If one were to ever ask Elisa Maza what she considered the strangest thing that she had ever witnessed since meeting the gargoyles, she would be hard-pressed to choose exactly what. Tonight, though, definitely made the list of candidates.
"How can this be?" Goliath asked of the little grey gargoyle.
Elisa would have also been hard-pressed to say whom in that room was more astounded, least of all poor Nolee Carroll, who was staring at her young charge as if he'd grown another head.
"Have I been... reborn?" Grey replied wonderingly. "Did I indeed perish in the battle with the Sisters?" He gave a little start. "Kathrine! Tom-- the eggs-- are they--"
"Alive and well," Goliath quickly assured him. "We were victorious... and you defeated the Weird Sisters; don't you remember?"
"Okay, just a damn minute!" Nolee, her eyes screwed shut and fingers pressed to her temples, cut sharply into the bizarre reunion. "Someone better explain what is going on here, and-- and what any of this has to do with my Grey!"
Grey looked at her as if only just remembering she was there, and visibly cringed. "Oh... Nolee, please don't be angry."
"Nobody's angry," Elisa stepped in, and Nolee shot her a look that plainly told her to speak for herself. "Just a little confused. This does sound a little crazy."
"If you doubt me," Grey said, looking directly at Elisa, "Ask me what we spoke of when you and I walked to the Hollow Hill."
The detective shook her head. "Just by knowing about that I'd say you were the real thing. But I think your guardian needs to know the full story."
Grey nodded, taking a breath and turning to the indignant, baffled young woman. "After all you have done for me, dear friend," he said, "you deserve the truth.
"Goliath spoke of the curse that made his clan sleep. I am the sorcerer who cursed them. I was that sorcerer... a man, human like you. I have all this while been unaware. The dreams that worried me were memories, haunting me for the sin I committed a thousand years ago.
"Please, Nolee, don't be angry with me, or with Goliath... If I had known who I was I never would have deceived you."
Nolee was silent for several moments, her annoyance melting slowly into concern, bafflement into mere bemusement. "But you're talking about reincarnation."
"It's been known to happen," Elisa put in dryly. "But Grey knows things only the Magus would know."
"But what does this mean? What happens to him now?"
"It means," Goliath rumbled, "that you have a decision to make, Magus."
Grey got down off the couch, and with an apologetic glance to Nolee, turned and looked up at Goliath. "Will you walk with me?"
The leader nodded, and followed Grey out into the corridor. Once the two gargoyles were out of sight, Nolee pinned Elisa with a look.
"Seriously, detective-- does this kind of thing happen a lot around here?"
"Make yourself comfortable," Elisa cautioned, taking a seat. "And you might want to take notes."
No matter how hard he tried, Grey could not keep the telling nervous fidget out of his tail. He somehow couldn't remember it being this hard to maintain one's composure.
"It is true, then, what you said?" he asked the towering giant who walked beside him. "That we won, and the eggs are safe?"
"Can you not remember?" Goliath said.
"I remember fighting the witches, and fleeing into the Hill, but I see nothing after that moment."
"Then you do not remember your... your own death."
Grey felt a shudder work its way up his spine, and he squelched it before it could translate into a rustling of his wings. "Using Avalon's power cost me dearly," he said, absently pushing his hair back out of his face. "I cannot remember dying. But it must be true. How else could I be here... now? And as this?" He cast another glance down at himself, though the sight was at once startling and familiar. A rogue thought bubbled to the surface: is this reward or punishment? and he had to stop a snort from betraying him.
Goliath peered thoughtfully down at him. "My experience taught me that when you leave Avalon, you are sent where you need to be."
"I died; I did not leave."
"Death is a departure of sorts. That may not even be the reason, but it seems the likeliest to me. But whatever the case may be, you have returned to us, Magus, and no matter how it came about..."
"... I must decide what to do with this new life," Grey finished. He straightened, stood as tall as his awkward child's body would let him. "If you allow it, Goliath, I would join your clan and make amends for what I did."
The big gargoyle raised a brow. "Do not let guilt motivate you, for you have none as far as I am concerned."
"If you don't remember your death, you don't remember our last conversation. Let me repeat it, so there can be no misunderstanding." Goliath knelt. "I owe you a great debt, Magus. You saved my children. You have been given a marvelous gift, a second lifetime, to live in any way you choose. Go into it as innocent as the child you are."
It amazed Nolee to see just how... different... the gargoyles looked.
She supposed she shouldn't have been so surprised, given the only representative she'd had was Grey, but still. The widely varying colors, sizes and shapes... she remembered the talk with Ashton and thought to herself, this must be what a genetically diverse group looks like.
Elisa introduced her to them one by one. Apparently they knew what had happened and had been waiting to meet the newcomer, and were warm and welcoming to Nolee herself. The comely lavender female, Angela, even surprised her with a hug and the portly elder Hudson commended her for her bravery in defense of one of their own.
Nolee didn't feel particularly brave; in fact, looking back on the night's beginning made her slightly sick at how close she'd come to getting herself seriously hurt or worse. And Grey...
She didn't know what to think about that.
Nolee did her best to answer the gargoyles' eager questions as she thought back. It explained the dreams, the odd scribblings in his journal, and of course how he'd managed to learn to read so fast. He'd always seemed a little unchildlike. But just who was he now? Grey, Little One, the bookworm orphan, or this Magus, a guilt-haunted old ghost whom she knew practically nothing about?
And on that note, she had to worry about just how serious a crime that curse business really was. Both Grey and Goliath had acted dead serious as they'd left for their private conference, the youngling looking as if he were preparing to plead for his life.
"This clan of Grey's," Hudson was saying, bringing her out of her thoughts. "All of them gone, you say?"
"His brother died in a hunting accident," Nolee replied. "And his mother was shot when she accidentally scared some human hunters... and Grey says that Leader 'greeted his last dawn' and committed suicide somehow."
By the collective gasp this elicited she could surmise it probably meant something particularly dramatic, and her imagination filled in the rest.
"Lady Blue, the one they just called Elder, just didn't wake up one night," she continued. "She was very old, though. And Grey's father, Spots..." she trailed off. "There seems to be a gap in the history there. Mr. Ashton told us he thought maybe there'd been a fight when Leader took over, since he and Grey's father were always butting heads."
"If that were so," Brooklyn mused, scratching thoughtfully at a horn, "Spots obviously lost, but was he killed in the fight or got kicked out."
"That's so harsh!" Angela protested, and the brick-red gargoyle shrugged helplessly.
"That's the way we used to do it, back in Scotland," he said. "If you challenged the leadership you were in for a fight. This clan sounds strictly traditional-- no names, no acknowledging parents."
"So, could he still be alive? Grey's dad, I mean," said the green female, who was almost incongruously dressed in jean shorts and a t-shirt, as opposed to the apparent loincloth dress-code of the rest of the clan.
"Those woods are almost totally closed in by human development," Nolee replied, shrugging. "And it was almost a decade ago, so there's no telling."
"We can worry about that later," Hudson cut in, rising from his armchair. "Here comes the lad now."
Goliath and Grey appeared in the archway just as Nolee turned. Immediately she could tell their discussion had gone well-- Grey's posture was still a bit apprehensive but he was smiling now. The beast-like gargoyle had to be restrained by Broadway lest he bowl the much tinier newcomer over with inquisitive approval. All the gargoyles waited expectantly, as Goliath gave the child an encouraging nod.
"Angela?" Grey said, taking a step into the chamber, his smile growing broader. "I... I am glad to see you again."
Angela's enthusiastic expression fizzled into one of puzzlement. "Again?"
Grey nodded, shifted in place. "And-- and I am glad to see the rest of you alive and well. I had feared you all dead, long ago."
Nolee fought to keep her jaw from dropping open. He wouldn't.
Before anyone could muster up the obvious 'what are you talking about' question (or even a 'hey, kid, are you okay?'), Grey plowed on. "I know I seem mad to you as I am, but... you once knew me as Princess Kathrine's advisor... the Magus who cursed you."
Utter confusion reigned.
Angela demanded to know if this was some sort of joke, why the memory of her old teacher was being treated with such disrespect-- Bronx got away from the dumfounded Broadway and began sniffing Grey with great curiosity-- Hudson bluntly asked Goliath where by the dragon the boy had gotten such a wild notion-- Lexington was the one to bring up the valid point that crazier things had and did happen with alarming regularity-- Goliath, Elisa and Grey did their best to cut through the babble and assure everybody that yes, it was true-- Tanner and Rissa watched in complete bafflement--
Nolee stood outside the nucleus of commotion, hardly knowing what to think.
She slipped away, wandered off, and found herself outside on a parapet overlooking the bejeweled city far below. Her ankle still throbbed where she'd turned it, and she'd all but forgotten about the scrape on her face, but the cool night air both reminded her and soothed the injury. She wrapped her arms around herself and touched the rough scorch mark on the shoulder of her jacket.
Magic spells, vengeful curses, magical islands, wizards and gargoyles and reincarnation, the entire world had changed the minute she had coaxed the small grey creature out into her life...
It was insane.
It was real.
After some time, there was a soft noise from behind. "Nolee?"
She turned around and there he was, alone; he still looked the same, said her name the same careful way he always had, but he could see the stranger in him now. "... do I call you Magus now?"
"Oh, Nolee." The little gargoyle came over to her, his expression so saddened that she almost melted right there. "This is as strange to me as it is to you. To think that I have hurt you is unbearable."
Nolee relented, knelt. "You didn't hurt me. I'm just-- not sure who you are."
He looked down at the stone floor. "I am someone who would have remained nameless and ignorant... I am someone whose second life would have had no meaning... I am someone who would have died a second time forgotten and alone... were it not for you."
Nolee couldn't help it; she burst into tears. All the stress of the night, the enormous revelation of her charge, the care and worry and love of a makeshift mother, it all washed over her in one great wave of release. Had it really only been a few months since she had stumbled over a tiny sleeping gargoyle in her basement? Only months?
"I am still your Grey," he said, embracing her. His little wings wrapped around as far as they could reach. Nolee returned the hug fiercely, managing a laugh.
"I knew I was going to have to give you up," she said, sniffing. "I was just afraid I'd lost you too."
He pulled back, smiled at her, and gave her injured cheek a kiss.
Goliath has accepted me into his clan, a fate I dared not hope for. I still cannot remember my last moments. Indeed, there are many things I cannot recall, but the memories I do have are crystal clear now.
I read this journal anew and I am amazed at myself. I was ever driven by the need for knowledge in my old life, and that insatiable hunger followed me here; without it I am certain I would have perished.
But it is Nolee who fed my hunger, mind and body, who led my soul to waking. The gargoyles have called her Guardian, and I can think of no more fitting title for one who gave of herself for my sake, no matter who or what I am, even through tribulation. I will honor her for as long as I draw breath.
Of my place here, I am still uncertain. But if what Goliath said is true, that I was sent where I was needed, what is the role I am to play? What steps will this strange dance demand of me?
I will remember the lesson of Elder: to care for one's clan, kith and kin; the lesson of Ashton: to have the strength to live well; and the lesson of Nolee... to love without condition.
And the lesson of my old self: to keep one's temper.