KANGEIKAI

by Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)

Disclaimers: The main characters all belong to Disney, and I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.

Note: Sentences and phrase in doubled parantheses are ((translated from Japanese)), while sentences and phrases bracketed by pound signs are #translated Spanish.#

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Sitting in the passenger seat of a Japanese rental truck, Dominique Destine looked out the window at the setting sun and gave a small frown. The sun would be setting in less than an hour.

"We are almost to Ishimura now, Dominiko-san," Hiroshi Fukuda told her reassuringly, from where he was sitting in the driver's seat. We shall be there in half an hour; well before sunset. And I will ensure that you are given complete privacy for your... change."

"Thank you, Hiroshi... ah, arigato, Hiroshi-san," Dominique said to her companion with a smile. She received an even wider smile and nod in return; a wordless congratulations on her appropriate use of the Japanese words. Dominique made sure she looked just a little bit pleased with herself... although considering how much time she'd had to practice lately, she should be expert on at least a few words by now.

They had spent sixteen hours solely on the flight to get to Japan; sixteen hours of traveling west and chasing the moon across the night sky. Sixteen hours that, if Demona had actually believed in the Catholic concepts of an afterlife, would surely count towards time spent in Purgatory.

That cursed cat of Yama's had gotten violently airsick within moments of their plane leaving LaGuardia, thrown up and shat all over its carrying case, and yowled for another hour or more before resigning itself to quiet misery.

After the cat had finally shut up and they had finally gotten rid of the smell of its vomit and feces, the next eight hours had been all right. Yama and Hiroshi had given everyone lessons in Japanese, and when they sensed that Galena was getting restless, paused to let her play with her doll or her balero stick for a while, or even played games of marbles or jacks with her. Demona had quietly excused herself to nap for a few hours, and so had Carlos and Hiroshi, since they had been awake all day preparing for the journey. The others had considerately been quiet for the few hours that Demona and the humans slept, accepting the weakness of human flesh (although they still gave Demona rather odd looks for her insistence on napping too.)

But ordinary gargoyles are used to getting at least some stone sleep every day, and after what would have been eight a.m. in New York, Yama and the Mexican gargoyles were getting more than a little tired. Demona tried to tell them that what they needed to do was to try sleeping while still flesh, but they either just didn't understand, or didn't want to admit that gargoyles could get sleepy too. So Cuarzo and Yama got more and more lethargic... Malaquita got more and more irritable... and in that dismaying way that children have, overtired little Galena became more and more hyperactive...

Finally, Carlos had stepped in to take care of Galena; he invented some sort of jumping game that had Galena jumping back and forth between two different squares of carpet, over and over and over again, until she'd exhausted herself. Four minutes after he'd finally declared the game over, she was curled up on the floor and sleeping as soundly as a stone statue. Her parents followed suit in less than twenty minutes, and Yama had finally given in ten minutes later. No fools, the others took the opportunity to nap again, and for a short while, everyone had slept and peace had reigned.

Then Galena had had a nightmare about the Quarrymen. Her screams had woken up her parents, and in their still half-asleep state they'd thought they were actually under attack again; they'd torn apart the cabin's furnishings and nearly ripped a hole through to the outside before Demona could stop them. The noise had gotten so loud it had even penetrated the soundproofing to the cockpit, and they'd almost had to deal with one of the flight crew coming back to investigate...

By the time they'd arrived in Tokyo, everyone aboard was tired, sore and irritable, and Demona swore that next time she had to travel great distances with strange gargoyles, no matter what, she'd do it during the day.

Between Hiroshi's smooth talking and Dominique Destine's credit card, it had been relatively little trouble to rent a truck at the airport that they could drive all the way to Ishimura. The Mexican clan and Yama had all climbed into the back of the truck just minutes before dawn had come, and once they'd turned to stone and Demona had turned into Dominique, she had assisted Carlos and Hiroshi in strapping the others' statues down so they wouldn't be jostled and damaged in the long drive to Ishimura. They'd been on the road since then, stopping periodically so that whoever was stuck in the back with the gargoyle statues and that miserable cat could switch seats with someone in the cabin. Dominique had to admit that modern travel certainly had its conveniences; centuries ago, it had taken her five years to travel from Europe to Okinawa, and today it had taken her less than 24 hours to travel an even further distance. But she would still be heartily glad when this particular journey was over.

But the end of the journey would certainly not be the end of her troubles. Dominique Destine was still head of Nightstone Incorporated, and while she would be happy to leave the day-to-day details of running the corporation behind, she had no intention of surrendering the company completely to others to run. She would have to set up teleconferences, and arrange for proxies, and everything else that would be needed to retain ownership and at least partial control.

And it was likely that her arrival here would herald the beginning of a new set of troubles. The Mexican gargoyles had accepted her dual nature, no doubt partly out of sheer gratitude; if not for her intervening in their battle with the Quarrymen in New York, they no doubt would have been slaughtered before Yama could get there. And Yama himself seemed to accept her, but from what she'd overheard him saying to Hiroshi, he'd been an outcast himself until recently. What would the Ishimuran clan think of her, and of her ability to turn into a human by day? Would they shun her for having consorted with sorcery?

And even if they accepted her—accepted what Yama knew of her—she had no doubt that they would have trouble accepting the truth about her. Truth Demona had no intention of telling them if she could possibly help it. But how successfully could she hide it? The immortality spell that the Weird Sisters had laid on her not only stopped her aging, but healed her near-instantly of any wound (immortality without regeneration was useless); a very handy ability to have, but all it took was a bad scratch healing in front of someone's eyes to let the observer know that something was different about her.

Well, she'd just have to be careful not to get injured. And be careful to edit her speech; to use no Japanese words that hadn't been recently taught to her. And even once it was safe for her to be proficient in the language, to be careful what she said; if she let anything slip that might indicate she'd been alive for much longer than a female at her apparent age should have been, there would certainly be questions. She did NOT want anyone to find out how old she really was, let alone that she had been in Japan before, centuries ago... and witnessed the slaughter of the Yatsushiro Clan by those damnable Hunters. A slaughter she could have prevented... if only she hadn't let the Yatsushiro Clan members, gone soft and soft-hearted, have their way instead of doing what should have been done.

But thinking about the Hunters and the many times they had clashed over the centuries made her think about how it had all began... and what part she had played in the destruction of the old Wyvern Clan. And of the clan of strays and outcasts she had collected later. At least the massacre of the Black Forest Clan hadn't been her fault... but then there'd been the Paris Clan, another slaughter that she could have prevented if she'd just taken action immediately, instead of hanging back...

Maybe she should tell the clan the entire truth, the truth she had held back from Valjean until it was too late. Even if they despised her for what she'd done, maybe they'd still let her stay with them, for her sorcerous knowledge as well as her unique liaison to the human world. Maybe...

...No. Even if they accepted her centuries-long war with the Hunters, they would not accept her war against all of Humanity. A war she'd only recently abandoned, when the truth had finally been shoved in her face too hard for her to ignore. And in the process of that self-declared war, she'd killed so many humans, individually and in groups, that she'd never be able to count or even remember them all.

She'd have to lie, and continue lying. Or rather, just continue to omit the truth. Surely that wasn't as bad? And when the decades passed and she didn't age with the others... Well, perhaps she could just pretend to be as surprised as everyone else when it finally became obvious. And that would be decades from now; there would be plenty to time to think about it later. Right now it was time to think about more immediate matters...

She was brought out of her musings when the truck left the main highway, and took the exit for Ishimura. Fifteen minutes later, Hiroshi brought the truck to a stop next to his constabulary. At his inquiring call, people came pouring out of not only the constabulary, but nearly every building nearby, all chattering excitedly in Japanese. Dominique caught snatches of their conversation: "((He's back! Welcome back, Hiroshi-san!))" "((After we got your phone call this morning, we let the entire village know—but oh, are the gargoyles going to be surprised tonight!))" "((Hey, look, there are the gaijin he told us about! Which one's the American, and which one's the Mexican?))" "((Hiroshi-san, we have some Spanish dictionaries now! Bunjiro went to the big city and bought ten copies, every one the bookstore had. Do you need one right now?))" "((They've been traveling all day; they must be tired and hungry! Come into the restaurant, and don't worry about unloading Yama and the others; we'll take care of them for you!))"

In short order, Dominique found herself sitting in a booth at a nearby restaurant, sipping green tea, and watching through the window as some of the villagers quickly and efficiently, but very carefully, brought the stone statues of the sleeping gargoyles out of the truck and arranged them in a semicircle in front of the constabulary. They made a particular fuss over Galena's sleeping form, patting her head and stroking her wings even though she couldn't feel it, and carefully laying Galena's doll Carlotta on a small blanket at her feet. Dominique gave a wistful smile at all the attention the others were receiving all unaware; these humans really did care about gargoyles and consider them people! If only the humans of old Wyvern had all been like this...

Then sunset drew near, and Hiroshi escorted her into the constabulary and to his personal office so she could transform in privacy. He gave her the bag containing her gargoyle clothes and a larger garment bag that would hold her human clothes, saying that he and the others would wait for her outside. Dominique was grateful for the privacy, as she stripped out of her human clothing and stood naked, waiting for the pain to hit. Not that she was particularly concerned about nudity; few gargoyles cared much about that, and in fact she hadn't worn any clothing at all until she'd come out of the rookery to begin her warrior training. But she disliked the stares that would surely accompany her transformation, and liked it even less when anyone saw her display weakness in screaming at the height of its agony. After over a year of transforming back and forth, she really should be used to it and somewhat inured to it by now.

In the midst of her red haze of agony, her pink flesh turned properly blue again. Once it was over and her wings and tail were back, Demona donned her customary clothing and went outside. Several of the villagers were indeed staring at her—even after Hiroshi had told them what would happen to her, they apparently hadn't quite believed it until now—but she chose to concentrate on the awakened gargoyles instead. Yama was currently preoccupied with petting and reassuring his cat, but Galena and her parents were standing with Carlos, surrounded by villagers armed with Spanish dictionaries. While the other villagers fumbled and flipped through their dictionaries so they could give their somewhat mangled greetings, Hiroshi was explaining to Carlos, so he could explain to the others, that they had sent someone into the temple to let the gargoyles know that Yama had returned much sooner than expected and with company. In a few minutes, once the temple's gatehouse was made ready, they would be given a proper welcome.

Demona wondered just how elaborate that 'proper' welcome would be. She knew from experience that Japanese human ceremonies could be quite elaborate, and dictated by traditions and rituals so strict that they made a full Orthodox Catholic wedding look like a child's game. The Yatsushiro clan had generally been more of a rough-and-tumble crowd, and indulged in far fewer ceremonies and rituals than their human neighbors; one of the sources of friction between them, long before Demona had arrived. For the Ishimuran clan to have survived this long, it was likely that they had taken to aping their human neighbors more, as a sort of protective coloration.

Demona caught and castigated herself. How could she be thinking such unkind thoughts as 'aping the humans', when she was hoping to join this clan? She'd wear kimonos and do tea rituals with them and--and all sorts of human things, if it meant that she could have a true clan again, with friends and comrades and perhaps even a partner for the Breeding Moon …

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The gatehouse to the temple was larger than Demona had thought it would be; evidently in the past it had served as more than simply a place for temple guards to duck into, to get out of the weather. They were brought inside and served tea by a pair of human children, whom Demona was given to understand were actually students of the gargoyle clan; they had been chosen by the village to learn the ways of Bushido as the gargoyles practiced it. The children were doing their duty with such care and concentration that everyone had to smile at them, even Demona; Galena watched them intently, as if memorizing how to do what they were doing.

Just after the last cup of tea had been served, Hiroshi slipped back inside the gatehouse and hissed to Yama that the clan was ready for the welcoming party, and Kai and the leaders were ready for the formal introductions. Yama nodded and drained his cup, but both he and Hiroshi waited until everyone had drunk their tea before doing anything else. But once Cuarzo had set his cup down, Yama bid them stand up, lined them up and said in his broken English, "Now our leader, elders see; them first, others later. You very still stand. I talk Kai-sama, make for you hello. I say you name, you bow," and he demonstrated how they were to bow. "Okay?"

Demona nodded, while Carlos puzzled through and translated Yama's words into Spanish for the other three, and they nodded in understanding. Then Yama nodded to Hiroshi, who gave a swift bow and went outside. Moments later, five gargoyles paraded solemnly inside, all clad in formal kimonos. The one in the lead, younger than the rest and easily the size of Goliath, wore the most elaborate robes and bore a huge no-dachi sword as well; Demona needed no introduction to know that this was the clan's leader, 'Kai-sama.'

Standing in front of the group, Yama bowed low to the assembled leader and elders. "((Leader Kai, I have returned with four gargoyles and a human who have come to visit our clan, and perhaps to combine their clan with ours. May I have the honor of introducing them to you?))"

"((You may,))" Kai said with a returning bow.

"((I would first introduce the remaining members of the Guerrero clan, from the country of Mexico,))" Yama said as he swept his wing to the right, where Malaquita, Cuarzo, Galena and Carlos were standing.

Kai was visibly startled, enough to drop the formal pose for a brief moment and blurt out, "((Mexico?))"

Yama coughed slightly. "((It is a long story, which I shall be most pleased to relate after all have been introduced. This is Malaquita, who leads the clan; her mate, Cuarzo; their hatchling, Galena; and their friend and day-guardian, Guevara Carlos.))" Malaquita, Cuarzo, and Carlos all bowed correctly when their names were mentioned, though little Galena had a sudden attack of shyness and scurried behind her father's wings instead. Kai's lips quirked in a tiny smile as he bowed to her anyway, as she peeked out from behind her father's wings. Yama continued, "((And from the Manhattan Clan, here is the one known as Di-mono. ))"

Kai was perceptibly startled again as he heard Yama's pronunciation of Demona's name. "(('Day-person'?))"

"((Ah, it is another long story,))" Yama whispered back very, very softly.

"((Which we hope to hear later, yes. But for now… On behalf of my clan and this village, welcome, all of you, to Ishimura,))" he said with a general bow to the assembly, as the elders behind him all bowed. "((We encourage you to visit freely and learn of our ways, and we would be extremely honored if you would consider staying with us permanently, and joining our clan here.))"

Yama turned and said to them all, his brow furrowed as he sorted through his memory for the right English words, "Kai-sama say welcome you Ishimura, visit please and learn us… our custom, and we big honor you stay, ah… stay always, and our clan… ah… make two clan one."

Carlos' brow furrowed also as he listened to Yama's words, then turned to Malaquita and her clan and told them in Spanish, "#They just welcomed us to Ishimura, they want us to learn their ways, and they hope we join their clan. #"

Malaquita smiled and nodded. "#Tell them that we look forward very much to learning their ways, and to joining their clan. Though I don't see how they can glide in such heavy robes… Ah, don't translate that last bit, please. #"

While Carlos was talking and Malaquita was replying, Kai's face reflected wry amusement as he said quietly to Yama, "((I assume they're speaking the language of Mexico, instead of English?))" Yama quietly informed him it was called 'Espan-yol'. "((This will make things more… interesting.))" Demona had to silently agree.

Once Carlos had stumbled his way through a reply in English, and Yama had translated that into Japanese for the others, Kai introduced the rest of the elders to them; the two female elders were named Miya and Morin, and the two males were Setsu and Jari. After another round of bowing, Kai said with a smile, "((Eh, that's enough formality for now. Their hatchling is so confused and shy she'll probably freeze solid if we don't relax ourselves,))" as he sank gracefully down to the mats, gesturing for everyone to be seated as well. Once everyone had crouched down or kneeled, Kai smiled and beckoned to the hatchling.

Galena held back uncertainly until Malaquita hissed to her, "#It's all right, cara niña; he won't bite. Go to him!#" Then she sidled forward, clutching her doll.

Kai smiled wider and gently pulled her onto his lap, then pointed to himself and said, "Kai." Then he pointed at her, making an exaggeratedly questioning face.

"Galena," the child whispered, holding her doll tightly.

"Galena," Kai repeated solemnly. Then he pointed to the doll and made the same questioning face.

"Carlotta," Galena said, her voice a little stronger now that she wasn't talking about herself. She added in Spanish, "((She's my best friend.))"

Kai's eyes flicked to Yama, then to Carlos, waiting for a translation. Carlos said simply, "Amiga. Doll is friend," and Yama translated that, adding, "((Very nearly her only friend. Galena has no rookery sisters or brothers; Malaquita and Cuarzo were the only breeding pair of their clan to survive an earthquake nearly forty years ago.))"

"((No rookery siblings!))" Kai was visibly dismayed, and the elders behind him were equally dismayed, one even looking quietly horrified. "((The poor hatchling… Well, she'll have plenty now.))" He slapped another smile onto his face, as he pointed to the doll again and repeated, "Carlotta." Then he added, "Kouyuu. Amiga. Kouyuu."

"(('Friend' is a good word to start learning with,))" one of the elders kneeling next to them said approvingly.

Galena caught on immediately, saying with a proud smile, "Kouyuu! Carlotta kouyuu!" Everyone beamed approvingly, and Demona even found herself beaming as proudly as any rookery keeper at a hatchling's first words.

Kai asked Miya if she would bring some food for their guests to eat, something that the hatchling especially should like; he wanted them to be more at ease before he introduced them to the rest of the clan, and he wanted somebody named Sakaki to impress upon the clan's hatchlings that their new playmate was very shy. Miya bowed and smiled, and discreetly slipped out while Yama related what he'd been told by Malaquita via Carlos about the recent history of the Guerrero Clan. "((Alone except for their human friends for nearly forty years,))" Kai said quietly when he was finished, while indulgently letting Galena trace the ornate designs of his kimono with a curious talon. "((Thank all the gods that our ancestors chose and crafted a better home for our clan, and the earthquakes haven't taken such a toll on us… Yama-san, perhaps you should reassure them that though we have many earthquakes here, we are prepared for them, both in building and in perching. If we have another shake-up tonight, I don't want them gliding out of the country in a panic.))"

"((I have already done so,))" Yama assured him, just as Miya came back in, with a tray of food for them all; little balls of rice stuffed with a red bean paste, that had been baked and sweetened with something Demona couldn't quite identify. Galena was a little cautious about biting into hers at first, but once she had a taste she gobbled it down and wordlessly asked for more, which Miya was happy to give her. After they had finished their snack, Kai kindly gestured for Galena to return to her parents while Yama nodded to Demona and said to her, "Now I you story tell."

"Arigato," Demona said cautiously, deliberately mispronouncing it just enough to give the impression that the word was still a foreign language to her, but she was trying hard to learn Japanese and fit in. Kai and the elders all smiled at her use of their language nearly as proudly as they had at Galena, and Kai even commented quietly to Yama that this female obviously had a modicum of intelligence as well as beauty.

"((Yes, she does,))" Yama said with a fond smile at her. Kai seemed suddenly alert to that smile, but said nothing and schooled his face to polite interest again when Yama turned back to him. "((And now, to answer your question about her odd name… The 'Day-person' is a very unique gargoyle, whose tale is long and difficult, and you must hear it before properly welcoming her into the clan. You may recall how Goliath told us all about his clan having once been betrayed by their human protectors, and only a few of them survived the betrayal. From what she has told me, Day-person is one of those survivors, and seeing so many of her clan killed drove her into revenge-crazed madness, and in that madness she not only slew the betrayer of her clan, but inadvertently caused the death of an innocent human as well.))" At their gasps of horror, he nodded sadly and said, "((Of course, once she realized what had happened she was horrified, but the damage was done and her honor horribly stained by innocent blood. Her clan banished her, naturally, and for the severity of her crime the banishment was made permanent. But before she went to greet her last sunrise, she encountered a 'Fei'--from her description of its magical powers and long pointed ears, I'm fairly sure it was a kitsune, traveling in America for its own reasons--and she asked him to help her. He cast a permanent spell on her, so now at sunrise, instead of going to stone sleep she turns into a human, and at sunset she turns into a gargoyle again. He took her true name as price of the spell, and renamed her 'Day-Person'.))"

"((Turns into a human!))" "((Amazing!))" and other such exclamations were directed her way as the Ishimurans all stared at her, as if expecting her to transform on the spot. Demona had kept her face schooled to incomprehension so far, but now she let herself duck her head and blush at their attention, at which they immediately turned their eyes away, not wanting to cause embarrassment.

"((Yes, into a human,))" Yama continued. "((Although she did not say so in the exact words, I am sure it was so she could attempt to make reparations for that innocent life she had taken, as well as have at least some sort of company lest she go mad with loneliness. As a fellow human, she can walk among them during the day, and help them as another human would, while still discreetly protecting them by night in her true form.))"

"((An honorable method of reparation,))" Kai mused aloud, and the elders quietly concurred. Demona swallowed hard, and prayed to the Dragon that she not burst into tears on the spot. Not only because Yama's near-hopeless naïveté was so touching, but because of the hope blossoming anew in her soul; hope of acceptance here…

"Hai," Yama said with a smile, which turned to a frown as he said, "((But in addition to her true name, the spell carries the price of great pain with each transformation. Hiroshi-san and I have both witnessed it; each sunrise and sunset, she suffers terribly, as though all her bones are being broken for the reshaping into another form. She is very brave, and tries not to scream, but if she does I beg you all to excuse her for it.))"

"((Of course we will,))" Kai said with wide eyes. "((As for her honor, and its restoration… Yama-san, for the moment you alone are the judge of that. Has she behaved honorably for the few nights of your acquaintance?))"

"((She has. When I first met her she was fighting a band of Kawarimen that threatened the Guerrero Clan, in most brave and honorable combat; fighting only with wings and talons against their electrical hammers, guns and helicopter.))" (Silently listening, Demona was suddenly and sincerely glad after all that she had left her favorite laser rifle at home that night.)

"((Brave and honorable combat indeed!))" Kai said with wide eyes, and he wasn't the only one visibly impressed. "((Later on, you must tell us more of this battle, and of your own part in it.))"

"((As you wish,))" Yama said with a modest inclination of his head, before continuing, "((After the battle was over and she was introduced to Hiroshi-san and Garegarino-san, she was most polite to them both, and even begged the forgiveness of Garegarino, who remembered her as being a companion to Goliath on the raid by that clan that once cost him a job. It turns out that raid was part of their vengeance-hunt, for the one who had betrayed their clan to slaughter. But she made personal reparation to Garegarino by finding new employment for him before we left, and in her human guise, she provided the transportation for us to return to these blessed shores, so much faster than we would have by boat as was originally planned. She did initially fear that we would reject her for her consorting with the kitsune or Fei-creature and becoming human by day, but bravely told us of the spell rather than simply hide herself away at dawn.))"

"((All very honorable behavior,))" Kai said approvingly. "((Elders, do you concur that her nightly ordeal and her dealings with Yama-san and the others have restored her honor sufficiently that she, at the least, merits a clan again?))"

"Hai," the elders all chorused with solemn bows in her direction.

"((Then again, knowing of her tale, knowing of her past dishonor and her present struggle to regain it, I again invite the Day-person to join our clan, to make our village her home now and forever. Yama, please tell her, ))" Kai said with a smile just for her.

Fighting down a grin that nonetheless threatened to spread from ear to ear, Yama turned to Demona and said simply, "You now make home Ishimura Clan always."

Demona had been barely able to hold her composure as Yama spoke up in her defense, and as Kai and the elders judged her based on Yama's naïve misconceptions, but now she utterly lost it. She broke down and sobbed, covering her face with her hands and wings as she cried tears of sheer joy and release at having a home and clan again. All she could say to them, over and over, was "((Thank you, thank you so much, thank you…))"

While still sobbing, she heard one of the elders whisper to another amidst a rustling of wings, "((She is overwhelmed by sheer happiness. Ordinarily I would of course depart, but now I feel we should stay; having just been accepted into a clan after living so long clanless, she might fear that we disapprove of her joyful tears if we leave her to recompose herself.))"

"((Words of wisdom, elder, as always,))" she heard Yama whisper, as the wings rustled again; evidently, everyone who had been about to leave was settling into place again.

"((Did you hear what she was trying to say through her tears?))" another elder whispered approvingly, "((Even in her overwhelming happiness, she not only remembers her manners but Yama's language lessons. Such a fine female, as intelligent as she is brave and beautiful!))"

A part of Demona froze with horrified realization; for a few moments there, she'd been saying 'thank you' in Japanese. But thank the Dragon, her sobs and wings had muffled the words enough that they had been mispronounced again… The sudden shot of fear at having her deception discovered sliced through her overwhelming joy like an ice-cold blade, but it had the benefit of helping her regain her composure faster. She was able to bring her wings and hands down from her face after only a minute more, and gratefully accepted the handkerchief that Carlos was holding out for her with touching concern. "Thank you, Carlos… Um, gracias…"

"Eh, de nada," Carlos said with a smile.

Having moved to crouch beside her, Malaquita said with a smile as she put her arm around Demona's shoulders, in a lovingly chiding tone just as she'd use for a rookery sister, "Mi amiga, #we told you, you had nothing to worry about. Dry your tears, my friend, just as you dried my daughter's when first we met… Now, all better? Carlos, ask them if we may meet the rest of the clan now. #"

Carlos turned back to the Ishimurans, but at that same time Kai was rising to his feet and saying, "((I think now it is time to introduce them to the rest of the clan. Yama, would you please tell them… ah, never mind, I see they have the idea,))" as Malaquita and Cuarzo stood up and took Galena by her hands, and Carlos fell into place beside them. The Japanese gargoyles led them out of the gatehouse, to stand in front of the massive temple gates. "((Yama, if you would do the honors…))"

Now openly grinning from ear to ear, Yama swung open the temple gates… to reveal an entire clan of gargoyles standing inside the courtyard, all of them smiling in welcome. At first sight of them, the gargoyles inside let out a rousing cheer in unison: "((Welcome to Ishimura! Long life and great happiness!))"

"# I don't know what they're saying, but it sounds wonderful! #" Cuarzo said with a wide grin, as they walked through the gates together.

As soon as they had all come through the gates, one golden-yellow female with her mane plaited in a long black braid that reached past her waist stepped up to the forefront of the crowd, prodding gently before her a yellow-green male hatchling, while over a dozen more crowded behind her. Malaquita and Cuarzo both grinned so wide their faces nearly split in two, while gently shoving Galena out in front of them, even as their hatchling had another attack of shyness and started to hide inside her own wings. Crouching down to Galena's level, the Ishimuran female pointed to herself and said with a smile, "Sakaki." Then she pointed to the hatchling and said, "Happa." When, after getting another questioning look, Galena whispered her own name, Sakaki then whispered to the hatchling with her, "((Go ahead, Happa; give her one of the zundamochi.))" Happa then held out to Galena a small tray, holding something that looked like a pair of giant green M&M's. Happa took one and bit into it with a smile, showing it was food, then offered the other one to Galena. She bit into it cautiously, then smiled widely and gobbled it down, with equally wide smiles from the adults on both sides. Less than thirty seconds later Galena was surrounded by joyous hatchlings on all sides, and grinning from ear to ear as she introduced them to Carlotta.

In short order Demona and all the Guerrero clan were mingling with the Ishimuran gargoyles and humans as if they were old friends; language barriers were no barrier at all when confronted with smiles and trays of offered food.

After a few minutes of just looking around her with an ear-to-ear smile and eating whatever was offered to her, Demona's left wing was very lightly tapped, and she turned to see the elder Miya standing there with a garment of emerald-green silk in her hands. "((Di-mono-san, this should look most lovely against your skin and mane,))" Miya said as she bowed low and presented the kimono to her. "((Don't you agree, Yama-san? Tell her it's for her if she wishes.))"

Yama had been staying close to Demona as they mingled, ready and willing to translate as needed, and now he smiled widely and gestured to the kimono as he said, "Miya-san has for you kimono, very pretty. You like?"

"Thank you! Ah, domo arigato," Demona said with a smile and a bow, which Miya returned with an even wider smile before helping Demona put the formal kimono on right then and there, carefully fitting her wings through the back slots. Smoothing the green silk against her pale blue arm, Demona had to admit that the color indeed looked beautiful on her.

Then Miya held up a bright red sash exactly the color of Demona's mane, and said to Yama with a twinkle in her eye, "((My aged fingers are not as nimble as they used to be. Yama-san, if you would kindly tie her obi for me…))"

"((Elder, your fingers are still so nimble you could thread a needle in a hurricane,))" Yama chided with a smile, as he nonetheless accepted the obi from her, and turned to Demona again. "Di-mono, this obi for kimono. I tie for you, please?"

"Yes, thank you! Domo arigato," Demona said again, as she held her arms and wings out from her sides enough that Yama was able to carefully wrap the obi around her and tie it in the back. Glancing around the crowd while standing still so Yama could tie the knot, Demona noticed that all of the Guerrero clan, even Carlos, were being given kimonos to wear. Little Galena was grinning from ear to ear and almost prancing in place in her new finery as Sakaki tied the obi of her little bright red kimono on for her, while a human child standing nearby held up a tiny kimono that was evidently meant for Carlotta. But Demona also noticed that the obi-tiers for the others were all of the same gender as the kimono-wearers; only she and Yama were different, and that difference was not going unnoticed by the rest of the Ishimura clan.

"((Miya wastes no time, does she?))" one bright yellow male close by, barely within Demona's hearing, whispered to the blood-red female standing next to him, though he smiled as he said it.

"((Well, why should she?))" the female whispered back with an even wider smile. "((She's unmated, she seems nice enough, and you heard what Setsu and Morin were saying just now about her manners, bravery and battle-prowess. And I have faith in Miya's instincts for pairing couples…))"

"((Since she helped us to choose each other, I most fervently agree,))" the male agreed, while rubbing his knuckles against his mate's brow ridges.

By the Dragon, she was being paired off with Yama in everyone's minds, less than an hour after arriving! Demona didn't know whether to be appalled and outraged, or fall to the ground laughing helplessly. She looked over her shoulder at Yama, but he was studiously avoiding her eyes as he tied a complicated knot in her obi. But she could tell by the dark splotches staining his gray cheeks that he was blushing… and smiling… And he was a brave warrior, as lethal as anyone from the old Wyvern clan, and he had been kind to her so far… And when seen at just the right angle, he was actually somewhat handsome… Demona faced forward again, with a small secret smile and growing warmth in her heart.

And failed to notice the shell-pink female at the edge of the crowd who was looking at Demona and Yama with obvious dismay in her eyes.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

The welcoming festivities lasted half the night, before the majority of the Ishimuran gargoyles dispersed to go about their business; fishing for some, mending nets for others, standing sentry at various points throughout the village for still other gargoyles. Sakaki beckoned Yama to come with her and the hatchlings to the rookery, and bring the other newcomers along. After some discussion back and forth, it was decided that for the next few months, Demona, Carlos and the Mexican gargoyles would work with Sakaki in the rookery, minding the hatchlings, while at the same time learning Japanese and teaching the Japanese hatchlings English and Spanish. The human villagers had brought in armloads of simple picture books, and each night for two hours, they would use the images in the picture books to teach and learn the different languages. After a few months, once they were proficient enough in Japanese, the adults would be free to take on other duties as they desired.

Hiroshi was yawning and heavy-lidded with fatigue when he came into the rookery a few hours later, while Sakaki was showing Galena the slight differences in the way the Japanese gargoyles played marbles. But he smiled brightly enough when he announced that he'd found places to stay for both Di-mono-san and Carlos-san in the village. Carlos would stay with Hiroshi himself; he had a spare room that hadn't been used for more than storage, and he'd just finished clearing it out and having a bed and other furnishings brought in. But Di-mono, when she was Dominiko-san, would be welcome to stay with the Yugebe family; their daughter, Mikiko, was one of the clan's students in Bushido, so they were already used to staying up late hours and taking naps during the day.

Yama showed Demona to the Yugebe family's home while Hiroshi took Carlos to his home, and Demona found that the Yugebes were as warm and welcoming as a stranger could hope for; Haruko, the mother, had even gone to the trouble of stocking their cupboards with samples of all the American foods she could find in the local supermarket at such a late hour. Demona smiled in gratitude, but told them with Yama's help that she would be delighted to eat the same fare that the family normally ate; she had tried Japanese cuisine a few times in New York, and had found it was often superior to American cuisine in many ways. (Particularly when compared to the box of macaroni-n-cheese mix that Haruko was holding out in offering.)

Sunrise came almost before she was aware of it approaching. When she followed the gargoyles to the temple where they perched, she was shocked to see that they were taking poses facing inward instead of outwards. Yama explained to her, and to the equally stunned Mexican gargoyles with Carlos' help, that it was a sign of the mutual trust that the gargoyles and the humans had in each other; the gargoyles trusted the humans to protect them during the day, just as the gargoyles protected the humans at night. Malaquita finally shrugged and told her mate and daughter to turn around and face inwards, while Yama had a few quick words with Kai, then turned to Demona and asked, "You stay out here, or prefer… alone for change? Kai say you can use gatehouse for change, if you like."

"That's very kind of you; arigato!" Demona said with a bow to both Yama and Kai, before she hopped down from the wall and headed for the entrance to the courtyard; behind her she could hear Kai give a clearly ritualistic "((Until sunset, my friend!))" to Hiroshi. But she had waited too long, and was moving just a little too slow from her 'jet lag'; sunrise caught her before she could make it out the gate.

After the pain faded and she came to her senses again, she found Hiroshi waiting patiently nearby with a cup of instant noodles, fresh and hot just for her; he explained that he'd thought she might need some small snack to restore her energy after such 'exertions'.

"Domo arigato, Hiroshi-san," Dominique said as she adjusted her kimono, ignoring the breeze now playing through the empty wing-slots, and gratefully accepted the cup. With a smile, she murmured into the rising steam, "I think I'm going to like it here…"

END VIGNETTE

Japanese translations:

Arigato: thank you

Gaijin: foreigner

Kangeikai: a welcome party, reception

Spanish translations:

Amiga: a female friend

Cara niña: dear daughter; beloved female child