dyslexia still makes him freeze up whenever he tries to write anything. So I told them to just dictate to me, and I'd write their words into my letter. So the next few paragraphs are from Ruth and Amos:
We're glad to know that you're okay now. If you want anything sent to you to spruce up your new home, just say so and we'll send it. We hope you have a good time, helping out those lady Sasquatches (Amos said that with a grin, and Ruth just elbowed him in the ribs for it.) We hope that you'll come back here one day, and if any of your Sasquatch youngsters want to come here to see what humans are like, we'll be happy to make room for them too...
Samson paused for a moment after reading that, considering... wouldn't that be something, to return to the Labyrinth with a few children of his own at his side? They could play with the gargoyle hatchlings on castle visits, and... He finally shook his head, dispelling the fantasy; he knew the females would never allow it.
He continued reading; Amos and Ruth made sure that Samson was aware of the latest goings-on in the Labyrinth, which residents had moved out of their homeless shelter and into regular housing, and how many and what sort of people had just moved in. And after they had given him their love and signed off, Talon continued writing:
I agree with what Ruth and Amos said earlier; if any of your kids-to-be want to see the big city, we'll be more than happy to set up rooms for them down here. Now that gargoyles are U.S. citizens, it ought to be fairly easy to get them declared full citizens too (probably way easier; there's no equivalent of Quarrymen to argue against them!) But then they'd be asked to vote and participate in the electoral process and listen to politicians spouting their crap, and become consumers and take part in surveys and watch commercials and... Hey, can we join you out there instead? (Just kidding... maybe)
LeRoy said pretty much the same stuff as Amos and Ruth, when I told him the news, but he, Ruth, Amos and the kids are the only ones down here that really know what happened to you. Alex Xanatos came by just after Delilah's visit, and asked us to keep the news from spreading if we could. Evidently the Illuminati have been trying to make sure the public either never hears about or quickly forgets about the existence of Sasquatch, because of some pact they made years ago... Alex said even he doesn't have the whole story, but he wouldn't tell me what little he does know. (That kid's becoming more and more like his old man every year, and just as aggravating, too.) I pointed out to him that we've had a living, breathing mostly-Sasquatch right here in the Labyrinth for the last two decades, so the secret's already been blown wide open, but he said that over the years, every mention of you in the news has been either quietly deleted from the world's databanks or changed to make it sound like you're a bear-mutate. (Which I guess explains why the last crack dealer we ran out of here kept calling you "Bruno.") So now you've been turned into an urban legend! Alex said the whole thing was for the protection of the Sasquatch as a race until they're ready to confront humanity on their own terms, and I guess I can understand that, considering the shitstorm the gargoyles went through right after they went public. But it would've been polite to at least come down here and say, "By the way, we're erasing all trace of your existence..."!
One other thing: Delilah said that Sevarius is staying in California too. Whatever he-or she-says to you, do NOT let him/her get within five miles of your kids-to-be, or the other adults either. I know you've reached some sort of understanding with Sevarius, and you may think he/she can be trusted to treat people right these days, but it would be like inviting a nest of scorpions into your home; sooner or later you're going to get stung. Elisa told me that so long as he was at the castle, they always had safeguards in place to make sure that he'd get caught the instant he tried anything, but you don't have that sort of protection now. Don't take ANY chances with him!
That's all I can think of to write about for this letter, so take care of yourself, have fun (yes, I'm smirking; go for it, stud!) I'll write again next month.
Samson's lip twitched in an almost-smile; he could just picture Talon smirking as he wrote that last paragraph. But he was still in a mild state of shock over what Talon had said about the Illuminati... they'd been quietly erasing all traces of his existence? He had to admit that the tribe was nowhere near ready for being discovered by humanity in general yet; if they were found, they'd be the center of a huge storm of scientific and political controversy, like the one that had engulfed the gargoyles for decades. If not for Xanatos and his protection, the Manhattan clan would likely have been wiped out entirely; if not by Quarrymen, then by rabid scientists like his father wanting to study them, political leaders wanting to contain them and control any possible influence on the population, etc. So it was probably for the best that the Illuminati was trying to keep the Sasquatch a secret... but still, it would have been nice for them to at least let him know what they were doing! ...And how they were doing it, too; he knew darn well that he and Delilah had once been on the cover of Time magazine, right after Jericho had caused the Flood that had nearly destroyed the Labyrinth. What had they done, bought or stole and shredded every copy of that issue they could find? But other than that one article, he'd always stayed shyly out of camera range if he could. He wondered dazedly what they would've done if he'd been the type to really ham it up for the cameras instead...
He finally shook his head and went on to the next letter, the one from Dee.
Dear Uncle Samson,
Hi! Delilah told us about how you're stuck in California with a bunch of female Bigfeet, until after they have some kids for the next generation. She was really unhappy about it, too, and we were ready to come out there and rescue you, but she and Dad both said no, that you didn't want anyone fighting over you even for your own good. If you change your mind and they still won't let you leave, let us know and we'll get you out of there fast. But if you decide to stay there for a few years, we'll send you a camera later so you can sneak pictures of the Bigfoot kids-to-be to send to us. I bet they'll be cute little versions of you!
The letter went on for another few paragraphs, chatting about their mutual friends among the Labyrinth residents, and about Dee's plans for when she went to the Sterling Academy next fall; she had already been assured of having a place on the Track & Field Team, and had ambitions of being team captain before her freshman year was finished. She signed off with a promise to write more letters later, when she had more interesting stuff to write about.
Tom's letter resembled Dee's in one regard, promising Samson that if he ever wanted to leave California fast, all he had to do was send word and they'd take care of the rescue. Tom also wrote about leaving for the Sterling Academy, but Samson could tell his heart wasn't really in the idea of going to college, and in the next paragraph he confided his speculations about the Maza family's were-panther acquaintances in Africa, who hadn't been heard from since the first encounter 20 years ago. He did not openly announce his intentions to go looking for them, but Samson could read between the lines easily enough; one way or another, whether after college or instead of college, Tom wanted to go to Africa.
The last letter was from Sevarius, and sure enough, it was all about how Samson owed it to his father to let her visit the cave and take samples from everyone there, and give her blanket permission to visit in the future when the children were born. Sevarius promised not to experiment on any of them, just to take samples for study. She pushed every possible guilt-button she could think of: filial duty, the fact that he wouldn't have made it as far as the tribe's domain if not for the constant medical care, and on and on ad nauseum. Samson read it all, but thought of Talon's caution, and of all that Sevarius had done in the past twenty years, and slowly shook his head.
A soft -ahem- came from behind him, and he turned to find Hippolyta walking softly towards him. "You are troubled," she observed quietly. "Is all not well with your mate and friends in New York?"
"No, they're fine; not happy I'm out here instead of back there, but they're evidently more-or-less okay with it," he replied. "It's not them that's bothering me at the moment; it's Sevarius."
Hippolyta nodded with a rueful twist to her lips. "No doubt she was most eloquent about all the reasons why she deserves to come out here to visit..."
Samson nodded. "And I really do owe him-well, her-a great deal... But I don't owe her that."
Hippolyta's smile became even more rueful. "Considering how she has vowed to stay in the area until she has seen your children with her own eyes, I should be disagreeing with you, but I cannot. But speaking of children," as her smile became warmer, "my congratulations to you on siring your first! Oruulu is very sure that the child growing inside her now is quite healthy, though she could not tell me what sex it will be."
Samson smiled back, though it was a little unsteady; even though the females had told him about the conception last week, and he'd been able to smell the change for himself since yesterday, it hadn't completely sunk in yet... and his heart still insisted that the baby, his first child, was in the wrong mother. But he replied, "No, there aren't any distinctive shell patterns for us mammals to use to tell boys from girls... and no ultrasounds out here in the wilderness. Guess we'll find out in another nine months..."
January 17th, 2016
Samson leaned back against a wall in the cave and sighed, before reaching for the steel box that he kept other people's letters and his letter-writing supplies in. Everything was peaceful for the moment, and he was determined to take advantage of the brief respite and reread the last letter from Delilah.
Haeruu came to sit down and lean against the opposite wall of the cavern, and she just gave him a brief glance of acknowledgment before closing her eyes; Samson wondered if the elder female was about to go to sleep still sitting up. But if she did, who could blame her? Everybody was running ragged these days.
Nuura and Luul had become pregnant the month after Oruulu, and now all three females were experiencing frequent hunger, back pains, and irritability; full knowledge of a body's inner workings and advanced self-healing compensated only so much for what pregnancy did to a female's body. Samson, Aanuu and Haeruu were all exhausted from trying to keep all three pregnant females fed and placated, and the squabbling to a minimum. Haeruu had said more than once that this must be why the People had a tradition of having only one child at a time in any tribe; so that the task of minding the pregnant female or the child could be spread among many, instead of all the burden being shouldered by a weary few! (Samson privately agreed with her, but even more privately thought that this tradition was one reason why there were so very few Sasquatch tribes in existence; with only one child born in a tribe every ten or twelve years, even if they weren't susceptible to a lot of diseases like humans and other animals, the birth rate must have frequently dropped below the death rate.)
But that tradition had been broken when Samson had arrived; the females knew that they couldn't keep him forever, and so they had resolved to let as many get pregnant as were able, just this once. If luck was with them and two out of the three of the new children were males, then Samson would be allowed to leave whenever he liked. If not... well, perhaps they'd let one female-just one, Haeruu insisted!-get pregnant again in a few more years, after this batch was weaned. But everyone agreed that this would be the first and last mass birthing for the tribe; some experiences weren't worth repeating.
Samson thought about the letter he'd written to Delilah last month; among other things, he'd asked her to relay to Alexander that Samson needed to know what the Illuminati knew, about the locations of some other Sasquatch tribes. The females were absolutely positive that other tribes were out there, but the directions that had been handed down from generation to generation were full of phrases like "seven night's walking north to a great river, then nine night's walking northeast along the river to a cliff bluff, then east-southeast for six nights to..." Samson was positive that sometime in the last few hundred years, some human settlements had been built in the way of those directions, and he wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out that some of those rivers and other landmarks had been diverted, dammed or blasted out of existence by road construction crews. But they needed to find at least one other tribe, for Samson's children to find mates from. It just wouldn't do for half-sisters and half-brothers to mate...
"#Pine nuts! I must have pine nuts!#"
"#Fine, get your pine nuts! I want another banana!#"
Samson sighed as he reluctantly got to his feet again. He couldn't do a damn thing about Luul's craving until Hippolyta came by again, but at least he could find some pine nuts for Oruulu...
March 8th, 2016
Well, I'm now officially a sire, and the tribe has its first child of the next generation. A female; they've named her Noola (it means "fresh water," to symbolize the new blood in the tribe.) She's covered in such soft downy fur, as soft as the twins' fur was when they were born, and her eyes are already open, a light gold like mine. Oruulu is proud as can be, and declared that she's the most beautiful child to be born in generations. (Nuura and Luul don't say anything in response, but I can almost hear them thinking to themselves, 'Just wait another month, until the next child is born!' (They're both due next month, and joking that they'll go into labor at the same time, just to drive me twice as frantic as I was when Oruulu went into labor. At least, I think they're joking, but considering how gargoyles lay their eggs...) I have to agree with Oruulu, though; Noola's really beautiful.
I didn't put anything about the baby in this moon's letter to Delilah; I'm a little worried about how she'll react... if she'll be even more jealous, or hurt, or impatient for me to come home right now. But I can't come home yet; the agreement was that I sire at least two males before leaving, though the females are welcome too.
March 25th, 2016
Well, the cat's out of the bag (pardon the pun). Delilah came down to visit last week, and overheard Dee and Tom talking about Noola. She was hurt, but more over your not telling her than over the fact that the kid was born and others are on the way. I expect her letter to you, to be brought by Hippolyta at the same time as this one, will be taking you to task for keeping secrets from her, but she told me that the Sasquatch children change nothing between the two of you; you and she are still true mates, and always will be.
By the time you're reading this, the other two kids should be born; which are they, boys or girls or one of each? What are they named? And do you think it's possible by now to sneak a camera past Oruulu?
April 5th, 2016
The other two babies have been born now, and all three are females. Noola's two half-sisters are named Maar and Ahllo. They all have the same color eyes, but where Noola's fur is russet-colored, Maar's is a very dark brown while Ahllo's is a much lighter brown, nearly blonde. The tribe has a blonde, a brunette and a redhead! And all three are adorable...
May 2nd, 2016
I've written the name of each tribe member beneath the combings of fur taped to the next page, so you'll be able to tell which is from whom. And that's all you're going to get of them to study; Oruulu stomped on and broke the hypodermic syringes you'd sent along via Hippolyta for getting blood samples. And all the females are agreed that if you ever come anywhere near the lair, as peaceful as they normally are, they will kill you. They've never forgiven you for capturing and experimenting on some of their tribe members over 20 years ago. (You never told me you'd captured three Sasquatches between 1990 and 1996, and only the last one survived long enough to help me escape! Not that I imagine you care, but I'll tell you anyway: their names were Aamaan, Nuum and Hooroon...) The only reason you weren't killed upon arrival last spring was that they'd made no connection between the 'metal-wrapped old female' and the 'evil human male' from back then. But now that they know the connection, they are very unhappy that you're still alive at all...
January 10th, 2017
Tom left for Nigeria two days ago, to try to find the were-panthers that my Mom and Elisa met back in 1996. I'm still not happy that he's stopped going to college, but I have to admit he wasn't happy up there like Dee is. Hopefully after he finds the were-panthers and spends some time with them, he'll come back and start working on a college degree again...
June 17th, 2017
Before I tell you what has been happening here lately, Alexander wanted me to pass on some news to you. I fear it is not good news...
Samson read the letter, twice through, then went back inside with a slow tread and troubled features. Hippolyta looked up from where she was visiting with Oruulu, and gave him a concerned look. "Is something wrong in Manhattan?"
Samson slowly shook his head. "No, they're all fine... but there's other bad news. Not long after I came here, I asked Delilah to pass on a request to Alexander Xanatos, to ask the Illuminati about other Sasquatch tribes. Alexander said before that they've been looking, and he's been doing what he could to ferret out the information, but... He says the Illuminati has searched for five different tribes at their last known locations, and they're all gone. Completely gone; they couldn't find any traces more recent than twenty years ago. This tribe may be the last one left in existence..."
Hippolyta expressed her dismay and sympathy, while the other females looked on in concern; none of them knew English, but they knew the word "Sasquatch" referred to them, and they knew expressions and facial features well enough. After Hippolyta left, they cornered him and asked what exactly was wrong. And he told them, before going over to the nursery corner to play with his three little children... the last remnants of a dying race. Children who would likely not have mates when they grew up... What was he going to do?
As he played with Noola, Maar and Ahllo, he was vaguely aware that the other females had gone outside and were having a heated discussion in the glen. But in his depression, he didn't much care what they said...
Until the next week, when Oruulu dragged him over to the bed of grasses, where Noora and Luul were already waiting. "#But... but... what about future generations? I told you of the hazards! The children will become sickly, as the...um, hidden things inside...#" Dammit, how could he explain inbreeding and recessive genes to people when their language didn't have enough words to encompass such concepts?
Oruulu told him quite firmly that they would handle that problem when the children were old enough to want mates; she was still sure there were other tribes out there, just not in the old locations anymore. In the meantime, Samson would supply them with enough children that they could supply mates for every tribe that had ever been heard of, so get to work, stud! And Samson had a hard time arguing, especially with Luul licking his ear like that... Yes, a hard time, indeed...
October 25th, 2017
You'll never believe who just showed up on our doorstep: Claw! And his wife! Yes, Claw's back in the Labyrinth and he's married! And it turns out his real name is Beau Ellis, but his wife Raylene says he's okay with us still calling him Claw.
It turns out that Claw/Beau is originally from the backwoods of the Appalachians, and he never could talk, even as a regular human; it wasn't from the shock of becoming a mutate after all. So when he was still a kid they had him institutionalized in some backwater mental hospital that was apparently more interested in experimenting on people than actually helping them, which is where Sevarius found him. When he left back in 2005, he went back to the hills he'd grown up in, where his mother was still alive and well. Apparently his mom had some psychic powers of her own (Raylene calls it her "witchy gift"), and she could hear what her son was thinking, as well as have visions of the future from time to time. Once he returned home, he met Raylene, and they were married in 2007. And don't ask me how it was done, but Raylene says that as a dowry, Claw's mom gave Raylene some of her "witchy gift," so now she can mentally "hear" whatever Claw is deliberately thinking at her (though not what anyone else is thinking... or at least, so she says.)
Raylene says they were happy living up in the hills, and they'd still be there now, but they want to have kids together and the only child they conceived in the last ten years was stillborn. Frankly, I'm amazed that they conceived at all, considering all the differences in mutate genes; Raylene said her mother-in-law had a hand in it, but her "witchy powers" weren't strong enough to ensure the child would survive outside the womb. Claw's mother died six months ago, and before she did she had a vision that said Claw and Raylene would have kids someday, but not in the hills. They finally decided that meant they should return here to New York, in hopes that someone here could help them, and so they did. Elisa and Goliath are down in New Mexico right now, chasing after the latest rumor of Demona. (I don't want to believe that she's back all these years after Devil's Night, but if anyone could claw her way out of Hell itself, it would be that bitch!) Anyway, once they get back I'll ask Elisa if Raylene can borrow her magical amber pendant; if it worked once for conceiving a gargoyle hybrid, maybe it'll work again for creating a mutate hybrid.
March 4th, 2018
Delilah sat at the kitchen table with her pen and paper, glad that Old-Mother was minding the hatchlings at the moment; it gave her time to write her monthly letter to Samson. And there was so much to write about this time! The clan's battle with Demona at Mount Rainier; Goliath's brush with death by devastating illness; Amber taking a new Phoenix Gate on a trip through time, to bring Goliath's own mother forward to their time in order to cure her son; how much happier everyone has become since Old-Mother's arrival. Even Angela had been heard to laugh at an antic that Porthos had done yesterday, after nearly everyone had given up hope of ever hearing her laugh again!
In fact, the only one who didn't seem happier these days was Hudson; he'd gone rather quiet and moody after her arrival. Delilah wondered if it was because seeing Old-Mother reminded Hudson of all the other dead clansmen, killed in that terrible massacre over a thousand years ago. She'd tried to talk to him about it last night, but he'd just brushed her gentle queries away, before engaging the Four Musketeers in more mock-fighting to improve their skills. Delilah had been a little hurt by that, but tried not to take it personally. After all, while Hudson had sired her children, and they'd had a few more trysts in the intervening years since Samson had gone to California, they weren't true mates. No, Delilah's true mate was in California... Delilah decided to remind Samson to ask again about letting her come visit. Surely by now, their honorable behavior in respecting the Sasquatch tribe's rules had taught the females that the gargoyles were trustworthy...
April 2nd, 2018
It has been another very eventful month here in Manhattan! Old-Mother has gone back to her own time now, and I will miss her, but Goliath has assured us all that she had a long life back in her own time and died in comfort, surrounded by family, and she would not want us to grieve.
Amber took Old-Mother back to her own time, using the Phoenix Gate. And it was not until after she'd left that Hudson told us all why he'd been so sad lately...
Samson read the letter through, and shook his head in amazement. The things that clan got into! Never a dull moment with them, not with traveling across dimensions, fighting a war on Avalon, and bringing back far more people than they'd left with...
Delilah wrote that she was bothered by how cool Angela and Kathe behaved towards the new youngster, named Jake, who had been fathered by Brooklyn-or rather, another dimension's version of Brooklyn-with another female, instead of that dimension's version of Angela. "I fear that they are not as great-hearted as you, who always treated my hatchlings with much affection despite Hudson fathering them..."
Samson paused in his reading and looked off to the horizon, thinking about how he'd always been affectionate towards Delilah's hatchlings... but his stepfather would still have been disappointed in his going back to Labyrinth after they had hatched, instead of staying in the castle and being a full-time father. He'd tried to be their father at first... but with the whole clan deferring to Hudson after the truth was known, and after seeing the hatchlings go crawling to Hudson instead of him two times out of three... he'd gone back to living in the Labyrinth and just visiting once in a while. More of a fond uncle instead of a father, despite still being their mother's mate... Well, perhaps that had been for the best, since if he'd been a true father figure to them, more than just Delilah and the mutates would be missing him now.
Delilah ended the letter with another reminder that she wanted to visit, and Samson resolved to ask Oruulu yet again for permission. After all, he had provided them with a son now; newborn Haaroll (named after his stepfather, Harold Blake, and hadn't that annoyed Sevarius to no end!) was nursing at his mother Nuura's breast. He was halfway towards fulfilling his end of the bargain, and surely they could grant him this favor...
May 30th, 2018
I'm sorry to report that Oruulu is still adamant about only Hippolyta visiting... But I think she's beginning to wear down. Nuura, Luul and Aanuu have actually expressed interest in meeting you, and Haeruu seems to be softening as well. I bring out the pictures you've sent of the clan at least once every moon, and I'll keep it up until I can convince them that you can be trusted and can come out here. I'm pretty sure that once I can get Haeruu to agree to it too, all three of the adults will be able to convince Oruulu...
December 10th, 2018
It's so great to know that Maggie is alive and well!
Samson paused in his writing, looking again at the letter from Talon that had just arrived. His old friend had been so excited when he'd written it, his sentences were missing words and occasionally whole phrases, but the basic meaning had come through: Maggie had been found, alive after all these years... and if she was missing her wings now, well, there wasn't much use for wings in the Labyrinth anyway.
There were parts of the letter that were just a bit too incoherent, however... what was this about a mutate named Feral? Another mutate without wings, or so Samson gathered; where had he come from? In addition to asking Talon for clarification, Samson decided to write to Sevarius, and ask his father if there were any other little secrets that he'd been keeping.
April 23rd, 2019
Delilah sat at the table, staring at a blank piece of paper and absently chewing on the tip of her pen, wondering what she would put in her next letter to Samson. A great deal had happened around the castle lately... but not all of it was fit to be put into a letter.
Ten days ago, a few days after Goliath and Elisa had left for Africa to find Tom Reed Maza and let him know his mother was alive, Lexington's constantly-running search engine had uncovered a news item about gargoyles... specifically, about some recently-discovered gargoyle eggs. According to the AP report, a janitor was "blowing the whistle" on a government laboratory in Ohio, that was secretly holding a half-dozen gargoyle eggs. The photo that the janitor had sneaked out of the lab showed the eggs in a giant incubator, with a label reading "Mexico November 2018." And the janitor reported a conversation he'd overheard between two scientists at that laboratory; that the eggs were going to be dissected, one at a time at one-year intervals, so the scientists could study the embryos at various stages in their gestation.
Brooklyn had said at the time that this might be another hoax; there had certainly been enough of them concerning gargoyles over the years. But not all such reports were hoaxes, as Coldstone and his family could certainly attest to; on the strength of just such a news report, they had gone north to the Yukon back in 2005... And discovered a clan of human-hating, human-eating gargoyles that had been living in the wilds for millennia, that probably had been the source behind the Indian legends of the Wendigo. As Gabriel had written to the clan later, this 'Wendigo Clan' was so primitive that, even with Aiden's language-acquisition spell, Gabriel and Angus had had trouble talking to them; their language simply didn't have the words for far too many concepts. Primitive in language, and absolutely barbaric in custom; the news report that had attracted their attention had said that 'wild gargoyles' had killed the pilot of a downed RCAF aircraft, while the copilot had barely escaped their territory alive. And once the Cold Clan had been warily admitted to the Wendigo Clan's inner territory, they had seen the freshly-cleaned human skull mounted on a pole in front of the largest cave, and the still-flesh-covered fingers strung on the clan leader's gory necklace.
After all efforts to ameliorate their hostile attitudes had failed, the Cold Clan had just barely escaped from the Wendigo Clan's territory with all their hides intact. And Gabriel, who had dared to challenge the clan leader to combat in a last-ditch attempt to make the Wendigo Clan stop its perpetual war on humanity, was no doubt still under sentence of death if he ever went there again. Angus still hoped that the one gargoyle in that clan who had openly accepted them, a sweet little half-grown female they'd named Yukoned Bea, might eventually be able to change or at least soften her clan's attitudes towards humans. But until then, the rest of them decided that it would be best if the rest of the world didn't know that particular 'hoax' wasn't a hoax at all; some rocks are simply better left unturned.
Moreover, the Manhattan Clan knew all too well that there were scientists out there who would indeed callously conduct lethal experiments on innocent gargoyle young if they had the opportunity. Even if Sevarius himself/herself was basically neutralized now, there were far too many of his clones still running around loose, conducting experiments on God knew what. And they weren't the only ones who had proven to fit the "utterly amoral scientist" mold; Dr. Irene Johnson had been expelled from the castle back in 2002, after the clan had discovered that the xenologist had been secretly trying to recreate the cloning chambers that Sevarius had used, solely in order to provide herself with subjects for experiments. Despite the U.S. government having finally and officially acknowledged gargoyles as fellow sentient beings and citizens back in 2008, there were still too many humans out there who regarded them as talking animals instead of people. This might be a hoax, but they didn't dare just assume it was one.
So Brooklyn had put in a formal request via official channels, that the laboratory stop all testing on the eggs and turn them over to the clan's custody... but he'd also put together a "strike team," to get their tails over to Ohio on the double and get those eggs away from the scientists immediately and as secretly as possible. Considering how long it took for the humans to officially acknowledge their existence, Brooklyn had no faith in swift government action and didn't want to risk the scientists cracking open even a single egg in the meantime. Lexington was picked for his electronics wizardry, and loaded down with all the high-tech gadgets he and Alexander thought he might need; Aiden was picked for her real wizardry skills, as magic might be needed to circumvent what technology couldn't. Matt Bluestone went along, to be their human "front" if any human contact was needed. And Delilah made the fourth and final member of the squad, because somebody was needed for general fetch-n-carry, including carrying Matt if necessary; the web-winged gargoyles couldn't carry items in flight as easily as she could.
The team had gone to Ohio in a stealth-equipped jet, and set out for the laboratory as soon as they were able. But when they had approached the lab complex, and seen the bullet holes, burn marks and other signs of battle, and heard the commotion coming from inside the main building, they realized that someone else had gotten there first... Demona.
Delilah still vividly remembered the sight that had greeted the strike team's eyes when they had snuck in through the roof, and pulled aside a ceiling tile over the largest lab room. No less than four people were sprawled on the floor, bleeding, unconscious and possibly dead... but another dozen people were upright and armed, with various weapons. As Lexington had discovered during his quick preliminary research on the facilities, this lab complex was primarily devoted to weapons research... and some of those experimental weapons had definitely been used on Demona. She was encased in a giant glob of gray goo on the far side of the lab, with only her head and one taloned hand sticking out, and it looked like at least half the hair on her head had been burnt off as well.
Lexington had muttered that this was a good thing, in a way; Demona would keep the humans busy, while the strike team covertly searched the lab complex. But then Demona, encased and utterly helpless, had started pleading in a voice loud enough for them to hear:
"Please... please, spare the eggs! I'll do anything... look, look at this!" as she'd stretched her taloned hand up and back and given herself a long scratch on the cheek. "Look at that... it heals almost instantly! This isn't an ability that most gargoyles have; only I have it... I'm-I'm a mutant! But think of how incredible it would be if you could discover how this instant healing ability works, and duplicate it in other animals, even humans; you could all win the Nobel Prize, and become rich beyond your wildest dreams! And I swear I'll let you experiment on me to discover how it works, if you'll promise not to harm the eggs. As soon as they're turned safely over to... to Angela, of the Manhattan Clan! I'll let you do anything you like to me; vivisection, even organ removal! Just please, please, spare the innocent eggs!"
And the head scientist had responded heatedly, "What eggs? I'm telling you again, we really don't have any gargoyle eggs here..."
Matt had taken that as his cue to enter, waving his Guardians ID; he announced that he was there on behalf of the FBI and the ISCA ("Inter-Species Cooperation Association", the official name for the Guardians), to investigate a report that gargoyle eggs had been kidnapped and taken to this facility. In utter exasperation, the head scientist had asserted that he would guide Bluestone on a tour of the facility himself, even into the top-secret rooms, until everyone was satisfied that there were no eggs here... just so long as Bluestone behaved himself and didn't try to kill anybody.
Bluestone had gone on that guided tour with the scientist, while Lexington and Aiden had double-checked and triple-checked that assertion of innocence; Aiden with seeking spells, and Lexington by using some of Alexander's gadgetry to hack into the facility's computers. And by the time they were all convinced that there really weren't any gargoyle eggs in the complex, Demona had managed to claw herself free of the gray goo and escaped (thankfully, without killing anyone else in the process.) And by the time the strike team had returned home, the AP headquarters had issued an official statement that the article had been a hoax, which had been planted into their system by hackers, persons unknown. The clan had been both relieved and disappointed to discover it was all a hoax; while it was good to know that no one was experimenting on their kind anymore, more eggs in the rookery would have been greatly welcome.
Demona hadn't been seen since, though the clan wondered if she'd been the one responsible for the mysterious deaths of two college students four days later; those two Ohio State University students had been suspected of being the ones to create the hoax, but nothing could be proven. Brooklyn had just shaken his head at the news, and said, "Let the local authorities handle it. If they want our help, they'll ask for it." And that had been that.
Sitting at the table now, Delilah wondered if she should write about that in her letter to Samson. Would he even believe it... believe that the same evil creature who had kidnapped Angela's egg and turned an innocent child into a demon, the same one who had tried to kill every member of the clan at least once and Goliath who knew how many times, would be willing to sacrifice herself-several times over-for the sake of gargoyle eggs? Brooklyn had scoffed when he'd heard the strike team's report, sure that Demona had been lying through her teeth at the time. But Matt Bluestone had worn a thoughtful expression all that night, and even Delilah wondered if there might be some good in Demona after all...
Delilah finally shook her head and decided that the event wouldn't go into her letter; after all, when all was said and done, everything was just as it had been before, so really nothing of consequence had happened. Instead, she would write about Amber's latest achievement, up at the Sterling Academy. Amber had gotten straight A's for the semester, and was now on the honor roll...
May 20th, 2019
Wonderful news! Oruulu has finally relented; you can come out for a visit! But there are a few conditions that she insists on...
June 17th, 2019
"We're almost there," Hippolyta called back to Delilah, who was hanging onto the tip of her tail. "When we reach the clearing, we'll circle it once or twice, so they can look up if they wish and see that you're wearing the blindfold. Then you can take it off for landing..."
Delilah nodded, glad that she wouldn't be forced to land with the blindfold on. Gliding for over an hour without the use of her eyes hadn't been all that bad; she could still feel the wind currents on her wings and automatically adjust for them, and so long as she held onto Hippolyta's tail, she hadn't worried about gliding right into a mountain or whatever. But trying to judge distance and best approach angles for landing on unfamiliar terrain, while utterly blind... no, thank you! She didn't know how Hudson's blinded rookery sister, the one that Amber had met on her journey back in time, had possibly managed for all those years.
She felt them slowly banking to the left, turning in a wide circle... Then Hippolyta said she could take the blindfold off, and she released her grip on the other female's tail and did so. After blinking once or twice, she saw five members of the Sasquatch race standing in the clearing below her. Four of them were grouped off to one side, but the tallest was standing in the clearing's center... "Samson!" Forgetting all decorum, with a joyous shriek she dove down and swooped straight into his arms.
She glided straight into his arms, but Samson had been half-expecting that, and indeed had rather been hoping she would; while even the largest human would have been bowled right over by the impact, he braced himself and caught her into a loving bear-hug. "Delilah!"
After four long years of being apart, no embrace or kiss could possibly last long enough... but they kept at it until Samson heard the unmistakable sound of a throat being cleared expectantly. (Some non-verbal signals meant the same thing no matter what the species.) After another second or two, he reluctantly broke off and set Delilah on her feet, and turned her to face the rest of the tribe. "Delilah, this is Oruulu... and that's Luul, Haeruu and Aanuu. Nuura's still in the cave with the children..."
Delilah had promised, both Samson and herself, that she would be civil and even kind to the other Sasquatch females... but it was hard. These females had been holding her mate hostage for four long years! But she kept her wings cloaked about her shoulders, kept her tail from lashing and tried very hard to keep the fangs from showing in her smile. And if her grip when shaking hands was a bit too strong, well, Oruulu had started it... Samson gently put his huge hand over both of theirs, ending the impromptu contest before Delilah could win it, then escorted her into the cave. Delilah casually leaned into his arm as they walked-mine!-and didn't quite smirk at somebody's suppressed growl behind them as Samson just as casually hugged her close to his side.
But Delilah had no problem being kind towards the Sasquatch children, all waiting inside the cave. They were so cute! Six adorable little fuzzballs, three still unsteadily toddling about and the other three climbing all over and getting into everything. She reached behind to unhook and bring around the satchel of goodies she'd brought with her, just for the children: grapes, cherries, apples, bananas, kiwi fruits, carrots, cherry tomatoes and some of every other fruit and vegetable that Hippolyta had recommended for suitable food gifts. Hippolyta herself had brought similar goods for the adults, but Delilah's gifts were for Samson's children. And once all the food had been laid out, she reached into the bottom of the bag and brought out a carefully wrapped bundle, that had been transported from New York. She showed it to Samson first, saying as she unwrapped it, "Do you remember these?"
"The gargoyle dolls!" Samson plucked up one of the six winged rag dolls in the bundle, holding it close to inhale its scent. Maggie and Talon had made those dolls nearly twenty years ago, for Delilah's children before their eggs had even been laid.
"They were becoming worn out from play, so Maggie insisted on fixing them up," Delilah told him. "D'Artagna and the Trio want your children to have them to play with, until the night that they can play with real gargoyle hatchlings," as she gently offered one of the dolls to the russet-haired Sasquatch child at her feet.
The gargoyle dolls, passed from Delilah's children to his... If Samson could have shed tears, he would have been wiping them away now, as he saw Noola pluck the doll from Delilah's fingers, then curiously sniff it a few times before looking at Delilah expectantly. Noola's look said plainly, if this wasn't something to eat, what was it for?
Delilah smiled, then showed her how to rock the doll in her arms. Noola caught on immediately, and began to rock the doll like it was one of her baby sisters or brother. The other five dolls were passed around, one to each child, and in short order Noola and Maar were making their dolls play together, while Ahllo tried to feed her doll a cherry tomato.
Oruulu was not happy when she came into the cave and saw the gargoyle dolls; more human things! But Luul, Nuura and even Haeruu ganged up on her, after seeing how happily the children were playing with the dolls (which were more poseable and definitely more cuddly than the old rough play-figures that had been carved for them out of bark and twigs,) and she finally grudgingly agreed that the children could keep them.
And after the first round of introductions was over and the gifts had been given... Samson led Delilah out of the cave and out of the clearing, over to a place he'd been preparing for her for the last two weeks. A natural bower, canopied by tree branches and lined with dried sweet grasses. Delilah looked at it, then looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "You made this for me?"
"For us," he corrected her gently. "No one else will come here; this is our place. My sweet Delilah..."
They made love, with joyous abandon... then again, with loving tenderness... and again, and again, and again until dawn. In between bouts of lovemaking, they just lay together and talked of this and that, of things that had been put into letters and of trivialities that hadn't been put onto paper. Samson was exhausted before dawn, but still felt that it came far too soon.
They had five nights together, before Hippolyta returned to take Delilah back to civilization. In the clearing outside the cave, they shared one last kiss and fervent embrace, promising to keep continually in each other's thoughts until Delilah could return for another visit, next summer. Then he cupped his hands into a foothold that she stepped into, and gave one great heave, tossing her high into the air. She caught the air in her wings and glided up a ways, then made a great show out of tying the blindfold over her eyes, rendering herself sightless, then reaching blindly out for her guide. Hippolyta swooped in and wheeled about to lay her tail within Delilah's grasp, then led her out of the clearing. As they left, her sweet voice rang out again, "Till next summer!"
"Till next summer!" Samson shouted back with all his might, and stood there until his true love and her guide had glided out of sight. And stood there a while longer, before returning to the cave where the other Sasquatches, including his children, were waiting.
July 15th, 2019
I can understand about the females only allowing your mate to come out for a visit, but if they ever get over their paranoia, let them know there are some old friends who'd like to see you too, okay? Now that Maggie's as recovered as she's ever going to be, she's back to being Mom for the whole Labyrinth; she's fretting that the females out there aren't treating you right and wants to see for herself. And we'd both like to see your kids; Delilah's been telling us how incredibly cute they are, little miniature versions of you, and how much they like the dolls we made all those years ago.
Speaking of kids, I'm worried sick about Tom. Goliath and Elisa came back from Africa two weeks ago, after going to find him and let him know about Maggie's return. They've told us that he's had a hard time, but they think he's going to be all right now. But it's what they're refusing to talk about that really worries me...
September 10th, 2019
While you're still not and probably never will be welcome to come out here, the females have agreed to let you have these bite impressions; I've written each child's name onto whichever slab of balsa wood that they bit into. Even I can see that their bite impressions are decidedly different from any of the females, and much closer to my own bite impression; looks like some of my still-human genes have been passed on after all. I've also wedged more bits of fur from each child into the cracks in the wood; feel free to examine them and determine what you can. But Hippolyta has promised that once you've done your tests, she'll personally see to it that all the evidence is burned to ashes before she returns again.
December 3rd, 2019
It has been a very sad week here at the castle. Diane Maza died of a heart attack, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The whole clan grieves for Elisa's loss, as well as her father's. We have asked Peter Maza to move into the castle with us, so he will not be living all alone.
January 1st, 2020
Today is the first day of a New Year, and I hope very much that we will be together again forever before the year is over!
In the past month, Peter Maza has moved in with us, and he and Hudson are becoming great friends; they talk all the time about past battles they fought in, Peter while he was a police officer and Hudson while back in old Scotland. And they talk about how much alike it is to raise gargoyles hatchlings and human children; how some children are nearly always sweet and easy to raise, but others are born to make trouble, and somehow become even more loveable. (I am sure that D'Artagna is of the second kind!)
March 25th, 2021
It's been a big week here at the Labyrinth. Angus from the Vegas clan came here with his two mates, Sonya the gargoyle and Jeannie Leister the human. Jeannie's the one responsible for Gabriel being able to have a hybrid child with his wife, and after putting Claw and Raylene through a battery of tests, she said she's pretty sure she can give them a hybrid child too. Claw and Raylene are so excited they're nearly bouncing off the tunnel walls, and Raylene's already talking about what to put in the nursery. That's putting the cart before the horse if you ask me, but even if Jeannie is related to Sevarius in a particularly sicko way, I actually trust her to do right by our friends.
June 18th, 2021
During her third visit to California, in between wild bouts of lovemaking, Delilah told Samson that Raylene was pregnant now; the pregnancy had just been confirmed by ultrasound two days before Delilah had gone west. "And Raylene said the ultrasound shows two babies," Delilah added with a smile.
"Wow, that's great! Did she know whether or not they'd have wings, or fur?" Samson asked.
She shrugged. "Too early to tell, I think."
And a while later, Samson asked Delilah, "So, what did you think of the older girls' pronunciation?"
That had been a special treat for Delilah, upon her arrival; Noola, Maar and Ahllo had greeted her with, "Heh-llo, Ahhn Deh-llih-llah!" Now Delilah smiled in remembrance, and told him that they'd sounded fine."
"They still can't seem to manage an 'ee' vowel-sound, and there are some consonants that give them problems," Samson confided, "but overall they can do a lot better than their mothers. It's my secret project, one I work on whenever I'm alone in the cave with the kids; I'm trying to get them to the point where I can teach them English. Sooner or later, this tribe is going to be discovered by humanity, no matter how much the Illuminati try to put a damper on news reports. There's only so much wilderness left, with more of it going to housing developments every year, and campers and back-to-nature buffs hiking boldly into what's left... But if my kids and their descendants can speak English to whoever's discovering them, they're more apt to be treated like people, instead of just big furry brutes to be stuck in zoos. And if I can teach them to read and write, even a little..."
Delilah listened to Samson's plans, and kept an encouraging smile fixed firmly on her face... but inside, she wanted to crumple into a ball and sob. She knew all too well that plans like Samson was making now would take years to see fruition, and likely several years for the youngest children, the three newborns still suckling at their mothers' breasts. One of those newborns, the one introduced to her as Maahnaa, was a male; Samson's second son. Samson had fulfilled his end of the bargain with the Sasquatch tribe, and was free to come home now... But Delilah could no longer deny it: he was home already.
But she kept her thoughts to herself, and didn't let a single tear fall until after the visit was over, and she had promised to come again next summer, and Samson had given her another boost to send her up into the air. But after she had put on that cursed blindfold, and grasped Hippolyta's tail, and was out of Samson's earshot... the blindfold was soaked through with tears before they reached Trinity Bay.
Hippolyta had let her cry it out without interference as they glided along, but once she'd announced that they had reached the city limits and the blindfold could be removed, she added, "But we're not going back to the town hall to perch. Tonight, I'm taking you to my friend Nyx's house. She has hot cocoa and doughnuts, and she and I are ready to hear whatever is burdening your heart."
"I... it... you can't help with this," Delilah choked out, as the tears threatened to come again.
"Perhaps not, particularly if it's what I think it's about. But we can still listen, and grief shared is often grief eased. Besides, didn't you think I'd like to spend more time in your company?" Hippolyta said plaintively. "You're the only other gargoyle I've seen in far too many years, and you're always gone so soon..."
The nights spent at Hippolyta and Nyx's home comforted Delilah to some degree... but she found fresh tears anew when she awoke in New York after the flight back aboard Alexander's private jet. How could she face Talon and the others in the Labyrinth, who still kept Samson's chambers ready for him, and tell them that they might never see their friend again?
As it happened, the rest of the clan had taken the hatchlings to a midsummer celebration in Central Park when she returned to the castle; only Hudson was present, for the arthritis in his wings sometimes pained him greatly, and when they did he preferred to just stay and mind the castle. He met her on the battlements with a broad smile, that changed to a look of concern. "Och, lass, what brings tears to your eyes? Is all not well with Samson and his children?"
"Th-they are all well... B-but s-s-Samson is still there," Delilah choked out, trying to hold back the sobs. "I-I still love him, b-but Manhattan is no longer ho-ho-home to him..."
"Och, lass..." Hudson held out a hand to her. "Come inside. In truth, I've been expecting this would happen... but that makes it no less hard to accept, when the one you love must go another way. Come inside, and find what comfort you can..."
And eventually, with Hudson's loving kindness and kind loving, Delilah was comforted. She finally came to the conclusion that, though Samson had more than one mate now-as did she, really-it did not lessen their love for each other. They were still true mates, and always would be, even if Life drove them in other directions. At least they'd always have a week together each summer... and in between, plenty of letters from homes.
September 28th, 2021
I have bad news; Peter Maza suffered a very bad stroke three nights ago. He is alive, but he can no longer walk, his left side is paralyzed, and his speech is mumbled, very slow and not always right; Dr. Masters says it is called aphasia. The doctors are saying that lots of therapy should help him, but they are not sure if he will fully recover.
Two weeks ago, Elisa and Goliath talked to the clan about going on another around-the-world trip, like they did back in 1995; this time, instead of letting Avalon guide them, they would use a modern boat and make lots of deliberate stops to visit all the clans that we know of now. But now Elisa says that they will not leave until after her father is better.
February 17th, 2022
Guess who arrived just in time for Valentine's Day? The Labyrinth's two newest little sweethearts; Buddy and Ruby Ann Ellis! Claw and Raylene are the proud parents of two kids, a boy and a girl; they both have striped fur like their father, but no wings. (Not that wings matter much down here anyway.) Everybody loves them, and I have to admit, they're almost as cute as Dee and Tom were when they were born. Maggie especially adores them, and I don't think she's left their nursery for more than a few hours since they were brought home; it's a good thing that Raylene's appreciative of the extra help, instead of annoyed by it.
Dee and Feral came by yesterday when they heard the good news, but they didn't stay too long. I've got a hunch that Maggie said something to them about how much she'd like to see some grandchildren...
March 12th, 2022
Congratulate Claw and Raylene for me on the birth of their twins! My own brood just reached ten, with little Aavuu (another female) born three days ago, and it'll be twelve before another month is gone. After this, I'm going to insist that we wait at least four more years before having any more kids; it's hard enough now for us to take care of them all!
Aanuu and Luul are now in on my secret project, to teach the children English, though we're still trying to keep it secret a while longer from the other, more xenophobic females. I've got this idea now, to make "board-books" out of bark and leaves, to help teach them the alphabet. But I'm getting stuck on words for certain letters; for example, it's no good trying to teach them " 'F' is for fire engine" when they're probably never going to see a fire engine in their entire lives. F is already taken care of ("forest", of course) but can you think of any good words to illustrate Q, X and Z?
June 15th, 2022
Delilah had come to the forest again, and on this visit, she came bearing more bad news: Matt Bluestone and his wife Edie were both dead, having been murdered by the Hunter three weeks ago. Samson was stunned by the loss... and even more stunned to learn that, according to their surviving son Orpheus, Matt had died defending Demona! "He really said that? Matt died defending her, not trying to capture her himself?"
Delilah nodded sadly. "I know, it is hard to believe... but Elisa told us all that sometimes it is a police officer's hardest duty; to defend a criminal from those outside the law who want to take justice into their own hands."
"Well, yeah, I can see that... but still, we're talking about Demona! She's tried to kill off everybody, not just the whole clan but the whole human race, how many times? Not to mention, she could be shot more full of holes than Swiss cheese and still survive!" Samson shook his head. "I know a policeman's duty is his duty, but still, why did he even bother?"
Delilah could only shrug, before saying, "I think, maybe... Matt was there that night when we heard Demona pleading to save the eggs, before we found out it was all a hoax. Perhaps he thought that meant there was some good in her after all..."
"Wait a minute, back up... there was a hoax? About eggs? When did this happen, and what did Demona have to do with it?"
February 20th, 2023
Hi! Not too much going on in the Labyrinth right now; everyone's just waiting for winter to be over with already. Just like my own twins did before their first birthday, Buddy and Ruby Ann have gone from crawling to walking to running full-tilt and climbing all over everything. At least they're not trying to fly off of whatever they climb to the top of; instead, they just get stuck up there and mewl until somebody comes to get them. They'd be exasperating if they weren't so darn cute.
There's been a sighting of Tom in Nigeria, from roughly two weeks ago. The report Lexington brought to us said that a tourist safari expedition had accidentally surprised a pack of poachers, but after a few shots were fired, and the safari guide and a tourist were killed, the remaining tourists were saved by a "panther-gargoyle" working with a black panther. That had to be Tom, and one of the were-panthers that Elisa and my mother encountered way back in '95. So at least we know he's alive...
Talon paused in his writing, his felinoid features carved in a worried frown. Should he put into the letter everything else the news report had said? Including the fact that four of the seven poachers had been killed, before the rest surrendered and were taken captive by the safari driver; one by "lightning blasts" and three by having their throats ripped out or head ripped clean off...
No. Samson didn't need to know that. It was bad enough that Talon himself knew about it, and even worse that Maggie knew it; she had wept in his arms that night after they'd seen the report. Not everyone needed to know that Thomas Reed Maza, who was once just an innocent little cub bounding cheerfully through the Labyrinth, was now capable of killing... Even if the killing had been done in defense of innocents, it was still painful for a parent to think about.
August 18th, 2024
The clan is very excited; just yesterday, we received news of the existence of another clan-this one the largest one yet! They live on a cluster of islands in the Philippines that humans had previously thought were uninhabited, and we have heard that they number seventy-nine gargoyles in all! They are of the type that turns to wood for sleeping, like the sea-going clan in the Caribbean we have heard about. Lexington thinks they're different because of "survival of the fittest;" since stone sinks in water, gargoyles like us who were caught at sea at sunrise would sink and drown on the sea bottom at sunset, but gargoyles who sleep in wood would just float along and be okay.
Goliath and Elisa have put this new clan on their list of clans to visit on their World Tour, as soon as Elisa's father is well enough that Elisa will not worry so about him while she is gone. (Though I tell you secretly, I do not think he will ever be fully well again. Ever since that last stroke in May, he does not even try to walk any more; he just sits there in his wheelchair and watches the TV or the hatchlings at play.)
January 12th, 2025
Everyone in the castle is very happy and excited for Broadway; he has been chosen to compete in the Iron Chef International Championships! Since it seems the ability to put on a good show is as important as the cooking, Alex is working with Broadway on his "stage presence", and Lexington is designing new gadgets that will work with what the show's producers provide on stage already. And every night, we have a different gourmet meal! Which we adults are certainly happy with, but most of the hatchlings are not. Kenneth and Finella will try most of the new dishes, but the rest keep pushing their plates away and asking for macaroni and cheese...
April 20th, 2025
Tell Broadway that I'm very happy for his winning the third place trophy in the Iron Chef International Championship, and I hope he enjoyed his trips to Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles. And of course I don't blame him for not being able to get away from Los Angeles and his entourage long enough to come up to Trinity Bay for a visit. It's always hard for a media star to escape the public eye...
June 28th, 2025
I'm writing this early, since you left only two days ago, and you won't see it until after Hippolyta comes again to pick it up... but I just had to write, to say I'm sorry that we parted without our argument being really resolved. You were right, like you're usually right; I'm just too stubborn sometimes to admit it.
I love you. I will always love you, even though we are thousands of miles apart now. I still hope we can be together forever someday, though it may take many years more for that dream to come true. I simply can not leave the tribe now, not when the children still have so much more to learn, to prepare for that inevitable encounter with the modern world of humanity.
Samson paused in his writing, thinking about all he was teaching his children, and even the adults of the tribe who were willing to learn. Aanuu and Luul, as well as his three oldest children Noola, Maar and Ahllo, had finally mastered the alphabet and were now scratching words into bark strips. And Haaroll, his firstborn son, was leaping ahead of his same-age sisters in counting and doing simple sums. But they needed to know so much more than that...
And there was another reason he couldn't leave the tribe, another bond holding him here... love. He had never said so to Delilah and probably never would, but while he'd become fond of all the adults in the tribe, he had grown to truly love Luul, sweet Luul with her gentle humor and accepting nature, almost as much as he loved Delilah. It was unthinkable that he would simply leave and never see her again, almost as unthinkable as leaving all his children behind. And since they couldn't all come with him to New York, it was just better all around if Delilah came to visit him instead...
To visit, and perhaps one day, to stay? Luul had suggested it, last winter, and even Oruulu had somewhat reluctantly agreed to it; the tribe was now so comfortable with Delilah that they would accept her visiting just as often as Hippolyta, or even living somewhere nearby in the great woods. Hippolyta herself had mentioned more than once that she would be happy to have Delilah become a permanent resident of Trinity Bay, and share her home in town all the time instead of just once a year. And while Poly had never made a secret of her impatience with children and general desire to stay a healthy distance from them, she had also said last month that there was an empty house not far from the police station that might do well for a rookery for Delilah's hatchlings. Even Hudson could come to live in Trinity Bay, to help care for the hatchlings he'd sired and raised. Samson had been planning to broach the idea to Delilah during her visit, but instead they had gotten into that stupid, stupid argument... So he would have to put the invitation into a letter instead.
Which was probably just as well, really; that gave Delilah the option of turning him down, if either she or the hatchlings were utterly against the idea, without having to do so to his face. Samson took a deep breath, and began to write again.
August 17th, 2025
I love you and consider you always to be my true mate, and I was honored and happy to receive your letter and learn about Hippolyta's and your tribe's offer. But I am sorry to say that this dream cannot come true, not yet; I cannot come to California to live. The hatchlings absolutely refuse to leave the rest of their rookery kin, even for the chance to visit your children regularly. But perhaps one day, when they are grown to adulthood and no longer need me, I will come myself to live closer to you. Some day... but in the meantime, we will still have the visits every summer, and these letters.
Alexander says there may be another clan in existence, in Newfoundland; another report has come from that area, and unlike the first one that I told you about years ago, this one does not seem to be another hoax. Someone from the You-Know-Who, that owes Alexander some sort of favor, is going to go up there to investigate. I reminded Alexander to remind that person to look for Sasquatch tribes, too, while she is up there...
October 22nd, 2026
There is more bad news; Peter Maza is dead. He died six nights ago, after suffering a final stroke and spending a week in a coma. All the clan mourns him, and Elisa and Hudson mourn him most of all...
February 17th, 2027
It has been a long and dreary winter, and everyone in the clan is more than ready for Spring to come. The hatchlings are particularly chafing at all the storms that keep them inside so much of the time. And I must be honest, there are times when I am very tempted to just jump off the battlements even with thunder and lightning all around, just to get away from their squabbling.
Even Elisa and Goliath are beginning to go "stir-crazy", as Elisa says. They are now seriously planning that world tour that I wrote about years ago, the one that had been postponed indefinitely while Peter was so sick. Alexander says that he is going to make them some specially-equipped vehicles, for traveling all over the world while they visit the newly discovered clans and try to discover even more.
March 14th, 2027
I can sympathize with the clan's stir-craziness, at being cooped up so much this winter. We haven't had that many bad storms over here, but when we do have one bad enough that everyone comes inside, six adults and fifteen children make for a very crowded cavern! Even the extra rooms that we dug into the back aren't enough to allow any real elbowroom.
Tell Elisa and Goliath that I wish them the best of luck on their world tour. And remind them to look for evidence of Sasquatch tribes in every wilderness! Haeruu still doubts that any of 'the People' would want to live in such a constantly cold climate, but Oruulu is increasingly convinced that the Yeti that reportedly live in the Himalayas are more Sasquatch, driven so far above the snowline by encroaching humanity. If they are, and Goliath can find them, then...
May 7th, 2028
Delilah sat at the kitchen table with paper and pen in hand, wondering absently how many pages it would take to write down everything she had to write about this month. So much had happened, in only a few days at the end of April! The hatchlings' camping trip had turned out to be so much more than anyone had ever dreamed it would. Two gargoyles long-since thought to be lost forever had returned: Ebon had been found alive and well with his wife Julianna and adopted son Julian (to whom Amber was now engaged to be married!), and Brooklyn and Angela had their lost child Damien back as an innocent hatchling again...
And D'Artagna had killed a man. An evil man, to be sure, one who had deserved killing from all reports, but still... D'Artagna was just eighteen, still a hatchling, really; that was far too young to be thinking about killing people! But she and Jake had killed together, and now nothing would ever be quite the same again.
What really bothered Delilah was how little D'Artagna herself seemed to be bothered by what had happened. Jake, who had sliced into one of the killer's arteries so that he bled to death even while D'Artagna was beating his head into mush, had spent most of the past few nights closeted with Hudson. Delilah's other mate had been forced to deal death more than once, back in the days of Old Wyvern when the castle had been a regular target of bandit bands and Vikings, and he was able to pass on some comfort and wisdom to the troubled youngster. But D'Artagna didn't seem to be bothered at all by what she'd done; Delilah had even overheard her bragging to one of her brothers about how quickly they had caught up to the man who'd tried his best to kill Julian, and how quickly they'd killed him! Was her darling tomboy daughter on her way to becoming a cold-blooded killer? That was such a horrible thought, one that no parent should be forced to consider, but it had been haunting Delilah's mind for nights.
She wished that Samson could come to the castle on regular visits, instead of her going to visit him; if he did, then perhaps Samson could talk to D'Artagna and make her realize that what she'd done, even if honorable, was nothing to brag about. Samson had killed, too, long ago when he'd first been mutated, but since that horrible time he had never done more than deal out a few bruises to people who had come to the Labyrinth with trouble in mind. Delilah was sure that together, he and Hudson could help D'Artagna realize the full impact of what she'd done without becoming crippled by guilt in the process... Perhaps, when Delilah went to California on her annual visit next month, she could take D'Artagna with her?
No, that wouldn't work. She couldn't take D'Artagna alone, not without having to explain why, and there was no way she could do so without making an awkward situation far worse. The only way D'Artagna could come would be if all the older hatchlings went, and she sincerely doubted that either Trinity Bay or the Sasquatch tribe was ready to deal with nine rambunctious hatchlings descending on them all at once. No, Delilah would go alone to California, right after Amber and Julian's wedding. And she would try to keep her worries to herself until then...
Six weeks later, Delilah came to visit the tribe, bearing with her some photos from Amber and Julian's wedding. As she showed them to Samson and the others, she mentioned that she'd had company on her journey this year, for part of the way; Ebon and Julianna had ridden in the plane with her, from New York to Las Vegas. As soon as he'd heard about Ebon's reappearance, Gabriel had sent a packet to them via the Manhattan Clan; vouchers good for round-trip tickets to Las Vegas and accommodations at the Coventry.
Along the way, Ebon had brooded and sometimes fretted aloud about what sort of reception he and Julianna would receive once they arrived in Las Vegas. When he had taken Julian and the newly-revived Julianna into hiding in 2001, he had basically abandoned Gabriel and the other psi-children. While it had worked out well in the end for everyone, he knew what it felt like for a gargoyle to be seemingly rejected by another-Goliath's own rejection at first sight of his clone, though almost expected, had still hurt in a way that the old Thailog would never have admitted to. And Ebon worried that Gabriel still had unresolved issues with him, over that abandonment; that their stay in Las Vegas as guests of the Coventry Clan would not be a pleasant one after all.
"But when our plane arrived in Las Vegas," Delilah told Samson with a smile as they walked together, "I saw Gabriel and his mate and child standing there waiting, and they were all smiling. And while I did not get off with Ebon and Julianna, for we had to hurry to get to Trinity Bay before sunrise, I saw Gabriel embrace Ebon like they were rookery kin. I think their visit is going well after all."
"That's good," Samson said while squeezing her hand, as they approached their private bower. "I'm a big fan of happy reunions..."
After they spent five delightful nights together, Hippolyta came and escorted Delilah back to civilization (Delilah was no longer required to be blindfolded and guided back, but Poly had said she liked having company while gliding), and Samson went back to teaching and helping to care for his children. He didn't expect to see any gargoyles again until the dark of the next moon... So when one of his children came running up eight nights later, and told him that Hippolyta had come to the cavern in search of him, he knew something was very wrong.
He handed the basket of berries he'd been picking over to Maar and ran back to the cavern, to find Hippolyta waiting for him with a troubled expression and an envelope in her hand. "I don't know what the news is," she told him, "but I doubt it's good. This arrived today via Federal Express, with a note for me from Brooklyn asking me to bring it to you immediately, and wait for a reply."
His heart hammering with trepidation, Samson tore open the envelope and looked at the letter inside, covered with unfamiliar handwriting. It read,
If you've gotten worried by the time you read this, don't panic; Delilah is alive. But Hudson is dead now; he died three nights after Delilah returned from visiting you. He died peacefully, but Delilah was the one to find his death-gravel, and she's hardly stopped crying since.
Goliath left yesterday with Elisa, to begin that big World Tour that Delilah told you about, so this is basically my first official act as full leader of the clan; sending out death notices. And, in your case, a request and invitation. Everyone's grieving, but Delilah is inconsolable; she's hardly eaten anything in the last three nights, and nothing that any of us can say comforts her. We need you here, Samson, for at least a week or so. I'm still working out the details with Alexander, but I'm pretty sure that there's a way to sneak you onto a plane and get you here and back again without the general public finding out. The question is, can and will you come? I'm asking Hippolyta to not only bring this message to you early, but to wait for your reply.
Samson read the letter through twice, then looked up to where Hippolyta was still waiting and said softly, "Hudson's dead. And I'm needed back in New York..."
Hippolyta nodded sadly as she accepted the sorrowful news, then asked, "And will you go?"
"Of course. Give me a day to explain it to the tribe, and then I'll be ready to travel, in whatever way Alexander comes up with."
Alexander's method of transport involved a helicopter, a cargo jet, a truck and an oversized wristwatch that, once it was put on, magically disguised a Sasquatch as a Goliath-sized gargoyle with a bandaged right wing. (Remembering the illusion-spells that Aiden had crafted for the clan nearly three decades ago, disguising gargoyles as humans, Samson had to smile at the irony.) Samson was inside the castle less than 72 hours after hearing the news, less than a day after leaving his tribe... and realized even before arriving in New York how much he missed them already.
Alexander himself welcomed him into the castle, two hours before sunset, and Samson was struck by how much like his father he looked; if Alexander's skin was a shade or two darker and his hair dyed black, he'd be the very image of David Xanatos. Alexander showed him the changes that had been made in the castle in the last thirteen years, and brought him up to date on current events while they waited for the rest of the clan to wake up. Amber and Julian were still away in Maine on their honeymoon, and Goliath and Elisa were now in Boston, meeting with the clan that lived there; Patricia was up at the Sterling Academy, dealing with some Illuminati business. "Fact is, it's just been too quiet during the day lately, and I'm glad you're here a little early so I have someone to talk to," Alexander said with a smile. "So, what have you and your kids been up to lately? How many do you have now? Ten daughters and five sons, if I recall Delilah's reports correctly..."
"Fifteen total... and one more on the way, due next spring," Samson told him. "Luul wanted just one more... but that'll be the last one, I guarantee; fifteen children are hard enough to handle! But now that Noola, Maar and Ahllo are old enough to help take care of and teach the younger children, it has become a bit easier... But we still need to find another tribe. It's not just my own children that will be needing mates outside the tribe someday, when they're fully grown; Aaanuu is full-grown and wanting a mate now, and I just can't be that for her, not after all these years of being a father-figure to her. Have the Illuminati found anything yet?"
Alexander shook his head with regret. "Not yet... but I can assure you, we're still looking."
When sunset approached, Samson went out on the battlements with Alexander to wait for the clan to awaken. Only about half the clan were posed in the traditional fierce postures; the rest were just standing there, with heads bent or wings drooping. From all the pictures she'd mailed or brought with her, Samson recognized D'Artagna, Athos, Porthos and Aramis; they were clustered together like chicks, with sad, forlorn and somewhat lost expressions, no doubt still painfully missing their father. D'Artagna's statue was facing towards her mother; Delilah was on a perch nearby, but was sitting down with her head resting on her knee spurs, and Samson could tell from the marks on her cheeks that she'd been weeping as she'd turned to stone.
Samson turned to Alexander and asked, "Can you give me a few minutes alone? I... I just need to think a little, before sunset."
Alexander nodded, and went back inside. Samson walked slowly around the clan, observing the many small or great ways they had changed in the last thirteen years, before coming to a conspicuously empty perch. He knew without asking that this was where Hudson had perched to greet the day, until just a week ago.
Samson sighed, and spoke. "Hudson... I didn't talk to you much, ever. I guess you probably knew that I was jealous of you for years... jealous of you for siring the children with Delilah that she and I couldn't have together, and then jealous of how the kids bonded with you instead of me, even though it was pretty much to be expected. But... now, looking back, it's good that you were here for Delilah and the children, when I had to leave. She never flat-out told me, but I caught your scent on her once, so I know that you and she... were mates, too. And that's all right. I figured out a long time ago that her loving you and the hatchlings, and my loving Luul and my children, didn't stop our loving each other. So, I'm glad that you and Delilah had each other all these years, and I'm sorry you died before I could tell you so in person. From what Alexander told me, you died basically content, so I hope you find happiness in whatever afterlife awaits you..."
He stopped, then, having run out of words to say... and felt a breeze ruffle his fur. And for just a moment, he thought he almost heard a soft, contented chuckle...
Then it was sunset, and Alexander came back out just as the first of the gargoyles cracked his stone shell.
Delilah was one of the last to wake up, and her roar and flex as she shook free of her stone skin were so lackluster that she still had stone in her hair as she slowly stood up and turned around, to see... "Samson!"
He had stepped back to what he remembered as the safety zone, to avoid the flying stone shards as she awoke, but now he stepped forward and spread his arms wide. "Delilah, I can't stay here, but I had to come," he said as she threw herself into his arms. "I had to come…"
She hugged him tight, and began to cry into his shoulder... but their embrace was interrupted by an angry voice. "What is he doing here?"
Samson turned in astonishment, to find Aramis and Athos staring up at him with unmistakably hostile glares and their wings flared in anger. Beside her brothers and looking just as furious, D'Artagna demanded, "Who invited you?"
"Yeah; we didn't ask for you here!" Athos chimed in angrily.
"Children!" Delilah gasped, shocked and appalled. "What are-why are you-"
"I invited Samson," Brooklyn said in a hard voice, as he strode over and interposed himself between Samson and the hatchlings, flaring his own wings. "So if you have a problem with that, you take it up with me, not him. Got it?" as his eyes briefly flashed white. When the hatchlings glared at him but caped their wings in submission, Brooklyn continued, "So what's your problem?"
"He shouldn't be here!" D'Artagna said hotly. "He's supposed to be in California! That's where he belongs!"
Samson stared over Brooklyn's wings at the hatchlings, then said quietly and sorrowfully, "You don't remember me at all, do you?"
No, of course they didn't remember him; he'd moved back down to the Labyrinth when they'd been only two years old, when he'd finally admitted to himself that the hatchlings were far more Hudson's children than his; that they responded to Hudson in a way that they never responded to him, Delilah's mate. He hadn't seen them more than once a month in the intervening years between 2012 and 2015, when he'd gotten so sick and had to leave for California in hopes of finding a cure again. But still, he hadn't thought...
Brooklyn glanced over his shoulder and said in a quiet tone that still brooked no argument, "Delilah, why don't you take Samson down to your quarters? The rest of us will take care of your kids for a while."
Tears not just of grief but of shame in her children's behavior spilled from Delilah's cheeks as she led Samson away, but not before D'Artagna flung one last barb at their backs: "He'd better not touch our stuff!"
"Tanny, that was uncalled for!" Samson heard Broadway say angrily, just before the doors shut behind them.
Delilah stopped dead in the hallway and wrapped her wings around herself, crying into her fisted hands. Her grammar lessons had always left her in times of stress, and it was evident that they'd gone right out the window as she sobbed, "Samson, I sorry! They not supposed-I not know-oh, it all wrong! No right, all bad! Want Hudson! Love you, love, but need Hudson..."
"Sshhh...sshhh..." Samson wrapped his furry arms around her and gently stoked her wings, wishing that he could cry as well, that the mutation hadn't robbed him forever of tears. "I know, Delilah; I understand. I can't be Hudson for you. I can't replace him. All I can do is help you cry..."
He gently led her, still sobbing, down to her quarters... what had been their quarters, long ago. They were in the same location, but it was evident that there had been many changes in the intervening years. And not just the lack of a playpen, and the addition of toys and belongings for older children; there was an easy chair sitting under that light that bore the unmistakable impression of a hefty gargoyle's body, from innumerable uses over the years...
He sat her down in another chair nearby, then fumbled around for tissues. He'd just found the tissue box when he heard a timid knock on the doorframe, and turned around to see Porthos in the open doorway. Porthos said hesitantly, "Can I come in?"
"It's your home," Samson said quietly.
"Okay..." Porthos took a step forward, then looked up at Samson and said earnestly, "I'm not mad at you."
Samson half-smiled. "I'm glad someone's not."
"Yeah. I'm sorry for what the others said..."
Delilah sniffed back her tears, and held open her arms for her son. Porthos took the invitation and scrambled into his mother's arms, and she gave him a big hug before asking tearfully, "Why your brothers and sister so mean to Samson? He ever only nice to them, to all of you..."
Porthos squirmed. "Well... I think they're mad because he's here now. Now that Hudson's..."
Hudson's own children called him 'Hudson' instead of 'Dad' or 'Pop'? Of course they did, Samson realized a moment later; Hudson had always been a staunch supporter of 'the old ways', when no gargoyle claimed his or her own children and they were raised by all the clan together. Even after he'd come to treat Delilah's children as his own and be a father to them, the stubborn old gargoyle would have insisted that at least one aspect of the old ways remain in place.
Samson knelt next to Delilah's chair and said to Porthos, "I think I understand why..." He thought he'd figured it out, after replaying to himself some of what Delilah had been sobbing out in the hall. "As I said out on the roof earlier, I can't stay here. And even if I could, I wouldn't try to replace Hudson in your hearts. He was your father, and it's right of you to miss him, and even right for you to not want someone to try to replace him, because he was unique. He was Hudson."
Porthos sniffed back tears of his own as he said, "Yeah. ...But if you can make Mom a little bit happy again, that would be good..."
Delilah burst into tears and hugged Porthos again, and Samson told him quietly, "Hudson would be proud of you." Samson himself was very proud of him, whether or not he had any right to be…
Sometime later, Porthos went back out to see if he could change his siblings' attitudes, even a little. And barely a minute after he'd left, Alexander came in. "I am sorry to intrude," he said apologetically, "But I've printed out the photos, and while I'd be happy to show them to everyone else in your stead, it would help if I had names to go with the faces."
"Photos?" Delilah asked in confusion.
"The disguise-spell watch that Alexander sent to me, had a digital camera built into it too," Samson explained. "He figured that since I myself was coming out here, pictures of other Sasquatch wouldn't be violating the Illuminati's 'no-contact' rule any worse." He smiled briefly. "Aanuu figured out that I was doing something odd, that night before I left, and once I explained it to her, she actually helped me take pictures of the others without their knowing it. Not that most of the kids would probably have minded having their picture taken, but Oruulu would have pitched the watch straight into the burial crevice if she'd found out," as he accepted the sheaf of 8x10 photos from Alexander, and began leafing through them. "This first one is of Maar and Ahllo, grooming each other's fur. Maar's the one holding the pinecone that most of them use for combing..."
Later on, Samson himself went out into the common room to show the photos to everyone gathered there, and talk a little about what life was like in the Sasquatch tribe; tidbits of information that Delilah had surely shared with them before, but they asked about anyway, probably to catch the hatchlings' interest. But as diversions went, this one was not a raging success. In the time that Samson and Delilah had been down in her quarters, the disagreement between "the Four Musketeers' had spread to the other hatchlings as well, and many of them had clearly taken sides. In addition to D'Artagna, Athos and Aramis glaring at him, Kathe and Finella were favoring him with haughty stares. Porthos, Kenneth, Malcolm and another hatchling, one who looked quite a bit like Brooklyn, alternated between giving him too-rapt attention and either glaring or looking pleadingly at their hostile rookery kin. There was almost palpable relief in the air when Broadway broke up the gathering by calling everyone to dinner.
They were serving lasagna that night, but Samson decided he'd just have a salad. After eating a raw vegetarian diet for so many years, he didn't want to upset his digestion; not after all the upsets he'd had already today.
"If I may say so," Sebastian quietly interjected (startling the hell out of Samson, he wasn't used to being snuck up on anymore), "This is actually going far smoother than I'd feared it would."
Samson stared at him. "You have to be joking."
"Not at all. It is a pity that Goliath and Elisa are not present. Elisa could tell you horror stories about her own family reunions..."
The next afternoon, hours before the gargoyles awakened, the castle had visitors from the Labyrinth.
"Samson!" Talon greeted him with a brotherly hug. "Good to see you, 'little brother'!" Then Talon leaned back and took a good long look at him. "Good grief, have you actually grown taller?"
"Uhh... probably," Samson said. "I did notice that I seem to be stooping more to get through doorways around here..."
But Samson privately thought it was more likely that Talon had shrunk slightly, as the aged sometimes do. The winged panther-mutate's fur had gone entirely grey now, with his muzzle gone nearly white, and he was moving a lot slower than he used to, due to arthritis in his joints; Delilah had mentioned it in one of her letters a couple of years ago.
Then Talon stepped aside, and Maggie came forward to give him a hug. "Oh, Samson, it's so good to see you!" In contrast to her husband, Maggie hadn't seemed to age nearly as much since her disappearance in 2001; Samson supposed her 'demonic possession' for nearly two decades had stopped or drastically slowed the aging process. She had a few flecks of grey at her muzzle, but otherwise was unchanged... unless, of course, you counted the missing wings. Samson was careful, when they hugged, to keep his hands off of where the wing-joints had been.
Claw's striped fur was also faded and dull with age, but in general he looked much better than Samson had ever seen him before... and the reason why became apparent a few moments later, when Claw gestured to the woman standing beside him. A matronly figure with a heart-shaped face and long brown hair tucked into a bun, she extended a hand with a smile and said, "Howdy; I'm Raylene. Claw's told me a bit about you, and I reckon Talon's mentioned me in his letters once or twice...
"He's told me about you... and about your children," Samson said as he cordially shook her hand, then looked past her with a smile to where two children with tiger-striped fur stood shyly by the door. "Buddy and Ruby Ann, right?"
"Yep, that's them. C'mon, kids, get over here and say hi to your Uncle Samson!" Ruby turned and called to them. She suddenly turned her head to take a swift look at her husband, then added, "Your Pa says there's no need to be fraidy-cats; Samson only eats veggies!"
The tiger-child dressed in boy's clothing muttered under his breath, "Veggies, yuck!" and the other one wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something bad. But they both came forward to shake hands with Samson and be properly introduced. They had the same sort of 'digitigrade' legs and feet that their father had, padding about on a tiger's hind paws, but their hands were almost human except for the fine covering of fur and hard nails that were halfway to claws. Their faces were almost human, too, if one discounted the fine dusting of fur, the feline eyes, the cleft upper lips... and the fangs that showed when they smiled at him. But they were just as cute as Talon had always said they were, and Samson told them so. (And of course the girl Ruby-Ann smiled at the compliment, while the boy Buddy scowled and insisted he was not cute...)
Just after the Ellis children were introduced, the elevator opened again and two more mutates spilled out. Dee said in a breathless rush, "We're here! Sorry we're late, got stuck in traffic; would have gotten here faster if we'd just run instead! Hi, Uncle Samson; long time no see! And meet Feral! Feral, this is my Uncle Samson..."
The mutates sat together in the living room and talked for hours; everyone admired the photos of the Sasquatch children, and expressed their hopes that another tribe could be found some day. "We finally gave your old quarters to a family of five that needed the space," Talon told Samson apologetically, "but we have another spare room right now that we could get ready in a hurry, if you'd like to come down for a visit."
"I would like to, but we'd have to be very careful," Samson said slowly. "The disguise spell Alexander whipped up for my trip here disguises me as a gargoyle, complete with tail and wings, and one of those wings heavily bandaged so no one would expect me to fly. But it's all illusion, and all it would take is one curious child reaching for a wing or tail that isn't there, and... so much for all the Illuminati's careful existence erasure. And they were right to do so; even with all the instruction I'm giving my kids, just in case, they are simply not ready to handle all of humanity and modern civilization."
Talon nodded slowly. "I can understand that. And really, other than us, the only one from the old crowd who's left and might still remember you is Amos... and honestly, I'm not sure he would. His Alzheimer's is getting worse; we would have brought him with us now, but today is a really bad day for him, and he barely remembered me this morning."
"Didn't they develop a treatment and near-cure for Alzheimer's a few years ago?" Samson asked. "Hippolyta mentioned something about that, when her friend Nyx's mother started being affected by it."
"They did, and it works for one type of Alzheimer's... but not the other type, which is what Amos has got," Talon said with a grimace. The grimace turned wry as he said, "Stubborn to the end, just like the man himself."
"Well... I'll be here for another five days," Samson said. "If he... has a good day while I'm here, give the castle a call and I'll come down. If one or two of you stick close by me to ward off the curious, the disguise should hold up..."
But Amos didn't have any good days for the rest of the week, so Samson stayed up in the castle. While none of the succeeding nights were as bad as the first had been, they were never entirely pleasant. He generally stayed in Delilah's company, which meant staying with her children when they came into their quarters, but only Porthos would treat him with any civility no matter how what he said to them. And then the rest of the 'Four Musketeers' would gang up on Porthos, for daring to 'take his side'...
Around midnight on the second night, he walked out to the ramparts just to get away from the hostility in the air while Delilah tried to get the children to finish their dinner. He stood there and stared out onto the city, that forest of steel and other man-made things, that shone with so many lights that they drowned out the stars in the sky overhead. So very, very different from the place he called home now...
After a few minutes, he became aware that he had company. He turned to find the young gargoyle who looked like a small brown version of Brooklyn looking up at him. He searched his memory for information that Delilah had given him, and asked, "Jake?"
"That's me," Jake nodded. "Dad probably would have introduced me yesterday, but... things sorta got ugly."
"That's a good word for it," Samson agreed. "Delilah wrote to me about your arrival here... and about how difficult it was for you to fit in at first."
"It still is, kind-of," Jake said with a sigh, as he came up to stand beside Samson and look out at the city. "Dad... Brooklyn lets me call him Dad, but really, he acts more like an uncle to me; like my own Uncle Broadway and Lexington were before they died. And I keep remembering things that we did together that he never did at all, and even now it hurts a little. And then... this is a better world than the one I grew up in, no doubt about it; no one's hunting me, no one's trying to enslave or kill any of us. But sometimes, it still feels wrong... usually when I come up against something else that was different in my old world. Just last year, when I was delivering a package to Aunt Elisa while she was at work, I had a real bad 'flashback'; I'd been hatched in the clocktower over that precinct, but it was... Anyway. I guess that's why I think I sort-of understand what you're probably going through. People who are supposed to know you, don't know you at all... and some of them don't even like you. And a lot of this is familiar, but it isn't home anymore..."
Samson looked down at him in silence, then nodded. "That's it, exactly."
Jake nodded in return, then said half-apologetically, "If you stuck around for a while, the others would probably get to like you eventually; I can tell already that you're a really nice guy."
"Probably... but I can't stay. My own children need me back in California. That's where my home is now." Which, he promised himself on the spot, would become Jake's home-away-from-home if he ever wanted to get away for a while. He had no doubt that the tribe would welcome Jake with open arms, since they'd been ready to welcome Delilah's children before this.
He said as much to Jake, and got a half-smile in reply. "That sounds like it might be fun, sometime."
On the night of the sixth day, just before midnight, Samson stood in the center of a farewell gathering in the castle's Great Hall, accepting hugs from everyone who cared to give them, and promising that he would write again at the dark of the next full moon. "And when I return safe and sound, with all these photos," Samson said as he patted the small packet they had given him, "I'll try again to persuade the others to let more than just one lone gargoyle come visit." He hoped that just his returning safe and healthy, when Haeruu had been so convinced he'd sicken and die upon contact with "all human things" again, would be enough to sway their opinion at last.
"It sure would be nice to come see you there, if you can persuade your ladies to let one creaky old cat and his pretty young lady to come visit," Talon said as he hugged Maggie close, and she snuggled into his shoulder.
Raylene glanced at her husband Claw, then said for him, "Just say the word, and we'll be on our way there! Me and Beau want our kids to get some woods-learning anyway, the kind they would've gotten if we'd stayed up in the hills. And if'n your wives are just too persnickety, I c'n stay back in that town nearby, but our kids should oughta meet your kids at least."
The other adults of the clan, and Jake, all gave their farewells and hopes that he could visit again someday. Delilah looked at her children, but only Porthos was giving Samson a sympathetic wave goodbye; the rest were either still studiously ignoring his existence or giving him unmistakable glares of "Get going, already!" She could only give him a sad look of apology for their behavior as she stepped into his arms for a final embrace.
With one last hug and kiss, Samson reluctantly turned on the disguise-watch, and a giant gray gargoyle stepped out onto the helipad and climbed inside the waiting helicopter.
Twenty hours later, Samson hiked into the clearing next to his tribe's cave. Noola was the first to see him, and her glad shout brought the others swarming out to greet him. In short order Samson was buried under an avalanche of furry bodies, as his Luul and his children all assured him repeatedly how glad they were to see him, to know that he had returned safe and unharmed.
"#I am happy to see all of you, too,#" he assured them with a lump in his throat. "#I've missed all of you, so much... Ahllo, what's that in your hand? A chew-carving, for me? Thank you; that's a lovely carving of a squirrel! You must have worked very hard on it...#"
October 28th, 2028
The other females in the castle are planning to have another breeding season; they say it's been too long since the rookery had eggs in it. Now that all the children except little Damien are grown enough to be responsible and careful around the eggs, they want to breed more. And they want me to breed with them. All of them-yes, even Aiden!-have said they will share their mates with me if I wish to join in. And I do wish to have more eggs, and more hatchlings to cuddle. But if I do, then it will be decades longer before I can come to live you always again. The others urge me to think about our whole species, which needs as many gargoyles as we can breed. Despite all the clans that have come forward since Goliath and Elisa began organizing the World Tour, and all the clans that may still be hiding out in the wilds, Lexington estimates there are less than 1500 gargoyles worldwide. But I will wait until I read your reply before telling them yes or no.
I understand perfectly your desire to have more children... and I approve. Go ahead and tell the others that you will breed with them, and if the males there don't treat you right they'll have me to answer to! All I ask is that, if you lay a female egg this time, you consider naming her Ivana, after my mother. The females her were all right with my naming my firstborn son Haaroll, which is as close to "Harold" as they could pronounce, but "ivana" in the Sasquatch tongue sounds a lot like... well, it's just not a suitable name for a female Sasquatch, but it would be a fine name for a female gargoyle.
March 16th, 2029
Goliath and Elisa just sent me a letter and photos from Nigeria. They found Tom-and his family! He has a mate now, and no less than five children. I'm looking at their photos as I write this...
Talon paused in his writing to look again at the photographs lined up at the top of his desk. The first one featured Tom, battle-scarred but smiling, with his arms around a smiling dark-skinned woman; the next showed Tom curled up on a rug next to a full-grown black panther. Elisa's notes said that the woman and panther were both Namir, the daughter of the were-panthers that Elisa had met, in her two natural forms.
The next few photos showed Tom's five children, all of them mutates and shape-changers. In one form, a child would be mostly human, but with a light coat of black fur all over, clawed fingers and toes and a slight felinoid cast to their facial features. In their other forms, they looked to be pure panthers. None of them had wings like their father, but Elisa reported that the older kids could move through the trees so fast, switching from one form to the other with ease and swinging or leaping from branch to branch, that they were darn near flying anyway. And the three oldest children were already throwing sparks around, too; another gift from their mutate father… Elisa listed the children's names in each picture: the boy Jideofo (Jide for short) was the oldest, and the girl Nkiru was the next oldest. Then came Kainda, another girl, and Daren, another boy. The youngest child, Gamba, had been born only six weeks before Goliath and Elisa had arrived; the infant boy nursed at his mother's human breast in one picture, and at her panther teat in another.
Maggie had been even more delighted than he was, if that was possible, to see pictures of Tom and his family at long last. She'd sent an email via Goliath and Elisa to their son, letting him know how proud they were of him and his family, gently scolding them for not getting in touch sooner, and saying that she really hoped that they would at least try to stay in touch from now on.
Talon wasn't that happy either about not having had contact with their son for so long, and was determined to maintain contact one way or another now that it had been reestablished, but he thought he could understand why Tom had been silent for all these years. From that one sighting that had been reported years ago, and from what G&E carefully didn't say in their letter, he was pretty sure that Tom and his family, in their self-imposed mission of protecting their territory from poachers, drug smugglers and tinpot militia, were using lethal methods of dissuasion. In a jungle where the only law is survival of the fittest, mere capture and imposing stiff fines or jail time just isn't realistic... But Tom was still ashamed of or at least uncomfortable with some of the choices he'd made, and that's likely what had kept him from writing all these years. Sitting there at his desk, Talon nostalgically recalled the little black mutate-cub Tom had been decades ago, cute as could be and still relatively innocent despite living among the homeless in the Labyrinth. He mourned the loss of that innocent child, but accepted that his son had become a man and has to live his own life now; harsh though that chosen life may be, it was still his own.
Talon put some of those thoughts into words in his letter, but not all of them. He'd save some of it for when he saw Samson again, next month...
April 17th, 2029
"Welcome to Trinity Bay; watch your step when you get off!" the pilot announced as the plane taxied up to the town airport's small terminal and shuddered to a stop.
Buddy and Ruby Ann cheered, and Talon couldn't help smiling at their enthusiasm. Not that he wasn't pretty excited himself; he and his mutate family-clan were going to see Samson's family! Samson's letter last December had told them that Oruulu and Haeruu had finally agreed that the mutates could come out for a visit in the spring. But only the mutates, those who were no longer human or had never been human-normal at all; they would not allow Raylene, even though she was married to a mutate. But she'd come with them anyway, saying that she'd be perfectly fine staying in Trinity Bay during the few days of the mutates' visit in the woods, seeing more civilized sights and indulging in souvenir-shopping. As they waited for the airport's crew to wheel a mobile staircase up to their airplane, Talon glanced over and saw Raylene whispering something to Dee and Feral; probably quietly urging them to keep a close eye on the twins. At seven years old, Buddy and Ruby Ann were full of the reckless energy of youth, and if they got it into their heads to scamper off the second the adults' backs were turned, probably only the 'speed demons' of the family would be able to catch up with them.
Just after the staircase was rolled into place and they disembarked, a female gargoyle came gliding out of the night to land in front of them. "Welcome to Trinity Bay; I am Hippolyta!"
"Thanks; glad to be here!" Talon said with a felinoid smile. "I'm Talon, and this is my wife-Maggie?"
Maggie had pulled back from her husband's arm and was now backing slowly towards the airplane, hyperventilating, her fur standing out and her eyes locked on Hippolyta. Raylene reached towards her, saying with concern, "Maggie, you all right? What's-yowch!" as a huge static spark from Maggie's fur leaped off her and struck Raylene's hand.
"Maggie!" Talon went to her and encircled her in a loving bear-hug, willing his body to absorb Maggie's building electrical charge. "It's okay, Maggie, I'm here, you're safe now..."
"Is she well? ...I thought you were all... used to gargoyles?" Hippolyta said carefully.
"We sure are; shoot, we're practic'ly neighbors with 'em," Raylene said as she leaned back against Claw and rubbed at her spark-bitten hand, while still eyeing Maggie with concern.
"Ma, is Aunt Maggie okay?" Ruby Ann asked while clinging to Claw's left leg; her brother Buddy was hanging onto the right. They'd started to scamper off the second they'd hit the ground, but scurried back to their parents when they'd sensed the tension in the air.
Maggie didn't answer any of them, just ground her face into Talon's shoulder with a shudder... then began quietly weeping. The only words she said that he could understand were "...sorry, so sorry... so sorry..."
"Sorry for what, Maggie-my-love?" he asked her gently. "Nothing's wrong; everyone's okay..." What on Earth had gotten into her? She hadn't been like this in years, not since soon after...
"Maggie, that was all over and done with a long time ago... And you were never to blame. You hear me? None of that was your fault, not one bit. You know that! You couldn't help what happened while you were possessed..."
Yep, gargoyle ears were as sharp as ever... and their sense of tact was as dull as always. Hippolyta overheard and echoed aloud, "Possessed?"
"Yeah." Talon looked at her, knew his ears had twitched back and his gaze had sharpened, and didn't care. Dammit, they had not needed this... "Hippolyta, what did you have to do with the Coalition?"
Hippolyta reflexively reached for her bow, then visibly restrained herself. But her voice was no longer friendly and her eyes were narrowed as she said, "They held me captive and forced me to work for them, for far too many long and painful months, back in 2003. Why did you wish to know?"
"Figures. Dammit." Talon sighed, while still holding his trembling, quietly sobbing wife in his arms. "Back in Devil's Night-I'm assuming you know what I mean by that?"
"Aye; I had not arrived in the mortal world yet, but I heard of it afterwards. For the span of a night and day back in 2001, all of Manhattan vanished from the face of the earth, transported straight to Hell by a Satanic spell of some sort. And only the bravery and sacrifice of the Manhattan Clan brought it back..."
"Yeah, close enough. Maggie... was one of the casualties of that night. She was burned alive by Hellfire, and for years we thought she was dead. But instead, she was possessed by a demonic spirit, and transformed into-"
"Hellcat!" Hippolyta gasped, her eyes wide with shocked recognition.
"Yeah. We finally found her and broke her free of the Coalition and that damn fire-demon back in late 2018. For over 17 years, that demon and those Coalition bastards held her and used her, and forced her to do God knows what sort of nastiness..." They knew Maggie remembered at least a little of what had been done to her-and what she had done-during that time, but she never, ever talked about it if she could possibly help it. And she hadn't had a flashback this bad in years... this was one helluva way to start a vacation.
"I see." Hippolyta's face softened. "If I may..." She stepped closer, moving to where Maggie could see her if she ever lifted her head from Talon's shoulder, and said softly, "Maggie... when I knew you, back then... you saved my life, by sparing me. I know you were under orders to either kill me or recapture me-likely to simply kill me, that horrible night in December. But instead, you deliberately missed. No doubt the Coalition was mightily displeased, and I shudder to think of what form their retribution took... but you could have killed me, were surely ordered to kill me, and you chose not to. Whatever demon possessed you, was not able to prevent you from doing what was right when it mattered most to your former comrade. And yes, when we worked together, Hellcat was my closest comrade... my clan-sister. I have often wondered what became of you... and now that you are your true self again, I would like for us to be friends."
While Hippolyta had been speaking, Maggie had lifted her head a little, to stare at the gargoyle with wide eyes and tear-stained cheeks. After Hippolyta finished, there was a brief pause... and then she started crying again, even harder, but Talon gave Hippolyta a half-smile and just continued stroking her back. The crying was different now; these were tears of release.
After Maggie had finally dried her tears, they had gone into town, found a hotel room for Raylene, and picked up the two Jeeps that had been rented for their "camping trip." They told the Forestry Service people that they were going up to camp at a hot springs site that Hippolyta had found years ago; one that was not accessible to normal hikers, but would be for those with wings and those who could be carried in flight. They willingly showed the officials the traveling route they'd chosen, assured everyone that they'd keep the place pristine and haul all their garbage back with them, then set out... and deviated from that route as soon as they were well away from all possible prying eyes. Twenty miles away from the closest trailhead to the hot springs, they parked the Jeeps, gathered their gear and set out on the wing. Dee carried Feral, Claw carried his kids and Talon would have carried Maggie, but Hippolyta had begged for the opportunity to do so herself. She said it was so she and Maggie could get better acquainted or reacquainted, but Talon suspected that it was also to spare his arthritic joints, and he would have protested if he could have thought of a way to do it without looking like a jerk.
They cleared a stand of trees, and saw Samson waving up to them from the middle of a clearing. They landed together, and Claw's kids ran straight for Samson, shouting delightedly, "Uncle Samson!" "Uncle Samson, we're here!" "We flew in an airplane!" "Where are your kids?"
"Welcome to Uoohwhaaall-that's 'the Great Forest' in the Sasquatch language-and it's good to see you all!" Samson said with a smile. "The children are back at our lair, which is a ways from here; this is the better place to pitch your tents, a nice flat spot closer to the river. I'll be bringing the others over here while you get your tents set up. So help your daddy and the others set up the tents, because the sooner that's done, the sooner you can meet the children and start playing with them!"
The kids cheered and began helping the others unload their minimal supplies and set them up. Hippolyta helped as well, while Samson disappeared into the trees at the edge of the clearing. Talon muttered to Hippolyta, "Didn't trust us enough to let us see their cave-home, huh?"
"Their overcautious nature has helped them to survive for thousands of years, where other Sasquatch tribes have not," Hippolyta said quietly. "I will not fault them for it."
Duly chastened, Talon got busy with setting up his and Maggie's tent and other supplies. He had to admit, camping these days was easier than it had been when he and Elisa and Beth were kids together. The tents back in the 70's had been awkward, fairly heavy and a pain to put up with poles and stakes, even though their parents swore up and down that they were a vast improvement over the huge and really heavy canvas tents that they'd used as kids. But these top-of-the-line tents that Alexander had given them were pretty slick; they weighed less than five pounds including the internal framework, and to set them up, all you had to do was set them down in a big enough clear spot, press a button and stand back. The only real nuisance was putting in the tent stakes, to anchor them down afterwards; Alexander had said they had stake-setting devices too, but had advised against them because the noise of their operation would probably sound a bit too much like gunshots to the Sasquatch tribe.
They'd set up the tents and the camping table, and had just finished gathering small rocks to make the protective ring for a small campfire when Samson came back, with six Sasquatch children and two adults accompanying him. "This is Oruulu, the tribe leader, and this is Haeruu, the tribe elder," he introduced them. "And these are my six oldest children; Nuura, Luul and Aanuu are back at home with the other nine. We didn't want to overwhelm the campsite with all the kids at once! So meet Noola, Ahllo and Maar, and this is Haaroll, Muur and Vahroo..."
While the kids were getting acquainted, and once all the adults were satisfied that a fight wasn't going to break out at any second, Samson came over to Talon and made the usual small talk about the trip and et cetera. Then he asked, "Have you been by the castle lately?"
Talon smiled wryly; he'd been expecting that for at least the last five minutes. He said, "Yes, I have; Maggie and I made a point of visiting the castle a couple times in the week before we left, and staying for most of the night both times. All the ladies there are getting pretty big, and once again, Delilah's the biggest of the lot. But I'm pretty sure she's not as big as she was last time, so she's probably not carrying four this time around. Lex, Brooklyn and Broadway give her a hand with heavy lifting and stuff just like they do with their mates, and they try to keep her company too, though near as I could tell they spend most of their time with their real mates, so Delilah spends most of her time just with her children. And to be honest, while the other hatchlings are pretty excited about being big brothers and sisters to little hatchlings eventually, Delilah's kids just didn't seem that enthusiastic to me. But they're not hostile either, and hopefully they will come around before the eggs are laid in May. And if not by then, well, no doubt they'll be as ready and willing as the others are by the time the eggs hatch in 2039. In the meantime, Delilah's doing great, Samson; really."
Samson stared off into the distance. "Is anyone massaging her ankles and feet for her? Last time, they got so swollen and sore..."
The mutates spent four wonderful days and nights in the woods together with the Sasquatch tribe. The language barrier wasn't as much of a problem as Talon had thought it might be; the oldest Sasquatch children could speak a garbled form of English (always pronouncing 'ee' as 'eh') and willingly translated for the others when necessary. Even Luul and Aanuu spoke a few words of English, or tried to; being full-blooded Sasquatch instead of partly-human, even more sounds were beyond their ability to reproduce. But they all 'spoke' in sign language too, thanks to the books that Samson had brought back to California with him.
Back when they had known Claw as simply 'Claw' and not as 'Beau Ellis', the Labyrinth folk had made desultory attempts to learn sign language so they could communicate with him, but never really made a concerted effort to learn it and use it. Part of that could be attributed to the presence of gargoyles in the Labyrinth at the time; Delilah and her brothers just had too few fingers to successfully duplicate even all the letters of the ASL alphabet. But Talon had to admit that the rest of it had been just pure laziness on their part; since Claw could hear them just fine and never seemed to have much he wanted to say anyway, why bother? But that had changed once Claw had returned to the Labyrinth with his wife Raylene. She could speak for him, but had made it known in pretty forceful terms that everyone had better learn how to talk to and understand him on their own; she and her Beau might be utterly in love, but they weren't glued at the hip! So American Sign Language had become a second language to the labyrinth's permanent residents, and to Claw and Raylene's children after they were born. And when Samson had come to Manhattan for a visit last fall, on their second visit to the castle Raylene had brought along an ASL dictionary and teaching guide and pressed them onto Samson. As she'd explained at the time, it was both in hopes of a visit someday and as another way for "those Sasquatch kids" to get their point across. If they couldn't say 'me', 'tree' and 'honeybee', so long as they had two arms and five working fingers on each hand they could by God learn the signs for them, and that would be one more way to communicate if they were ever forced into an encounter with Humanity.
Samson must have been pretty busy with those books over the winter, because not only did he and his 13-year-old and 11-year-old children know basic sign language, but so did some of the younger kids. When the Sasquatch females finally trusted them enough to bring even the youngest child to the campsite, the 8-year-old and even the 4-year-old children knew enough of the signs to make themselves understood at least half the time. So did all the adults; Samson told them later that while it had been harder for the adults to learn, the kids had caught on so fast that the adults had been driven to learn it in self-defense. Particularly after Muur, the Sasquatch family's resident prankster, had started telling jokes in sign language that would leave the other children laughing and the adults staring at them in consternation.
On the evening of their third night out in the woods, Talon sat on the ground next to Maggie, resting from a vigorous game of 'tag' with the youngsters and watching Dee and Luul, who was nursing the tribe's baby, little Lahloo. Dee was cautiously stroking Lahloo's fur and saying it was so soft and such a pretty shade of brown, and what a beautiful baby Laahloo was. "Buhyoo'iful babeh," Luul agreed with a warm smile. And when Lahloo had finished nursing and been properly burped, Luul gently but insistently handed her over to Dee.
Dee was hesitant at first, but then began cuddling little Lahloo like she was the most precious thing in the world, rocking her and humming a lullaby. And after fussing a little, then curiously poking and grabbing at Dee's muzzle a few times, Lahloo yawned and fell asleep in her arms. Dee kept rocking her with a tender smile, and after a while murmured, "Y'know, maybe being a mother wouldn't be so bad after all."
Beside him, Maggie gave a small, barely audible gasp of delight; she'd been hinting for years that it was time Dee and Feral had children and provided them with grandchildren, but Dee had always steadfastly refused to consider the idea, even after Feral had agreed that maybe some kids would be in order.
Other than that one gasp, Maggie kept silent; she probably didn't want to ruin the magic of the moment... so of course Talon had to. Some wee devil inside him made him say aloud, "What did I just hear? Is our resident Speed Dee-mon thinking of slowing down at last?"
That earned him a hot glare and an elbow in the ribs from Maggie, but Dee only looked at him and said with a peculiar smile, "Maybe..."
May 29th, 2029
No doubt Delilah will tell you the news in her next letter, but as the clan leader I figure it's my official duty to make the announcement: we have a rookery full of eggs again, all laid three nights ago. Nine eggs in all; two each to Angela, Elektra and Aiden, and three to Delilah!
Delilah's three eggs are a female and two males, and on the night of the laying she named them "Ivana", "Samson" and "Hudson." And last night, the rest of us decided to formally name the other eggs too, partly in self-defense; the hatchlings were already labeling them with names like "Eggbert," "Egglantina" and "Ommeletta."
Angela and I named our male egg Matthew, after our dearly departed Matt Bluestone, and our female Maria after Maria Chavez. (I don't know if Delilah told you or not, but she died last winter of stomach cancer.)
Broadway and Elektra decided to name their two females Petra (feminine form of Peter, they told me, and their way of honoring Peter Maza) and Danielle after Daniel Harmond. Daniel couldn't be here for the laying; too busy doing all his work for the Gargoyles Rights Commission and Elektra's too, once she got too big with eggs to handle the long commute. But he's flying up here tomorrow from DC, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out he packed the plane full of toys and baby stuff for the rookery.
Lex and Aiden chose to name their male and female Charles and Roberta after Chas and Birdie, who are both still alive and kicking and here for the big event, not to mention tickled pink to have gargoyle eggs named after them. Birdie insists that she's going to stick around long enough to ensure that her namesake picks up all her bad habits-as if Finella's not bad enough already!
It's a shame that Goliath and Elisa couldn't be here for the laying too, but there was some kind of bureaucratic meltdown just as they were getting ready to leave Nigeria. The officials there dressed it up in all the usual fifty-dollar words and week-long sentences, but Goliath wrote that he's pretty sure it all boiled down to "We're pissed off at those mutates that live in the jungle and ruin the illegal arms trading and drug running that we're not supposed to be doing, but we can't admit it and you won't tell us where to find them, so we're taking it out on you instead." Long story short, by the time all the red tape was hacked through they'd been delayed by an entire week, and missed out on the laying. So instead of detouring here, they're going straight to Egypt instead, to visit the gargoyle family there. We all kinda wish they'd gone ahead and detoured here, since it's been nearly a year since they left, but hey, it's their vacation, and everyone knows they've earned it.
The Vandemere family left New York last night to go meet Goliath and Elisa at Cairo and show them the way to the lost city of Akhetsu, where Cassius and Khepri and their two hatchlings live. Before they left the castle, I overheard Kathe and Finella ask them to bring back a vial of sand from the 'sand-script' area that we're told Cassius and Khepri write in to leave messages and love-notes for each other, for those six days out of eight that Khepri and her daughter put on their amulets and switch to sleeping at night and guarding during the day. When I asked them why they wanted it, they hemmed and hawed and changed the subject, but I have a hunch that it's got something to do with a love spell, heaven help us all. I've already advised Aiden and Alex to be on the alert for funny stuff.
And something else that Delilah would probably tell you about in her letter, but it's so good that I'm telling it myself instead. During the day before the eggs were laid, Alex and Patricia's baby 'kicked her mommy' in a big way; she let off a burst of pure magical energy while still in the womb. Nothing happened, but the parents understandably freaked out about it, and so did we to some degree; an unborn baby wielding magical power but with absolutely no concept of control yet, is not a good thing. Alex and Aiden tried to come up with some spells that would keep the baby from using magic without harming her or the mother, but couldn't come up with anything on short notice, so in the end we called in Orpheus.
Orpheus came to the castle tonight just after we woke up, and while Patricia wore soundproof earmuffs over her ears and an amplifying 'tummyphone' on her belly, he sang a lullaby to the baby, telling her to go to sleep and not wake up until after she' born. Even if she can't understand the words yet, Orpheus is dead certain that his magical lyre did the trick and sent her to sleep, so the problem is apparently solved (we hope.) But guess what happened when Orpheus came out of the bedroom? He stumbled over-literally stumbled over-D'Artagna and Kenneth. Those two just had to crack the door open and spy on Orpheus while he did his stuff, and the lyre put them to sleep, too; they dropped right in their tracks. Orpheus is sticking around tonight, and he said he'll wake them up exactly five minutes before dawn; that should teach them a little respect for privacy and people at work.
October 16th, 2030
The cavern feels a little empty tonight, and has felt that way for the last week. Haeruu is dead. She started saying two weeks ago that the end of her life was near, and even when the other adults started giving her more reverence and saying how much she'd contributed to the tribe, I didn't want to believe it. But seven days ago she just walked out of the cave, lay down under a tree about 200 yards away, and was dead and cold by the time I found her an hour later.
Oruulu and Nuura wrapped Haeruu up in a shroud or cocoon of bark and leaves, while Luul and Aanuu taught the children the traditional songs to sing farewell to her spirit. Then we carried her body to the burial crevice and dropped it in, to lie with the bones of her ancestors.
I guess I'm still feeling a little numb. Haeruu wasn't exactly a mother-figure to me, but she was close; more like an aunt, I guess. An aunt with an earthy sense of humor, too; she could always make me blush. And I could never catch her at it, but I just know she actually helped Muur plan some of the pranks that have been played on us and some of the other kids. Muur is definitely missing her the most; she hasn't told a single joke or even tried to play a prank since Haeruu died, and Luul and I have to keep reminding her to eat, groom her fur and take care of herself. But playing with little Lahloo seems to help her, so hopefully she'll feel better soon.
From what she and the others told me, Haeruu lived to nearly a hundred years old, and I wonder if everyone here is expected to live that long...
July 16th, 2031
Not too much news in the Labyrinth this month, except that Dee and Feral have finally admitted what the castle docs have been telling them for months; that their genes are just not naturally compatible for making kids like their folks' were. Actually, I'm pretty sure that the were-jaguar curse on Corinne St. John's father somehow left enough residual magic trickling down the generations to let Corinne conceive Feral, in the same way that Elisa had magical assistance to conceive Amber, but not enough to work for Feral in the same way. But that's just between you and me; Feral's parentage is a definite sore subject down here, ever since we found out what had really happened to Fang and Wolf back in 2000, and just what has really been going on behind the scenes in that circus. These days, Feral would just as soon pretend he's always been in the Labyrinth, and was never unwittingly part of a front for the Coalition.
Anyway, Dee finally took Claw and Raylene's advice and called Las Vegas, and Angus and his mates said they'll be out here next month. If Jeannie can make babies for gargoyle-human couples, and for mutate-human couples, mixed mutate couples should be easy.
Samson read those words, and wished once more that Jeannie had been around back in 1999, when he and Delilah had been trying and failing to have children together. If only...
Well, 'if onlies' never did anyone any good. And didn't he have plenty of children now? Didn't they both? He looked down at Lahloo, who was gently tugging on his leg fur, and promised her that he'd be back inside soon. In the meantime, why didn't she go ask her Aunt Hippolyta if there were any grapes left from what she'd brought with her?
September 7th, 2031
Hippolyta glided down to the local airport, more nervous tonight than she'd been in years, even after telling herself-and being told by just about everyone else-that there was absolutely no reason at all for her to be nervous. Nyx even went so far as to say that the incoming visitors were just another retired couple, touring during their golden years. To which Hippolyta had simply had to retort that would be like declaring to their fellow police officer Scott James, a practicing Catholic, that the Pope was just another old geezer in a funny hat.
Goliath and Elisa Maza were coming to visit! Mighty Goliath, he who had led the clan in Scotland over a thousand years ago, and proceeded to lead again in the modern world-and not only led his own clan, but advised virtually all the other known clans in existence! And Elisa Maza, the policewoman who had risked her life again and again for the clan, protecting them against all odds and all enemies, proving that she was gargoyle at heart and winning Goliath's own heart in return. There were no two nobler, finer people in all existence!
And they were coming here to visit! Hippolyta would meet them! Well, it was true that Goliath and Elisa had expressed their desire to visit every known clan in the world, and that this was but one of many places they'd been to on their world tour. But still, Hippolyta was the only gargoyle in town, and she would have thought that a clan with only one gargoyle in it would have been beneath their notice. But they were coming here, to meet her!
Well, and to meet Samson, of course. In truth, that was probably the main reason why they had come; Samson had once lived with Goliath and Elisa in Manhattan, and they wanted to renew their acquaintance with him, but the only way to do that without giving away the secret of the Sasquatch tribe would be to publicly announce that they were here to meet Hippolyta instead. Then after the first few days, after the initial fanfare and local media attention had died down, they would sneak off into the woods and Hippolyta would guide them to where Samson lived. Though they'd said nothing directly in the one phone conversation Hippolyta had had with Elisa herself (Goliath had been asleep at the time, for in Polynesia it had been a few hours till sunset), there had been plenty of indirect hints. And Delilah had advised Samson of their intentions in one of her letters, for during her last visit to the tribe, Samson had said the tribe was ready and willing for Goliath to visit-and even Elisa, wonder of wonders! Elisa would be the first human to lay eyes on the tribe in who knew how many years, decades, even centuries; Hippolyta hoped she would be properly appreciative of the honor. And in the process, Hippolyta would finally meet the gargoyle leader that she and her brothers and sisters had been told all those wonderful tales of, so long ago...
But would he approve of her? Goliath had said in more than one interview that gargoyles normally lived in clans, and that a gargoyle like Demona living on her own was usually a sign that something was seriously wrong. And Hippolyta had been the lone gargoyle in this town, except for Delilah's annual visits, for decades now... But she had a clan; all her figurative brothers and sisters in the police force! She had plenty of companionship, particularly in Nyx... And wasn't Goliath himself mated to a human, and didn't he count a few other humans as members of his own clan? So surely he would approve, or at least accept... wouldn't he?
Her head buzzing with thoughts and sheer nervousness as she glided over the road to the airport, Hippolyta almost didn't notice the vehicle below her, driving in the same direction. Then she did, and her eyes narrowed... and she reached into what Nyx had dubbed her 'utility belt' and activated her miniature police siren. (She didn't use it often to persuade vehicles to pull over; for one thing, she hated the noise it made. But Nyx had pointed out that it was better than simply slamming her talons down into the car's hood or trunk and riding it till it stopped, as she had done once or twice before; better an awful noise than an awful mess of paperwork.)
The specially-modified van eventually, reluctantly pulled over, and Hippolyta landed beside the van and glared into the window on the driver's side. "And just where do you think you're going?"
"To the airport, to meet the Titania, of course," a metallic-sounding voice rasped from inside the vehicle. The old crone who might be in the body of Sabra Indrani but called herself Sevarius glared back at her as the implanted vocoder that spoke for her squawked, "It's a free country, isn't it?"
"In theory, yes. In practice, particularly tonight, you are not going there. You are not going to bother Goliath and Elisa with your presence; not on their first night here," Hippolyta said with utter determination.
"The hell I'm not," the vocoder rasped, while Sevarius' lips remained pinched in an equally determined glare. "Maybe you still refuse to let me see my son and grandchildren, but I know I can manipulate those two noble idiots into giving me what I want. And if I approach them now, while the media is all around, they won't dare simply refuse to see me; can't be seen showing prejudice and disrespect to a crippled old lady..."
"You are as disgusting a creature as ever," Hippolyta assured him. "Regardless, I promise you now that you will see Goliath and Elisa sometime during their stay here. You have my word on that. You also have my word that if you do not turn this vehicle around and go home right this minute, I will arrest you and have you hauled off to jail."
"On what charges?"
"On the basis of all those parking tickets you've refused to pay, you arrogant old crone. Nyx had the judge sign a warrant against you a long time ago; we've simply been waiting for the right time to use it!"
"So throw me in jail. What does that matter to me? I'm already imprisoned in this weak and failing shell of a body; what worse can you do?"
"Oh, did I forget to tell you? Our cable hookup to the jail cell stopped working a few days ago. You'll miss your soaps..."
Sevarius shut up, turned the van around and went home. Hippolyta climbed a nearby tree to gain height, leaped out and spread her wings to continue gliding to the airport.
The guests arrived, were greeted with suitable ceremony, made the obligatory speeches, and were driven into town with a police escort... both of Trinity Bay's police cars, one before the motorcade and one behind, with Hippolyta gliding overhead.
There had been more than one embarrassing moment in the process of getting acquainted. Every last member of the police force had made a point of saying how much Hippolyta was needed here, singing her praises in front of Goliath and Elisa until Hippolyta was blushing and wanting to hide her face in her wings. She was seriously worried that the visitors would think she'd put the officers up to this, when no doubt it had been Nyx or her mother; the ones to whom she'd confided her worries about being rejected due to her lone-gargoyle status. Thankfully, Elisa had stopped the officers before they could launch into a chorus of "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow" or something similarly over-the-top.
Goliath and Elisa together had explained that they'd already had some idea of what they would find here; not only had their clan members Delilah and Angela and the former President Daniel Harmond spoken very well of her, but after their first visit out here in 2029, Talon and Maggie had made a point of writing to the travelers and giving them the mutates' impressions of Hippolyta and her human clan. What they'd seen so far had only reinforced what had already been told to them by several people; that Hippolyta and Trinity Bay's police department were perfectly suited to each other, and made an excellent clan by nearly all gargoyle standards.
All standards except one, and then (while Elisa had closed her eyes and quietly groaned) Goliath had handed over a list of names, locations and possible means of contact for nearly every unmated male that they had found so far in their travels, just in case Hippolyta ever felt the desire to breed eggs for a rookery...
After most of the police department had departed for their beds or their nightly duties, and after Goliath and Elisa's human entourage had departed for their quarters at the local motel, the travelers had brought out the albums of photos and souvenirs from all the clans they had visited so far in their trip. Hippolyta had been given to understand that to most humans, this was the most deadly dull part of having guests over; enduring their vacation photos. (And that the only thing she could do to defend herself would be to whip out her own vacation photos first.) But how could looking at these pictures bore anyone? Hippolyta had heard of other clans announcing themselves here and there around the world, but she'd never dreamed that her kind came in so many varieties!
"...And here are the pictures from our last stop, the Ketchikan Clan," Elisa said as she pushed a button and moved on to the next pair of pictures in their electronic photo album. "I'm told you should recognize a couple of these fellows..."
"Icarus! And Ezekiel!" Hippolyta said with excitement as she pointed to their pictures. "...Icarus is smiling! In all our time together on Avalon, I can scarcely ever remember him smiling..."
"Well, being happily mated and with two kids might have something to do with that," Elisa pointed out, as she pushed the button again and advanced through the album. "There's his mate Nadia... and their eggs; the two on the left in the rookery. And guess what happened the night after we arrived?"
"They hatched!" Hippolyta actually found herself cooing with delight at the pictures of the tiny hatchlings emerging from their shells.
"Yep. There're your brothers and Nadia again, at the hatching, and the other female is Piltdown; she's Ezekiel's mate. That hefty male over in the corner is Sergei; technically, he leads the clan, but in truth it's Icarus who's mostly in charge. Oh, and those two are Fuzz and Fluff."
Hippolyta stared. "Is this Sergei a... a dwarf among gargoyles? Because next to him..."
"Nope, Sergei's about average-sized, except for the obesity. Fuzz really is that big. He and Fluff are Piltdown's kids from her first mate, back on whatever island she originally came from. According to your brothers, all the males there are literally over twice the size of the females, and they've all got enough horns and spikes and whatnot covering those massive bodies to outfit an entire zoo."
"Fuzz actually stands a full foot taller than I do, and his wingspan is a full eight feet wider," Goliath put in with a rumble. "And at roughly only thirty years old, he might have some growing to do yet! And furthermore, Ezekiel confided to me that if Fuzz had been left to grow up on that hidden island, he would likely have been killed off for proving 'the runt of the litter'!"
Hippolyta could only shake her head in amazement, while Elisa added, "Good thing he's a runt by their standards, too. Otherwise, he'd be literally too big to glide. All the adult males on that hidden island were apparently ground-bound from their sheer size, and their wings were spread only for dominance shows and mating displays, like peacocks. As it is, Fuzz can get in the air, but his sister Fluff can glide rings around him. Everyone's really hoping that he's finished growing now."
"You said that the males of Piltdown's former clan are all like this? Then... this little one, here in Ezekiel's arms..."
"They named him Isaac. Cute little guy, isn't he? He has his mother's downy fur."
"Has he inherited more than that? Including such massive size when grown?"
Elisa shrugged. "Hard to say yet. From what laughingly little I know of genetics, he might not, because that size difference might well be tied to the 'Hidden Island breed's version of a Y chromosome. But really, only time will tell."
"You can not deny me this!" Sevarius' vocoder screeched in outrage.
"Sure I can. Read my lips: N-O, NO," Elisa said slowly and with emphasis.
"He is my son! And those children are my grandchildren!"
"Hate to break this to you, but biologically speaking, that's just not true anymore. And even if it was, you're not welcome out there. As I understand it, you destroyed any possible chance of a welcome back in the twentieth century, when you captured and killed some members of that tribe in your experiments."
"But that was back then; since then, I've changed!"
"No kidding, ma'am."
"You bi- I mean, I've stopped doing such experiments! You can confirm this with Hippolyta; I've not experimented on a single human or gargoyle in the sixteen years I've been here!"
She already told us that. She also told us that you've built a secret lab into the basement of your home..."
"H-how did-That is used strictly for maintaining my own health, and improving this exoskeleton and its cybernetic features!"
"Uh-huh. And you had absolutely nothing to do with the significant reduction in Trinity Bay's squirrel population for a year back in 2023... Once again, Sevarius: NO. You are not coming with us. Even if I agreed to it, which I'm not about to do, Goliath would probably drop you into a ravine before taking you out there. And even if, by some miracle you absolutely don't deserve, he agreed to take you out there... you'd never come back alive. The adult females of that tribe would peel you out of that exosuit like a banana, then bury you alive like the filth they consider you to be... and I really don't think Samson would lift a hand to stop them; not his mates and the mothers of his children."
Sevarius stared at her in silent frustration for a few moments, then slowly turned to a nearby table. His/her vocoder said, "If you won't take me out there, which I can tell is purely out of spite and your misguided ideas of revenge for past encounters, then at least do this much for me; collect samples of the adults and children's blood and tissues," as those clawlike hands grasped a prepared kit of empty hypodermic syringes, swabs and vials. "Just to see how many of Samson's human genes were passed on..."
Elisa held out her hand for the kit... and just as Sevarius let go of the kit, jerked her hand away. The kit crashed to the floor and burst open, and the floor became littered with bits of glass from the broken syringes and vials. Sevarius' vocoder began spewing out insults and obscenities, but Elisa only gave a nasty grin and said, "Just so you know, that was revenge for past encounters. Just my revenge, that is. Next time you try to see us, it'll be Goliath's turn..."
"We're almost at the clearing now, but remember to keep the blindfold on until after I tell you they've seen you wearing it," Elisa heard Hippolyta call over her shoulder to Goliath, while Elisa herself lay blindfolded in Hippolyta's arms. She had willingly donned the blindfold right after leaving Trinity Bay, understanding completely the tribe's paranoia about being found by humans; as a cop and a Guardian, she'd seen plenty of examples of humanity's darker side, and her ancestors on her father's side had seen ample evidence of how even well-meaning people could completely swamp or erase a primitive people's culture until there was virtually nothing left. She wasn't too thrilled about being carried by Hippolyta instead of the familiar arms of her husband, but it would be too risky for Goliath to carry her in one arm while hanging onto Hippolyta's guiding tail with the other. And Elisa had to admit, Hippolyta certainly had the muscles to carry her; she hadn't seen muscles like that on a female since the last televised female bodybuilding contest, and even the winner of that contest would have come in second place to the copper-skinned gargoyle.
A few minutes later, after they'd slowed and banked to the right for a brief while, Hippolyta called out, "They've seen us! Blindfolds may be removed now." Elisa reached up and tugged hers off, then craned her neck to look at the ground below them. By the light of the brilliant stars overhead, she spotted a cluster of shaggy shapes in the middle of a clearing, and waved to them while Hippolyta spiraled down to a landing with Goliath following close behind.
The shapes turned out to be Samson, one of the adult females of the tribe and his three oldest children, and once they were sure that Elisa wasn't going to attack and start slaughtering indiscriminately, the rest of them came out for a look at the newcomers. Usually Goliath was the center of attention wherever they went, but it came as no surprise to Elisa that this time she was the subject of most of their curiosity. Between Hippolyta, Delilah and even some of the mutates, people with wings were old news to the clan, but here was one of those dangerous hairless apes that their mommies had warned them about! Determined to keep a good humor about it all, she sat down and very patiently let them look her over and poke her here and there, even obligingly opening her mouth when a little one touched her lips. The little boy, or at least Elisa assumed it was a boy, leaned in and sniffed, then drew back hastily while muttering something in his own language. "Sorry," she told him, "that's probably the cheeseburger I ate before coming out here. I should have had the salad instead..."
"It's just as well that you had the meat," Samson reassured her. "I want my children to get to know you as a friend, but stay wary and far away from humans in general, and a scent that we associate with predators and scavengers can only help to reinforce... er, no offense."
"None taken." Elisa let them examine her for a few more minutes, then announced, "I'm going to get up now." Samson murmured something to the children still poking at her, and they backed off and let her get to her feet. "So, how about tell us who's who?"
Samson introduced all the children to her, and the adults as well. One adult actually stepped up to shake Elisa's hand, said carefully, "Hello, Eh-leh-sha," then looked apologetic that she hadn't been able to pronounce it better.
"I understood you just fine," Elisa assured her. "And I hope you are patient with me, when I mispronounce your names... Lull, right?"
The female smiled. "Gah-lozhe eh-nuvv."
"...Close enough, eh?" Elisa had to smile.
A few feet away, another adult with russet fur stepped up to Goliath. After Samson made introductions on both sides, Oruulu said something in her own tongue, then looked expectantly at Goliath while Samson translated for her. "She wants to know if, in all your travels, you've seen any other Sasquatch tribes... have you?" and the desperate hope in his voice was audible to all.
Elisa knew it hurt Goliath inside, to have to shake his head and say, "No, we have not. We thought we had found evidence once, in Russia, but it came to nothing. But we have not given up hope," he added as Samson's face fell. "We still have several more stops planned in our trip, to visit known clans, and after that we shall begin wandering to investigate unconfirmed sightings of gargoyles. It may well be that someone mistook one of your kind for one of mine in the dead of night. I promise you, we will continue to look..."
March 18th, 2032
Hi! People here are looking forward to the camping trip next month, but this year a few of us are definitely going to miss it. Last week Dee gave birth, and not just to three kids as we'd thought from the ultrasound; seems there was a fourth one hiding behind the others! Four kids, two boys and two girls, and all of them furry as can be. The boys are named Keith and Dylan, and the girls are Sarah and Ruth. In case it's not clear from the pictures enclosed with this letter, Sarah and Dylan have wings, but Keith and Ruth do not. But as you used to say all the time, wings don't matter much down here in the Labyrinth.
Claw's kids Ruby Ann and Buddy have already volunteered to baby-sit, bless their hearts, but Grandma Maggie has first dibs. After having only pictures of our other grandchildren in Nigeria, now that she's got kids to cuddle and sing to she's become the ultimate doting grandmother. In fact, Dee has already muttered to me about her being a little too doting... but she has to admit that with four kids at once, she needs the extra help. And Feral's only too happy to hand the kids over to Grandma and step out for a while... but I think he's just a little overwhelmed at the moment, and he'll come around and start being a good father once he gets used to the mewling. At least, I hope so. Anyway, Dee and Feral and Maggie are going to miss the camping trip this year, but the rest of us are still planning to come...
June 18th, 2033
It was the first night of the full moon, and Delilah was due in tonight for her annual visit. Samson waited alone for her out in the clearing, as had become their tradition. And soon enough, he saw her silhouette come soaring over the treetops, accompanied by Hippolyta, and heard Delilah's shriek of delight as she saw him and dove straight into his waiting arms. But instead of snuggling into his embrace, she held back to look up into his face as she said excitedly, "I have news; we may have found another tribe!"
The entire tribe had gathered by the time Delilah finished relating what she knew. The last time Gabriel and Liz had taken their son Lysander up to Montana to visit the dinosaur-gargoyles, Ptera had told Lysander about having seen "a strange human-thing with fur, nearly as big as Stego" while out gliding at the western edge of their territory. Lysander hadn't told his parents about that until they'd returned home to Las Vegas, but once he had, Gabriel had hotfooted it back to Montana and gone searching with Ptera for the creature she'd seen that one time. They hadn't seen it, but Gabriel had discovered a partial footprint of a creature that was far bigger than the average man and definitely hadn't smelled like a human.
Once the news had reached Manhattan, some of the gargoyles there had volunteered to go to Montana to begin searching for the Sasquatch, but Claw and Raylene had convinced them that they and their kids should be the ones to go. The mutates all had plenty of experience with the scent of a Sasquatch, after the last few camping trips to California. And having grown up in the Appalachian Mountains, and having regularly hunted for his family's dinners after returning there between 2005 and 2017, Claw was undoubtedly the most experienced of the Manhattan folk at tracking. He and Raylene took their kids to Montana on the first flight Alexander could arrange, the day before Delilah herself traveled to California, and they were even now exploring the wilderness of Montana with Gabriel and the dino-gargs. They promised they would contact the Manhattan clans and Trinity Bay, the moment they found further evidence of Sasquatch in the area.
Samson tried to tell himself not to get too excited; Delilah had told him a long time ago that there had been a couple other false leads over the years, tips that had been investigated but had not panned out, in areas of Idaho and Oregon. But this was such fantastic news; the most solid lead they'd had in decades...
#I may have to leave you again for a short while,# he announced to the rest of the tribe. #In order to search this different place, for signs of another tribe.#
Luul and the other adults nodded reluctant agreement... except for Aanuu. #You must not go,# she said with determination. #You are needed here, to teach more of the human things.#
#Aanuu... Our winged friends are great hunters and trackers, but the best person to find one of the People might well be another one of the People.#
#This is true,# she agreed. #That is why I will go.#
#You?# That was chorused by every last adult in the tribe and a few of the children, and both Hippolyta and Delilah looked at her askance.
Aanuu made her argument for going; she had no mate and, as prospects went right now, no mate or children in the future either. And the oldest children were all capable of doing her tribal duties now; therefore she was the most expendable. Hippolyta tried to explain to her that no one had made provisions for her to go to Montana, which is a long, long ways away; too far to walk to before the winter snows set in, or even before next summer. But Aanuu stubbornly insisted that if no gargoyle or mutate or friend-human would help her get there faster, she would just start walking, and keep walking until either she reached Montana or she dropped dead from old age.
Hippolyta finally agreed that she would glide back to town and contact the Manhattan clan, to see about arranging transport for Aanuu to Montana. "And in the meantime," she suggested to Samson, "Have everyone's fur combed, and collect the fur combings together. Since it would be terribly difficult for just a few people to cover all the wilderness in Montana, perhaps it could be arranged that someone could take fur-combings out to the farthest areas, leave them as 'bait' in suitable spots with offerings of fruit, and see if anyone comes to collect or investigate them. It couldn't hurt..."
The tribe agreed that it might help and certainly couldn't hurt, so they spent the next few days combing each other, as well as making claw-scrapes on bark strips that could be sent to Montana and other suitable artifacts; items that the average day-packing hiker would likely pass by without noticing but another Sasquatch would immediately notice.
A few days later, Aaanuu collected all the tribe's artifacts into a carry-sack, then donned the same disguise-spell wristwatch that Samson had worn for his trip to Manhattan. A tall and comely grey female gargoyle with a bandaged wing said goodbye to her tribe, then started hiking off in the direction of Trinity Bay, while Hippolyta glided overhead; Alexander's promised transport was waiting for them about five miles outside of town. Once she was in Montana, Aanuu would join the search for other Sasquatch, using sign language to communicate with Claw and Raylene in order to coordinate their efforts.
Aanuu might be doing the searching, but Samson swore that once solid evidence of a tribe was found by either Aaanuu, Claw or Gabriel, Samson would go up there himself, to negotiate with the new Sasquatch tribe on behalf of his children. Until then...
"Same time, next year?" Delilah asked with a wry smile, as she prepared to leave again.
Samson agreed with a final kiss: "Same time, next year."