LIFE GOES ON
And in Ishimura: A Lesson in History
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc.)
Standard Disclaimer: All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Kimberly T.
Author's note: It's been a long time since my series has visited Ishimura, so readers are highly encouraged to reread or reacquaint themselves with the story "And in Ishimura: Hot Baths, Hot Sake and Hot Topics." This story directly follows events in that one, though a few weeks later.
Rated R for naughty bits about what some gargoyles euphemistically call 'flying solo'.
Part 1: Comparing Cages
Was it actually possible to kill someone with kindness?
Dominique Destine, better known to some as the gargoyle Demona, pondered that question as she stared at the doll sitting on her prison cot.
Of course, being immortal thanks to the Weird Sisters' spell, for her it was rather a moot point. But still, she wondered what her answer would be if she wasn't immortal, and still enduring this… this… words still failed her. It really was the most bizarre experience in her life.
Being imprisoned was not a new experience for her. In the 1500's she'd been imprisoned in the catacombs beneath a cathedral in Castille. Thought an actual demon by the bishop of that church, after several exorcisms and more mundane forms of elimination—hanging, beheading, burning at the stake, shattering while in stone form—hadn't managed to 'banish her from the earthly plane', she had been walled up in the deepest part of the catacomb. That was how she'd discovered that she couldn't die of thirst or starvation, either, despite being little more than bones and skin by the time the thick irons bands binding her every limb had become loose enough and rusty enough for her to wriggle and/or break out of them, and dig her way to freedom. (While escaping, she'd discovered that humans do indeed taste like pork instead of chicken.)
There had been other occasions of captivity over the centuries: one of the Hunter line who had wanted to study her before killing her; that explorer in Africa who'd tried to bring her back as an exotic gift for his king. And of course the recent imprisonment she'd deliberately arranged, letting herself be captured by Goliath so she'd have ample opportunity to take genetic samples from the clan, and to try to persuade Angela to let go of her blind faith in Humanity.
None of those experiences had been pleasant, though in the last instance it had been good to be able to see her daughter on a regular basis… and it had been fun to sexually tease Brooklyn for a short while. Up until that impudent pup of a male had—enough of reminiscing! None of what had happened to her in captivity before was anything like what she was experiencing now.
The differences had started to become apparent the very moment her punishment had begun. When Kai had declared that she would have her wings bound and sweep gravel for a full moon's worth of nights, the second-in-command Taiju had bound her wings… but paused and asked her through Yama if she could still wiggle them, because he was concerned about tying them too tightly. Such concern, for a gargoyle being punished for nearly killing someone? For a little while Demona had wondered if the clan really didn't value their humans that much after all, and were doing the punishment as a mere formality in order to keep peace between the species.
Then had come sunrise, and the daily transformation back to her hatefully soft and weak pink-skinned human form. Hiroshi had been handed her a plain gray yukata before she'd gone into the gatehouse to change, and had been waiting for her outside once the twice-daily agony was over. Whereupon he'd tied her hands together in front of her—with a thin white ribbon, that even an ordinary human could likely tear apart if she tried. And he'd informed her with a look of sternness softened by sympathy in his eyes that it was time to go to the jail now… and that the Yugebe family, the humans who'd given her a bedroom in their home for her to use while sleeping during the day, had sent some of her bedding over to the prison to make her jail cell more comfortable.
She could have run; broken the ribbon and dashed for the city limits. She could have hidden in the forest outside the village, and when sunset came gotten aloft and away before the gargoyles could be informed of her escape. Demona was used to running and hiding, after centuries of escaping and outwitting the Hunters that she didn't kill outright; after centuries of leaving behind the ruins of clans, hopes and schemes.
But that ribbon, that thin white ribbon she could break so easily, and the way Hiroshi merely gestured for her to accompany him… The-the trust it showed, the trust they still had in her, even after what she had done… She kept her eyes focused on that thin white ribbon as she slowly walked to her prison.
The village's jail only had one cell, a room with bars and a cot and not much else. But the cot now had the same bedding the Dominique Destine had slept on the previous day… and a fistful of dandelions in a drinking glass next to the cell door. Yugebe Mikiko's work, perhaps?
She'd slept most of that first day away inside the prison walls, waking only shortly before sunset. Hiroshi had tied the ribbon on her wrists again and escorted her to the gatehouse of the temple, where the gargoyles perched during the day. There he'd removed the ribbon and ushered her inside, and closed the door. After the gargoyles had awoken and the agonies of her transformation were over for a few more hours, Taiju had opened the gatehouse door and beckoned for her to come out, and silently bound her wings to her body with the obi again. Only after the binding was completed had he informed her, with Yama translating, of the night's tasks that she was to accomplish as part of her punishment.
That became her routine, day after day and night after night: sleep most of the day away in the jail cell, then have her wings bound and spend the night doing menial labor. Most of the tasks involved sweeping gravel; the clan shed a lot of it, all over the roofs and courtyard. She was given other menial tasks as well; hauling water, washing floors inside the temple, cleaning screens, dusting and clearing cobwebs away.
She had a break from menial labor for three hours every night; from midnight until roughly three a.m., she sat down with Yama for more language and culture lessons. Yama taught her Nihongo, since she was supposedly just beginning to learn it, while she helped him with his English; he wanted to become as fluent in the language as Hiroshi, who had studied English for years in his youth.
A few other clan members would stop in to see her during 'lessons time', to exchange pleasantries—or try to, anyway. Most of the time they would simply say through Yama that they were glad to see she was enduring her discipline with honor, and that it would be over soon enough. And for some reason, Kado and Kawa both felt it necessary to assure her that once her punishment was over and her wings were freed, she would fly as well as she ever had with just a night or two of reconditioning.
Once the night was over and dawn approached, the gargoyles would take their perches while she slunk off to the gatehouse, where Hiroshi was always waiting. He would untie the obi for her before she went inside, where her prison yukata was waiting on a shelf for her; after transforming to human and dressing, he would tie her wrists with that little white ribbon again and escort her back to the jail.
Considering her past experiences in captivity, she could say without a doubt—not that she ever did, because no one ever thought to ask—that it was the most comfortable prison she'd ever been in. And the most popular; nearly every afternoon after she awoke, she had visitors. The schoolteacher came with picture books and a Japanese-English dictionary, to give her more lessons in speaking Nihongo. The Yugebe family came by to replace her bedding with freshly laundered sheets and inquire as to her health and comfort. And other villagers came by, too...
Even as a human, her ears were sharp, and people tended to be incautious when they thought she wouldn't understand them anyway. She'd overheard enough discussions to know that several of the villagers considered her attack on Jiro in the rookery to be a result of her "sutoresu"; that was the Japanese layman's term for what Americans called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSD. She'd wanted to scoff at the term—how could she be afflicted with a weak-minded human problem? Even in human form, she was a gargoyle! A warrior, from the shell!
But when the village doctor had read aloud to Hiroshi and the village mayor from his medical manual, and Hiroshi had nodded sagely at several of the characteristics that were often associated with PTSD… Demona had been uncomfortably aware that a few—not all, definitely! But yes, a few of those human terms fit her too well. In particular the part about 'prone to violent outbursts'…
And the increased propensity for suicide. How many different ways had she tried to kill herself over the centuries, in her absolute blackest moments, before giving it up as impossible without Macbeth's 'assistance'? Hadn't she actually sought him out that night in Paris, two nights after witnessing the death of poor brave Valjean and his entire clan? If he'd struck to impale her with that pitchfork he'd grabbed from a hay cart, instead of just pinning her wing to the wall and then fleeing with those humans he'd been with…
The afternoon after the doctor and mayor had visited, she'd had another visitor; a very old man that Hiroshi had bowed to just as low as he'd bowed to the mayor. The old man had peered at her with eyes dimmed by cataracts, exchanged bows with her, then asked Hiroshi to translate his story:
"I am Deguchi Hyotaru. Many years ago, I and seven of my friends left this village to serve in the military, during the Dainijitaisen Three died before it was over, in honorable combat on islands far from here. Another died when the Emperor surrendered; he committed seppuku with his fellow officers. Four of us came back.
"But the dying did not stop then. We were home less than a year before Asuhara Maseo died. He'd told me how he saw round-eyes in the shadows, and that his sleep was haunted by oni who wore the faces of people he had seen die in his company, and sometimes people he had killed. I woke up one morning to find him in the village square with his ancestors' sword in his guts.
"Taganaka Saburo died more slowly, drowning in the beer and sake he drank day after day; death came for him two years later. Saburo, who before the Dainijitaisen had drunk sake only on holidays, and had never beat his wife and child…
"To see much death is to be changed by it; scarred inside, like being cut by a spirit-blade. Some are scarred greatly, cut deeply; some, only a little. I am blessed by the gods; only sometimes is my sleep haunted, and it has been many years since I thought I heard the guns again.
"In my youth these things were not spoken of. One lived honorably and died well, and if one did not then it was not spoken of in public. But if keeping silent leads to people dying when it is not their time, then that silence is not honorable.
"Di-mono-san, I am told that you saw much death, when your clan in America was slaughtered by round-eyes. I think that for you the spirit-blade cut deeply, and that is why you attacked poor Jiro when you saw him playing Gojiro and pretending to attack the hatchlings; the scar on your spirit rose up and veiled your eyes, like it did sometimes with Asuhara Maseo.
"Everyone knows it can be difficult to live with scars crippling the body. Not many know it can be difficult to live with scars on the spirit, as well. But it can be done! I tell you all this because I do not want to see a gargoyle go the way of seppuku, or die in less honorable ways with the help of too much sake.
"If you respect this elderly human, Di-mono-san, then you will do as I request… and find ways to live with your scarred spirit. To remember that it sometimes veils your eyes and tricks your ears, and when you believe a threat is at hand, to act with patience and honor until you know you see and hear clearly. And to live, as honorably and as long as you can!"
Hiroshi had done his best to translate that into English, censoring it along the way to take out the old soldier's derogatory 'round-eyes' remarks. Mindful that she was not supposed to understand most of the original version, Demona had kept her face and body schooled to respectful attention without comprehension while he spoke. But given the Japanese habit of circumspection on uncomfortable subjects, his nearly direct plea for her to not commit suicide had been… oddly touching.
She still wasn't used to humans being able to do that; to arouse any other emotions in her besides contempt, hatred and rage.
When Hyotaru had finished speaking and Hiroshi had finished translating, she'd bowed to them both and told Hiroshi, "Tell him that he is a wise elder indeed, and I will remember and heed his words."
Hyotaru had bowed to her and Hiroshi in farewell and left, his pace slow but his back ramrod straight and his feet placed with military precision. After he'd left Hiroshi had gone to his desk to do some paperwork, leaving her to think on the old soldier's words until sunset neared and it was time for her to be escorted to the gatehouse.
The next day, she'd had another visitor, one that had jarred her to the core: Sakaguchi Jiro.
The last time she'd seen him, he'd been covered with blood and sprawled unconscious on an improvised stretcher, Sugi and Kusa hurrying him to the clan's infirmary while Malaquita and Sakaki still held her arms and wings pinned. And she hadn't really been focused on him at that moment, her attention caught by the looks of shock and horror in everyone else's faces as they stared at her. Cuarzo and the other rookery keepers Udo and Hisame had crouched and spread their wings wide so the crying hatchlings could hide under and behind the cover they provided… and it had been the hatchlings' eyes, staring at her with sheer horror when they dared to peek out at her at all, that had hurt her the most.
Later on, while lying prostrate on the gravel where she'd been flung to await the clan leader's judgment, she'd overheard Kado giving one of her guards a tally of the injuries she'd given the human. Three deep talon-punctures in his left thigh, from where one of her feet had clamped on as she'd pounced from behind. Fortunately, only fat and muscle had been punctured instead of arteries or major veins; relatively easy for the clan's surgeons to mend, though there was always a risk of infection. But his left arm and the left side of his face and scalp had been in far worse shape, from where her talons had sunk in and pulled, tearing skin, muscles and veins and even scraping bones while she'd been tilting his head to one side to further expose his neck. At least Malaquita had grabbed her before she could sink her fangs into the real target, Jiro's jugular artery…
And that afternoon he'd been brought into the jail, in a wheelchair pushed by his brother. Demona had overheard Hiroshi asking Jiro what the hell he was doing out of bed and why his brother had brought him, and Jiro's response—too low and mumbled for her to make out everything, but she'd thought he said something about having tried to see her the night before, and not been able. There had been more low-voiced words, and then Hiroshi had sighed loudly and agreed to bring him back to the jail cell.
A few moments later Hiroshi had come, pushing before him a wheelchair-bound person so covered in bandages that he would not have been recognized, except for his considerable girth; Jiro had the build of a sumo wrestler, though instead of fat-covered muscle it was mostly fat. Jiro's brother Nobuo had followed them in, but hung back by the door.
Hiroshi's face had been carefully expressionless. Demona had kept her face schooled to the same deliberate blankness, while she'd waited for Jiro to make the next move.
Over the centuries, rarely had any of her victims lived, and even more rarely had they confronted her again later. Almost all of those survivors had been Hunters, who had had the hunt turned on them instead but managed to survive and escape through use of their many devices… though they never escaped her more than once. She'd killed Hunters aplenty, but since humans bred like rats, they'd always managed to spawn progeny before dying under her talons, progeny that would appear out of nowhere a decade or two later and continue plaguing her through the centuries.
That Maza slut who had stolen her Goliath's heart away had been the first person in ages to survive an attack, and the only one ever to survive multiple attempts to kill her—how had the human survived that poison dart, anyway? And she even had some dim shadowy memory of fighting the bitch while in human form and being defeated, though that was ridiculous; it had to be just a fragment of a daymare that had been more vivid and memorable than usual.
But she knew well from those nights when the Maza slut had been her jailer in the Labyrinth how much the human hated her, even if she'd tried to mask it under cool professionalism. On those nights the whore had usually responded with stoic silence whenever Demona had flung her a verbal barb (there really hadn't been much else to do, and thinking up new insults had been a nice way to stave off boredom), but occasionally the human had let her true venomous nature show and given such nasty retorts that Demona would have ripped out her tongue for it, if only the bitch had come within reach.
Other than her fellow immortal Macbeth, a handful of Hunters and the Maza slut had been the only victims or human opponents that she could recall later confrontations with, in all her centuries of living. And the Maza bitch had been the only one to do so while she was behind bars. The only one, until Jiro…
She had wondered what Jiro would say or do. Considering the state he was in, trying to attack her through the bars would have been ridiculous, even if Hiroshi allowed it. She'd decided that he would settle for harsh words, which Hiroshi might or might not choose to translate for her. He would revile her and her ancestors too, since lineage was so important to humans in general and this culture in particular. The curses would almost certainly be accompanied by a foolish boast of how he could have handled her if she hadn't surprised him; that was typical of the human male ego. And of course there would be a few threats concerning what he would do to her once he was well again—and probably while she was in her weak human form; she'd seen over the centuries that human males were already predisposed to violence towards their own females.
She'd decided that there would be at least one mutilation threat and one rape threat, both thinly disguised just enough that Hiroshi would pretend not to notice them. And she'd wondered what other threats Jiro would come up with… would he be bold enough to threaten outright to kill her?
When Hiroshi had stopped pushing the wheelchair, Jiro had slowly and carefully stood up, and walked two painful steps to lean against the bars of the cell.
The bed was out of arm's reach of the cell bars. Demon had remained seated on it, and waited.
The bandages covering most of his head had restricted his jaw movement and caused his speech to be mumbled, but she could still understand him. He'd said, and Hiroshi had translated, "Your attack, four nights ago. It hurt me badly…"
Yes, there would be a death threat, she'd decided. Though it would be couched in terms of self-defense, of course.
"…but I forgive you."
"The others have told me, and I understand, that you thought I was attacking the hatchlings. It must have been so terrible, to see the poor children of your clan all dead. Indeed, if I thought someone was really going to kill children or hatchlings, I would attack them too!"
"The wounds are bad, it is true, but I will heal. Nothing has been done that can not be mended. And when I am well again, perhaps we can have tea together."
And Hiroshi had translated all that, or at least most of it. She wasn't sure about the last sentence, the invitation to tea, because by then she'd been sobbing so hard that she could hardly hear him.
How could he have forgiven her? She'd nearly killed him! Humans weren't supposed to do that, to forgive such things… she wasn't supposed to be forgiven!
It was just more kindness than she could stand.
She had no idea how long she'd just lay there on the bed, crying; long enough for Jiro to leave, at least. When she'd finally finished, she'd noticed that Hiroshi had left a box of tissues inside the cell door for her. And afterwards when he'd brought her dinner, all he'd said was that sometimes tears were necessary for healing.
The rest of that afternoon, evening and night had passed without event, or even comment within her hearing on what had happened during Jiro's visit. But elsewhere on the temple grounds, outside of her range of hearing, talk must have been buzzing indeed. She never found out whether Hiroshi had let something slip or whether it was Jiro's brother Nobuo who had spread the gossip about her breaking down in tears, but shortly before dawn Yama, Malaquita and Galena had approached her, Galena holding Malaquita by the hand and clutching her doll Carlotta to her chest.
All the hatchlings had been avoiding her since the attack; on those occasions when they were let out of the rookery to stretch their wings, they had given her a wide berth and some had even scrabbled behind the nearest rookery keeper if she glanced in their direction. Galena had regarded her with a trace of wariness in her features, but also with something like pity, as Yama told her that Galena had something to say to her.
Children of any species were the quickest to pick up new languages, and in the two weeks that they had been living in Ishimura Galena had picked up enough Nihongo to get by with a hatchling's simple needs most of the time. So she'd said to Yama in halting Nihongo, "Tell her… I hear she cry, during day. Is sad… big sad, she alone all day. I give her Carlotta, to hold during day so she not alone. But I want Carlotta back at night, please!" she'd finished anxiously, as she'd held Carlotta out in a clear gesture of offering.
Demona had just stared in mute shock at the doll, while Yama translated had all that into his own halting English. And he'd added, "Please, take doll for day. She try help, and it is…adults want hatchlings learn helping, sharing."
It was clear he'd meant that helpfulness and generosity were traits to be encouraged, not discouraged by refusal. But the idea was beyond laughable; it was pathetic. She was Demona! She'd fought in more battles than this hatchling had years, including years in the shell! And now she was expected to take comfort and solace from a cloth doll?!
But Malaquita and Yama had been watching her… and that shadow that had appeared over the courtyard looked like Sakaki's silhouette. As head rookery keeper and as Kai's mate, Sakaki would be sure to tell Kai of her actions. She'd instinctively known that the child's act of generosity had been turned into a test, and another part of her discipline.
She had crouched down to Galena's level and held her arms out for the doll, and as Galena put the doll in her arms, bowed her head and said "Domo arigato, Galena. Yama, tell her I will return it to her at sunset." And she'd carried the doll in the crook of her arm as she'd put away the broom she'd been using and went to the gatehouse for the morning change.
She'd fully intended to leave the doll there in the gatehouse for the day. Locked in stone sleep, no one in the clan would have been the wiser.
But she'd noticed as she put it on a shelf in the gatehouse that one of Carlotta's wings was beginning to come off, the stitching unraveling. Well, that had be fixed, of course, before someone thought she'd mistreated the thing… which was why she'd taken it back to the jail with her, and asked Hiroshi to please borrow a needle and thread from somebody so she could fix it.
She'd had plenty of practice in sewing during her youth; the humans at Castle Wyvern had insisted that the gargoyles wear clothing, but never bothered to tailor anything to their forms, so hatchlings had often assisted rookery keepers in making clothes for the clan from the rags and scraps that the humans had given them. And she'd even sewn flesh together; tears in wing membranes that had occurred in accidents or battle had to be carefully sutured shut before sunrise, so the wing healed whole instead of ragged. Fixing the doll had been easy, really, and that was the only reason why she'd brought it with her for the day.
But she probably shouldn't have ad-libbed the next sunset, when returning the doll to Galena, that Carlotta had been good company indeed. Because the next dawn, Carlotta had brought her the doll again with a wide smile, and even given it a kiss before settling it into her arms. And after her transformation, when leaving the gatehouse with her wrists bound with that white ribbon, Hiroshi had matter-of-factly tucked the doll into the crook of her arm again, just as she'd carried it the day before.
Grown gargoyle warriors did not play with dolls. Neither did billionaire businesswomen. But somehow keeping Carlotta during the day had become part of her routine. And now, two weeks later, here she was carefully combing out a tangle that had somehow appeared in Carlotta's horsehair mane…
Footsteps came closer to the jail cell, and she hurriedly tucked the doll into her bedding, out of sight before the person came into view. It was Mrs. Uematsu, the schoolteacher, here for her daily lessons in Nihongo. Today they were covering common business terms, at her request. She still kept an interest in Nightstone, after all…
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