LIFE GOES ON
And in Ishimura:
Secrets and Surprises
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc.)
Author's note: this story takes place in the 'Life Goes On' at roughly the same time as the events of "Mating Games 11: Changing the Rules."
Galena was in trouble, she knew that, but she just didn't know why.
Up until a few minutes ago, she hadn't even realized she was in trouble. No one had raised a hand to swat her or cuff her or box her ears, not since she'd arrived here in Japan. No one had even growled at her; that was what her Mama, Malaquita, usually did when she'd said or done something that was only a little wrong. Before tonight, she had sort-of noticed that sometimes the other parents in the rookery would frown at her while she was talking, but they'd never done or said anything to her. She'd thought she was just saying some of their words wrong, since Japanese was very different from her native language and she was still learning it, even if everyone said she was learning very fast. (Lots faster than her mama and papa; lately they had been looking to her to translate for them the words they didn't understand, which made her feel very important and grown-up.)
But tonight, all she'd been doing was talking to her Papa, Cuarzo; asking him what her Mama had left to go talk to the clan leader Kai about. That was all she'd done, really, and she was sure she'd gotten the words right! And before that, she'd been playing quietly with her doll Carlotta for a long time, pretending to serve her tea; something that her friend Koeda had been doing with her own doll a little while ago, and the other parents had been smiling at her, so that couldn't have been bad!
But while she'd been talking to her Papa, Sakaki had come up behind her and grabbed her by the shoulder, and quickly pulled her away. And dragged her outside the rookery, to make her stand just outside the door; telling her not to move or speak to anyone for a few minutes, until Sakaki came back outside for her.
Galena had thought Sakaki really liked her; the rookery keeper had made a special effort and learned to pronounce her name just right, instead of 'Garena' like everyone else said. She knew it had been a special effort just for her, because Sakaki still got Malaquita, Cuarzo and Demona's names just a little bit wrong, just like everyone else did. But now, after this…
She'd been standing out there for a long time now, wrapping her wings around herself and trying hard not to cry. What had she done wrong? And what would they do to her? Would they beat her, like Malaquita had done sometimes when she'd been really bad? Would they tie her wings shut, like they had done with Demona? Or worse, would they make her go away for good, like that gargoyle called Botan that she'd heard about? Some of the hatchlings had told her that they'd heard he was dead now, from being alone for too long… she didn't want to die alone!
Señora Demona came up to her, carrying over her shoulder the rake she'd been using on the gravel in the courtyard, and looking worried. "Galena, why are you out here alone?" she asked.
And at that, Galena could hold back the tears no longer. "They're going to beat me and tie me up and send me away and I'll die all alone and I don't want to die!" she sobbed in Spanish as she ran up and hugged Demona with all her might.
Demona tossed the rake aside, knelt down and hugged her back, saying softly, "Shhhh, sshhh… No one will hurt you or make you go away; you're not going to die alone… (ahem) That is, if that's what you were saying just now. Remember, use Nihongo, little one… Now please, calm down, and tell me what happened."
Just then, the rookery door opened and Sakaki came outside. Cringing, Galena turned to look at her, and she was frowning. "Galena, did I not tell you to stay on that spot and talk to no one until I returned?"
"The fault is mine, Sakaki; I saw Galena out here alone, looking scared, and I told her to come over and talk to me," Demona said swiftly.
"Hmph. Di-mono, I do not know how hatchlings were raised in your old clan, but know that in this clan all hatchlings are the business of the rookery keepers, and no one else. If we have a hatchling standing outside, we have good reason for it, and our reasons are not to be questioned. Come, Galena," Sakaki said with a tug on her left ear. She reluctantly let go of Demona and followed Sakaki over to the nearest wall, for climbing up to the roof of the rookery.
Once they were up on the roof, Galena hunched over with her hands wrapped protectively around her head, and waited numbly for the first blow to fall. She head Sakaki say, "Now Galena, you must—why are you standing like that? Stand up straight, and put your hands down. Now! Why were you… Galena, did you think I was going to beat you?"
"Maybe," Galena mumbled, looking down at her toes.
Sakaki muttered something to herself, a word that Galena didn't know yet, then put her hand under Galena's chin while saying softly, "Galena… sweet little Galena-chan, please look at me."
Galena lifted her head, and Sakaki went from holding her chin to rubbing her brow ridges while saying softly, "Neither I nor any other rookery keeper will ever beat you, little one. We love hatchlings, and would never hurt any of you. Now it is true that sometimes we grab your ears," as she very lightly tugged Galena's ear again, "but that is to make sure you are using those ears to listen to us! We mean you no harm, not now or ever. We do not beat our precious hatchlings. Do you understand?"
Galena nodded, then dared to ask, "B-but do you tie them up or send them away forever if they're bad?"
"Oh, dear… no, we would never do either to a hatchling. In fact, we generally do not do either of those punishments to adults! Di-Mono's wings were bound because she did a very, very bad thing; she nearly killed poor Jiro! And she'll be able to take that obi off for good and glide again in just a few more nights, because she's very sorry for what she did and she has promised to never do it again. As for Botan… he was a very wicked male, he did a lot of bad things, and he wasn't a bit sorry for any of them! Kai told him to go away for two full moons, until he realized that what he'd done was very wrong and was sorry he'd done them. It was… it was Botan's choice to not come back, ever. Probably because he finally realized that what he did was very wrong, and he was very ashamed of himself, and he thought we would never forgive him. But that isn't true; if he had said and shown us by his actions that he was really sorry, we would have forgiven him. Do you understand?"
Galena thought she did. Knowing she was not going to be hurt or sent away gave her the courage to ask, "But what did I do wrong?"
Sakaki cocked a brow ridge at her and said, "What do you think you did that was wrong?"
"I don't know, honest! I was just talking to my Papa, and… uh oh. Did I pick my nose again? I'm really sorry, I didn't realize…"
Sakaki sighed and shook her head. "No, you didn't pick at your nose, at least not that I noticed tonight. Galena, what you did was call Kuwarzo Chichi-san, when I've told you before that you must call him Kuwarzo-san. And while talking to him, you referred to Marakita as Haha-san, instead of Marakita-san. I thought you understood before, but evidently not, so now I am telling you plainly: those words are forbidden to you. Forbidden; that means do not do that again, ever. Do you understand?"
"B-but why?! Th-they are my mama and papa; everyone knows that!"
Sakaki heaved a very big sigh, then sat down on the rooftop. "Come sit down, Galena. Sit down, and listen carefully. I can see now that in order to make you understand, I'm going to have to tell you some secrets."
Secrets like the hidden graves of bad people that Malaquita had to kill, back in Mexico? Eyes wide, Galena sat down and scooted close to listen.
"Now then. You know where gargoyle hatchlings come from, yes?"
Galena nodded. "The mama and papa go gliding together, and they have a big hug in midair while he puts something from his middle inside her middle, and it turns into a big egg that she lays six months later. And ten years later, the egg hatches and out comes a new gargoyle."
"That's how it's done, yes. But what you may not realize is that, when it's the right year and right season, all the mamas and papas—all the mature adults, that is--go gliding at the same time. And six months later, all the females lay their eggs at the same time. And then we put all the eggs together in the rookery, so we can take care of all of them at the same time. And what do you think happens then?"
"Um… the eggs hatch?"
"Yes, they hatch, in ten years' time. But in the meantime, the eggs get all mixed around in the rookery. And the females lose track of which egg they laid. And that's good. That's what we want to happen; for people to not figure out which egg and which hatchling is their son or daughter."
Galena stared at her, utterly dismayed. "B-but that's so sad!"
Sakaki shook her head. "No, it's not. Because that way, every hatchling has lots of parents. When they don't know which one is theirs specifically, every adult thinks of every hatchling as his or her child; a child of the clan. And every hatchling has special parents, the ones who love him or her even more than the other adults; the rookery keepers. We were specially picked for our very important job, the job of taking care of you hatchlings, because we love hatchlings the most and have the most patience with them. How many rookery keepers are there in our clan, Galena?"
"Um…" Galena counted on her talons while muttering names under her breath, then said hesitantly, "Seven."
"That's correct, for the moment; seven, including both Kuwarzo and Marakita. Now, the humans have a word, 'orphan'; it means someone who has no mama or papa. It's very, very sad when a human child has no mama or papa. Don't you think that would be sad?" Galena nodded vigorously, her heart constricting for those poor human children, even if she hadn't met them.
Sakaki continued, "You're good friends now with Koeda, yes? I'm going to tell you a secret about her now, a secret that you must never, ever say to anyone else, okay?" When Galena nodded, Sakaki lowered her voice even further and said, "The female who laid Koeda's egg died six years ago. She was out fishing, and a violent storm came up before the crew could get their boat back to the port; she was swept overboard and drowned. And even worse… after that, her mate died too. He went out to sea looking for her, and didn't come back before sunrise, so he drowned too. So the people who mated and made your friend Koeda are gone now. Does that make her an orphan?"
Galena nodded, her eyes filling with tears. Poor Koeda…
"Wrong!" Sakaki said with a smile. "Koeda has parents; she has seven parents! She's not an orphan at all, because she has all of us rookery keepers for parents! And with seven of us, that's over three times more parents than most human children have, since they usually get only two! I think that makes Koeda pretty lucky, don't you?"
"Yeah!" Galena said, brightening.
"So you see, I'm like a parent to Koeda, and she is like a daughter to me. And Galena… you're like a daughter to me too, now. Do you understand? I love you as my own child."
Galena impulsively threw her arms around Sakaki and gave her a big hug. "I love you, too!"
"Sweet little Galena-chan," Sakaki murmured as she hugged back, a good long hug that ended when Sakaki pulled back to look into her eyes again. "But as much as I love you, I don't want you to refer to me as 'Haha-san'. Everyone calls me Sakaki-san, don't they? And that's the way it should be. I know that where you came from, all the children called their parents mama and papa, but they were all human children. When you say Haha-san or Chichi-san, what you mean is 'the adult who laid my egg' or 'the adult who helped make my egg'. And suppose you kept saying that, and one day you got little Koeda curious about who her egg-parents are. And if she asked, we'd have to tell her, wouldn't we? And if she found out they were dead, wouldn't she be sad? Because then she'd feel like an orphan… Well, we don't want to make her sad, do we?"
"No, I don't want to make her sad," Galena said, her face falling. "So that means… I can't ever say 'mama' or 'papa' again?"
"I'm afraid not, dear. But you can still ask Kuwarzo for hugs when you need them… and you can ask me for hugs too, did you know that? I really like hugs, especially big squeezy ones," as Sakaki demonstrated with a big squeezy hug that left Galena breathless but grinning. "And Sugi really likes hugs, too. And what Udo loves best is to read stories to you hatchlings! He's been just a little sad, that you haven't brought him a story for him to read just to you!"
"I didn't know that," Galena said with eyes wide.
"It's true! You spend so much time with Kuwarzo, the rest of us don't get to have much fun with you, and that makes us just a little sad. But if you stop calling him 'papa' and Marakita 'mama' and spend more time coming to us, too, then we'll all be happy!"
"But…" Galena said hesitantly, "won't they be sad if I don't call them Mama and Papa anymore? I've called them that my whole life; they're used to it…"
"Mnnn…" Sakaki finally said, "Kuwarzo might be a little sad, but I've already talked to him about it. That's what I was doing while you were waiting for me earlier; talking to Kuwarzo in my office. In fact, I talked to him about it long before tonight, but he kept indulging you instead of correcting you. And favoring you, too, over the other hatchlings seeking his attention; that's not right, either. A good rookery keeper is supposed to love all the hatchlings equally, not have special favorites."
"But what about Happa?" Galena asked.
"What?" Sakaki stared at her.
"You always give Happa extra rice balls and treats; isn't he your favorite? And no one said that was wrong…"
Sakaki closed her eyes and rubbed her brow ridges for a few moments, looking pained; then she took a deep breath before saying carefully, "Happa is expected to grow into a very tall and strong adult someday; he has the right bone structure for it. And even with the right bone structure, it takes a lot of food for a hatchling to grow big and strong. Now, there's something else I want to talk to you about. When I sent you out here to wait for me, you thought I was going to beat you… and you wouldn't have thought that if it hadn't happened to you before. Answer me honestly, Galena; who used to beat you?"
"My m—Malaquita," Galena admitted, "When I was being really bad."
"I thought so. And what were you doing that was so bad?"
"Um… not doing what she told me to do. Like not staying put inside the cave when she told me to stay." Galena had learned to stay put even when it was hours past mealtime, neither parent had yet had to return from patrol and hunting down dinner, and her stomach was snarling with hunger. Their cave was safe, and before she'd learned to fear encountering strange humans, she'd learned to fear her mother's temper. "And once when I wasn't paying attention while she was teaching me how to hunt, and I let that big tapir go right past me." That had been her first and last real hunt; two nights later the villagers had come up the cave excitedly waving a letter from Lorenzo Velasquez, one that told of gargoyles having been discovered in New York City, and two nights after that they'd packed their few belongings and headed straight north.
Sakaki was very quiet for a moment—and it was a loud quiet, somehow—then said carefully with her teeth clenched, "People who beat hatchlings don't make good rookery keepers. I'd noticed before tonight that there were times when Marakita seemed to be struggling to hold her temper in check. Though I'd thought she was merely refraining from shouting… That's why she is talking to Kai right now; he is finding out what she is good at and where else in the clan she can be useful, now that she had learned enough of our language to get by. After tonight, she probably won't be a rookery keeper anymore."
"Y-you mean… I'll never see her again?" Galena was dismayed; even if she liked her papa better, Malaquita was her mother! And when her mother wasn't angry at her, she told great stories and taught her how to glide better and gave really squeezy hugs…
"Of course you'll see her again!" Sakaki gave her a reassuring smile. "She'll still be part of the clan, after all. I imagine she'll come by the rookery fairly often to see you and Kuwarzo. But you need to understand… in this clan, there is no hitting hatchlings. Ever If she lost her temper and hit you again, or any other hatchling, Kai would have to punish her severely. She might even end up with her wings bound for a while, like Di-mono! And nobody wants that, do they? So it's best if she finds a place in this clan that doesn't involve being with hatchlings all the time. It really is for the best, Galena. Think about it… after this, when she sees you, it'll be because she wants to see you and is happy to see you, and that's the best time to be together. And even when she's not there, you know that Kuwarzo's always happy to see you, and I'm always happy to see you, and so are Sugi and Udo and Hisame and Soseki… you'll never be lonely here, Galena-chan; I promise you that."
With that, Sakaki stood up again, urging Galena to do the same. "Now, before we go back down to the rookery, do you remember what you mustn't do from now on?"
Galena nodded sadly. "I mustn't say Chichi-san or Haha-san anymore, just Cuarzo-san and Malaquita-san."
"That's right. And do you remember what you must do, as soon as we go inside?"
"Why, didn't I tell you? You must go and see Udo right away, and have him read you a story! I think he's already picked out a story, one he's been saving just for you; let's go find out what it is!" as Sakaki grinned and leaped lightly off the roof to glide down to the rookery door, with Galena gladly following right behind her.
The next day, late in the afternoon, Constable Fukuda Hiroshi had visitors at the jail. Which was in and of itself not surprising; since Di-Mono had mistaken Jiro's play with the hatchlings as an attack and nearly killed him, she had been spending every day in the village's jail, and Dominiko (as Di-Mono preferred people refer to her during her human hours) frequently received visitors to help her learn the Japanese language and customs. But she did not normally see the two people standing in front of Hiroshi now, though Hiroshi saw them often when away from the jail: Ebisawa Takemi, owner of the village's clothing store, and their human Mexican immigrant Guevara Carlos.
Guevara Carlos—who had said he wasn't bothered by the way most of the villagers referred to him, 'Gwebala Karos' (the phonemes for the distinct 'v', 'r' and 'l' sounds just did not exist in Nihongo, but the villagers did their best with the closest equivalents in the native tongue) had spent the last few weeks trying hard to make himself useful to the villagers in general, and to Hiroshi in particular, since he was living in one of Hiroshi's spare rooms. The truth was that there weren't a lot of things that a man who didn't speak the language, and who had his right hand in a cast after it had been broken by those crazy Kawarimen, could do to make himself useful. But he did what he could around the village, whether weeding gardens or stocking shelves or walking dogs for their owners, all the while learning Nihongo with a fierce determination.
Every morning at breakfast he asked Hiroshi to teach him twenty more words and common phrases, and usually by sunset he had mastered them all and up to a dozen more, gleaned from the people he did chores for. While not picking the language up as quickly as Galena or Di-Mono/Dominiko, Carlos could already make himself understood in Nihongo for most of his needs, and there were hopes that he'd be fluent in their language in less than a year. But since fluency was still lacking, Hiroshi and the five other people in the village who spoke fluent English frequently had to be called in for interpreting. English wasn't Carlos' native language either, but he'd studied it diligently for years in his home village, and it had become the lingua franca for long or serious discussions.
And from the expressions on Carlos and Takemi's faces, this would be a serious discussion indeed. Takemi was indignantly upset, and Carlos was looking frantic. Takemi told Hiroshi in their own language, "He actually did a good job of setting out the new clothing displays and stocking the shelves—even made a couple of improvements to the display I'd planned; he has a good eye for design—but when I tried to give him a new coat in return, he refused it! The fool is shivering to death half the time, and it's a good quality coat that should fit him perfectly! But from what I could understand of his talk, there's something else he's wanting, something that he doesn't know the right words for yet… Find out if there's some rule in Mexico against actually dressing for the weather, and talk some sense into him, won't you?"
So Hiroshi talked to him, and as it turned out, there was no Mexican custom against dressing warmly; Carlos would like very much to have a new coat. But what he wanted even more than material goods was money; money that he could send to his family back in Mexico. As he explained to Hiroshi in English, "It is not that I do not appreciate the food and clothing this town has given me, in exchange for the work I've done. I left Mexico and go to America not just to protect my friends during the day; I left to find work and make money, to send back to my family and my village! Everyone is poor there. If someone gets sick, we have no money for medicines; if the tractor breaks down again, we have no money to get it fixed. And now, with no gargoyles there to scare and chase away the banditos, they will come and take what little we have! My family is counting on me to send them money, but I am not getting paid!"
Hiroshi sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Now I understand. And now you must understand something, Carlos. You are welcome here in this village, very welcome indeed, and not just because you are a friend to gargoyles; you are smart and learn quickly, and even with one hand in a cast you are a hard worker. But you are here illegally. You have no passport, no visa, no worker's papers; no right to be here, so far as the prefecture government is concerned. If they found out you were here, you'd be in their handcuffs before sunset, and deported back to Mexico after a long jail stay… one that would be nothing like Dominiko's stay, I assure you! And those who harbored you illegally, including me, could well be facing jail time as well.
"So we are keeping you out of sight, and off the books. The warm clothes on your back and shoes on your feet, the food you eat at the restaurant for lunch every day; all have been donated, with the businesses involved carefully altering their accounts as necessary. But if you tried to open a bank account here, for depositing money in or sending money back to Mexico…" Hiroshi mimed a pair of handcuffs slapping onto wrists. "I have been trying to find out what it would take to make you a legal resident, but so far, I have found nothing that would not involve a government investigation, exposing Dominiko-san's hand in bringing you here… and possibly exposing the gargoyles as well."
"Hiroshi-san?" Dominiko's voice came floating in from her cell in the back of the jail. "Humbly begging pardon for the intrusion," she called to them, "but I have heard my name mentioned twice now; is something wrong that should or could concern me?"
Hiroshi shrugged, then gestured for everyone to follow him to the back. "Even as a human, she has a gargoyle's ears. She might as well hear all of it, and who knows, perhaps she'll have an idea…"
Dominiko Destina sat on her bed and listened while Carlos explained his native village's plight, and while Hiroshi explained their village's dilemma. When they were finished, she said thoughtfully in English, "With or without the need to send money home to Mexico, Carlos will still need proper identification papers someday. Which perhaps can be acquired for him, though… Hiroshi-san, would this be a time when it would be better to uphold justice and fairness than to preserve the law?"
Hiroshi knew what she was asking; if he'd care or officially notice if she got the papers by illegal means. He said carefully, "The preservation of life and honor comes before the law."
She nodded. "And if Carlos can not find a way to help his family from here, then he might try to smuggle himself back to America to do so from there, which could well involve very dangerous means of travel—risks to his life, yes?"
Hiroshi smiled. Dominiko was so clever, she might as well have been Ishimuran-bred! "Yes, indeed."
"And of course we would not want him to do anything so dishonorable such as joining the Yakuza for money, though it is terrible to contemplate such a fine and honorable young man being so desperate," she mused.
"That is indeed terrible to contemplate," Hiroshi agreed.
"Therefore, in order to preserve his life and honor, we must get those papers," Dominiko concluded.
Hiroshi bowed once, briefly, to Dominiko in her jail cell; saying without words that he would not hinder her in whatever method she came up with get Carlos his identification papers. (So long as they were high-quality documents that would stand up to official inspection, that is. A constable had standards, after all.)
Dominiko smiled. "Patience will still be necessary, Carlos; by any method, these things take time. But in the meantime, I can arrange for Nightstone to make a charitable donation to your village. Perhaps in the form of livestock? I believe it's a long-standing tradition that in farming villages, good cattle are better than money. Ten heifers and two young bulls? And a dozen goats, too; good hardy stock for breeding. And perhaps the trucker to drive them to your village will be carrying some medicines and tractor parts under his seat…"
Carlos bowed so deeply he almost fell over, babbling, "Ten thousand blessings on you, Señora Destine! Señor Fukuda, please, open the cell door so I can kiss her feet!"
That evening, Malaquita reported for sentry duty, reflecting with resignation that her life had come full circle. In the old clan, before that first disastrous earthquake, she'd also been a sentry. A sentry hoping to someday become a fierce and skilled warrior and lead other gargoyles into battle against banditos and raiders, but back then just a very young sentry.
It was in her role as sentry that she'd been out at the most remote outpost, her high-pitched whistle at the ready; ready to blow hard into it and alert the clan if strangers came up the road to the nearby village. The high-pitched whistles had been recovered booty from a bandito who'd threatened the villagers with killer dogs; after burying man and dogs together, they'd discovered that dogs and gargoyles could hear the whistle but humans could not. The clan leader had declared them an excellent means of alerting the clan without alerting strangers, and had two remote and well-camouflaged outposts built for sentries armed with whistles. When Malaquita had proved herself responsible and capable of standing a post even at her young age, she was given a whistle and old Yeso, mentor to the sentries, had led her to the northern tree-fort outpost for her first watch.
That first night of standing watch, she'd been almost eager for something to happen that would give her an excuse to blow the whistle; some threat to the clan or their human friends in the village that she could alert them to. She had waited, and waited… and no danger had ever come during her waking hours. Indeed, the only one who had ever come had been Cuarzo, carrying her meals out to her. An apprentice rookery keeper, he'd also been assigned to help out the clan's cook by carrying food to the sentries, and that night it had been her in the northern outpost and their rookery brother Ópalo in the southern one.
After serving her some roast pig for the last meal before sunrise, Cuarzo had lingered in the outpost; pretending to be interested in the whistle and in the code of whistle-blows that they had made up to describe which sort of threat was approaching. He'd told her the gossip for the evening; that Ópalo was now in trouble and Yeso was personally standing watch over him in the other outpost, because on his very first watch he'd been caught blowing his dog whistle—not to alert the clan to danger, but to make up a tune on it! Cuarzo had speculated that after the next sunset, Ópalo would probably lose his sentry duties, maybe even his warrior apprenticeship, and go back to digging tubers for the stewpot instead.
Even after imparting the gossip and learning the whistle-codes, Cuarzo had lingered in the outpost. Malaquita had gotten the impression that he'd just been delaying going back to the rookery for as long as possible, but hadn't asked why. She'd been glad for the company, since the post was a lonely one and she wouldn't be relieved until the next evening. So she'd let him stay and chatter on and examine the whistle and et cetera, until it had been nearly dawn.
Finally she'd told him to go back to the rookery; surely the other rookery keepers would be missing him, and she even more surely didn't want to be caught with distracting company when her relief came, next sunset. Cuarzo had agreed and departed for the rookery, but with dawn fast approaching, had sensibly landed before halfway there and gone back on foot. Glancing after him, Malaquita had thought that no matter what minor trouble he'd been in to make him want to stay out of the rookery, he'd surely be in more trouble with the head rookery keeper the next evening, for not getting back before sunrise. Then sunrise had come, and sent her to the sleep of stone in her little tree-fort.
And she'd awoken that night to find the tree-fort in a shaken shambles, boards having come loose all over the place. She'd been very lucky that it hadn't shaken completely loose of the tree, and fallen with her inside it! She'd wondered at first if a terrible windstorm had come during the day. Then she'd glided back to look at the avalanche and crumbled ruin that had once been her home, and discovered that it had been something much worse.
The clan had weathered earthquakes before, shock waves coming through the ground from up north or to the south; the cave and the outside perches had long ago been reinforced to guard against them. But this one… it must have started somewhere very close to their mountain home, sent the full force of outraged earth against them in shocks undiminished by distance, and brought everything crashing down.
The devastation was forever imprinted on her mind's eye. Stone fragments of bodies everywhere; arms, feet and heads sticking out of an otherwise unrecognizable jumble of fallen rock. The rookery with the clan's eggs was somewhere back in that collapsed cave, but they never found it, though she, Yeso, Ópalo and Cuarzo had dug unceasingly for three straight nights. Everyone else was dead; they had been the only survivors.
After finally giving up the search for other survivors, Yeso had decreed that they should leave their home and go to join the ancestral clan; the one that their rookery tales said they'd split off from several centuries ago. From what Yeso could recall of the tales, their ancestors had come from the north, so after explaining the situation to their friends in the village and exchanging tearful goodbyes, the four of them had journeyed north. But when several nights had passed and they had not seen any of the landmarks that Yeso had said they should find, and after Ópalo had nearly gotten his tail shot off by an alarmed human in a village they'd passed, they had finally turned back and returned to what was left of their home. At least the humans in their village knew of them and their friendly intentions, and didn't try to shoot them on sight.
After they had returned, old Yeso had just faded away with grief and despair, a little more with each passing moon; eventually he just hadn't woken up one evening, and his stone statue had crumbled to gravel at the first touch. But the year before he'd died, he'd named Malaquita as their little remnant clan's leader; he'd said that Cuarzo was simply too mild and meek for the responsibilities of leading a clan, and Ópalo too much of a jokester.
Ópalo had protested to Yeso that he had changed since the disaster, and had even tried to physically challenge Malaquita for the position, but after she'd knocked him back on his tail or flat on his face four times in a row, he'd given in and called her his leader. And leader she'd remained, after Yeso's death from grief; she had led her little clan through the decades that followed. Through their first breeding season, through the successful hatching of Galena, through the death of Ópalo after another quake; through countless encounters with bandits and other threats to the village, aiding them by night when their own government far off in Mexico City would do nothing to aid them by day.
It had been her decision to move their little clan clear up to the United States, to find the clan in New York that Lorenzo had written to them about; she and Cuarzo had agreed that it was of paramount importance to find playmates and a future mate for little Galena. But she hadn't really thought about what would happen to her after they found that other clan.
She supposed now that she'd subconsciously thought that she and the other clan's leader would lead side-by-side, coexisting in equality while in the same territory. Foolish of her, really. In all honesty, her clan was little more than a wayward fragment of a clan, and could no more avoid being absorbed into a full clan than a river could flow uphill, away from the ocean.
She'd rejoiced at little Galena being gathered into the Ishimuran clan's rookery. Galena was really a sweet hatchling and very dear to Malaquita's heart, but there had been occasions when it had been difficult to deal with always having a youngster underfoot. With no one else but Cuarzo to care for her, Malaquita had been forced to take on a rookery keeper's duties to ensure their hatchling stayed safe and learned proper gargoyle behavior. But every sinew of her was a warrior, not a rookery keeper, and Galena had challenged her patience to the breaking point more than once. Galena would be happier with other hatchlings to play with, and Malaquita would be happier knowing she no longer had to accommodate a hatchling's needs with every single move and decision she made.
Nor had she been surprised to see Cuarzo instantly chosen as a rookery keeper. He had the patience for dealing with hatchlings, even with human children, and seemed happiest when surrounded by them. But when Kai had peremptorily assigned her and Demona, both clearly warriors, to rookery keeper status too…!
She'd nearly challenged the Ishimuran clan leader on the spot, but Cuarzo had pleaded with her to comply, for at least a little while. Carlos had sensibly pointed out that they had a whole new language to learn, and looking at children's picture books and listening in on Galena's lessons would be a good way to learn it. And Demona had gone willingly into the rookery too, though even before that bizarre attack on Jiro, she'd spent at least half of each night out of the rookery doing other things, dealing with humans and the business she ran during her human hours.
So Malaquita had given in and stayed in the rookery, for too many long weeks; forcing herself to keep her temper in check while dealing with fifteen times more hatchlings than she'd ever dealt with before. Cuarzo, ever-sensitive to her moods, had been good at distracting hatchlings who had become too pestering for her, and had willingly given most of his assigned breaks to her instead so she could escape to the skies for a while. But there had still been a few times when she'd been sorely tempted to swat or cuff those incessantly pestering hatchlings away for just a moment's peace.
And finally, last night she'd gone to see Kai and he'd taken her off rookery duties. She still didn't speak the language well, but she understood enough to follow most conversations, and follow directions for other duties. But when he'd questioned her about what skills she'd possessed that could be useful to the clan, the list had proven painfully short.
Malaquita knew she was an outstanding hunter, always bringing home tapirs and deer that had been brought down by her talons and experienced even in fighting overly bold jaguars away from her kills… but Kai told her that the nearby forest had been severely overhunted by humans over the centuries; now there was no game in it bigger than rabbits, and they usually just set snares for those. Fishing? She'd never set foot on a boat in her entire life. Farming? She'd always considered that for humans. Making art on paper or cloth that could be sold for other provisions? She'd told him frankly that they'd end up starving. What about warriors, surely there was an opening in the warrior ranks for her? Kai had admitted that there was, though other than the conflict that had resulted from Taro's mad scheme, they hadn't actually fought in a battle for centuries. But they still kept in practice, and they could always add another sentry to their rotation…
And now here she was, on sentry duty again. And for her first watch, she was paired with a youngster named Anzu. Facing a long, boring night of standing in one place, instead of patrolling the borders of the clan's territory; likely facing a full night without any dangers or risks of any sort, since she hadn't heard of any trouble from outsiders since she had arrived here. Well, it was still far better than staying in the rookery for even a single hour more.
But after a few hours of standing watch, she decided that there was a hazard to this duty after all. Namely a risk of having her ears talked off, because Anzu just would not shut up.
It wasn't the sort of behavior she'd been expecting from him, given the gossip that Sugi and Udo had told her about their rookery generation over the last few weeks. From what they'd said, she had understood that Anzu rarely said anything; that his friend Botan—although 'his master Botan' might be a more accurate way to describe their relationship, from what had Malaquita had heard—Botan had done most of the talking for him while they'd been growing up. But now that Botan was evidently gone for good, Anzu was becoming positively garrulous.
Perhaps, Malaquita thought uncharitably, the problem was that Anzu still wasn't used to thinking for himself; that he'd spent all his life waiting for someone else to tell him what to do and what to think. And now that no one was doing his talking and thinking for him, he'd decided to do his own talking… but figured he could do without any of that tiresome activity called thinking.
Thus far in the first three hours of their standing watch, Malaquita had been treated to a long, rambling monologue about what life had been like for Anzu while growing up. She understood most of what he said, even if she didn't believe all of it. Anzu said 'Botan said' far too often while talking about how miserably his rookery brothers and sisters had treated him, and Malaquita was fairly sure that what had actually happened had often been quite different from what Botan had told Anzu had happened.
Eventually, Anzu progressed from the trials and tribulations of his hatchlinghood and student years, to more recent events that actually held some interest for Malaquita. She heard about Goliath and Angela's visit, about Taro's betrayal with Yama's not-quite-unwitting help, and about Yama's banishment afterwards and Sora's decision to dismate from him.
The same Sora who had tried to tempt Quarzo away from her, a few nights after they'd arrived here? Malaquita thought with a silent sniff that Yama would surely find, if he hadn't already, that dismating from such a puta was the best thing to ever happen to him. That left that fine male, a good teacher as well as an excellent warrior, free to court Demona. Malaquita hadn't seen much of Demona since her punishment had begun, since she'd been forbidden to enter the rookery and Malaquita had been stuck inside it, but was sure that her sister warrior would surely appreciate Yama's finer qualities. She wondered idly what the hatchling to result from their breeding would be like; if it would turn to human during the day as well.
But Anzu was still going on about Sora; about how lovely she was, and how despite his best efforts—efforts which involved a broken teapot somehow; Anzu had mumbled that part—she hadn't shown any interest in him. Even now that Botan was gone and Anzu was the only male left for her in the entire clan, she wasn't showing any interest in him. "Maybe there's another female in another clan who would actually be interested in me," Anzu sighed. "Maybe I'd have a chance with that female Anjera in the Manhattan clan, if I could just talk to her again. We only had a few hours together, and even then Botan did most of the talking with her. Maybe I should talk to Di-mono, and ask her if she'd be willing to send me over to Manhattan in a crate like Yama went, and… oh, that's right; Di-Mono told everyone that clan finally moved out of their city, to somewhere safer, but she couldn't find out where." Udo heaved another deep sigh. "And there probably aren't any single females left in the other clans Goliath told us about, in London and Guatemala. No one left for—ieee!"
Anzu's pained yelp was a result of Malaquita suddenly grabbing his shoulder, a little harder than she should have, to spin him around to face her. She apologized in her limited Nihongo for the grab, assured him she hadn't actually broken the skin—okay, one slight prick from where her middle talon had dug in, but it was only a few drops of blood, nothing to call a healer over—but what had he said about a clan in Guatemala?!
Before beginning her first shift as a sentry, Malaquita and Cuarzo had agreed to time their breaks together, and meet outside the rookery. When they met, Cuarzo reached up to brush his knuckles against his mate's brow ridges, his eyes filled with concern. "You look… upset," he managed in Nihongo. "Sentry duty not good either?"
"Forget Japanese, speak in our tongue," she said in rapid Spanish. "This is too important to risk mistakes… and I don't want anyone to overhear us. Not after what I've just learned."
"What? What did you just learn? Bad news? Is it going to affect us, especially Galena?" Cuarzo asked in their native tongue.
"Not bad news, but good news, and yes, it's going to affect us!" Malaquita said excitedly. "Though it's also bad news about this clan; they've been keeping secrets from us! The sentry I was paired with tonight let something slip in his lovesick yammerings. There's another clan out there that they know of, one in Guatemala!" She almost laughed, a semi-hysterical gasp. "Guatemala; old Yeso's tales got the direction wrong! The ancient land our clan came from must have been to the south, not the north! If we'd gone south instead on that first foray after the earthquake, we would probably have found all those landmarks from the tales, and crossed into their territory in less than two weeks—within a single week, perhaps!—and soon been in a full-sized clan again! All those years we were alone and desperate…But that's in the past. What's important is now, and right now, we could go to a clan that speaks our language, that probably has the same customs we do—a clan that will accept us as we are, instead of insisting we conform to their foreign ways! We need to talk to Demona, and see if she'd be willing to use her human side to help us--" And then she stopped, because Cuarzo had reached up to put his hand over her mouth. And he wasn't excited at all, not like she had thought he'd be.
Once she'd stopped, Cuarzo removed his hand and said, "Malaquita, my darling mate… my beautiful warrior, so strong and swift and fierce in combat, my dark angel of the battlefield…"
Malaquita had a sinking feeling in her stomach. Cuarzo frequently flattered her, but he didn't pour it on like that unless he was about to give her bad news.
"The Guatemalan clan would not be a good home for us; certainly not for Galena."
"…You know about them? You knew? You knew, and you didn't tell me?! WHEN did you learn? WHY didn't you tell me? HOW DARE YOU KEEP SECRETS FROM--"
The door to the rookery opened and Sugi popped her head out, looking worried. "Is everything all right out here? We can hear you even in here, and Garena—sorry, Galena--is getting upset."
"We are well," Cuarzo said hurriedly, turning back towards Sugi and with his hand raised to pause Malaquita's tirade. "Ah, we have small talk, small…"
"Argument," Sugi suggested dryly.
"Yes, that. But no bad problem." Then he switched to Spanish and pitched his voice to carry through the open doorway. "Nothing to worry about, Galena! Your mother and I were just having a talk, about that poor clan that lived to the south of where we used to live. She's upset about what happened to them, that's all," he said with a darkly meaningful glance at Malaquita, one that made her pause and finally lower the hand she'd had raised to swat him with. "I'll be back in soon, all right? Keep playing with Happa and Koeda…"
Sugi gave Cuarzo a doubtful look, then Malaquita a warning glare before closing the door. Once they were alone again, Malaquita loomed over Cuarzo with her arms folded and her tail lashing. "Tell me everything you know. Right now."
But instead of spilling his guts immediately, Cuarzo asked, "How much did the sentry tell you?"
"Not a lot," Malaquita admitted. After that first slip, Anzu tried to claim he'd said the other clan lived somewhere else, but the slow-witted fellow hadn't been able to come up with another plausible location in time. So Malaquita had pinned his hands to the railing with her hands clamped over them, swung her tail around to wrap the end around the shorter male's neck, then told him with her fangs bared that she really, really didn't like it when people lied to her or kept secrets from her. Finally Anzu had admitted that yes, there was a clan in Guatemala. That while Goliath was visiting he'd said that he had met four gargoyles in that clan, and that's all Anzu knew; he hadn't been paying attention at the time, because he'd been trying to court a single female before she got away! And that Kai had told everyone at that welcoming banquet that the clan leader didn't want anyone to ever talk about the Guatemalan clan, and he'd told Yama and Hiroshi not to translate that for Carlos—gasp—and everyone had just been obeying the clan leader—gasp—and that's all Anzu had been doing too, and would Malaquita please let go of his neck before he strangled to death? And his hands, before they were crushed into the railing?
"I found out about the clan ten nights ago," Cuarzo said, after she'd told him what little Anzu had told her. "You were out gliding on a 'sanity break', when Udo told the hatchlings a fairy tale about a gargoyle that caught a tengu and made a wish to stay awake by day. The tengu granted his wish but after that the gargoyle turned to stone by night instead, and eventually died of sheer loneliness. After the tale was told, little Koeda felt sorry for the gargoyle and said that he should have had the Tengu magically send him to Guatemala, where other gargoyles could talk to him during the day." Cuarzo gave a brief, wry smile. "The looks on all the adults' faces when she said that… I told them to tell me the truth, and they did. All of it, and yes, I quietly confirmed everything by asking the clan historian later."
"And you didn't see fit to tell me, your mate and clan leader, because…?"
"Because I knew you were so miserable and frustrated at being stuck in the rookery with me and the hatchlings that you might have gone straight to Demona for help in going there, even knowing the full truth! And the truth is, Goliath met four adults in the Guatemalan clan because that's all that's left of that clan! Everyone else is dead; they were slaughtered in stone sleep! Four adults survived because they were wearing magical stone pendants that let them stay awake by day, and they were out on patrol when the slaughter happened. So if we'd gone south instead of north on that first foray and met their clan, we'd be dead now! All of us, including Galena! The clan's hatchlings were murdered too! And that is why it's not a good home for us; because Galena would have no playmates there, no hopes for a future mate. And we left our home for her sake, to ensure our daughter has a good future!"
Malaquita blinked down at her mate in surprise; he was so passionate about what he was saying, his eyes were actually glowing. That was a rarity for meek and mild Cuarzo…
The glow faded, and Cuarzo admitted, "I had planned on telling you in another week or two; after you were settled in your duties as a sentry and made some friends among the warriors in this clan. I figured that by then, you'd have accepted this clan as our home and wouldn't seriously consider leaving it for someplace else, a home with no future for Galena."
"I see," was all she said in reply.
Cuarzo took a deep breath before saying, "Malaquita… my beautiful dark angel of the battlefield, I love you dearly. But if you choose to go to Guatemala, I will not go with you. I will stay here, with Galena. Yes, the food here in nothing like what we're used to; yes, the language they speak is enough to break my brain; yes, they're just too damn quiet and orderly too much of the time, and would probably faint dead away if they saw a good rousing soccer match! But Galena is happy here! And she wouldn't be happy there. To me, that's what matters most."
"To me, too," Malaquita said just before she picked her mate up for a fierce hug, lifting him clear off the ground and grinning as she rubbed her nose and brow ridges against his. "How much time do we have left on our break? Is it enough time for us to go somewhere private so I can fuck your brains out? I love it when you get all worked up like that…"
Some time later, when they returned hand-in-hand to the rookery, they found both Kai and Sakaki outside waiting for them.
After taking in Cuarzo's smiling face and somewhat wobbly gait, and Malaquita's sated glow, Sakaki gave a wry smile before saying to Cuarzo, "Your break was over some time ago, but Hisame has graciously delayed her own break until you returned. We do understand the importance of maintaining harmony with one's mate."
"Thank you, Sakaki," Cuarzo said, and gave Malaquita one more adoring look and a final squeeze of her hand before following the head rookery keeper inside.
"Come, walk with me," Kai said to Malaquita, gesturing towards the path that led outside the temple, towards the wall she'd been standing sentry at. Malaquita said nothing, but fell in step beside him.
After walking in silence for a few moments, Kai spoke. "Immediately after you left on your break, Anzu came running to me with what had happened."
Malaquita turned enough to look him in the eye, and waited.
"Of course, I chastised him for leaving his post unattended," Kai continued. "That simply isn't suitable behavior for a warrior. Though to be fair, Anzu moved only recently to the warrior's ranks. He was trained to be a fisher, but his mentor asked that he be reassigned; even after years of training, Anzu just didn't handle the nets well, and his attempts to mend the broken nets usually just made them worse. He's clumsy and a bit slow in the head… but he's still one of the clan, and I'd prefer it if you didn't terrify him anymore. In attempting to keep the truth from you, he truly was acting on my orders."
And Kai stopped to face her as he said, "Orders I perhaps should not have given, but I gave them nonetheless. If you have an issue with that, I ask you to tell me now."
Asking her to tell him, not ordering, Malaquita realized, while smothering the pleased smile that wanted to escape to her face. For the first time, he was according her the respect due a fellow clan leader, not just a refugee. Keeping her face blank, she merely asked, "Why did you give that order?"
"In truth, I panicked. During a lull in the festivities, I was curious about where Mexico is, and went to the classroom to consult their geographic textbook. When I saw how close your native land is to Guatemala, and read further to find out you share the same language and similar customs, I was seriously worried that you would take your little clan and head straight there as soon as you heard of their existence. Leave before you had come to regard our home as yours, and our clan as yours… before you came to need us as much as we need you."
Kai continued earnestly, "And we do need you here, Marakita. For several reasons. The most obvious one is that your little Garena brings our rookery count to an even number of males and females; barring tragic accidents, all of them should have mates in their upcoming breeding seasons. And Sakaki tells me that Kuwarzo will an excellent rookery keeper, once he learns to treat all the hatchlings equally. Another gargoyle to keep our hatchlings safe and out of trouble is very welcome indeed. But there is also… I don't know if you've learned enough of our language to understand this, but we need your fresh blood in this clan to reduce the risk of kinshin kouhai no. In centuries past, we had another, even larger clan to the south of us with whom we regularly exchanged unmated youngsters, but they were massacred nearly 200 years ago. Since then, our youngsters have had only each other to turn to… and I wonder sometimes if Anzu's slowness is a result of that. Human science has discovered such things as resseiidenshi, and kinshin kouhai no can bring resseikeishitsu to the fore, sometimes with bad consequences for the child—or the hatchling. Do you understand?"
Malaquita smiled wryly. "I understand. Not all your words, but back in Mexico, we saw cattle that belonged to the humans. Sometimes, the owners were too poor to… pay, for use once?--borrow another family's bull for mating, and so would mate a sister and brother together. Sometimes the young cattle that were—hatched, for cattle?—the young that came out of the mothers were sickly. Is that what you meant?"
Kai smiled and nodded. "Exactly. That is what happens with too much kinshin kouhai no. In truth, if I thought there was any hope of it succeeding, I'd ask Di-Mono to use her human side's company to fly a plane down to Guatemala and bring those gargoyles back here, for even more fresh blood in the clan. But Goliath said he had tried himself to get them to leave their home and join his clan, and they refused; they are far too tied to their territory. With nearly their entire clan slaughtered, they now protect the very plant life in their home, if you can believe that."
"Protecting the plants?" Malaquita finally shook her head and decided that either there was considerably more to the story than Kai knew, or the four gargoyles left in Guatemala had gone a little mad in their loneliness… which would have made it an even worse home for Galena.
"So… now that you know the truth, will you stay here with us?"
"Yes, we will stay. Galena is happy here, with rookery playmates. And Cuarzo is happy, with many hatchlings to care for."
Kai nodded, looking as if he was holding back a relieved smile. Holding back while he asked, "And your happiness?"
"Has not been found yet," Malaquita answered honestly. "But perhaps… a challenge would help. I am used to challenges. Banditos to keep away from the village, or drive out of it if they arrived by day… my little clan to protect and keep safe. Even teaching little Galena how to glide and hunt—and she glides very well," she finished proudly. Though she would say nothing of Galena's training in hunting before they'd left Mexico; that first real hunt had been a disaster… still, if they'd stayed, that would have been another challenge to master.
"Perhaps we'll arrange an obstacle race for the hatchlings at the next festival," Kai said with a grin. "But as for a challenge for you… I admit, the sentry post is not challenging. We haven't had bandits attempting to storm the village in centuries; usually all they report are car breakdowns and accidents on the highway that runs past the village, and confirmations of storm reports we receive on the radio. I do think that you would find it a challenge to learn our way of fighting… but while gakuto receive some physical training every night during their schooling years, the grown warriors sharpen their skills in combat matches only one night in four. So perhaps even more challenge is needed for you. You said last night that you have never set foot in a boat before." Kai smiled. "Would you care to accept the challenge of mastering the waves and snatching fish from ocean's cold grasp, instead of letting the sea master you?"
"Hmmm… for three nights of every four? And combat training with the adult warriors on the fourth night?" Malaquita suggested.
"Excellent idea! I'll let the head fisher know immediately. But first… before this night, Malaquita, I merely assumed that you and your little clan would become part of my clan. I forgot or chose to ignore the fact that you spent many years leading your own clan, and were used to being the one who made the decisions, not the one who followed them." Kai's face was grim now. "But there is no room for two leaders in this clan, Malaquita. It would confuse those whom I lead, to see me constantly making an exception for you and yours. In the end, you and they might not be properly considered part of the clan, and that would not be good for anyone. So I formally ask you now: will you accept my leadership?"
Malaquita grinned, a friendly grin that showed her fangs. "Lead well, and I will follow."
After a moment, Kai nodded. "If I do not lead well, then I do not deserve to be the leader. I will do my best to lead well. And for your part, before thinking to challenge any decision I make, take at least one full night to consider it carefully before coming to me privately. You have much to learn about our culture here, and not every decision I make will make sense to you now, but there will always be a sound reason underlying it."
"I will do so…Kai-sama." There, she'd said it; formally acknowledged him as clan leader. With the implication of renouncing her own right to leadership. And oddly enough, it didn't grate on her like she'd thought it would. And as Kai smiled, for the first time in many nights Malaquita thought that this move had been a good idea after all.
kinshin kouhai no inbreeding
resseiidenshi recessive genes
resseikeishitsu recessive traits