9.7: Desflagrate muri tempi et intervallia
Several meters away, deeper in the bayou…
A ball of fire suddenly appeared three meters off the ground, then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. And when it vanished, two gargoyles were left in its place… two gargoyles who squawked in alarm and flexed their wings out, but couldn't catch a breeze in time to avoid falling with a tremendous splat into the mud of the bayou.
"Stinking, snarting, gravel-sucking piece of fod!" the male of the pair cursed angrily, as he stood up in the knee-deep muck and gave himself a vigorous shake all over, trying to get the mud and detritus off. "I swear it does that deliberately, just to jerk our tails!"
"This is all Puck's doing, I just know it," the female growled as she stood up and did the same. "He's never forgiven me for getting the better of him that one lousy time, just once in the last four years, and he did something to the Gate before we left as his revenge!"
They wiped off as much of the muck as they could, helping each other with the backs of their wings and other areas that were hard to reach. An onlooker could have observed that the pair were apparently the same age, in their third decade; the gargoyle equivalent of teenagers.
The male had a lavender-colored hide and dactyl wings, bracketing a youthful yet well-muscled body. His pumpkin-orange mane was tied back in a ponytail, revealing ears ridged like fans and a craggy face with bony ridges running along both sides of his jawline. A pair of long stout horns poked up out of his mane at his temples and swept back past his head, with a strand of spanish moss persistently clinging to one horntip. He wore baggy black shorts with cargo pockets and a blue tank top, clothing that had seen better days; small holes and rips were visible here and there and the printed logo on the shirt, an apple with a bite out of it, was so faded it was barely discernable.
The female was turquoise-green in color, with dactyl wings framing a body in the bloom of maidenhood. Her face was nearly human-looking in its soft features and minimal brow ridges, but with her short-cut and sable-dark mane hanging limply with watery mud, a small bony ridge could be seen starting at her hairline and extending back across her head. The ridge extended all the way down her neck, back and tail, growing larger until individual spikes could be discerned from her waist on down, and a set of foot-long and wickedly sharp spikes adorned the last six inches of her tail. She wore a black halter-top and black shorts, which laced up the back above her tail to accommodate her ridge of spikes. She had many silver earrings, a pair of studs and trio of hoops adorning each long pointed ear, and wore a heavy necklace with a large round pendant of silver and moonstone.
Once they had cleaned as much of the muck as they could off themselves, the female asked with a sigh, "All right, where and when are we?"
The male fished an electronic device out of his pocket as he said, "The where is easy; you should recognize the vegetation too, from our visits. If this isn't the bayou outside the New Orleans Clan's home, I'll eat sawdust for breakfast. As for when…" he peered at a readout on the device, then concluded, "Somewhere between October and December 1996. For this time period, there's a two-month margin of error."
"1996… that's when the Manhattan Clan first went public, right? And the start of the P.I.T.?"
"Yeah. And as soon as they came out, and other clans found out they existed, the New Orleans Clan invited everyone down to New Orleans to get a break from fighting the Quarrymen, and get some unmated males and females paired up. We could be here during their first visit, Sis."
"Toasty!" the female said with a wide grin that showed her fangs. "After hearing from the parent generation about how they were all sooo well-behaved when they were our age, now we can learn how some of them really were—and maybe get some blackmail material!"
The male grinned just as widely in response... but his grin faded a moment later. "Do you hear something?"
They both went silent and strained their ears, and faintly heard the sound of sobs, coming from the north. Moving as quietly as they could on the ground, they crept through the bayou until they could see a lavender-colored female gargoyle crouched at the base of tree, several yards away… a female with her clothing in tatters and bruises on her arms, and sobbing wildly into her hands.
"Oh gods," the male breathed, his face dismayed. "Is that…"
"It's Mom... and her clothes, and the way she's… Jesus and Dragon, she's been…!"
The female looked like she wanted to cry, as she stepped out of the bushes. Only to be abruptly yanked back by her tail, before Angela could notice her.
Concealed by the undergrowth again, the female turned on her companion, eyes ruby-red with rage as she hissed, "What the fleck are you doing?! What kind of asshole would want to leave his own mother in that condition?"
"An asshole that's fleckin' time traveling," the male growled. "Think for a second, Sis! Did Mom ever say a word about this encounter to you? Either in our own time before we left, or when we saw her in 2095?"
"…No," the female finally, reluctantly growled. "But then, she never told me about… about any of that!" as she pointed back at the scene under the tree. "Who the fleck would have—are you sure this is 1996? Before the Night the Children Came Home?"
"Pretty sure. And, well, maybe we're jumping to conclusions here about what happened to her…"
That earned the male a look of pure scorn and contempt as the female said in a whisper loaded with sarcasm, "Well, why don't we just look at the cursory evidence again?" And with that, she stepped to one side, turned and swiftly grabbed the male by an ear. Keeping a firm grip, she forced him to look at the scene under the tree as she hissed, "We have here a lone female with her clothes in tatters, bruising restraint marks on her arms and other signs of a struggle, and looking like her world's just ended. Like we never saw that on patrol back in our own time, on humans? What, do I need to crash the local police precinct and bring back a rape kit for you?"
"Okay, okay… You're right. I just didn't want you to be right this time, dammit!" the male hissed painfully as she finally let go of his ear. "I just… feel like either throwing up, or disemboweling somebody!"
"I vote for disemboweling," the female said with a snarl in her whisper. "Provided we're talking about the bastich who did this to her! But for now, we need to help her…"
"Without letting her know we're here," the male insisted.
"Not a problem," the female said grimly. "Right now, she probably needs a time-out from the pain and soul-ache anyway. Just let me glide within casting range," as she turned and headed for a tall tree a few yards away. She climbed the tree and launched into the night breeze, and circled around to glide over the clearing from a different angle.
By that time Angela's sobs had quieted, though not stopped entirely. Perhaps noticing the shadow moving over the meadow, perhaps alerted by the whoosh of wings, she started to look up as the younger female glided overhead. Just as the time-traveling gargoyle's silver-and-moonstone pendant glowed, and she spoke in oddly ringing tones: "Somnus."
Angela dropped in her tracks, instantly asleep. The daughter whose egg she had yet to lay nodded with satisfaction, then spiraled higher to get a good look around, while her son darted out of the underbrush and lifted her carefully in his arms. Moments later the female landed and said, "The mansion is about two miles to the north and east. If we take her right up to the edge of the estate, then cast a quick 'Look this way!' spell on the first female gargoyle we see nearby, she should be found right away and get the help she needs pretty fast."
"Sounds like a plan," the male agreed. "But what shall we do to secure the scene of the crime?"
The female's fangs showed again in a very nasty smile. "Why secure the scene, when I can get a magical DNA trace from that scratch on her arm? We can track down the bastich who did this and take care of him ourselves!"
His fangs showed in an equally nasty grin. "Sounds like an even better plan." And they trudged through the bayou towards the mansion, carrying Angela with them.
But after going only a quarter of the way to the estate, the male slowed to a halt, looking uneasy. "Ummm… look, Sis… do you think you could tell if there was, er… actual, uh, 'forced entry'? There'd be, like… trauma there, right?"
That earned him a look of disbelief and growing scorn as his sister said, "Are you fleckin' kidding me?! We went through this already! Godsdammit, do you really need me to get a rape kit?"
"Look, just humor me on this, okay? Because I think I remember something about this after all."
She looked at him oddly, but when he gently laid Angela down on a bed of moss and turned his back, she crouched down and gently looked Angela over. "Um… there's no visible bruising there, or vaginal bleeding. But then, the female body's designed to be able to take a lot of punishment; laying an egg is pretty damn hard, after all. And I'm not Doctor Athena; not really qualified to examine this sort of thing."
"But it looks like the perp might have… stopped before actually… penetrating, right?" as, still determinedly not looking, the male tugged on his own horns in agitation.
"I suppose, but then whoever drove him off would have helped her back to the mansion, right?" as she looked up at him. "That's what anyone with a sense of decency would do."
"Fleck, fod and pigeonshit! Sometimes I hate being right," as the male tugged on his horns even harder, before dropping his hands and sighing. "I mean, it's a good thing for Mom if I am, but… Sis, we have to take her back to where we found her and go after the perpetrator, right now."
"What? Why?!" she demanded.
"Because even if you were never told about this, I was; all the males in our generation were, as part of our coming-of-age rites. Come on, cast the tracer spell and I'll tell you on the way…"
Over a mile away, Broadway had finally stopped running, finally stopped sobbing; he sagged against a tree trunk, utterly spent.
He was an animal. A stinking animal, no better than a dog… no, that was an insult to dogs. He was a monster; it was that simple.
Angela had only been trying to get him to exercise, to lose weight… and he'd almost raped her!
He'd never forget that terrified look on her face, as long as he lived. She'd been so afraid of him, afraid of what he almost did to her…
He should just rip the damn thing out by the root.
There was no way she'd accept him for a mate now. Not when he'd tried to force from her what should only be freely given.
And when Goliath found out… this was about the worst thing a male could do, short of killing someone. He'd be banished on the spot, and probably get his wings shredded too… not that he could use them anymore anyway.
He couldn't face that. He was just too much of a coward to face that. And he was too much of a coward to castrate himself, but there was one thing he could do…
He glanced up at the tree he was resting against, glumly assessing the strength of its branches. If he climbed up and out on that spindly limb there, up near the top… it looked like it might be strong enough to support him, but no sane gargoyle would choose it for a perch during the day. It was too flimsy, and if it didn't just break under his continued weight while in stone, the first breeze that swayed the branch would topple the stone form and send it plummeting to earth.
If he positioned himself just right before turning to stone, when it happened he'd land on his head and be shattered instantly.
Sunrise would be in about two hours. Now that he had a plan, he settled back to wait.
"Oh, Jesus and Dragon. It is him," the female from the future whispered in dismay, looking at Broadway from their hidden vantage point.
"Yeah. And look at how he's just sitting there, his wings, his face…" The male expelled his breath in a forceful sigh. "Now I know what we're here to do. And I think I'd rather tangle with another pack of velociraptors, but…"
She looked at her brother. "You're going to talk to him?"
"Got to. No one else is going to find him before sunrise, and he looks like he just might be thinking about greeting his last. Can't risk that, can we?"
"Do you…" the female swallowed hard. "Do you want me to go with you?"
He gave her a considering look, then shook his head. "It's a nice idea; the words might be even more effective coming from a female. But if you're even a little angry--and I can tell you're still feeling the urge to blaze on somebody for Mom's sake, don't bother denying it--he'd probably pick up on it and the whole effort would be ruined. But I still need you to cast an illusion spell on me. Give me, um… red skin, a green mane and another hundred or so years of age. Gotta look and sound like the voice of experience…"
It wasn't much of a suicide note, but he hadn't brought a pencil or paper with him, and there wasn't much to write on or with out in the bayou. Still, Broadway thought that the words I'M SORRY that he'd just scratched into the bark of the tree with a talon, would get the point across to the first gargoyle or human to find his remains.
"An' what 'zactly are you sorry 'bout?"
Startled, Broadway turned around to face the person who'd just spoken; an elder gargoyle with a red hide and green mane that he'd never seen before. "W-who are you? Are you from Adam's clan?"
"Ayuh, I am; name's Genesius An' you're one of dem from de clan up in New York, ain'tcha? I saw y'all at the feast the clan had t' welcome you to N'Awlins. You're… Broadside, right?"
"Broadway," he automatically corrected. "After a big street back in Manhattan; there's a lot that goes on there. How come I haven't seen you around the estate before?"
"Eh, I spend mos' time out here, wit' de human clan membahs dat live back inna bayou," the older male shrugged. "Me an' some of de udder elders, we don' get along so well. Dey call us swamp folk in to de big house for big to-do's like for when you showed up, but I even perch on the same roof wit' some folks, there be hard words said afore sunrise. But dat's an old bone, not wort' sniffing over 'gain. What you so sorry 'bout tonight?"
Broadway looked away. "You don't want to know."
"Pardon, but I b'lieve I do," the elder said, eyeing him keenly. "I may not be to de big house much, but I'm still clan, an' de clan's troubles be my troubles too. So what trouble did you get into?"
Broadway didn't want to expose his shame to a stranger, but the elder persisted, and finally he broke down and choked out the whole story. He tried to keep the tears from spilling out again, but a few of them squeezed out anyway. And all the while Genesius listened, with only a mild frown on his face. And when he was finished, Genesius said, "Pardon, but I b'lieve I heard a certain word in dere somewhere… an' that word was 'almost'. So you didn't actually poke your boudin inside her?"
"N-no… but I--"
"Ayuh, you came close… but you stopped afore den. Was it 'cause she knocked you toes-up, an' ran for it while you were out cold?"
"No, I stopped because she screamed for me to stop!"
"Ayuh. She screamed, and you stopped y'self; no one else had t' jump in. That ain't like mos' rapes and almost-rapes I've heard tell of, where de guy just got what he wanted no matter what de gal said, or screamed." Genesius shook his head. "Dey don't stop, s'posedly because dey can't control demselves when dey all worked up, can't stop demselves… except dat's horseshit, since dey usually stop pretty damn fast if somebody else comes barging in. Fact is, dem males don't stop demselves because dey don't wanna stop; 'cause dey care about getting' sex more than dey care about de girl. Now, in your case… you stopped y'self. What does dat say?"
"It says… that I care about Angela more than about sex. And I do!" Broadway started to brighten for a moment, then shook his head. "But what I did…"
"Ayuh, you gave her a scare, dat's f'certain," Genesius said with a solemn nod. "Likely be a long while afore she forgets that."
"If she ever does… I just…" Broadway looked at Genesius pleadingly as he asked, "Do you think she'll ever accept me for a mate after this?"
After a short pause, Genesius said with a shrug, "What, you t'ink I can tell de future? Dat's up to her… an' to you. B'cause I can say dis much f'certain; dere ain't no way she'll even talk to you again if you don't go an' talk to her first. You got to talk this out, settle it between you, or dere's no hope at all."
"Yeah… you're right," Broadway said, looking at his toe-talons. "Tomorrow, I'll--"
"Tonight, youngster," as a red talon gently prodded him in the chest. "You go talk to her right now. De longer dat scare you gave her sets in, de harder it'll be to ease later on. Now get your tail moving; ain't dat much time till sun-up!"
"Right," Broadway said again, as he turned and began striding purposefully off, following his trail back to where he'd last seen Angela. "Thanks, Genesius!" he called over his shoulder.
"Any time," the elder said, just before the bayou undergrowth hid him from view.
"Angela? Angela, sweetheart, please wake up… please be okay, please wake up…"
Someone was calling her name… Broadway? He was asking her to wake up, which was weird… had she been sleeping in flesh like a human, instead of in stone?
Here eyelids felt oddly heavy, but she opened them to discover that she was lying on a grassy knoll. Something tapped the edge of her wing, while Broadway called her name again.
"I'm awake, I'm awake," she mumbled as she pushed herself up to a sitting position, facing him as he scooted back a pace, from just within arm's reach to well outside of it. "What happened; why was I--"
Then she remembered. The memory overwhelmed her for a moment, and when she came back to her senses, she was ten feet further away from Broadway and halfway up a tree.
But he didn't chase after her; he just sat there on his haunches as he had been before, but now slumped even lower. "Angela… I really am sorry, and I swear it'll never happen again."
"It had damn well better not!" Angela snarled. She'd been shaking with fear, but it had almost instantly transmuted into shaking with rage. She leaped down from the tree to face him with talons out and tail lashing as she snarled, "Or I swear that I'll rip it off you, and shove it down your throat till you choke to death on it!"
"And I'd deserve it," Broadway glumly agreed. "But can I point out that I stopped before actually raping you? I was pretty deep in mating lust, which was my fault; that's how I'd been motivating myself to keep on chasing you when I was exhausted. But when I realized you didn't want it, I stopped… because I care about you more than I cared about sex, even in that state. Do you understand?"
And he said no more; just sat there and waited. Angela considered his words, as she slowly settled her wings and let her arms drop to her sides. Finally she said in as level a voice as she could manage, "I can appreciate that, but for right now I'm still pretty mad at you. And I'm not going back to the estate in this condition, with my clothes half ripped off!" as she cloaked her wings tightly about herself. "You can make amends by finding me something decent to wear… without a word to anyone of what happened, right?"
"Absolutely," Broadway said emphatically as he got up, while wrapping his wings around his own exposed nether regions. "I know where Yvette keeps her spare clothes, and she's about your size; I'll leave her a note saying that your tunic got snagged on a tree branch or something, and we just need to borrow one of her dresses for a while until you can mend it. Hey, if you asked her nicely enough, she might even make a new outfit for you!"
Angela didn't particularly like the thought of asking Yvette for any sort of favor, after their recent clashes over Broadway's future wedding attire. But instead of saying that loud, she asked, "And what about clothes for yourself?"
Broadway picked up the belt for his loincloth, looked at where he'd ripped the leather while tearing it off him earlier, then concluded, "I think I can stitch this back together, if Yvette has a tough enough needle and thread. And the wool just needs washing; I'll be decent by tomorrow."
"All right… I'll stay behind cover just inside the bayou while you get the clothes and bring them to me. We'd better hurry; dawn's not far off," as Angela glanced to the east, which was a shade lighter than it had been earlier. They had perhaps an hour before sunrise.
They set off for the mansion together, in tense silence. A silence that was broken after a minute or two by Broadway saying tentatively and without looking at her, "Angela… maybe--"
"No more chasing," she said shortly. "We'll find some other way to get your aerobic exercise."
Broadway nodded. "I was about to suggest that. Not because I can't be trusted anymore, but because it'd probably remind you of what happened… of what almost happened… and I don't think either of us will ever want reminders of this."
He knew her too well, really; she'd just been thinking about how any future chases would be fraught with terrible memories, springing up every time she heard his heavy breathing behind her.
Broadway had known what her fears were back in early October, too; when they'd had to talk about what Goliath's rookery brother and sister had done while housed in their bodies. Had to talk, because she could barely even look at him without blushing and wanting to run from the room, from the memories of her hands all over that body and his hands on her… At least that time, they'd been able to blame it all on someone else!
It was true, he had stopped when she'd started screaming. (Though it would have been better if he'd stopped when she'd first started fighting his efforts to rape her…)
And in all honesty, she'd suspected before that he had been using thoughts of sex as motivation in order to keep chasing her. Suspected it and not much liked the idea, but resigned herself to it because if that was what helped him lose weight and get in shape…
Did that mean… by suggesting the chases in the first place… Had she partly brought this on herself?
Dear God, had poor Esther ever thought such thoughts?!
Gaahh, she was still just too tied in knots inside! She had to get her mind on something else, anything else, that would let her relax before she just imploded!
"Broadway… tell me a story!"
"…what?" as he stopped to look at her.
"Keep walking, or we won't make it back in time! But I need a story, one I haven't heard before; something from your hatchling days!"
"Um… well, there was the time Brooklyn, Lexington and I were tricked into thinking we'd broken an egg in the rookery…"
Broadway told the story as they walked, and since she always loved to hear more details about the old clan, it was enough to distract Angela from thoughts of what had happened…
Until Goliath swooped down to land right in front of them.
Except for Yvette or a Quarryman, he was absolutely the last person Angela wanted to see right now! And he was just standing there looking at them, with his arms folded across his chest, his face grim…
"You were due back at the estate nearly three hours ago," he finally said. "I came out to see if you'd encountered an alligator as well. Now, considering what I saw from on high of your clothing, or lack thereof… and considering the bruises and scratches I can see now… shall I sniff for bonding markers, or just start ripping wings off?"
In the end, Goliath did neither, once he'd heard the whole story... although his eyes were burning white before they were done. But he spoke not a word, until after Angela assured him for the second time that all her scratches and bruises were minor, and would hardly need stone sleep for healing. Then he said slowly and firmly, "No. More. Chases. Not here, and certainly not back in Manhattan's Central Park."
"I already told her I wouldn't chase her anymore," Broadway assured his leader.
"Good." Goliath considered for a moment, then said, "The two of you will go to the cottage at the edge of the estate that Elisa and I used, and perch on the far side from the mansion. That should be far enough from curious eyes to do until tomorrow. Elisa left her swimsuit behind when she went back to Manhattan; it's backless and quite elastic, so after a tail hole is cut, that will do for temporary clothing for you, Angela, until we can get new clothing made. Elisa will understand and agree to it, once I explain the situation to her—and rest assured, I'll be telling no one else. Tomorrow I'll see about getting you a new belt, Broadway." Then Goliath told Broadway to go ahead to the cottage, while he stayed behind to talk to Angela.
Broadway looked uneasy. "Um, uh, Goliath, if you're thinking about yelling at her about the chasing… yeah, it was her idea, but it was my choice to go along with it, and to motivate myself the way I did; what happened wasn't her fault at all. I'm the only one who deserves any discipline you might give."
Goliath half-smiled, for the first time since coming upon them. "Thank you, Broadway; that shows great maturity. Rest assured, there'll be no discipline for either of you; I don't think it's needed in this case. Now, I think there's still a steak or two in the cottage's icebox…"
Broadway took the hint and strode ahead of them. Goliath waited until he was out of easy hearing range but not out of sight, then said quietly to Angela, "I had another reason for coming out to find you. Brooklyn and I talked earlier tonight, and he took me out to Yvette's workshop to see the mating ceremony attire you're having her make for Broadway."
Angela had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "And…?"
"And we're all three agreed: your expectations of how much weight Broadway should lose are not only unrealistic, they are dangerous to his health." Goliath eyed her sternly. "Broadway could certainly stand to lose some weight, but it's simply not possible for him to shed as many inches and pounds as he'd need to shed to fit those clothes, in the span of a single year… not unless we took talons to him and flensed him of all excess flesh!" He arched a brow ridge at her. "And I trust you're not holding that idea in reserve…"
Angela fervently denied any thoughts of harming Broadway in the slightest. "I just want him to get in better shape!"
"He was a fit warrior for patrol duties before his wing was shattered," Goliath reminded her. "And once his wing is fully mended, he will be again, even with his excess weight. I know you're concerned about the breeding flight, and you're right; a good long and fast flight is needed for breeding good strong eggs and hatchlings. But there are some gargoyles in the New Orleans Clan who are quite stout, though not as stout as Broadway, and they're of an age to have taken part in breeding the current generation of strong, healthy hatchlings in the rookery. Instead of forcing Broadway to lose so much weight, you should be talking to some of the elders here and learning more about breeding flights, and how a couple that's mismatched for speed can have a good long flight and still ensure an egg is bred at the finish."
"Angela, this is an order: no more nagging Broadway to lose weight. He already knows you want him to become more fit, and he's proven himself a responsible adult; let him decide how much weight he should lose and what he'll need to do in order to achieve his goal."
Angela finally sighed and lowered her head. "Yes, Father."
"Which reminds me… While I've come to accept you calling me Father and indeed regard you as my daughter, call me only Goliath for the rest of our stay here, even when you're not on rookery duty. Any slip you make will likely inspire Elizabeth and Ursula to insist you spend even more time in the rookery."
Angela smiled wryly. "Good point, F—Goliath."
"And…" Goliath raised a talon to indicate one more thing. "When the next generation hatches eleven years from now, I will not allow any hatchling to call me Grandfather." He dramatically threw his hands in the air as he exclaimed, "Biologically speaking, I'm too young to be a sire to a fully grown female! I'm not going to be a grandfather before I'm old and gray!"
His human-quoting melodramatics made Angela chuckle, as he'd surely planned, and they smiled at each other before walking back to the estate together.
Entirely unaware that two other gargoyles had silently observed their exchange, from up in a nearby tree and behind a spell of invisibility. As Goliath and Angela walked away, the female of the hidden pair whispered to the male, "Gate's building a charge again, bro'; time to go."
"Just a few more minutes, okay?" he hissed back, eyes on the gargoyles below them.
"No, not okay! If I try to hold back the jump for more than a few seconds, I won't be able to cloak the fireball effect when we leave!"
"All right, all right," he muttered irritably. Taking one last look, he whispered, "Bye, Mom… bye, Grandpa…"
More Author's Notes:
For those curious to know the whole story, the tale that Broadway told Angela about the supposedly broken egg was recounted in full in the TGS: Dark Ages story "To Every Season".
Also, the Catholics have saints for pretty much every occasion and vocation, and Genesius happens to be the patron saint of actors. Seemed like a good name for a gargoyle to use when playing the role of a clan elder!
FAN PARTICIPATION TIME:
Angela's going to get a new outfit! What will her new clothing look like? Feel free to send me your pics and sketches, and the outfit that I think suits her best for everynight wear will be written into the series starting in the next Mating Games story, with a link to the pic and credit to the artist.