Part 3: Gestures
A few nights later, one hour after sunset, Demona watched curiously as the clan solemnly assembled on their perches ringing the courtyard, and as Kai took his customary place in the centermost perch wearing a heavy and ornate kimono, clearly his ceremonial robes.
Yama and Taiju had met her coming out of the courthouse after her nightly transformation, as usual, but Yama's face had been unexpectedly grim. After nearly a month of working hard at learning the language (which, for her, was really just a matter of refreshing her memory and learning what new words had been created or evolved over the last two centuries), she was expected to have learned enough to get by, just as Malaquita and Quarzo had. So Taiju had not asked Yama to translate for him, after binding her wings with the obi; he'd told her directly that the clan would be assembling soon for a ceremony, and when the time came she would perch far to one side of the clan (he pointed to where she would be) and just stay still and silent, no matter what happened.
She'd wondered what the ceremony would be about, and if it was related to Kai's meetings for the last two nights; she'd seen him meeting at midnight with the clan's scouts, but been too far away to overhear what they had been talking about. Whatever they had been talking about, she doubted it had been good news; the gesture the scouts had made most often had been shaking their heads.
After most of the clan had glided in from wherever they'd been and landed on their perches, she climbed up one courtyard wall and quietly took her place where Taiju had indicated; on the side of the courtyard where the youngest adult generation normally took their perches. A few minutes later, a trio of young females landed next to her; she recognized them as Mizuumi, Kaze and Sora.
Over the centuries Demona had become very good indeed at reading her fellow gargoyles' body language, even accounting for the ways gestures often varied from clan to clan. The gargoyles of this clan took after the humans they lived with in generally displaying minimal emotion while in public, but the signs were there for those who knew how to look for them. Sora's body was silently screaming reluctance and defiance; whatever was going to happen, she did not want to be here for it. Mizuumi and Kaze nonverbally alternated between giving her comfort and support, and urging her to buck up and take whatever was about to happen like an adult instead of a little hatchling. Then when Sora realized that 'Di-mono' was perched next to her usual spot, she was even more reluctant to be there. But Mizuumi and Kaze silently became even more stern with her, and Sora finally took her perch, then turned just enough towards Demona to greet her with cool politeness.
This was actually the first time Demona had been within two wingspans of Sora. She'd become aware about a week ago that the young female was actively avoiding her, and that when she thought Demona wasn't looking her expression was angry, even hateful. Demona had developed the sneaking suspicion that Sora and Jiro had the same sort of relationship that Goliath and that Maza bitch had, and that Sora vengefully wanted to take on 'Di-mono' herself for hurting her human lover, but been forbidden by Kai to lay a talon on 'the poor traumatized gaijin'.
A helpful breeze wafted in the right direction, and as quietly and unobtrusively as she could, Demona took a deep breath, filling her nostrils with Sora's scent. She half-dreaded what she expected to detect; a mated marker strangely altered from the usual scent, perverted by intimate contact with a wingless and tailless primate.
(Unbidden, a memory of Goliath's changed scent came to mind. While she'd been captive in the Labyrinth, she'd smelled the perverted marker on him and figured out what had caused it. The first night Goliath had spent as her jailer, as soon as Fang had started snoring she'd verbally ripped into him for being so disgusting as to soil his loins with that human bitch. Had he really become that desperate; had he forgotten how to use his hands to satisfy his male urges? She'd offered to show him how it was done, if he'd only come a little closer to the cage bars, within reach of her hands… and since he'd refused to come closer, she'd proceeded to show him how females did it.
Goliath had refused to say a word in response to all her hissed words of condemnation, nor later words of enticement… but after she'd taken off her clothes, lay on the cot and pleasured herself with her tail right in front of him, he finally had something to say. He'd had a nice tent in his loincloth, just like Brooklyn had had the night before, but all he'd said with a smirk was "Elisa's performance is much more passionate. She even shouts my name, sometimes; you never did that."
And the perverted bastard had taken off his loincloth and pleasured himself, right in font of her… but with his eyes shut and murmuring the slut's name the whole while.
After that, the nights with him as her jailer had been grimly silent on both sides of the bars. She would never let on how much it had hurt to watch him make love to the spirit of a human, instead of to her.++)
But Sora's scent had no mated marker at all… which was something of a relief, but puzzling as well. If Sora didn't have any special relationship with poor Jiro, why did the youngster dislike her so much?
Demona finally decided that since the rest of the clan had been making efforts to befriend her even during her punishment, she should make some effort to befriend Sora in return. So she smiled at Sora and said in her supposedly limited Nihongo, "Taiju tell me perch here. Is… is good with you?"
Sora didn't answer immediately, but Mizuumi leaned towards her and said with a smile, "Is very good with us! You can perch here as often as you like." She continued, speaking slowly and clearly for 'Di-Mono's benefit, "Only one week left before Taiju takes that obi off for good! Afterwards, do you want to go gliding together, and hunt rabbits in the forest? …Do you know what rabbits are?"
Demona grinned as she nodded. "Rabbits!" as she mimed a hopping rabbit with her hands. "We have them in America too. Yes, we hunt together!" It was the first time anyone had invited her to hunt with them in far, far too long!
But she put her sheer delight aside, in favor of curiosity. Since Mizuumi, at least, was in a talkative mood, she asked, "This… ceremony… who is it for? What will happen?"
Mizuumi lost her smile as both she and Kaze looked uneasy… while Sora went completely expressionless, and rigid as stone. Mizuumi finally answered, "This ceremony is… for Botan. You have not met him, he left before you arrived. Botan is… was… was, and just might still be, a very dishonorable gargoyle. He…" she glanced at Sora, then turned back to Demona and continued, "he lied, he cheated, he stole… and finally he was caught in his lies and cheating and stealing, caught so firmly he couldn't use his silver tongue to talk his way out of it, and Kai banished him for two full moons. Tonight, that time of banishment is done, and he will… be welcomed back to the clan, if he returns."
"If he returns," Kaze added. "I heard that the scouts Kai sent looking for him for the last two nights, to let him know that his time was nearly up, didn't find a trace of him."
"He's out there waiting," Mizuumi said grimly as she turned to face the courtyard. "Like I've said before, he's too shameless to even consider seppuku and too perverted to die of sheer solitude. He'll be back…"
From other facial expressions and body language she saw, and faint mutterings that the wind brought to her from nearby perches, Demona got the impression that few gargoyles in the clan were really ready to welcome this Botan back. But his time of banishment was up, so they would hold the ceremony of welcome for him; it was the custom, the traditional gesture. And at least one elder was heard to say, a bit too loudly (as if trying to convince himself as well as others) that surely Botan had learned his lesson by now, and would return a changed gargoyle. Surely he would…
Kai snapped his wings out to their fullest extent—a universal gesture among gargoyles, the leader ordering his clan to shut up and pay attention—then carefully refurled his wings and crouched into a waiting pose, as everyone else silently faced forward and did the same. Then he made a hand gesture to the two villagers waiting by the gates, and they swung the heavy doors wide open. Then they waited…
And finally, after nearly two hours of waiting, Kai shook his head, muttered something to Taiju and leaped off his perch to glide away. Everyone took that as the signal to vacate their perches as well, flexing their wings and even chattering like magpies after being still and silent for so long.
Taiju bellowed loud enough to be heard over the noise, "Let's not waste good food!" as he pointed at the feast that had been laid out on tables to one side of the temple.
Demona's stomach had been growling for the last hour, and she was more than happy to climb down from her perch and cross the courtyard to the waiting food. She overheard snatches of conversation as she passed other gargoyles; most of them were speculating about why Botan hadn't come back to the clan.
"--dead, for certain. I told you that pile of gravel I found out there wasn't just from Yama tidying up his favorite--"
"--gone to Tokyo, to join the Yakuza. He'd fit right in with--"
"--a boat to America, to find Goliath's clan. Maybe he'll make a new and better life--"
"--tomorrow or the next night, you'll see. Not because he forgot when his punishment's over, but because he wants to come back when we're not ready for him, and--"
Alerted by the sound of wind in his wings, Demona looked up just as Yama backwinged to a soft landing next to her. He smiled and said in English as he walked with her, "Taiju said that tonight, your only task is to help clean up after feast. And best way to begin, is to help eat it! Yes?"
"Yes, indeed! Sugoi!" Demona said with a smile, using a modern phrase she'd heard the hatchlings say when especially pleased. He grinned wider and nodded approval at her choice of words in Nihongo… then stopped and flung a wing out in front of her, stopping her in her tracks.
And not a moment too soon; she was almost run over by a stampede of hatchlings, charging for the feast tables with their rookery keepers running and shouting after them. "Hatchlings very hungry, so hungry they forget manners," Yama said to her apologetically, once he could be heard above the noise.
"Hatchlings are the same all over the world," Demona assured him with a smile. "Shall we dive in and get something to eat before they leave us only the bones?"
The End… for now
Another Author's Note: For those of you wondering if I've completely forgotten the proper episode sequence for the series, and put "The Reckoning" after "The Journey" or something:
No, Goliath and Elisa did not become mates until a couple months after the events of "The Reckoning." However, by that time Goliath had been sporting a bonded scent marker for nearly a year. It's extremely rare for gargoyles to become bonded enough for altered scent markers without actually mating. However, in G&E's case, it happened. Partly because, by the time of the events of "High Noon" they were already deeply in love with each other, even if neither was ready to admit it—well, Goliath was, but Elisa wasn't, and he respected that. And partly because of something Elisa did one day in the clocktower while Goliath was sleeping… one of these days I'll have to write about that.
As for whether Goliath was purely bluffing about Elisa's 'performance', or whether he'd witnessed something through Elisa's windows… I'll leave that for the reader to decide. ;-)