LIFE GOES ON

And In Ishimura… Hot Baths, Hot Sake and Hot Topics

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

Standard disclaimers and acknowledgments apply; I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue!

Author's notes: This series of vignettes starts two nights after Demona, Malaquita, Cuarzo, Galena and Karros arrived in Ishimura, as depicted in the story "Kangeikai". And for most of the Japanese humans and gargoyles living in Ishimura, who are used to hearing and speaking an entirely different set of phonemes than English or Spanish, their names have been converted to Di-Mono, Marakita, Kuwarzo, Garena and Karros, respectively. The last four names make no sense in the Japanese language, but Di-Mono can be translated to 'Day-Person', which made perfect sense to the Ishimurans after they learned of her daily transformation to human form.

Also, just as for their human counterparts, the Ishimuran gargoyles' religious practice is a loose mix of Buddhism and Shintoism, with the Great Dragons of gargoyles folklore thrown in for good measure.

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Japan has a long-standing tradition of public bathhouses, where both sexes come to bathe in the nude. Not for sexual purposes; each bathhouse traditionally has two large pool-tubs, one for the ladies and one for the men, and while the men and women may be within sight of each other through billowing clouds of steam, they technically do not bathe together. There is no sex-play, simply the sensual pleasure of relaxing while immersed in an extremely hot bath.

Since the baths are shared by many, the tradition is that people must be already clean when they enter the water; each side of the bathhouse will have sinks or stalls supplied with cold or lukewarm water, for bathers to use for cleaning off the daily grime before entering the main bath.

Food and drink are traditionally not allowed in the bathhouse either, lest they get spilled into the tubs and foul the bath water, ruining the experience for the other bathers.

At least, that's the tradition for most bathhouses. But then, most bathhouses aren't patronized by gargoyles either. In Ishimura, during the wee hours of the morning when nearly all members of the human population are asleep in their beds but the gargoyles are wide awake, bottles of sake (the potent rice wine that has been brewed by the Japanese for thousands of years) somehow tend to find their way inside the bathhouse. The gargoyles' unwritten rules for the occasion are simply "If you spill it, you clean out the tub" and "Take the empties out with you." The bathhouse is always immaculate before sunrise, so everyone is content.

And occasionally, other items find their way into the bathhouse during those wee small hours. On this particular occasion…

"Did you get it on film?" Kawa hissed to Kenun as the two gargoyles sat on stools to one side of the bathhouse, performing the ritual washing off before entering the main tub. Or at least Kawa, the clan's junior healer, was doing so; Kenun, a junior fisher who had a talent for technology, was fiddling with a camcorder that he had just pulled out from under his wings.

"I think so, but we'll find out soon enough," Kenun said as he popped the tape out of the camcorder. "If I didn't, though, we'll have to wait a while before trying again; I think Kai and Kado saw me coming out of the gatehouse, and I'd rather that neither of them see me going back in tonight."

Kawa winced and agreed; they did not want to draw anyone's attention to their recent actions, particularly the clan leader's. Last night, a few hours before dawn, Kenun had sneaked into the gatehouse to the temple and clandestinely set the camcorder up in a corner of the roof, aiming it to record the interior of the gatehouse and rigging it with a timer so it would begin recording a few minutes before the following sunset.

Tonight, soon after they'd awoken, Kawa had politely asked the rookery keepers if he could borrow the rookery's VCR, so Kawa could view a tape of a human surgical procedure; not something suitable for the hatchlings to see. Sakaki, the clan's head rookery keeper, had readily agreed and let him unhook the VCR from the television that the hatchlings used for watching Hello Kitty cartoons. But instead of taking the VCR to the room set aside for surgery, Kawa had quietly installed it in the bathhouse, hooking it up to the TV that the bathhouse owner had put in last year.

And just a short while ago, once they were sure that the new clan member Di-Mono was occupied elsewhere, Kenun had snuck into the gatehouse and retrieved the camcorder. Both gargoyles were very uneasy about such sneaking around… but their curiosity burned even stronger than their unease. They just had to see this wonder for themselves!

While Kawa eased himself into the steaming-hot bath water, Kenun popped the tape into the VCR, then set it to rewind while turning on the TV. And just as it finished rewinding and Kenun was about to press 'play', the door to the bathhouse inner chamber opened, and Kado, the clan's senior healer, walked in.

Both the younger gargoyles jumped, then tried hard to act completely nonchalant, as Kenun sidled away from the VCR and over to the washing stall. "Konban wa, Kado-sensei," Kawa said in a strangled voice as he stood up in the waist-deep bath and respectfully bowed to his mentor.

"Konban wa, Kawa-san; konban wa, Kenun-san," Kado said pleasantly as he put a basket containing his clothing on a shelf. "And how are you doing tonight?"

"W-we're doing fine," Kenun said brightly as he scrubbed himself vigorously, then prepared to climb into the pool.

"That is good to hear," Kado said mildly as he turned to look at the TV and VCR. "Why look, there is a VCR in here now, and there appears to be a tape inside. Shall we play it?"

"Oh, ah, w-why disturb the serenity of the bath, Kado-dono?" Kenun said desperately, but Kawa just groaned and sank into the water, submerging himself completely.

"Why indeed?" Kado asked, his voice still mild but his eyes narrowed as he stared first at Kenun, then at Kawa's submerged form.

Kawa surfaced after another moment, and he and Kenun traded a commiserating glance before Kawa scrambled out of the tub to throw himself prostrate on the floor, right next to an already prostrate Kenun. "Kado-sensei, the fault is entirely mine! I shamefully allowed my curiosity to overcome my manners and respect for others…"

"No, the fault is mine," Kenun groaned while pressing his forehead into the tiles. "I most disgracefully talked my rookery brother into helping me indulge my own damnable curiosity! I deserve to be rendered wingless for my actions…"

"And these actions were for the purpose of…?" Kado sternly prompted.

"To observe the process of our new clan member Di-Mono changing from one form to another," Kenun painfully admitted.

"I see. And so you set up a camcorder in the gatehouse, didn't you? Set it to record automatically somehow, at either sunrise or sunset, the times when Di-Mono uses the gatehouse for privacy while changing. Which was it, sunrise or sunset?"

"Sunset, Kado-sensei," Kawa admitted. "We most sincerely regret our impulse, and we are prepared to accept whatever punishment is appropriate…"

"So desu ka?… Then your punishment is… to get in the tub, and move over so I can watch too." And Kado said with a wry smile as both the youngsters lifted their heads to look at him in astonishment, "What, did you think you're the only ones who are curious? My curiosity, of course, is of a purely medical nature."

"As is mine, Kado-sensei!" Kawa said hastily as he scrambled off the tiled floor and back into the bath.

"Of course it is," Kado said as he went over to a stall and gave himself a perfunctory ritual cleaning before entering the tub. "You and I are both healers, with a vested interest in learning anatomy. But since you're not a healer, Kenun-san, your curiosity is obviously of a more perverse order…"

"I am hentai pond scum," Kenun agreed with relief as he also got into the water. "Would you be so kind as to hand me the remote control before coming in?"

"Impertinent pup," Kado grumbled as he finished cleaning up, and picked up the remote to hand it to Kenun before easing into the water as well.

Kenun hit the button to start the tape playing, and fast-forwarded it past the first few minutes of the tape, which showed only the gatehouse's empty interior. Then a red-haired human woman dashed into the gatehouse, and Kenun slowed the tape to normal speed so she finished walking in at an ordinary pace, then removed her yukata and hung it on a hook.

"Quite nice-looking, for a human," Kado observed matter-of-factly. "Notice that while her skin is as pink as any human's, her human mane is as the same color as her gargoyle mane. And the bone structure of her face appears quite similar as well; that kitsune who cast the spell on her evidently took care to keep her human form as close to her true form as possible."

"You are surely correct, Kado-sensei," Kawa agreed.

"If she'd just turn a bit more, we could see if her nether hairs are also red," Kenun said wistfully, just before Kawa elbowed him, while Kado graciously ignored them both.

Then came sunset in the recording, and all talk stopped cold as they witnessed the red-haired pink human turn into a red-maned blue gargoyle. Witnessed every step, from the first signs of bulges in her back (heralding her wings bursting forth) to the last spasm as the toes of her feet stretched out to a proper gargoyle length. They witnessed it all, including her agonized expression… And though the sound had been turned down, they still faintly heard the screams.

Wide-eyed and staring at the screen, Kenun didn't resist as Kado grabbed the remote out of his hand, and rewound the tape. Kawa gulped, but said nothing as the tape was played again.

After the second playback, Kado said grimly, "Kawa, watch closely, think like a healer and learn all you can… for this is the last time this tape will ever be played."

For the third and final play, Kado muted the sound entirely, then slowed the tape to play it through almost frame by frame. Kawa set his shoulders and grimly observed, but Kenun turned his head away to observe ripples in the bath water.

After a few long minutes, Kado stopped the tape. Then he got out of the tub, walked over to the VCR, popped out the tape… and crushed it in his talons, before dropping the mangled remains into a waste bin. "None of us will ever speak of this, and the event will never be taped again," he said firmly.

"Never again," Kenun said fervently, and Kawa agreed.

"Never again, for us… but always again, for her," Kado said grimly as he stared at the mangled remains of the tape. "She suffers that agony every morning, and every evening… Kenun, you have an additional task for your atonement. Go seek out medical journals on the Internet, and find for me every article you can about the latest anesthetics and pain relieving techniques. I will approach Di-Mono tonight and ask her if she would like to try acupuncture as a method of relieving the pain of transformation, but I strongly suspect that acupuncture will not be enough…"

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On the other side of the village, and utterly unaware of the conversation in the bathhouse, Demona was scowling at the telephone in front of her. She had just finished a rather unsettling conversation with Candace, her current executive secretary at Nightstone.

Before leaving New York, Dominique Destine had arranged for various people in her company to compile daily progress reports on Nightstone's assorted projects, sales and stock figures, as well as reports on current events in New York, all of which would be given to Candace for relaying to the CEO. Ms. Destine had specifically requested daily updates on news of Xanatos Enterprises, Cyberbiotics Inc., the city government, and the gargoyles phenomenon.

Today's report concerning gargoyles had been the news that a body dressed in a gargoyle costume had been discovered atop an apartment building. The police were theorizing that the body was from last Monday's battle with the Quarrymen; that no gargoyles had been involved in that battle after all, only criminals dressed in gargoyle costumes and wearing stolen experimental jetpacks for flight capability.

Demona had smiled in relief at the news; Dracon's men had made good on the contract she'd given them, and her desperate plan had worked! That would surely lessen some of the public's antipathy towards the clan, at least to general suspicious mutterings instead of cries for vengeance for the slaughtered Quarrymen.

Then came the report on Xanatos Enterprises, and at the end of that report Candace had mentioned that CEO David Xanatos had been contacted by the media for his input on the discovery of the costumed body, and had replied, "Why do you want my opinion on this? I'm not involved with the gargoyles anymore."

At the very terse request for clarification that had come back over the transcontinental phone line, Candace had said, "Ma'am, I said in the very first progress report that David Xanatos had been interviewed Wednesday morning, and he'd reported then that the gargoyles had left his castle and moved elsewhere; don't you remember?"

"No, I do not! That must have been while I'd been distracted by goings-on at this end," Demona had growled. And there had indeed been a distraction in the room that night; Two of the clan's hatchlings had gone for a ride on the back of a watchbeast, who had chosen to gallop with them straight in to where Demona had been on the phone. And as soon as they'd seen her, the hatchlings had scrambled off the watchbeast's back and run over to her, chattering excitedly in Japanese; demanding that the flame-haired gargoyle come play with them.

(Their attitude had been understandable; upon her arrival Demona and the Mexicans had been assigned to the rookery, to assist the other rookery keepers while they learned Japanese. And as an apprentice rookery keeper, Demona's primary job was to keep the hatchlings entertained and safe from harm. She had been uneasy at first, unsure about working with hatchlings for any length of time; Demona knew full well that she'd never been the patient sort, and patience was essential for a rookery keeper. But so far, playing games of catch and tail-tag and other games that didn't need spoken directions, she'd been doing all right.)

But that night, Demona had covered the receiver with one hand while pointing to it with the other, and slowly shaking her head; trying to convey without words (the words in Japanese that she wasn't supposed to know yet) that she couldn't play with them right then; she had to talk on the phone instead. It had taken a few tries to convey the message; the hatchlings were unused to seeing a gargoyle using a phone at all. By the time she had gently shooed them and the watchbeast away, Demona had missed a fair amount of what Candace had been reporting, and evidently the news about Xanatos was an item Candace had neglected to repeat for her employer later.

Now that tonight's conversation with Candace was over, Demona knew she needed more information… and there was only one way to get it. Some time ago, she'd acquired the unlisted number for David Xanatos' personal phone line; she'd had a hunch that it might be useful someday. Taking a deep breath, she dialed the number, and waited.

The line was picked up on the other end, and she heard that familiar, far-too-smooth and suave voice give greetings. Old habits die hard; she automatically snarled into the phone, "Enough pleasantries, human; where is the clan?!"

"Why, Demona, what a pleasant surprise," Xanatos said dryly. "And how is life in Ishimura? By the way, I assume we have you to thank for that dead body found on the roof in a gargoyle costume…"

"That was not my doing," Demona said with automatic defensiveness.

"Not by your own talons, perhaps, but we both know you were involved in that battle with the Quarrymen last Monday… and during our prior association, you doubtless learned from me the importance of covering your tracks."

"As if I'd ever needed to learn anything from you!" Demona snarled into the phone, clutching it hard enough to leave cracks in the plastic. Then she forcibly calmed herself; this verbal sparring was getting her nowhere. After a deep breath, she said, "Xanatos, listen... Please."

After a very brief pause, she heard him say quietly, "I'm listening."

"I never asked why you rescued the clan from the Hunters and the police, and gave them back the ancestral home. It was enough that you had, and from what I could tell by my own observations, they were free to come and go as they pleased."

"So that was you, watching from a distance that night in October; Fox and I thought as much."

"Yes, I watched sometimes… and you know why. Since she calls Goliath 'father' so freely, I'm sure you are aware that Angela is my daughter."

"Yes."

"You have a son now, Xanatos. So you can understand how important it is, for a parent to know his or her child is safe." Demona took another deep breath before continuing, "So I ask you, as one parent to another: where is my daughter? Is she safe?"

After another brief pause, Xanatos replied, "She's safe. I won't tell you where she is, but I will say that the clan has moved at least temporarily out of New York City; far out of the Quarrymen's reach. She's safe where she is… and as far as I know, she's happy."

Demona sighed, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted off her back; as though she could go gliding from where she was standing, even without a helping breeze. "Thank you."

"I only told you because no one particularly wants you coming back here, tearing the city apart to look for her, and slaughtering more people in the process."

Demona knew she deserved that. She said aloud, "I still thank you."

"You're welcome."

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The next night, the bathhouse was in use again...

Sugi entered with her towel casually draped over her shoulder, to find Mizuumi already in the females' tub, immersed up to her chin. The blue-skinned junior rookery keeper quickly cleaned herself and eased into the hot water, and only after she had immersed herself to the waist did she quietly ask her gray rookery sister, "Have you seen Sora recently?"

"Not since the debacle two hours ago, after Marakita dragged her by the mane all the way to the rookery," Mizuumi groaned. "Oh, what a mess…"

"What in the eight hells happened?" Sugi said incredulously. "I couldn't understand a word Marakita said after she dragged Sora in, but she was definitely accusing Sora of something awful!"

"Probably of mate-stealing," Mizuumi said with a shake of her head.

"Mate-stealing?!" Sugi stared wide-eyed. "Sora, trying to steal that new male Kuwarzo away from his mate? You're joking!"

"I wish! Oh, she wasn't trying to do that, but that's probably how it looked to the Mexicans," Mizuumi said with another shake of her head. "And it's partly my fault, too…"

Sugi tucked her red mane up firmly with her kanzashi before sinking further into the water, up to her shoulders. "Tell me everything," she said firmly.

"Well, it really started the night that the newcomers arrived here," Mizuumi said, as she scratched behind her malformed horn in thought. "Did you notice how Sora disappeared from the party right after the gift kimonos were brought out?"

"I had my hands full with the hatchlings at the time; they were trying to help little Garena with her kimono, but were arguing about what sort of bow to tie in her obi," Sugi said with a reminiscent smile. "But I heard later about how Miya had Yama tie Di-Mono's obi for her…"

"Sora saw that just as clearly as I did," Mizuumi said, her eyes troubled as she stared into the past. "Saw Miya just about announce to the whole world that she thought Di-Mono and Yama would make good mates…"

"You may not like my saying it, but honestly, I think Miya might be right; that Di-Mono might make a better mate for Yama than Sora did," Sugi said firmly. "Don't get me wrong, I still like Sora, but she really treated Yama far worse than he deserved. Sakaki told me that even the dawn before Yama left for America, Sora went to see Yama but still wouldn't admit she'd been wrong to reject him again."

"I heard about that too," Mizuumi nodded. "And I told her she'd been too stubborn, when I found her in the boathouse later on, close to dawn. She'd gone up there right after the obi-tying, and spent the whole night crying and feeling sorry for herself. But at least she hadn't decided to glide out over the ocean, and greet her last sunrise… Anyway, I told her that the way she'd been treating Yama, is it any wonder that the clan thought he could do better than her? I told her, there's a time to save face or gain face, and there's a time to deliberately lose face… even to drop in the gravel, if the cause is important enough! And if she still really loved Yama, then that should be reason enough to risk losing face, even if only to him!"

"Because if he still loved her too, she wouldn't lose face for long; he'd give it back twice over with his honors," Sugi agreed. "Though if he didn't love her anymore…"

"I admit I don't know Yama as well as our rookery sister, but I'm sure he still has some feelings for her," Mizuumi said firmly. "Though if all this keeps up…" She sighed and shook her head. "Anyway, I told her, what she needed to do, even if she couldn't flat-out admit yet how wrong she'd been, was to show Yama that she still had feelings for him! And she certainly knows how to do that, because she'd done it before! After all, she'd been the one to fall in love with him first, back when he was our math and science teacher. And after he became a stonemason and was approachable, she'd been the one to show her interest first, and encourage him to court her as a mate. I told her if she'd done it before, she could do it again… and finally, tonight, she did. Actually, she overdid it; she was so desperate, she decided to bypass merely tipping her fan to him and other little flirting signs, and went straight to serenading! So she borrowed my best kimono and Taki's shamisen, had me help her put her hair up in a fancy style, and went looking for Yama."

"But obviously, something went wrong," Sugi said wryly, "And I think I can guess how it happened, too… I was in the rookery with Sakaki, Yama and the Mexicans when I noticed how Marakita and Kuwarzo were twining tails and giving each other furtive looks, like they wanted some pillow time but were afraid to say so in front of us. I mentioned it to Yama, and suggested they could use some privacy in the boathouse. He agreed, and went out to make sure the boathouse was empty and no one else was using the loft for a tryst. It was, so he hung the unlit lantern in the window before anyone else could claim it, put down some fresh bedding for them, then came back to the rookery and told Karros to tell Marakita and Kuwarzo about the boathouse. They were a little embarrassed, but they glided off to the boathouse fast enough afterwards."

"That explains it," Mizuumi groaned with a resigned nod. "I overheard Kumo tell Sora that Yama was down in the boathouse, alone; he must have seen Yama go down there and hang the dark lantern for privacy, but missed seeing him glide back and send Marakita and Kuwarzo down instead. I saw Sora set up where she could be seen from the window of the boathouse, and begin playing the shamisen and singing a love ballad. And she'd been doing it for maybe two minutes, when Marakita and Kuwarzo appeared at the window…

"Kuwarzo just looked puzzled, like most clueless males, but Marakita took one look at Sora and her eyes were blazing like hot coals. She must have figured that, since Kuwarzo was the only male around and Sora was definitely dressed for courtship, Sora was trying to lure Kuwarzo away from her. And before Sora could even begin to apologize, let alone try to explain, Marakita jumped out and pounced on Sora like a cat on a mouse. I don't know what she was saying in her native tongue, but it sure didn't sound complimentary! I probably should have gone down there to break up the fight, but I was just too stunned at how badly it had all gone wrong. And the next thing I knew, Marakita was striding off for the rookery and dragging Sora with her by the hair and wing-talons… and with my best kimono in shreds, too!"

"By the time I saw it, it was ruined past all repair," Sugi said with a shake of her head. "And you're right, Marakita must have been yelling that Sora was trying to lure her mate away, when she dragged her into the rookery like that. Yama had already left to get some dinner, so it was just myself, Sakaki, Karros and the hatchlings in there when they burst in. While Marakita was yelling at Karros and pointing at both Sora and Sakaki—probably telling him to tell us about what she'd done, but he was too stunned to say anything--Sakaki and I tried to ask Sora what was going on, but she just scrambled to her feet and ran out of the rookery like a thousand oni were chasing her. And little Garena must have been reacting to what Marakita was saying, when she shouted and took a swipe at Sora as she ran past… I wonder what 'puta' means in their native tongue? Then Kuwarzo came in right after Sora ran out, and said something to his mate that calmed her down right away; she was smiling again when they went back out to the boathouse." Sugi paused in her recital, then said with a wry smile, "He probably said something like 'you're so sexy when you're angry'… Anyway, I haven't seen Sora since then, and if you haven't either, that means she's probably gone into the forest to hide for a while, out of sheer shame."

"I hope she's just gone into the forest," Mizuumi groaned as she lay back in the water and closed her eyes. "I was seriously worried that after she got loose of Marakita, she'd glide far out to sea after all… but I waited at the shoreline for an hour, and never saw her. I really hope she just ran into the forest… and doesn't run into Botan."

Sugi paused at her rookery sister's words, then said quietly, "So you think Botan is still alive? It's been over a month since he was banished…"

"His sentence is only two full moons, and Yama survived alone for longer than that," Mizuumi said without opening her eyes. "And Botan is just like Taro; too wicked and shameless to die. He'll be back in another three weeks. Whether we like it or not, he'll be back…"

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The incident with Sora had been noticed by other gargoyles as well, and word had spread quickly through the clan. While Mizuumi and Sugi were in the bathhouse, three other members of their rookery generation were ensconced in a room above the granary, with several bottles of sake.

Anzu had already down most of a bottle of the potent brew, and now he complained drunkenly, "It's just not fair… not right at all! I'm the one Sora should be coming on to, not some gaijin gargoyle who's already mated!"

Udo nodded sagely, while being careful not to spill his own cup of rice wine. "Yeah; there's nothing more low-down than a mate-stealer. I thought Sora was better than that."

Kaze frowned as she insisted, "I still say Sora made a mistake somehow; that she wasn't after Kuwarzo at all. Soseki saw the whole thing from a distance, and she said she thought Sora was singing "My Love Lives High On the Mountain"; that's what she used to sing for Yama, back when they were still courting, because his name is 'mountain'! She must have thought Yama was in there for some reason!"

"But if she did, that's even worse," Anzu groaned. "She dismated him, plain as moonlight, and he's got that red-haired gaijin Di-Mono now; it's not right for her to be trying to win him back! She's supposed to be coming on to me, now; I'm her age, and still single! Shimatta, we're all each other has left to choose from!"

Udo agreed with him, and so did Kaze… but after another swig of sake, she frowned. "Wait a minute… have you said that to her?"

"Sure I did! Just last night, I told her so!" Anzu insisted, waving his bottle for emphasis.

"Inari, Buddha and the Great Dragons watch over us all," Kaze groaned, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling. "Anzu, since you crawled out from under Botan's wings, you're actually turning out to be an okay male… but you're still thick as a brick."

"Huh? What'd I do?" Anzu looked hurt and bewildered.

Udo was also looking at Anzu with disbelief. "Great Buddha, Anzu, you never tell a female she's got no other choice than you! Hells, if I'd told Kaze back when we were courting that it was either me, or you or Botan, she would probably have chosen you or Botan just to spite me!"

Kaze snorted and said, "No I wouldn't; but I'd have made you suffer for saying it!" just as Anzu, having muddled through what Udo had just said, said "Hey!" indignantly.

Udo realized what he'd implied, and muttered, "Sorry, Anzu; no offense meant. Can I blame it on the sake? But it still doesn't change the fact that you can't just tell a female what she should do when it comes to choosing a mate. You have to persuade her! All those years you were under Botan's wing, didn't you ever pick up any of his silver-tongued tricks?"

Kaze added, "He was such a smooth talker, he had half the elders of the tribe convinced he was Buddha's gift to us all. He might have gotten a mate for himself as soon as we matured, if he hadn't been so nasty to Mizuumi all the time we were growing up, just because of her horn. We females never told anyone, but we swore a pact before we even got out of the rookery, that none of us would never choose him for a mate because of that cruel streak of his. Whenever he tried to court one of us, like that year he was focused on me, Sugi and Mizuumi reminded me of the pact, of his manipulation, and of how he even kept you firmly under his talons, and how if I did choose him, that cruel streak would make me regret it later." She sighed as she looked off into the distance, muttering, "We really should have reminded Sora of that pact, after she dismated Yama and Kai's decreed stay-away period was over. But we thought she remembered all that—she sure seemed like she remembered it at first—and we didn't know he was forging those notes in our handwriting…"

"Anyway, you have to compliment her!" Udo insisted. "Tell her how pretty she is, what fine manners she has, how graceful she is, how nice her paintings are, and more of how pretty she is… you do think she's pretty, right?"

"Well, yes…" Udo said hesitantly.

"Then tell her so! Compliment her, bring her flowers and fresh fish, sing to her… No, forget the singing, you don't have the voice for it. But go hunting and bring her some fresh rabbit meat, too. And practice your tea-brewing! You can't afford to screw up the tea ceremony…"

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And the next night, the bathhouse was used again:

Kenun and Mizuumi were already in the bathhouse, each in their respective tubs, when Kawa came slowly in. They looked on anxiously as he set a basket of blood-spattered clothing on a shelf, then sat at one of the stalls and began slowly, carefully scrubbing himself, removing flecks of dried and still-drying blood from his face and wings.

Kawa paused, as a slim gray hand reached past him and grabbed the shampoo and a water dipper. He looked over his shoulder to see his mate had gotten out of the tub and was standing behind him. "Mizuumi?" he said questioningly; the rule in the bathhouse was no contact between the genders, even if they were mated.

"You have blood in your mane, too," was all Mizuumi said as she began wetting down his hair and shampooing it. Kawa relaxed and let her work her fingers through his mane, as he finished washing the rest of his body. When finally he was completely clean, she gave his shoulder a quick squeeze before departing to go back to the females' bath.

As soon as Kawa had eased himself into the hot waters of the males' bath, Kenun handed him a cupful of sake, from the bottle that had been brought to the bathhouse an hour ago. And only after Kawa had tilted his head back, opened his beak and poured most of the cupful of sake down his throat, did Kenun say anxiously, "Will Jiro be okay?"

"He'll live, and we're pretty sure he'll still be able to use his arm, after some physical therapy," Kawa said wearily as he lay back in the steaming-hot waters. "But he'll probably be horribly scarred for life." At Kenun and Mizuumi's gasps of horror, Kawa hastened to add, "But after Dr. Nomura returns from his conference, perhaps he'll be able to recommend a cosmetic surgeon to help reduce the scarring. Kado and I were only concerned with saving his life and his limb, not his looks." He sank back further, till only his face was above water, as he murmured, "Despite all those medical texts Kado insisted I study, I never thought I'd actually operate on a human…"

"May all the kami grant that you never have to do so again," Mizuumi whispered.

"I can still hardly believe it happened," Kenun said fretfully. "When Sugi told me what she saw…"

"What was that gaijin female thinking, to just attack like that?!" Mizuumi demanded. "But at least Sakaki and the other gaijin female, Marakita, were able to pull her off Jiro before she killed him."

"She came entirely too damn close as it was," Kawa said grimly. "If she'd dug in another four millimeters deeper, she'd have severed an artery, and Jiro would probably have bled out and died before we could get him onto the operating table."

Just then Sugi came in, looking haggard and groaning, "Buddha, what a horrible night. Please, tell me somebody brought in sake…"

"Got some right here," Kenun said helpfully as he lifted the bottle up for viewing. Sugi nodded gratefully to her mate, before turning to clean herself up at one of the stalls. By the time she'd finished, Kenun had put the bottle and cups on a tray and slid them over to the females' bath.

"How are the hatchlings?" Kawa asked as Sugi poured herself a generous helping of sake and took a sizeable gulp.

"Ahhh… they're calmed down now," Sugi sighed. "Buddha bless old Miya, she and Setsu came in and started telling tales of Peach Boy and The Gargoyle Called Thunder Eater, and wove their storytelling magic until the hatchlings wouldn't have noticed if the roof flew off the rookery. I snuck out just as they started telling the story of Thunder Eater and the Kappa's Treasure. But I wouldn't be surprised if over half of the hatchlings get day-mares tomorrow… Sakaki, Hisame, Udo and I are agreed; no matter what Kai decrees for her punishment, that female can't serve in the rookery any longer."

"She'd damn well better not," Kawa said as he cracked an eye open to look in the direction of the females' tub. "To attack like that without warning, for absolutely no reason…"

"Oh, she thought she had a reason," Kenun said dolefully. "I listened in for the first part of the hearing, after she was dragged out of there and thrown at Kai's feet. You won't believe this, but according to what Yama translated for her, she thought Jiro was attacking the hatchlings, and was going to kill some of them…"

"Attacking…?! By the Great Dragons, he was playing Gojiro for them! Right in front of Sakaki and me!" Sugi sputtered. "And even Marakita understood it was all a game, and she's just as foreign as Di-Mono!"

Kenun sighed, "I know… but remember, the Mexican gargoyles lost most of their clan to an earthquake. Di-Mono lost most of her clan, including the hatchlings, to a slaughter by humans."

Sugi winced. "You're right! And Di-Mono wasn't there when the hatchlings were begging Jiro to play Gojiro, because he's the biggest and fattest human around and he knows the hatchlings love it; she'd gone out to call her company back in America again. By the time she came back in, the game had already started…"

"And she saw the hatchlings shrieking and running away from a human who was stomping and roaring at them, thought 'not again!' and jumped poor Jiro before anybody could explain."

Mizuumi moaned, "Buddha grant us all serenity…"

"Because the Dragons know we need it badly," Kawa finished for her with a matching moan. "What a colossal screwup… What did Kai decree for her punishment?"

"He hadn't decided yet; he said he'd think about it for a while, and wait to hear what Kado has to report after the surgery, then announce the punishment an hour before sunrise. In the meantime, Di-Mono's under guard by Yama, Kusa, Kyuuka, and Shoufuu, with orders to pounce on her if she so much as twitches a wing too hard."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Back at the temple, Kado had also discarded his surgical smock and cleaned up, and was now gratefully accepting a cupful of sake from Kai. The clan leader was sitting with Taiju, his second-in-command, as well as the village mayor Masamune Ichiro and their head constable Fukuda Hiroshi. After Kado had told the others that Jiro would live and should regain full use of his arm, they resumed discussion just what was to be done with Di-Mono.

"We don't dare give her temporary banishment," Kai reiterated with a sigh. "She would not survive it. Honored Mayor, no gargoyle in recorded history had ever been temporarily banished twice and lived. Most of them don't survive even the first banishment, unless it's just for a handful of nights, and gargoyles faced with a second banishment have always committed seppuku, ripping themselves open with their bare talons, rather than face the horrors of exile again. And back in her homeland, Di-Mono was banished once already. If we told her to leave us for even a handful of nights, she'd almost certainly commit seppuku on the spot."

"Well, we certainly can't let her go unpunished!" the mayor protested. "What she's done…"

"Merits severe punishment, we're all agreed. More must be done than simply sentencing her to sweep the grounds for a month. The question is, what can be done without losing her forever?"

"I have an idea," Taiju said slowly, and everyone looked at him expectantly. They all knew that Taiju didn't speak often, but when he did his words were usually well-thought-out and appropriate to the occasion.

"It will require some assistance from our honorable constable," Taiju said with a bow in Hiroshi's direction, "during the daylight hours. My thought is this: since she committed a crime by our standards as well as a crime against a human, both halves of this village will see to her punishment. During the night, she will be restricted to the temple, she will sweep the gravel, and she will have her wings bound. Binding wings is usually done only for the most severe banishment, so it will be obvious to all that she is indeed being severely punished, without actually being exiled. And during the day, she will be a prisoner in the jail; that is where she will sleep, and perform such work as our honorable constable deems appropriate. Just before sunset, she will be escorted from the jail to the gatehouse, where she will remove the human prisoner's garb, transform, and have her wings bound again. If that is done for an entire full moon's worth of time…"

"That could work… and we'll need to ensure that her language lessons aren't neglected, either," Kai added. "If she'd just understood enough Nihongo to be able to grasp what was going on in the rookery, the whole unfortunate incident might never have happened."

"Indeed," Taiju nodded slowly. "And some of us in both halves of the village must make some efforts to befriend her even during her punishment; to make it clear that while we condemn her crime, since it arose from the urge to protect the hatchlings, we do not condemn her."

"Well said," Kai nodded approvingly. Then his expression turned wry as he added, "At least most of us don't… We'll need to make it clear to Di-Mono that she'll be restricted to only part of the temple grounds; Sakaki already told me that she can't be allowed back in the rookery again. Her attack traumatized the hatchlings enough that one of them even shied away from Sugi for a little while, Sugi who has been with them ever since they hatched, just because she also has a blue hide and red mane."

"I always thought it was just a silly superstition, but maybe the ancestors were right after all," Kado said as he downed another cup of sake. "A red mane is a sign of trouble brewing, trouble between gargoyles and humans…"

Kai rolled his eyes. "Don't go repeating that outside of here. Sugi has never caused any trouble, and nor did any red-maned gargoyles that have been bred here for the last hundred and eighty years. No, we just had the bad luck to bring in a gaijin who's been so traumatized by a massacre, that she'll attack even shadows that startle her. Hopefully, with great patience on our part, she'll come around to being sensible again. In the meantime, I confess I'm quite thankful that Di-Mono found out and relayed to Yama, that the rest of her old clan has moved to another city, away from those murdering Kawarimen. Between that fight between Marakita and Sora last night, and tonight's disaster..."

"I see what you mean," the mayor nodded sagely. "Even when they mean well, the gaijin wind up making trouble, and more of them would surely mean more trouble."

"But the ones who are here already will learn our ways, and eventually all will be well again," Taiju said softly but surely. "We must simply give them the time to do so."

"Taiju is right," Hiroshi said firmly, as he set his cup down and prepared to rise. "With your permission, I will go now to make preparations for her jailing during the day. And I personally shall see to it that she is given language lessons every day that she is behind bars, and contact with those villagers who are willing to come and talk to her. One may hope that by the time her sentence is over, Di-Mono will talk and behave like a proper Ishimuran."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

An hour before sunrise, with all the clan assembled as well as the key human villagers, Kai pronounced sentence on Di-Mono. She lay prostrate on the gravel before the clan leader, as Kai announced her punishment in ringing tones, and didn't twitch even when Yama, standing nearby, quietly translated for her. She only groaned something in response, that Yama translated in louder tones for everyone to hear: "She accepts her punishment, and is thankful that the clan leader has shown her such mercy."

At Yama's quiet urging, Di-Mono rose to her hands and knees so Taiju could bind her wings with the black obi. Taiju solemnly passed the obi under and around her, prepared to tie the knot in the back… then paused and muttered to Yama, "Ask her if she can wiggle her wings a little. I don't want to tie this one too tight."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

After the sentencing was over and her wings were bound, Demona rose slowly to her feet while the assembled crowd dispersed. With a sympathetic look on his face, Yama handed her a broom so she could begin her menial duties. In his halting English, he said, "Sweeping not hard; I show you best ways to clean fast all perches. I have done sweeping before…" He paused and rolled his eyes as he added, "Many, many times."

"Oh, really?" Demona murmured, though her mind wasn't on their conversation; instead, she was reflecting on the bitter irony. In her long life, she'd been second-in-command in her first clan, and leader of the next, and her warrior skills had earned her a respected position in the Schwarzwald Clan as well. But due to her own idiocy, in this clan she was reduced to the lowest of the low. But at least they hadn't banished her; she hadn't lost another clan… At least, not yet…

THE END

Japanese translations:

Gaijin: foreigner

Gojiro: Japanese name for Godzilla

Hentai: perverted

Inari: Japanese goddess of rice, foxes and fertility

Kami: nature-spirits, minor gods and goddesses

Kanzashi: decorative sticks used to pin up a lady's hair

Kitsune: trickster fox-spirit

Konban wa: good evening

Nihongo: the Japanese word for their own language

Oni: demon

Seppuku: honorable suicide. The most well-known method is hara-kiri, in which the bowels are ripped open by a sword and the suicidal one's guts spill out, while another person stands behind and cuts the victim's head off to shorten the death-agonies.

Shamisen: stringed instrument

Simatta: dammit!

So desu ka: Is that so?

Yukata: cloth robe, used for informal daily wear

Spanish translation:

Puta: bitch