In the attic of an aged, crumbling building in Berlin, a gargoyle sat alone in the night. The moonlight shining dimly through the skylight illuminated him to be a dark gray male with a blood-red mane, dressed in common workman's pants with a hole cut for his tail and a faded cotton tank top. He was still in the prime of his life, though evidently a veteran of battles aplenty in his past; his bat-style wings were ragged at the edges from rips and tears in the membranes, one of his impressive set of horns was chipped at the tip, his right foot had a scarred lump in place of the third toe-talon and he was missing about eight inches from the tip of his tail. His rugged features were subtly lined with an old grief and weariness, the look of a warrior who has long since tired of war.
The old wooden desk this gargoyle was sitting at was covered in papers; old newspapers and clippings, travelogues and miniature dictionaries. The desk also held a portable tape player, and headphones leading from the tape player were seated awkwardly over the gargoyle's large pointed ears. He was silently nodding to himself as he listened to the tape being played, and saying phrases in a monotonous rhythm: "I need assistance. …Are you a sales clerk? …How much does this cost? …This is too large. …This is too small. …I need this item in a larger size. …A smaller size."
The dark gray male felt a sudden tug on his left wing, and looked down to see a little blue male hatchling with tiny horn buds poking through his honey-blonde hair and cherubic features looking back at him. "Was machst du, Onkel Heinrich? ((What are you doing, Uncle Heinrich?))"
Heinrich took off the headphones and smiled down at the hatchling as he said, "Ich erlerne Englisch, Gregor. ((I am learning English, Gregor.))" Then he sighed as he looked at the headphones in his hand, and admitted, "((Though I am not sure what good these phrases will do for me; I doubt I'll be able to go shopping for souvenirs over there, any more than I can here at home .)) "
"((But why can't we go shopping here?))" Gregor wanted to know. His voice was already starting to scale up into that annoying whine familiar to parents of both human and gargoyle species as he asked, "((Why do we always have to hide up here?))"
Heinrich sighed loudly. "((Because if we are seen by strangers when they are awake, they will kill us. How many times must we tell you, Gregor? Humans in general fear us and hate us, and have tried to kill your parents and me more times than I want to think about. Must I count all my scars for you again?))" He opened his left wing as he spoke, so the many small rips, tears and scars could be seen clearly in the moonlight coming through the skylight.
"((…Nooo…))" Gregor subsided for a few seconds, then started in again. "((If humans are supposed to hate us, then how come Karl and Andrea and Dieter and Sophia don't?))"
Heinrich sighed even louder, but turned away from the table and pulled little Gregor up onto his lap as he explained again, "((Our human family members love us because they know us so well. You and Dieter used to share the same playpen! And we told you that we helped to raise Karl from infancy, just as his father and grandmother raised us. But even Andrea was terrified and called us demons, when Karl first brought her here to meet us, and might well have summoned others to kill us in our sleep if she did not love and trust Karl already. So, it is possible to become friends with a human, but it is very, very hazardous; like disarming a mine if you've never seen that type before. ))"
"((Have you ever done that?))" Gregor wanted to know.
"((Which, disarmed a strange mine or made friends with a strange human? Ach, I've done both, or at least tried both.))" Heinrich sighed again, as he glanced at his wings, his maimed foot and the truncated tip of his tail. " And both times, I ended up regretting it… "
Gregor sensed his uncle's suddenly much sadder mood, and reached over to give him a hug. Just then, a voice echoed up the stairs. "((Heinrich? Is Gregor up there with you?))"
"Ja, Helmut!" Heinrich called over his shoulder, as he set aside his momentary melancholy and bounced Gregor on his knee. He winked at his nephew as he added, "((And he is being a pest, as usual.))" Gregor just giggled.
A royal blue male with a dark brown mane drawn back in a ponytail and features that would be considered handsome by either species, of a smaller size than Heinrich but still fully grown and dressed similarly to his rookery brother, came up the stairs with his glider-style wings caped about his shoulders and a frown on his face. "((Gregor, why are you up here and not at your lessons?))"
"((Sofia said we could take a break,))" Gregor said, trying to look innocent.
"((A short break, so she could take her medications. She's been waiting for you to return for the last twenty minutes!))" as Helmut shook a stern talon in his son's face. "((Now, must I carry you down there and tie you to your chair like a dog to his doghouse, or will you go on your own and learn your arithmetic like a civilized youngster?))"
Gregor jumped down off his uncle's lap, but dragged his tail as he went over to the stairs. His father gave him a tail-flick to his backside to speed him along, and he yelped at the sting and went a little faster. But he balked at the stairs and said sullenly, "((What's the point of learning all this stuff, if I'm going to be stuck in this house all my life and can never use it?))"
"Gregor Dresden!" both Helmut and Heinrich raised their voices in whip-cracks of anger at his impudence to his elders, and Gregor fled downstairs rather than face their wrath. When the hurried click of talons on stairs had faded away, Helmut sighed and ran his talons through his mane as he admitted, "((Sometimes, I wonder that myself.))"
"((We really do shelter him too much,))" Heinrich said quietly. "((By his age, back in Dresden, we were already out scavenging for ourselves and dodging the first Communist patrols.))"
"((And collecting our first scars in the process,))" Helmut reminded him with a gesture at Heinrich's ragged wings.
"((Collecting my first scars, you mean,))" Heinrich retorted sourly, with a return gesture at Helmut's own, nearly unblemished wings. "((You've always had either the blessings of the saints or luck of the Devil on your side...))"
There was a faint trace of bitterness and envy in Heinrich's voice, and they both knew he was referring to more than just wing status, but Helmut preferred to ignore it again as he continued on, "((You know Helga won't hear of any risk of danger or exposure to our only child. I swear she turns a paler shade of green at the very thought of him being so much as scratched, let alone shot at.))"
"((I'm not talking about training him to become one of the Rettende Engel, like we used to be,))" Heinrich said with a cocked brow ridge at his rookery brother. "((Particularly since there's no need for a 'Rescuing Angel' to provide transport over hostile territory anymore, not since the Wall came down nearly seven years ago. I'm talking about just letting him stretch his wings once in a while, right here in the city instead of being smuggled into the forest first! He'll never really believe in the danger to us if he doesn't get at least a taste of it for himself.))"
"((I know, I know,))" Helmut said irritably. "((Do you think I haven't said the same thing to Helga? But she always just points to her wing stump and asks, 'What if that first taste is fatal?' And what answer can I truly give to that?))"
Heinrich sighed and admitted, "((None at all. Ach, this horse is so dead it stinks already,))" as he shook his head and turned back to his desk.
"Ja, ((no sense beating it further,))" Helmut agreed. "((So, how are your own lessons going?))"
Heinrich snorted in derision. "((I should now be able to order a meal in a restaurant, shop for clothing, ask for directions and buy train and plane tickets anywhere in America...))"
"((Assuming you would be so foolish as to even try any of those things!))" Helmut agreed with a wry smile.
"((But still, the words may come in handy to know while I am searching; perhaps I'll overhear some little clue in a conversation between humans,))" Heinrich said as he started to put the headphones back on.
Helmut picked up a newspaper clipping from the desk and looked at it again; they'd all looked at that clipping several times in the last few weeks. Worn and faded from so much handling, the headline still read in bold letters, "Menshenartige, fliegende Geschopfe im New York entdeckt! ((Man-sized flying creatures discovered in New York!))" Helmut looked the article over again, studying the blurred photo that accompanied it, and said softly, "((Do you really think this isn't a hoax, that they truly exist? More of our kind, in an American city?))"
"Ja," Heinrich said simply. Then, "((I have to believe. For Gregor's sake… I will not let my nephew be the last of his kind.))" Then he hit the 'Play' button on the tape player again, and resumed his English lessons.
LIFE GOES ON
FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
By Kimberly T.
(Author's note: this story begins directly after the events depicted in the only other "Goliath Chronicles" episode I choose to acknowledge besides "The Journey": the well-thought-out "The Dying of the Light." And Brother Edmund, mentioned again herein, belongs to the staff of "TGS: Dark Ages.")
PART I: WHITE LIES & MARTYRDOM
At noon on a Tuesday, in the little café on the ground floor of Lewisohn Hall at Columbia University, a gathering of 'walking wounded' was taking place.
Mary Simmons slowly limped through the door on crutches, with her leg in a cast and her best friend Kelly Green carrying her textbooks for her, and spotted Keith Hanford, Dave Mulcahy, Madelyn Printemps and Jim Braden all sitting at a table in the corner. She waved to them and limped over, with Kelly following closely behind. "Hi, guys! Dave, when did they let you out? I thought they wanted to keep you at Manhattan Medical for another couple of days, for observation…"
Dave very gingerly touched his head, still bandaged on one side, with the arm that wasn't in a sling and cast from wrist to elbow. "Nah, they said it was only a mild concussion after all. I'm still excused from classes for the rest of the week, but I just couldn't stay in my dorm room all day; I was starting to go stir-crazy."
"But you did say you'd go back there right after lunch," Madelyn reminded him, her worried expression made even worse by the blackened left eye squinting behind her horn-rimmed glasses (her backup pair, Mary knew; the other ones had been crushed underfoot last Sunday) and the great ugly bruise covering nearly half her face, from chin to temple on the left side. "I can loan you my TV, so you can watch your Star Trek videos in your room instead of fighting for the lounge TV…"
"Maddie, your mommy streak is showing again," Jim said amusedly, while reflexively reaching for his coffee cup with the hand that was immobilized from forearm to fingertips by a cast. He grunted in annoyance when he realized it, and switched to using his left hand before continuing, "Don't worry about Davey; his head's in better shape than his arm is. Always said you had a thick skull," he added with a smirk in Dave's direction.
"So speaks the man with a skull that would rival a Klingon's," Dave retorted. "I've seen you out there with your football buddies! Pounding each other's heads into the turf just for fun…"
"Only when the talent scouts are watching," Jim said lightly.
"Yeah, I guess you're used to getting hurt like this," Keith remarked wryly as he gestured with his right hand at his left side; his left arm was completely immobilized by a cast going from shoulder to fingers, the stark white of the cast a vivid contrast against his coffee-dark skin.
"Well, not exactly used to it, and usually not as bad as some of us got it," Jim admitted, "but we always know it's possible, so when it does happen we can handle it better than some folks do. I mean, Martin only got a few bruises from what I could tell; the docs didn't put a cast on him anywhere, and he was out of the emergency room even before Maddie and I were released. But to hear him moaning and groaning about it, you'd think he'd been at Death's door for hours on end."
"How are you doing, Mary?" Dave asked as Mary slowly and carefully sat down in the chair that Kelly had pulled out for her.
"I'm okay," Mary said with what she hoped was a brave smile, as Kelly sat down next to her. "They said it's a clean break of the tibia, should heal up just fine, and only two ribs were actually cracked."
"I was scared to death for you, when I saw you go down right in front of that Quarryman chasing you," Madelyn said worriedly. "Thank God Kelly was able to surprise him and take him out…"
"Yeah; he may have swung a sledgehammer, but you swing a pretty mean folding chair," Jim told Kelly admiringly.
Instead of accepting the compliment, Kelly looked somewhat troubled and guilty. "But I should have done more…"
"Hey, none of that 'survivor guilt' crap," Jim ordered sternly. "You might have gotten out of that fight without a scratch, but it looked like that asshole was fixing to kill Mary; if you hadn't been there, she might be on a slab in a morgue right now." Then he gave a wry smile. "Actually, though, it's weird, but I'm sort-of wishing I'd been hurt worse; if I'd been kept overnight like you three were," as he looked at Keith, Dave and Mary, "I might have met that gargoyle lady too."
"Yeah, me too," Madelyn said with a slight grimace; she normally would have made a more expressive face, but Mary figured that with her facial bruising, big grins or frowns were probably especially painful. "I actually envy you three."
Keith smiled and admitted, "Yeah, that was pretty amazing. Actually meeting a gargoyle face-to-face, and hearing her thank us for starting the P.I.T…. It almost made the broken bones worth it. Almost," he added as his smile turned wry.
Mary smiled wryly as well, addressing Madelyn. "Don't envy me right now; when my mom found out what had happened, she was all for driving down here and standing guard over my bed armed with her frying pan. I had to swear up, down and sideways that the hospital wasn't going to let any Quarrymen into my room, and that you and Kelly would help out with everything, before she agreed to stay home with Dad and little Tommy." Mary was silently and apologetically thankful that her nephew Tommy was living with his grandparents while he was undergoing chemotherapy; it gave her sometimes-overbearing mom somebody else to mother to death. "If she ever found out that Quarrymen attacked the hospital the very next night, even if they weren't actually after me that time, she'd probably be here faster than the speed of sound."
Madelyn looked worried again. "Um… you didn't say anything about me being hurt, did you? I didn't tell my folks about that yet; I just told them I needed my eye prescription from the doc and a little extra money for new glasses, because somebody 'accidentally' stepped on my regular pair. I didn't want to worry them…"
Mary looked rueful. "I think I did say something about it. And you know how our moms call each other every Wednesday and Saturday; you'd better call tonight and tell the truth, or you'll really catch heat from them later."
Jim looked at them with mild curiosity. "I didn't know you two were related."
"We're not, but our mothers have always been friends; they emigrated to the U.S. together," Madelyn told him. "Mom pushed Columbia for my college partly because Mary was already here; she and Mary's mom always say, 'A woman alone can get into trouble--' "
" 'But two women can cause plenty of it'," Mary finished, smiling wryly again. "Though I don't think last Sunday was what they had in mind…"
"But three women can wreak sheer havoc," Kelly threw in with a wicked grin. "We did take out that one 'Q-ball' and get him arrested for assault, and the police nailed his buddies at the hospital last night, for trying to break him out of custody. That's a few less gargoyle-hunters to worry about…"
Keith considered, "Yeah, that's another good point."
"Ah, Mr. Hanford! And Miss Simmons," a deep and cultured voice with a strong hint of Scottish brogue called out, and everyone turned with Keith and Mary to see the man coming towards their table. He was apparently in his mid-fifties, well-dressed and with a well-groomed beard, and wielding an eagle-headed cane that he apparently carried as an affectation, since his stride wasn't the least bit infirm.
"Professor MacDuff!" Keith said in surprise, starting to rise to his feet.
"No, lad, keep your seat," the professor said with a wave of his hand as he came up to their table. "You were moving slowly enough when you left my class earlier, that I'd say you should take advantage of all the rest you can get. I wanted to speak with you then, but those other students kept me occupied with their questions 'till long after you'd gone out the door."
"Hi, Professor," Mary said with mild surprise at the regretful look he now turned on her. "Did you want to speak to Keith alone?"
The professor shook his head. "No, lass; and before I speak to all of you, I believe I owe you, personally, an apology for my rather abrupt behavior, when you came to my office last week." The professor hesitantly cleared his throat. "I have a certain medical condition which I shan't bore you with details of, but for which I must take periodic medication; I'm afraid you caught me at a time when I was overdue for my next self-injection, and the previous dosage was rapidly wearing off. But still, that was a poor excuse for slamming that door in your face, and I am sincerely sorry."
Mary smiled wryly. "You shouldn't be; I'd been coming to ask you if you were willing to speak at a meeting I'd set up for last Sunday afternoon. But that meeting was busted up by the hammer-wielding goons that gave us all these," as she made a sweeping gesture to include their various injuries. "It's just as well that you weren't there."
But the professor frowned heavily and shook his head, as his brogue came out even thicker due to stress. "Nay, lass; I truly should have been there. This meeting ye speak of was for yer 'People for Interspecies Tolerance', was it not? Yesterday's edition of 'Columbia Spectator' spoke of it, and of the Quarrymen's assault. And ye came wishing fer me to speak at that meeting, after I spoke up on behalf of the gargoyles on that 'Night Watch' program."
Mary nodded. "We quite honestly don't know a lot about gargoyles, about their culture or even their biology; from what you said on 'Night Watch', I have the impression that you know at least more than we do…"
"I know a fair bit about them," the professor nodded slowly. "Gargoyles have been mentioned from time to time in medieval texts, which is what first brought them to my attention. And I've spent both many years and a large portion of my inheritance in tracking down some rather obscure sources of information about them, ancient texts and such. But before sharing that information, first I must know: will there ever be another meeting of the People for Interspecies Tolerance… or has your idea died aborning?"
As MacBeth waited for Miss Simmons' reply, he once more mentally kicked himself hard, for kicking her out of his office last Tuesday evening. She had no way of knowing the real reason he'd had to shove her out of the door so fast; sunset had been fast approaching, and these days, with sunset and sunrise came a fierce all-over pain whenever Demona was in town.
If Demona was within five miles of him, he felt to some degree the same pain that ripped through her body as she transformed from gargoyle to human or back again, thanks to some blasted Fey's spell on her; the closer they were physically, the worse the pain became. He still vividly remembered the incredible agony he'd felt, as if every bone in his body was being broken simultaneously while acid was poured into his veins, that horrible night in Paris when 'Dominique', his new bride, had turned into Demona before his very eyes. It had almost matched the pain of discovering her latest betrayal…
The physical pain had never been quite as agonizing since then, since he'd not been in the same room with that treacherous bitch since that night, but he'd discovered to his misfortune after accepting a teaching position here at Columbia University, that the campus was within five miles of Demona's home. More than once he'd been tempted to simply quit his position in the History department, and far more often he'd been tempted to track down Demona and simply end both their lives, but he had not. Not when he finally had a purpose again… Teaching, imparting some of his knowledge of the ages to the young, and attempting to correct some of the most glaringly inaccurate beliefs about medieval history.
MacBeth had long since inured himself to the pain of seeing his reputation and that of his beloved Gruoch forever stained by that damned playwright; he'd told himself he'd gotten used to hearing the word 'MacBeth' become synonymous with 'treachery' and 'overambition'. He'd long since learned to keep his mouth firmly shut whenever the subject came up in conversation; the more passionately he denied all that that damned playwright had written of him, the more he tried to correct the record in the public mind, the more apt he was to slip up and let people know just why he knew so much about a historical character and series of events. And he had absolutely no desire to be burned at the stake or stoned to death again; just once of each was more than enough, thank ye very much. But while waiting in the Parisian airport for his flight back to the United States, he had happened to overhear a conversation between two supposedly learned historians, returning to the States after a European sabbatical; their conversation had not featured MacBeth at all, but had centered around the 'treachery' of King Richard the Third of England.
Poor Richard! Another example of a fine upstanding man woefully maligned by history, since history is all too often written by the conquering side. MacBeth had been a minor member of Richard's court for the two years of his tumultuous reign, and had seen with his own eyes that Richard had been a good man and a good ruler, without all the deformities that damned playwright had later depicted him with. (Though the poor man had suffered horribly from constipation in the last year of his life, no doubt brought on by the stress of trying to hold together a kingdom being torn apart by civil war.)
The true villain had been Henry VII, who had overthrown Richard to take his crown and done such an abominably poor job of ruling that MacBeth had left the country in disgust and not returned for over a hundred years. But since Henry VII had been an ancestor to Elizabeth I and James I, who had ruled when that damned playwright had been wielding his quill, poor Richard had been dressed as a villain, twisted in both body and soul. A good man had been depicted as a murderer of not only his brother, to whom Richard had been loyal to the core, but of the two poor nephews he'd actually doted on, and had moved out of the Tower and to a secluded country estate so they could grow up without fear of assassination by Henry's supporters. A pity that Richard's protection hadn't long outlived his death at Bosworth…
In all honesty, he could not blame Richard's maligning strictly on that one man; Henry VII and his sycophants, the medieval version of 'spin doctors', had already painted over all of Richard's good works with the blackest tar brush possible, with the aid of that toadying Sir Thomas More. But any man who bothered to do any serious research at all, into documents contemporary with Richard's brief reign and the very start of Henry's longer and more miserable reign, could have torn through their tissues of lies… As MacBeth had informed the historians, in blistering terms.
The historians, insulted and outraged not only by 'Lennox MacDuff' intruding on their conversation, but his scathing rebuttal of what they held as indubitably true, had gotten into a fierce argument with him, progressing so far that they had nearly come to blows. If the gendarmes had not come over to separate them, the two historians would likely have missed their plane, just as MacBeth inadvertently had. MacBeth had ruefully taken the waste of his ticket as another reminder to keep his mouth shut, and thereafter done his best to forget the incident upon returning to the States the next day. Therefore, he'd been very surprised to find those same two gentlemen emerging from a car in front of his Long Island estate three weeks later, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane.
The two historians meekly explained over tea in his parlor that they had researched the documents Lennox MacDuff had mentioned in his tirade at the airport; they had been not only wrong, but gullible in taking Sir Thomas More's wildly inaccurate tale as gospel truth; and did Lennox MacDuff happen to have a degree in teaching in his background? Somewhat bemused, MacBeth had assured them he had a degree in teaching from Oxford, (which he could produce in a matter of hours. Centuries of living had given MacBeth considerable skill and resources in forging new identities, and as a matter of fact, he'd concocted an Oxford degree for the alias he'd assumed before 'Lennox MacDuff'.) In which case, the historians asked, would Professor MacDuff consider taking a teaching position? The two professors, who taught at Harvard and Princeton respectively, had just been approached by Columbia University to fill the vacancy left by a comrade's sudden death by stroke, but much preferred their chosen colleges. But they had promised the Dean of Columbia University's School of General Studies that they would recommend a professor to teach Medieval History… might they recommend Lennox MacDuff?
MacBeth had been about to politely refuse the honor, when he realized this was a chance to correct "history"; to speak with such authority that he could remove, at least in the minds of some students, the stains cast on his honor as well as Richard III's. Less than forty-eight hours later, he was presenting his impeccably forged credentials to the Dean of the School of General Studies at Columbia University… and less than a week after that, he was teaching his first class. And found, to his surprise, how much he enjoyed working with young minds, challenging them to cast off preconceptions about the Middle Ages and learn what life back then had truly been like.
By November of 1996, Lennox MacDuff was not only a much-respected professor of History at Columbia University, but also a respected and popular member of the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, to which one of his students had introduced him to last spring. To his public pride as an SCA member and his privately wry amusement, he had already won a knight's ranking for himself by right of arms. He hadn't had this much fun in centuries…
Back in the café, Mary answered Professor MacDuff's question with a wry smile. "No, it hasn't 'died aborning', but you might say it's 'failing to thrive'. The owner of the recreation center already told me that he won't be suing us for the damages, but he won't ever be renting a room out to us for a meeting again."
The professor harrumphed. "If lack of a meeting place is all that is stopping you, I can provide that. There is a place not two blocks off campus that I've already contacted; the owner is willing to rent the hall to me for a meeting place. We can hold a meeting as early as this very night, if you wish. The question is, are you willing to risk another meeting?"
"You mean, are we willing to risk being beaten up by hood-wearing Quarrymen again?" Keith asked. He smiled grimly. "My parents in Alabama spent a big chunk of their lives, and my grandparents spent their entire lives, knowing that hood-wearing Klansmen could kill them damn near any time they felt like 'lynching a nigger'. But they refused to live their lives in fear… And so do I. Next meeting we hold, I'll be right there in the front row."
"And I'll be sitting right beside him," Dave said stoutly.
"I'll probably be in the back, keeping an eye on the door and alert for more 'party-crashers'," Jim said with a twisted smile, "but you can bet I'll be there too."
"Ditto for me," Kelly Green said simply. Madelyn chimed in her assent as well; Mary simply nodded firmly.
"Well, then… I believe we should hold that next meeting as soon as possible, while the outrage over what the Quarrymen have done is still fresh in the minds of the entire campus." The professor glanced at his watch. "A gentleman at the print shop on Broadway owes me a considerable favor, and my TA has mentioned the network of couriers his roommate set up on campus, as an extra-credit project for his Journalism class. With their help, I can have notices created, printed and posted in every dorm, fraternity house, sorority house and student lounge by early afternoon, for a meeting this very night…"
Far across town, another and far less cordial meeting was already taking place. "Mister Miller," Jon Castaway said through clenched teeth, making the 'mister' honorific an obscenity, "Would you mind telling me just exactly was going through your mind when you took a squad of Quarrymen with you to attack a group of human civilians!"
Miller, a Quarryman lieutenant who until just recently had thought he was one of Mr. Castaway's best men in the organization, swallowed hard as he faced the combined glares of both the leader of the Quarrymen and their primary financial backer, Oliver Grimm. Then he answered the question and tried to defend himself, by saying, "I-I was thinking that those… those traitors to humanity needed to be taught a lesson! I mean, geez, you already told us about that one cop bitch who's trying to protect the gargoyles; now there are more traitors, actually trying to tell innocent people that they can make friends with those monsters!"
"And you wanted to 'teach them a lesson.' I see," Castaway said sarcastically. "Tell me, Mr. Miller… are you familiar with the concept of 'martyrdom'?"
"Uh… yeah…" Miller swallowed hard again.
"And what, precisely, would you give as the definition for the word 'martyr'?" Oliver Grimm asked, his tone implying that he expected the answer to come out of Miller's mouth in words of one syllable or less.
"A martyr is, uh, somebody who died for the sake of Christianity, like St. Stephen and a lot of other saints. Saint Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel," Miller added, dredging up facts from long, long ago Sunday school sessions.
"And what happens to somebody who kills a martyr?" Castaway said in such sweetly dulcet tones that Miller knew beyond all doubt that he was in very, very deep excrement.
"Uh…" Miller was sweating bullets by now, soaking his shirt clear through. "I-I guess God curses them; my Sunday school teacher never gave any names for martyrs' persecutors, or what happened to them."
"A martyr is a person who has died or suffered for the sake of any cause he believed in," Castaway informed him grimly. "And as you just said yourself, those people who killed them are labeled as persecutors. Now, until a few nights ago, these "People for Interspecies Tolerance" were nothing more than a disorganized collection of stupidly naïve souls, sure to be sneered at by most of the populace for their ridiculous ideas. They were not yet a threat to us! But now that the Quarrymen have been reported as attacking them, not just the gargoyles… We have just told the entire world that we take them seriously! And now those people who had not yet been convinced of the evil nature of the beasts, and possibly even some 'bleeding-hearts' who might have agreed with us before, are going to see those people as martyrs! And the Quarrymen as their persecutors! Then, to make things even worse, you and your men dared to bring their weapons into a hospital--a hospital!—and engage in combat in its very halls! Miller, you are damned lucky that no one was actually killed by your misguided enthusiasm; we can pay off the damages done to the hospital and its equipment and make out-of-court settlements for broken bones and concussions, though it may nearly drain our bank accounts dry, but we could never hope to pay off a murder!"
"The only good news out of this fiasco is that the owner of the recreation center that these people were using for meetings has closed its doors for repairs, and after we have paid him a ridiculously large sum of money for what was essentially a grubby basement, has agreed not to rent the room out to these people again," Grimm reported with a severe frown. "For future reference, the only way to get rid of people like that without making them martyrs is to attack them indirectly, without letting anyone know you're behind the attacks! You could have put on the colors of a street gang and slashed all their tires, or paid criminals to mug them as they returned to their homes, or arranged any number of 'accidents' for them, even fatal ones if they were selected at random, that would have killed this entire organization before they could draw significant attention to themselves. But now…" Grimm paused for a moment when he realized that both Castaway and Miller were looking at him askance, after his comment about 'fatal accidents.' Then he resumed in an even more scathing tone, "Now, thanks to your bullheaded insistence on charging ahead without consulting with your leader first, we have an opposition to our righteous cause that we can no longer make disappear, not without drawing more negative attention to ourselves. Thank you very much, Mr. Miller, for helping the cause of the P.I.T. You can turn in your hammer and uniform on your way out…"
Miller didn't even protest his abrupt firing; he merely turned around and slunk out of the room, meekly closing the door behind him. Once he had, Castaway sank back in his upholstered seat and sighed heavily. "I hated doing that…"
"But we have to make it clear that we had no part in his decision, and did not approve his actions," Grimm said smoothly, already picking up the phone to place an anonymous tip with NYPD. When Miller returned home, he would probably find a police cruiser waiting nearby, with officers waiting to arrest him as the ringleader of both the assault on the students last Sunday afternoon and the attack at the hospital Monday night. He would join his squadmates in jail, while the Quarrymen sent out an official press release stating their shock and disapproval of that 'splinter group's actions, and that they had already been removed from the Quarrymen ranks before the attacks.
Castaway reluctantly nodded. "It was a mistake to let him hand-pick his squadron members, particularly once we found out most of them had grown up together; their collective history of violence and their prior loyalty to him virtually guaranteed that they would follow him blindly into that first confrontation. Now we've lost almost all of them to police custody, for not just the first attack but for having the idiocy to wreak havoc in the hospital their comrade was being held in. In a hospital, for God's sake!" He shook his head, then closed his eyes as he added, "Even the opportunity to rescue their squadmate and kill that old gargoyle wasn't worth the risk of harming innocent people; all those patients in the hospital, lying helpless in their beds…"
Grimm looked at Castaway with narrowed eyes and a hint of a sneer on his face, but with his eyes closed Castaway didn't see it. After a few moments, Grimm said quietly, "Not everyone in that hospital was innocent. My sources indicate that the elderly gargoyle was actually there for an operation; two ophthalmologists, reportedly Dr. Cornelia Stallman and Dr. Carrie Benjamin, were secretly performing some sort of examination and surgery on his eyes. And the gargoyle was brought there by another man, a blind author by the name of Jeffrey Robbins…"
Tuesday evening, the gargoyles awoke on their parapets with their usual stone-scattering stretches and resounding roars. Then they whipped around fast, because behind them on the roof they heard a sound they hadn't expected to hear: the frantic barking of a dog. Broadway, closest to the noise, turned and saw a German Shepherd dog backed up against a dark-skinned man standing there on the rooftop, apparently trying to shoulder him away from the gargoyles, and barking its fool head off.
"It's Mr. Robbins!" said Angela, perched next to him. "And his dog; poor thing, we scared it!"
"Easy, Gilly; they're not going to eat us," Jeffrey Robbins said with a chuckle as he patted his guide dog's head.
"Jeffrey! Give me a moment to get these bandages off, lad; 'tis grand that ye're here tonight!" Hudson said happily as he pulled at the bandages covering his eyes, that the ophthalmologists had applied after doing a delicate operation to treat his glaucoma.
"Hope you don't mind, but after hearing about all the help he's given you, it seemed right to invite him up for a visit," Xanatos said from where he and Fox were standing, a few feet away from Jeffrey and his guide dog.
"Of course! Friends to the clan are always welcome," Goliath said with a smile as he jumped down from his high perch, landing a few feet away from Gilly and scaring the dog into another paroxysm of barking. "Er… perhaps the dog would be more comfortable elsewhere."
"Just give her a few minutes; she'll settle down," Jeffrey said confidently. "She can handle you folks normally, but your transformation makes for quite the racket, and I imagine it's an awesome sight to see as well."
"Hey, Hudson, did it work?" Brooklyn asked a little anxiously as Hudson finished tearing off the bandages and looked around, blinking.
"Aye, lad, it did at that! I can see just fine again!" Hudson said with a wide grin.
"That's good to hear," Jeffrey said, grinning just as wide. Living in eternal darkness himself, he knew how it could be handled but still wouldn't wish it on anybody, particularly not a friend.
"Um, maybe one of you had better grab Bronx," Fox said as she pointed. "He doesn't look happy."
Bronx was advancing stiff-legged on Gilly, eyes blazing and growling low in his throat at the strange intruder on his territory. Lexington pounced on him and tried to hold him back by his fan-shaped ears, saying, "No, Bronx! Gilly's a friend. Friend, understand? She protects Mr. Robbins!"
Bronx snorted once, then apparently decided that a fellow protector might be okay. Lexington warily let go, and the watchbeast and the guide dog cautiously advanced on each other. They sniffed noses and butts, then wagged their tails at each other.
Everyone sighed in relief that the potential crisis was over, then gathered around to greet their guests properly. Bronx sauntered up to give Jeffrey a through sniffing, while Gilly was cautiously doing the same with those clan members that hadn't been out to Jeffrey's home before. Well versed in the way of making friends with those who live by their noses, the gargoyles all crouched slightly and held out loosely curled hands for her to sniff, and smiled ruefully when she insisted on checking out their butts as well.
Jeffrey heard and sensed a doglike creature snuffling around his legs, and reached down a cautious hand. "Hey, fella…" Bronx decided Jeffrey was okay, too, and gave his hand a slobbery lick. "Friendly sort, aren't you? What sort of dog is he, if it's a he?"
"Aye, Bronx is a 'he', but he's not a dog," Hudson said amusedly. "He's a watchbeast, and kin to us."
Jeffrey had already moved his hand to rub behind Bronx's ears, a favorite petting spot for most dogs, and paused when he realized just what sort of ears Bronx was sporting. "Hell-o! You're an interesting fellow," as he swiftly moved his sensitive fingers all over Bronx's head and most of his torso. "Well, now… Feels like you could take on your weight in bobcats and win."
"Aye, he could," Hudson said proudly. "And he's not even reached his full growth yet!"
"If he gets much bigger, you could put a saddle on him… But he's just a big puppy, huh. Just a big puppy, aren't you, boy?" Jeffrey said with a wide grin as he was already rubbing Bronx's belly, the 'big puppy' having sprawled at his feet. Bronx's hind feet pedaled in the air as he grunted in delight; he just looooved tummy rubs. Gilly finished inspecting Angela, looked back at her master/partner with Bronx and stiffened for a moment, before going back to shove her muzzle insistently under Jeffrey's other hand. "Ah, Gilly, don't be jealous; you know you're always my favorite girl," as Jeffrey willingly petted her too.
Brooklyn grinned as he looked on the scene, then jumped as a familiar but not welcome voice spoke right in his ear. "MacBeth is oONN?" Owen squawked as his feet were swept out from underneath him by Brooklyn's swiftly moving tail. Owen ended up sprawled on the roof, while Brooklyn grinned down at him, shrugged his shoulders and said in an utterly unrepentant voice, "Sorry, just reflex."
Hudson, having seen the action out of the corner of his restored eye, chuckled in appreciation. Maybe that would teach the sneaky little Fey-turned-human to stop sneaking up on people…
Owen glared at Brooklyn as he got to his feet. "I was attempting to inform you that MacBeth is waiting to speak with you on the telephone in the living room…"
Brooklyn blinked in surprise. "He wants to talk to me, specifically? Well, okay," and he trotted down the stairs.
Hudson momentarily set aside his own curiosity about what the thousand-year-old warrior wished to talk to Brooklyn about, and turned back to Jeffrey. "So, have the Xanatoses showed you around the castle?"
"Not yet; I didn't get here until just before sunset," Jeffrey said firmly, hoping to God that no one could tell he was lying through his teeth. Knowing of his blindness, the Xanatos' limousine had picked him up well before sunset, so he could 'see' for himself what his friend and the other gargoyles really looked like. Mr. Xanatos had sworn up and down that while they were stone, gargoyles had no sensation at all, neither sight nor hearing not touch, and that they probably wouldn't begrudge his understandable curiosity anyway. So Jeffrey had let himself be guided to the first statue in line on the parapets—Broadway—and had checked out with his hands exactly what the gargoyle was shaped like, tracing stone legs and wings and tail with his hands; and when he was done, had felt his way along the row to the next one.
In this manner he'd 'seen' over half the clan, including his good friend Hudson, though sunset had come and the Xanatoses had warned him to stand back before he'd gotten to the last two statues on that level (presumably Lexington and Bronx), or their leader Goliath on his perch high above. He might have gotten farther in his explorations, if he hadn't found himself spending an embarrassing amount of time on Angela…
At ten minutes till seven o'clock, an aging blue-and-white Volkswagen van pulled up and shuddered to a stop outside a four-story building a few blocks off the Columbia University campus; an old brownstone that emanated an air of quiet dignity, and had a large hand-lettered sign out in the front saying "PEOPLE FOR INTERSPECIES TOLERANCE: 4TH FLOOR 7 PM".
"Here's the address," Kelly said as she shut off the ignition, accompanied by sighs of relief from all her passengers.
"And we made it in one piece; thank you, Jesus!" Keith said fervently.
"No kidding," Jim agreed as he mopped the sweat off his brow. "Kelly, don't take this the wrong way, but next time I'm driving, okay? I'll shift gears with my teeth if I have to, but I'd rather face another 'Q-ball' than let you behind the wheel again."
"It's not my fault you Americans all drive on the wrong side of the road!" Kelly complained.
"Kelly, you told me you've lived here in the States since you were six years old! Face it, you really need Remedial Driver's Ed," Mary said as she clumsily maneuvered herself towards the sliding door. Jim had already hopped out, and was extending his good hand to give her help in getting safely down to the ground. Once she had, Madelyn handed her crutches to her.
"Fourth floor," Dave said ruefully as he read the sign posted outside, presumably by Professor MacDuff. He glanced back at Mary's crutches and muttered worriedly, "Sure hope this place has an elevator…"
As it turns out, it did, and standing next to it were three other people waiting to use it. Jim recognized them as fellow football players, and greeted them enthusiastically. "Hey, Slick! Buzzsaw! Banzai! Thought you'd be at practice!"
"Coach cancelled practice tonight," the Asiatic athlete known as 'Banzai' said with a nod. "How's the hand?"
"Ah, it'll be good as new in about six weeks," Jim gave a deliberately casual shrug. "It sucks majorly that I'm going to miss the rest of the season, but I've still got two seasons left to play. Why was practice cancelled?"
"So we could attend this, why else?" the African-American quarterback known as 'Slick' said, with a look of surprise that it wasn't immediately obvious.
"You're kidding. Our coach, cancel a practice for anything less than a hurricane warning!"
The giant fellow known as 'Buzzsaw' said in his deep and gravelly voice, "Hard to hold a practice without players, dude… And at least half the squad's already upstairs, along with Coach. We're still down here because the elevator only holds six at a time…"
The six 'walking wounded' glanced at each other in surprise, and dawning hope. "MacBeth's flyers and posters got us some new recruits after all," Madelyn said with a glance at the flyer in her hand. Bold black letters on a pale orange background, it read, "Will you let Hatred win over Hope? People for Interspecies Tolerance is bloodied but not beaten! Meeting tonight at 7 p.m.", and gave the address.
"Coach brought one of those to practice, and said he'd take along as many people as he could fit in his van," Slick volunteered. "The rest of us carpooled with whoever had wheels. Here's the elevator; why don't you guys go on ahead of us?"
When the crew reached the fourth floor and followed the signs to the meeting room, they were astounded at the number of people that were already sitting in seats waiting for them. The first meeting, last Sunday afternoon, had barely twenty attendees; this room already held over sixty people, and still more were coming…
Several people milling about in the room spotted them at once, and calls of "It's them!" and "There they are!" rang out. Mary and her friends were surprised and embarrassed to find themselves the subjects of a standing ovation.
"All right, all right already," Jim said with a wry grin, stepping forward with hands raised to forestall the applause. "I'd curtsey, but I lost my tutu in the wash!" Laughter and snickers came from several students, as people let them pass and take their seats. Mary and Keith were urged towards seats in the front, where Mary could stretch her leg out without fear of anybody tripping over her cast. Madelyn chose to sit with Dave and his friends, most of whom were fellow Star Trek enthusiasts and some of whom had been attendees at the first meeting, but had escaped the assault unscathed. Jim chose to sit near the back, to keep an eye on the door as he had said he would, and found a seat cleared for him by his football coach. "Hey, Coach! They told me you cancelled practice for this occasion. My friends and I, we're honored!"
A grizzled old veteran of the gridiron, Coach Sanderson nodded curtly and cleared his throat before saying gruffly, "Like I told the boys at practice, I ain't saying I necessarily believe we can make friends with those flying critters… But I definitely don't believe in letting bastards hiding behind hoods stomp on one of my best halfbacks and get away with it! And I'm willing to at least listen to what you folks got to say tonight."
"I can't ask for more than that, Coach," Jim said respectfully. "Thanks again."
"No sweat… but if you expect a repeat performance from any of the team, you'd best pick another night for meetings in the future!"
Jim grinned wide. "Will do."
Mary took her seat next to Keith and glanced upwards, at one of the skylights over the room. The sky was dark with a slight scattering of stars visible through the perpetual haze of smog; the sun had set just before they had left the campus. "Wouldn't it be great if we could have Angela here to talk to all these people? I wish we had a way to contact her…"
"Yeah, me too," Keith said with a dreamy smile. Then he hastily added, "After all, talking to each other instead of fighting is what we're all about."
Shortly after everyone had taken their seats, the door at the far end of the room opened, and Professor MacDuff stepped through. He looked pleasantly surprised to find so many people there, and smiled as he said, "Thank you for coming. And welcome to the second meeting for the People for Interspecies Tolerance; affectionately known as the PIT Crew." He smiled wryly as he added, "If any of you were hoping to join Dale Earnhardt's maintenance team, I'm afraid that meeting is across town." A few appreciative chuckles rose up here and there, before his face turned serious. "I trust everyone here is well aware of what brought the first meeting to an abrupt end…?"
"Those crazy Quarrymen busted it up!" one student in the middle of the assembly spoke up with a tone of outrage. "But we're here to see that it never happens again!"
The professor looked at him mildly, and said only one word: "How?"
"Well… There are so many more of us here now, they wouldn't dare try anything!"
The professor sighed heavily. "I've heard such words before, young man, spoken by another young man years ago… in a town called Selma." Murmurs arose here and there among the assembled; some in recognition of the name, but more in confusion. "And I suspect similar words were spoken far across the seas, seven years ago… at Tianamen Square." The murmurs abruptly increased in volume; while not everyone in the room recalled hearing about Bloody Sunday (very few of them had even been born by then), the massacre of hundreds of students by the Chinese military at Tianamen Square was still more-or-less within everyone's memory.
Professor MacDuff shook his head. "You are nearly all of you still young, and the young are filled with idealism, and the unconscious belief that they are immortal and invulnerable." He spoke over their automatically indignant noises as he continued, "I do not mean to disparage you, but in my years and travels I have seen so many young people go forth, convinced they could change the world… and come back in coffins." Their protests died before fully voiced, and the room filled with silence for a brief while. MacDuff spoke into that silence, "Many of you have sat in my classes, and many more of you I have seen walking about the campus. Some of you I have never seen before this night. But each of you likely has a long life and bright future ahead of you… But fighting on behalf of the gargoyles may see it cut short, or forever scarred."
The professor sighed. "Most of you were not born until long after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breathed his last; though your parents may have vivid personal memories of the social turmoil that accompanied the civil rights movement, they may not have shared them with you. For many of you, much of what they and I lived through is just dates and names in a book." (For some reason, that made a peculiar smile flicker onto his face for a moment.) "But I am quite sure you know of the abominable treatment most African-Americans received from the hands of bigoted Caucasians in this country, long after slavery was abolished, until Dr. King and the many people who worked with him forced open the eyes of the nation and demanded an end to racial discrimination. I also trust that at least some of you have seen the fairly recent film, 'Mississippi Burning'. That was based on the true account of three white civil-rights workers, who were murdered—murdered by the civil authorities, those who are expected to uphold the law and maintain peace in a community—because they were trying to help black people gain their civil rights. They were not black, but because they believed that the color of a man's skin is not a valid basis for discrimination, they were murdered like so many blacks were murdered. And the film did not bother to speak of all the other people, both in Mississippi and in other states, who were not black but still suffered greatly for daring to speak up on their behalf. They were labeled as 'nigger-lovers', and they were beaten, robbed, raped… Often by strangers, but sometimes they were shunned or betrayed by those they had once called friends, and disowned by their own families."
One skeptical sophomore in the middle of the pack muttered to his buddy, "Laying it on a little thick, ain't he?"
But they hadn't realized just how sharp Professor MacDuff's ears were. His face darkened with anger and his entire demeanor seemed to change, like an aged and retired warrior who suddenly raises up his sword again, as he addressed the sophomore directly. "'A little thick'! Young man, when this is over, I am going to give you a list of names. You are going to take that list and go to the American Studies Department, and show that list to History Professor James Beard. And you are going to sit there and listen to him for as long as it takes for him to tell you what happened to each of the people on that list, and then you are going to get down on your knees and thank God that none of your family were on that list!"
After that final thundering order, the silence in the room was almost deafening. Then the 'aged warrior' demeanor faded away, and it was just old Professor MacDuff standing in front of them again, sighing. "I am not saying that your cause is not worthy. Gargoyles are sentient, and worthy of our respect and our friendship. It is wrong to hate them and seek to destroy them, as these 'Quarrymen' have vowed to do. But before you go much further in your efforts to help them, you must understand that your struggle will probably be even harder than it was for most who were involved in the civil rights movement. Even the most bigoted Southerner did not call black people 'monsters', and did not threaten his misbehaving children by telling them that the black people would sneak into the house at night and rip them to pieces if they didn't go to bed when they were told to. But for most of their long history, gargoyles have been viewed as monsters, to be feared as well as hated. Changing that attitude is going to be like changing the course of the Amazon River."
Keith slowly stood up, slightly off-balance with his cast-encased left arm, and spoke more firmly than he'd ever done when called upon in class. "Professor, I don't know if anyone's ever changed the course of the Amazon… But one of my great-grandparents helped to dig the Panama Canal. Changing that attitude is going to be incredibly difficult, sure… But I believe it can be done. It's been done before, or I would have spent my life riding in the back of the bus!"
Mary heaved herself to her feet, and leaned on her crutches again. "After this," as she gestured down to her cast-encased leg, "I sure don't feel invulnerable and immortal anymore… But I'm not going to stop fighting for what I believe in. And I believe in helping the gargoyles, giving them at the very least the right to exist without being hunted by bigots wielding sledgehammers!"
Professor MacDuff smiled approvingly. "Well said, both of you!"
"We can make a difference, if we refuse to give in to despair and 'going with the flow'," Madelyn said firmly as she stood up as well. "Nothing great in Mankind's history ever happened because it was easy, or because people felt comfortable doing it."
"Madelyn's right," Dave said as he got to his feet and stood there swaying, suddenly horribly dizzy; his 'mild concussion' was protesting against his being at this meeting at all. Madelyn hurriedly supported him as he said, "It's just like the sociology texts all say; change is hard for most people, but change is possible… even inevitable. But it'll be up to us to see that the change that takes place is the right one; changing prejudice into acceptance."
"Again, well said," the professor nodded to both of them.
Person after person stood up and pledged their support to the cause of befriending gargoyles, till nearly the whole room was on their feet and cheering. The professor gave them a few minutes to get themselves all worked up, but stopped them before they started becoming self-congratulatory on bringing the P.I.T. into existence. He pointed out, "This is but barely a beginning… Your goal is to convince other people that gargoyles and humans can live in harmony. But right now, you're ill-equipped to meet that goal; you really know far too little about what gargoyles truly are like. I was told that the three of you who were hospitalized overnight were fortunate enough to encounter one of them, visiting you in your rooms to thank you for your acceptance of her kind…"
"Yes, but she didn't stay long enough to tell me much of anything about herself and her kind; only that her name was Angela," Keith said ruefully. "She was worried about the night nurses discovering her and causing alarm, and slipped back out through the window after only a minute or two."
Mary and Dave ruefully confirmed that their experiences had also been far too brief. But Mary added, "She did say she'd try to talk with us again later, though."
Madelyn hesitantly raised her hand, while nervously adjusting her glasses with the other hand. "Professor, from your interview on 'Night Watch' and from what you've said so far tonight, I have the impression that you actually know a fair amount of information on the gargoyles; more than we know, at the very least. Would you share your information with us?"
"Yeah, tell us what you know about gargoyles!" Jim boomed out from the back. "Like, what do they normally eat?"
That unleashed a torrent of questions, volleyed at the professor nearly all at once: "Where did gargoyles come from?" "Are they from another planet?" "Is it true they turn to stone during the day?" "How intelligent are they?" "What sort of culture do they have?" "Can they interbreed with humanity?" ("Jeez, Vicky!" "What? It's a valid question!")
In all the torrent of questions, no one apparently noticed sounds coming from the roof: the quiet scraping sounds of someone or something carefully breaking the rainproof seal on the skylight directly above the room, then slowly lifting one of the thick panes of glass away.
"One at a time, one at a time!" Professor MacDuff reminded them all with a chuckle. He briefly glanced upwards while rubbing the back of his neck, then said, "Give me a few moments to use the facilities, and then I'll answer what questions I can from my research. While I'm gone, feel free to partake of the refreshments provided," as he gestured towards the covered table off to one side of the room.
Never ones to turn down free food, one of the closest students whisked the covering cloth off to reveal a few prepared trays of crackers, cold cuts, veggies and dip from a local deli, with a cooler of sodas stowed underneath. "Cool!" was one student's opinion, while another noticed and complained, "Hey, it looks like somebody's been at this already!" (Mary instantly searched the room and finally focused her raised eyebrow on Kelly Green, who tried to give her a who, me? look in return, even with her hands full of crackers and cold cuts.)
Just as the students were starting to indulge themselves, and another student was telling Mary and Keith that if they wanted anything to eat, she'd be happy to get their food for them, a snarling roar resounded in the chamber, echoing down from the roof. Everyone froze for an instant, before breaking into a babble of "Did you hear that?" and "What was that!" and similar fearful queries. Barely a second later, a whoosh and a thump heralded the arrival of their party crasher: a brick-red winged monster with utterly inhuman features, that stood before them with outspread wings and claws and glowing white eyes, as another roar ripped out of its gaping beak.
"Yaaahh!" one of the freshmen in the front row shrieked, as she frantically scrambled out of her seat and began trying to climb over the people behind her to get away. She wasn't the only one shouting and retreating, either; at least two dozen other students were scrambling for the exits, while others were searching frantically for something to use as a weapon. Mary might have instinctively joined them but her cast prevented her from moving quickly, and in the time it took for her to get to her feet, the creature folded its wings and calmly stood there in front of them all, arms hanging loosely at its sides and the glow already fading from its eyes.
At the same time as Mary realized that it wasn't attacking them, Kelly stood up and boomed out in a voice surprisingly loud and deep for her slender frame, "Everybody hold it!" The command carried over the others' shrieks and yells, and was voiced in such authority that almost despite themselves, everyone stopped trying to run away or improvise a weapon and stood still, mouths shut but eyes still wide with fear.
And in that momentary silence, the creature said calmly: "Hi; my name's Brooklyn."
Half an hour earlier:
"You want me to what?" Brooklyn said incredulously into the phone he was holding. "MacBeth, I don't mean to offend you, but have you flipped out!"
"No, I have not 'flipped out'," MacBeth said sternly. "Nor am I joking, either. I am quite serious in this matter."
Brooklyn perplexedly rubbed between his horns and tried again. "Let me see if I've got this right: You've organized another meeting for this group of students, the People for Interspecies Tolerance. These are people who want to make friends with gargoyles; friends we could really use right now, might I add. And you want me to come over and attack them! Who is this, really, and how did you get this phone number!"
A weary sigh issued forth from the other end of the phone line. "I quite assure you, I am MacBeth. Do you need me to go into detail about our encounter at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens?"
"No… but I do need you to explain just why you want me, and me specifically, to risk scaring off some potential friends and allies!"
"Because for these people to truly understand the task they have set themselves, they need to know the extent of the prejudice most of the public bears towards gargoyles, and they need to understand why," MacBeth replied. "You must admit, Brooklyn, that your people's habit of swooping down on humans and roaring battle cries does not make for a fine first impression."
"Well, yeah, but in the old days those were enemy soldiers or Vikings we were attacking, and nowadays they're criminals!" Brooklyn protested.
"Indeed," MacBeth agreed. "But you must admit that such tactics tend to scare even those people who would have been victims of those criminals."
"Too true," Brooklyn sighed. He couldn't count the number of people whom he'd saved from muggings or worse, who had turned tail and ran without even a 'thank you' while he was dealing with their attackers.
"I'm afraid most of these students are grand idealists, and in my many years I've seen far too many grand ideas that wavered and collapsed when confronted with reality. But by confronting them with a gargoyle in all its terrifying and seemingly bestial rage, they will better understand the prejudices they are up against. Then you can show them that a gargoyle can actually be quite civilized and friendly, and able to answer the many questions they'll have about your kind… and I assure you, they'll have questions for you that you've never even thought of." MacBeth chuckled for a moment. "Expect questions ranging from biological to philosophical, and from ridiculous to controversial. And after this meeting, if they are ever in a situation where a gargoyle's protection is needed, they should be less likely to run away while you're helping them."
"There is that," Brooklyn agreed. "And I suppose you wanted me specifically because I'm the least human-resembling member of the clan, besides Bronx." When MacBeth wryly agreed, he continued, "All right, one scary gargoyle made to order. What's the address?" MacBeth told him and gave directions for finding the place, as well as a few other details they needed to cover before the meeting. A short while later, after explaining to Goliath and Xanatos where he was going and why, he was gliding across town to the brownstone near Columbia University.
He landed silently on the roof of the building and peeked in one of the skylights; there was MacBeth, standing in front of a few dozen people, all of them looking to be in their late teens to early twenties. He spotted casts and bandages on a few of the youths, and assumed they were victims from the first meeting, that the Quarrymen had broken up. So at least a few of them had met a gargoyle before, since Angela had visited them at the hospital afterwards… But Angela was so beautiful, even humans thought she looked pretty good, and she'd been on her best behavior at the hospital. His appearance was going to be drastically different…
He plastered an ear against the glass to listen for a while before making his appearance, and was silently appalled at what MacBeth was telling them about people who had been traumatized and even killed during the Civil Rights Movement. For a moment he heard Demona's voice in his head, that sweetly seductive voice she had used on him while showing him example after example of "what mankind is really like." They hold each others' lives without worth… they cannot even share homes with their own kind without fighting… Brooklyn, is humanity really worth your protection?
"Shut up, bitch," he hissed to that voice in his skull. "Those people who got hurt were trying to help their fellow humans, even total strangers!" And if those students below were that kind of people, that made them more than worthy of whatever help and protection he or any gargoyle could ever give, right down to his last breath and death-gravel.
He used his talons to break the seal around one of the panes of glass in the skylight; even if he had to make a terrifying entrance, that was no reason to risk raining dangerous shards of glass on the people below. He carefully pulled the pane of glass up and out to make a hole wide enough for him to drop through, then waited for MacBeth to glance up and see him again. After a few moments more, MacBeth glanced up, then made an excuse to leave the room for a minute. All right, show time… And he'd already figured out how he could make himself mad enough to get his eyes glowing white fire and his throat ready to rip out a Level Eight roar. All it took was one thought: Demona would kill these kids with a smile on her face. Holding that thought and the rage it engendered firmly in his mind, he roared a challenge and dropped into the room.
The moment they saw him landing in front of them and roaring, panic and chaos ensued, even though he promptly lost the eye-glow and went as passive as possible without just plain falling over. But that one girl cut through the panic and got everyone to shut up with a bellow almost worthy of Goliath; Brooklyn was silently impressed. When they quieted down, he said as calmly as if greeting one of his rookery brothers, "Hi; my name's Brooklyn."
"Y…Y…You're a gargoyle!" one of the students stammered out.
Got a really keen grasp of the obvious there, Sherlock. But rather than say that out loud, Brooklyn just nodded and smiled as pleasantly as possible as he responded, "Have been ever since I was hatched."
"But what the Hell was that business of scaring us half-to-death all about!" the girl with her leg in a cast demanded angrily. Brooklyn decided on the spot that he liked that one; not many humans would have enough spirit to chew him out so soon after being scared like that.
"Blame him," Brooklyn said as he cocked his thumb-talon over his shoulder, towards where he heard the door to the room opening. "Professor MacDuff told me he wanted me to come in looking as fearsome as possible."
MacBeth had waited on the other side of the door for Brooklyn to make his entrance, having already decided that he would give the room exactly three seconds of panic before stepping in and restoring order. To his surprise, it hadn't even taken that long for the room to quiet down again, thanks to whatever student had bellowed so commandingly. His eyebrows quirked as he wondered who it might have been; he hadn't noticed any student with a genuine air of leadership about him or her, but that voice was definitely a voice of Authority.
What MacBeth had not told Brooklyn when setting this up was that in addition to making the students understand just what their cause would entail, he also wanted to 'separate the wheat from the chaff' in their midst. To cull out those people who had come merely for something to do on a Tuesday night, and those who might actually be Quarrymen now seeking to destroy the organization from within (MacBeth had unfortunate and ample experience of such treachery in his centuries of living), from those who truly wanted to help the gargoyles survive in this new age. Those who would run in terror from Brooklyn or try to hurt him even after he began talking to them as a civilized being would be courteously invited to leave the gathering and take their prejudices elsewhere tonight; there would be other nights for attempting to reason with them.
He opened the door and came back into the room just in time to hear Brooklyn explaining that "Professor MacDuff" had actually wanted him to scare them all, and was pleased to hear Brooklyn using his current assumed name without hesitation. Another reason he had wanted Brooklyn to come tonight, instead of the clan leader, was that Goliath was such a creature of honor and honesty that he seemed to be a very poor liar. From his limited interactions with the clan, he had deduced that Brooklyn would be a little better at 'thinking on his feet' when weaving white lies and half-truths into tonight's conversation.
"That's right, I wanted him to scare you all," he said calmly as he walked back into the room, coming to stand beside Brooklyn in utter nonchalance, to show there was really nothing to fear. "Because you needed to know, in the most meaningful way possible, just what you're setting yourselves up against. What you just received is the first impression many people receive from gargoyles, and that first impression is responsible for--"
"Ohmigod, you're real!" somebody in the third row shrieked. MacBeth suppressed a sigh and noticed Brooklyn rolling his eyes; apparently there was at least one person who had come just for something to do on a Tuesday night. But then the girl continued incredulously, "And I danced with you!"
That gave MacBeth a start, and he looked questioningly at Brooklyn. Brooklyn at first looked disbelieving, then gave a start of remembrance, ducked his head and blushed deep maroon, mumbling, "I, ah, well, the clan all went to a Halloween party…"
"Ah." MacBeth smiled. "You thought he was wearing a costume at the time, I take it?" he asked the young lady in the third row, who was currently trying to disappear into her seat in embarrassment at her outburst.
"We painted on 'seam lines'," Brooklyn explained to MacBeth as he straightened up again, his blush starting to fade. (Meanwhile, the young lady sitting next to the embarrassed one demanded in an excited whisper, "Jeanine, you have got to tell me everything!")
MacBeth glanced down at Brooklyn's feet as he said mildly, "And nobody noticed or commented on the outsized feet?"
To MacBeth's surprise, Brooklyn blushed so hard he actually wrapped himself in his wings to hide for a moment, while Jeanine wailed in mortification, "Oh, gawd!"
"What the…!" MacBeth looked at them both askance, and in utter bafflement.
"Don't ask, okay?" Brooklyn's voice, somewhat muffled, came out of the cocoon of his wings. "Please, just don't ask!"
About a third of the room was snickering as they figured out just why Brooklyn and Jeanine were so embarrassed, while the other two-thirds was baffled and a little ticked off at being left out of the joke. But both reactions were better than fear and hatred, Mary thought to herself as she asked, "So, how did you two come to know each other?"
"Brooklyn once trounced a pair of muggers that had chosen me for prey," Professor MacDuff told her. "And since my research in Medieval history had already given me some clues as to gargoyles' true natures, I did not automatically turn and run from him, like so many of those saved by their intervention have done."
"Yeah, it was nice to be appreciated for what I'd done, instead of the 'Aagh! Monster!' I usually get," Brooklyn agreed as he unwrapped his wings from in front of his face and relaxed again. "So we got to talking afterwards… and he's been a friend and ally ever since. So, anyway, I understand you've got a lot of questions that you want answered…"
That unleashed another torrent of questions, until Brooklyn begged them to ask only one at a time. "Tell you what, so nobody hogs the floor we'll go in rows, okay? Let's start with… the guy in the back row on the left," as he pointed to a student wearing a New York Yankees sweatshirt. "What's the first question you want to ask?"
The guy in question squirmed a bit, uncomfortable to be in the momentary spotlight, then said hesitantly, "Well… where did you come from?"
"From an egg," Brooklyn said with a wry grin, then immediately apologized. "Sorry; I've got a smart beak sometimes. If you're asking whether gargoyles are native to Earth or not… so far as I know, we're as native to this planet as you are. One of my rookery keepers told me a tale of our clan that involved a woolly mammoth hunt, so that's a pretty long history. Next question?"
The young woman sitting next in the row hesitantly stood up to ask, "Is it true you turn to stone during the day?"
"Sure is; every dawn we turn to stone, and every dusk we turn back to flesh and blood again. Darned if I know why, but we do; we've always done it. And no, it's not a conscious thing; we've got no choice over it. Sun's up, we're stoned whether we're ready for it or not. Next?"
"Next" was a girl that hesitated before standing up timidly, and spoke in a voice so soft that even Brooklyn had trouble hearing her. "I… I guess I don't have a question, but I wanted to thank another one of your kind for saving my life last spring. I… I was being attacked by a man off-campus, when a gargoyle swooped in and knocked the guy out, but I was so scared I just ran away… He was real big, and I think he was a sort of blue-green color…"
"That was Broadway, my rookery brother," Brooklyn said with a grin. "I'll be sure to pass your thanks on to him. Next?"
Another guy stood up. "Have you guys always been here in New York?"
Brooklyn hesitated a bare moment before saying, "No, my clan, ah, you might say my clan emigrated here only a few years ago. Next question?"
And the next question was predictably, "So where did you emigrate from?" Brooklyn hesitated again; here was where things got tricky.
Xanatos had been called by MacBeth earlier in the day, and had known MacBeth wanted Brooklyn to come and answer some questions for the P.I.T. In addition to hiding MacBeth's true identity, he asked Brooklyn almost humbly if he could try to avoid talking about Xanatos' villainous past. "I know I'll have to tell the truth someday," he'd said with eyes downcast, "and answer for everything I've done… but right now is not the time. Because if they find out that I was initially… well, not on the best of terms with you all… but my attitude changed drastically after the Big Sleep, then someone's going to ask why it changed. And if they find out about who caused the Big Sleep, and about Alex's potential for magic…"
"The kid would never have a normal day in his life again," Brooklyn had sighed and nodded in agreement.
Goliath had reluctantly agreed as well. "I don't believe we can keep from telling at least part of the truth about 'the Lost Nights', as humans have been calling the nights they were turned to stone by Demona's spell; in order to cast that, Demona showed her face to the entire population via the television. They will have to know that magic does exist, and about the existence of one gargoyle who does NOT want to befriend humanity. But… we could say she broke into the studio, and magically enslaved a worker to operate the equipment while she cast the spell…"
"Yeah, that'd work," Brooklyn had agreed; he knew from painful experience that Demona would have had no hesitations about mentally enslaving anybody in order to cast that spell, if she hadn't been able to sucker Xanatos into helping her instead. "And I got an idea about how we can tone down some of your involvement right from the start…"
Now at the P.I.T. meeting, he said, "In order to tell you that, I've got to tell you one thing first; it's kind of hard to swallow, but it's the honest truth. Here it is: Magic is real." Amid their surprised or excited murmurs, he said, "It's not just the stuff of fairy stories, though a lot of those stories are sheer make-believe; magic exists, and so do wizards and sorcerers. And about a thousand years ago, my clan lived in Scotland…"
He told them about how the clan had guarded Wyvern Castle back in the Dark Ages, in an uneasy alliance between the humans who had built the castle there and the gargoyles who had inhabited those cliffs for centuries before the humans came. He told them how they had guarded the castle against Viking attacks and patrolled the woods against local brigands, but how only a few humans appreciated what the gargoyles did for them; the rest feared them, and called them beasts and monsters. He told them, trying to be matter-of-fact but not succeeding too well, about how most of his clan had been slaughtered in their stone sleep by Vikings when the castle had been overrun by them during the day; the castle had been betrayed, shockingly, by one of the clan's most loyal friends.
When Brooklyn had started relating his story, a few students had worn openly skeptical expressions at first (probably stemming from the statement that magic was real), but those had changed to looks of awe and sympathy when they realized that his grief over the massacre was all too real. A few students even had tears in their eyes and quietly reached for napkins to wipe their cheeks, when he'd spoken of seeing his brothers and sisters and elders all lying in pieces around him, intermixed with human corpses. Brooklyn wished briefly, just for one second, that more people back in the Dark Ages had been like these people were, because then the slaughter would probably never have happened… Then he shoved that thought aside, and went back to telling the story.
He told them how the castle's magus and princess had been among the survivors taken captive by the Vikings, to be held for ransom. And when the few gargoyles that had escaped the slaughter came to wreak vengeance on the Vikings, the leader of the Vikings had taken the princess off, threatening to kill her... and the magus, half-crazed with grief and rage at the thought of his princess dying, had cast a spell on the gargoyles, commanding them to sleep in stone "until the castle rises above the clouds." Then he relayed what Goliath had told him, since he had escaped the initial spell by going off to rescue the princess; when he'd returned with her safe and sound, the magus had realized to his dismay that he'd been wrong, and realized to his utter horror that the counterspell to his spell had been ripped out of his grimorum and burned; he couldn't undo it. So after returning all the stone-sleeping gargoyles to the castle, Goliath commanded him to cast the spell one last time, and send him to sleep with his few remaining brethren until the magus could come up with another counterspell, or find a way to end it by making the castle rise above the clouds.
"And now we have to skip forward about a thousand years… You've all heard of David Xanatos, right? Here's his half of the story, as he finally admitted it to us one night after he got together with his father and a few bottles of ouzo…" Brooklyn grinned, thinking that he couldn't wait to hear the explosion when Xanatos played back the recording MacBeth was secretly making of this meeting, and heard the story he was about to spin. In this version of the story, ol' Davey wasn't a villain, but… "Well, once upon a time Xanatos got roaring, totally shitfaced drunk with a friendly business rival, and while he was plastered out of his skull the rival decided to get even with him for stealing a sweet business deal right our from under the guy's nose a year or two before, and have some fun along the way. So he told Xanatos, who had a really bad case of ambition, that if he wanted to really move up in the world, he had to marry royalty… and this guy knew just the princess for him.
"He'd already hired this (ahem) 'lady of the evening' to play the part of a princess of some little dirt-poor, postage-stamp country, I forget the name of it right now, and he dragged Xanatos over to where this supposed princess was staying while she was in New York." Amidst the snickers and chuckles coming from not only the students, but from MacBeth as well, Brooklyn continued, "As it happens, the fake princess not only talked like a lady of quality but actually looked gorgeous (especially through the 'whiskey goggles' Xanatos was still sporting at the time), and Xanatos proposed marriage to her on the spot. She said she'd marry him, but only if he swore to restore her ancestral home… and showed him a picture of Castle Wyvern, which was looking pretty bad after nearly a thousand years of neglect. Xanatos signed a contract on the spot to restore the castle to all its former glory and then some, and they went down to a preacher who decided to forgo the usual waiting period after Xanatos waved his wallet in his face, and got married that very night. So Xanatos woke up the next morning with a hangover the size of New Jersey, a hooker in his bed and a ring on his finger, and a contract to restore a medieval castle."
Most of the students were laughing outright, but one bookish-looking lady in the second row said quite seriously, "Since Xanatos was drunk at the time, he could make a strong case in court that neither the marriage nor the castle restoration contract were valid."
"Yep, and the hooker had given him a fake name as a princess anyway, so he got out of the marriage fast enough, and paid the hooker a ton of money to sign an ironclad contract swearing she'd never tell a soul about what had happened that night. But he decided to show the rival that he could be a good sport and even go him one better, by not only sticking with the contract to restore that castle, but bringing it over to the States and living in it. Of course, first he had to find Wyvern, because it was actually in Scotland and not in that other country… But he eventually matched a picture of Wyvern with the one he still had from the contract, bought it from the government of Great Britain, and paid several tons of money to have it brought over, stone by stone, to be put on top of the Aerie Building. And it so happened that the castle came with these gargoyle statues; really good-looking gargoyle statues…" as Brooklyn self-mockingly buffed his talons on his chest, to the accompaniment of more snickers.
"So the last stone of the restored castle is set in place, and the gargoyle statues are placed on the parapets… and a storm rolls through town, with some low-slung clouds that passed under the level of the castle. The castle had risen above the clouds… and the spell was broken. That night, for the first time in a thousand years, we woke up. I honestly can't tell you who was more surprised; us gargoyles, to see modern Manhattan all around us, or Xanatos to find out his prized statuary had suddenly come to life. Anyway, that's how we got here, in this place and time."
"So you've been living up in that castle all this time?" someone asked.
"Well, no…" Brooklyn rubbed his neck and feigned embarrassment, having already thought of this question and an answer for it. "See, when gargoyles wake up, we generally do it loud. The old stone skin cracks and breaks apart, then the gargoyle awakening beneath springs up and roars; to us, it's just yawning and stretching like you do after your sleep, but it scares a lot of people who aren't prepared for it. And Xanatos wasn't prepared at all; all he knew is that he was sitting in his living room and all of a sudden these roars and exploding sounds were coming from the roof overhead. And when he and some of his security people ran upstairs, and found these 'winged monsters' on his roof… Well, modern security goons tend to be like the average guardsmen were back in the Dark Ages; they shoot first and ask questions later.
"All we gargoyles knew was that we were in a strange place, an utterly alien landscape, and somebody was pointing sticks at us that either made loud noises and shot little bits of metal at us, or made a thin beam of light that could burn like fire right through your wing membrane. Either way, we were already spooked before security showed up, and those alien weapons were the final straw. But gargoyles don't run even when they're scared half out of their minds; they just fight even harder. We started on an all-out war with Xanatos and his security on the spot." Brooklyn sighed. "Looking back, it's amazing nobody on either side was killed. But my side was wounded badly enough by those strange weapons that Goliath—he's our leader—called a retreat; we gathered our wounded and left the castle, to find some place where we could hole up and wait for sunrise… and that sort of set the tone for our dealings with Xanatos for a while.
"Xanatos later reviewed his security tapes and saw that the 'winged monsters' were actually his former statuary, and much later learned just what gargoyles were from a few sources, including Professor MacDuff," as he nodded to MacBeth, who took a modest bow. "After that, Xanatos tried to contact us to make amends, but since our very first sight of him had led to a pitched battle, we didn't trust him worth gravel and weren't having any of it. And unfortunately his security goons were still goons, thinking with their guns; we got into several more brawls before we finally figured out that both sides really didn't want to fight anymore. Anyway, we didn't move back to the castle until fairly recently, when he got us out of that tight spot with the Hunters."
"The Hunters?" someone else queried.
Brooklyn sighed again. "Now, that's a whole other story… And I've already talked enough to work up a thirst. Let me get something to drink first, okay?" One of the students automatically and unthinkingly opened up the cooler of sodas again, pulled out a Pepsi and tossed it to him like he was just another student. He was secretly highly pleased by that, but he just caught it nonchalantly and said, "Thanks. Got any straws?"
MacBeth was already handing him a straw from the table, probably provided just for his sake, and he popped the top on the can and inserted the straw so he could take a sip. "Aaahh… thanks." He noticed nearly all the students eyeing him avidly as he drank, and said wryly, "What, surprised I like human-style food and drink? My diet's pretty much the same as yours, except I need a higher proportion of meat in it. As a word of advice, if you ever have a gargoyle over for dinner, have the steaks thawed and ready to grill." Which implied that gargoyles might make good dinner guests, not that he expected anybody to take him up on that just yet…
"And straws in all the drinks?" one of the ladies asked brightly.
"Well, for me anyway; I'm the only one of my remaining clan with a beak like this," as he gently patted it. "And actually, I could do without it by just tipping back my head and pouring it straight down my throat, but I learned the hard way not to do that with carbonated drinks."
"Belch City, huh?" one guy wearing a football jersey said knowingly.
"You got it," Brooklyn said with a wry smile. "Not suitable for mixed company." He hadn't done that since Angela had joined the clan, though before she'd arrived, he used to amuse his rookery brothers sometimes by downing an entire can of soda in two seconds flat, then cutting loose with a massive belch that could rattle the rafters in the clocktower.
Then he told them about the Hunters. He deliberately left huge gaping holes in that story, too; not one mention of Demona or of the true origins of the Hunters, since both involved MacBeth. Instead, he simply told them that one family—religious freaks, convinced that gargoyles were actually demons escaped from Hell—had made it their mission in life to hunt down and destroy gargoyles wherever they were found. And when gossip had spread through tabloids like the Daily Tattler that 'winged monsters' had been spotted in Manhattan, the family had come to investigate, and to destroy. "They're the ones who blew up the clocktower we had made our home, and wrecked the police station below us in the process. And, incidentally, they're the same ones who leaked the footage of us leaving the clocktower to the media, and then blamed us for destroying our own home; they wanted to make every citizen in New York see us as monsters and enemies. But I'm glad that at least some people don't see us that way…" as he smiled gratefully at them all.
"Well, I don't think you're an enemy," a student with ice-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail said from where she was standing, not three feet from Brooklyn on his right. That startled him so much he almost dropped his drink; he hadn't noticed her standing there until she'd spoken up. She smiled at his surprise, then said impishly, "Actually, I think you're kind of cute!" And then she grabbed his beak and planted a big kiss on the end of it.
Brooklyn jerked back, blushing dark maroon again as he said almost desperately, "Uh, hey, when I told the professor I wanted to improve gargoyle-human relations, I meant the platonic kind, okay?"
After the laughter and good-natured razzing died down and Kelly had returned to her seat with a smug smile on her face, Keith stood up with a troubled look on his face. "Uh, I really hate asking this, but I figure if I don't, somebody else will later…"
Brooklyn eyed him soberly, almost grimly, as if he could guess what Keith was going to ask. He said simply, "Ask away."
"Since you guys turn to stone in the daytime… And those Lost Nights last year, the nights nobody remembers; since that one woman who said she remembered it all said that everyone turned to stone at nightfall…" Keith cleared his throat. "Any connection, there?"
The professor stiffened slightly, but said nothing. Brooklyn sighed, and slowly nodded. "There's a connection, all right. I'm assuming those of you who were here the day before the first 'Lost Night' happened to turn on a TV sometime during the day… Well, the chanting creature on every channel was a gargoyle. NOT one of my clan, not anymore! We banished her after we woke up in this new world, when it became obvious she'd gone… well, to put it in human terms… criminally insane." Gasps of surprise and dawning horror arose from some of the students, as Brooklyn continued, "See, Demona—she was named that by a human ally because she always fought like a demon in battle, bloodthirsty and terrifying even by our standards—she'd never much liked humans even in the 'old days', even some of our allies. I guess you could say she was sort of bigoted about that. And after the massacre of most of the clan… that was the last straw. Demona went totally insane with rage, and vowed vengeance for our clan's massacre. And since it was now a thousand years later and everyone who had attacked our clan was long since dead and dust… she vowed bloody vengeance on the entire human race.
"Goliath wanted to believe she could be talked out of it, but after she tried to kill him for sticking up for humanity… we banished her. For most gargoyles, banishment is punishment enough; our kind don't usually survive long alone. But of course, that psycho bitch had to be the exception to the rule…" Keith noticed Brooklyn's eyes were glowing faintly as he said the words 'psycho bitch'; then he paused and shook his head as if to clear it. "Uh, pardon my language. But anyway, Demona got her hands on a grimorum once—that's another term for a spellbook, by the way—and tried to use it to get her revenge on humanity, in a decidedly nasty way."
In telling them about what 'really happened' during the Lost Nights, instead of going with Goliath's suggestion about how to leave Xanatos out of the picture, Brooklyn decided to include him but as an even more unwitting dupe of Demona than he had been (which, albeit unknown to him, more closely matched what Xanatos and Owen had told Anne Marsden just the week before.) According to his version, Demona had discovered that David Xanatos was more interested in talking to the gargoyles than shooting at them anymore, and had come back to the castle pretending to be friendly and willing to let bygones be bygones. She had spun an elaborate lie for Xanatos, saying that she and the clan had been leaving the home they had been staying in, a building scheduled for demolition, when a helicopter had done too close a flyby and scattered the clan before their leader could tell them all about the new hiding place he'd selected. She'd been blown through a window into an empty apartment and been knocked unconscious, only awakening the next sunset, with no clan in sight and her former home reduced to rubble. She was sure the other clan members were searching for her, just as she was for them, but it was such a large city, and could Xanatos help her?
"She told Xanatos that she had a wonderful idea, but didn't have the means to make it work by herself. She wanted to make a television broadcast to the entire city, telling us where she could now be found. And she'd say it all in the 'ancient gargoyle tongue', both so the ignorant general populace wouldn't start asking Xanatos about us and so we'd know she was saying it of her own free will and not being forced by Xanatos, whom we still didn't trust at the time. And if Xanatos could somehow arrange to show it on every television channel at once, 'someone in the clan would be sure to see it, and come to the castle, and we could all be together again'…" Brooklyn said in a singsong voice, as he clasped his hands in front of him and girlishly fluttered his eyelashes. "And Xanatos, who's supposed to be a real shark about business deals and able to detect a falsified status report at two hundred yards away, fell for her story hook, line and sinker." Brooklyn gave a disgusted shake of his head, while working hard to suppress a grin. (Oooh, Xanatos was going to want to skin him alive! And Hudson was going to just fall out of his chair from laughing…)
"So Xanatos gave her the use of a television studio and a technician to operate the cameras, thinking that one hour of taking over all the late-night broadcasts wouldn't hurt anybody except maybe some Letterman fans, while it would be long enough for one of us to notice a gargoyle was on the air. But Demona used one of the spells in the spellbook to magically enslave the technician, and commanded him to instead broadcast her words over and over during the daylight hours instead. And then she cast her spell… and everyone who saw it on TV was affected by it, and turned to stone from sunset to sunrise."
Brooklyn gave a brief, wry smile. "It was so weird after we woke up that same sunset, seeing humans turned into statues… I think I know now what our stone sleep must look like to you. Anyway, once we figured out what was going on, we tracked Demona down and, while we couldn't actually get our hands on her, we did manage to destroy the spellbook. Destroying a spellbook destroys any still-active spell that was cast from it, so everyone returned to normal." Sorry, Davey, no credit for helping to save the city; Brooklyn needed to find some way, even if it was a blatant lie about how magic really works, to reassure the students that Demona couldn't cast the spell again. (Even if they didn't know that for sure; she'd actually used a separate scroll for that spell instead of the Grimorum Arcanorum, and they just didn't know whether the scroll's magic had been a one-shot deal or not…) Brooklyn finished by saying with lowered head, "I just wish we'd been able to do it sooner, before she had a chance to take her revenge…"
"What sort of revenge did she… oh my God," Mary said in the front row, her face going nearly as pale as her cast. "She didn't… Oh God, did she…?"
Brooklyn nodded slowly, "She did. When she woke up that sunset and saw her spell had worked, she grabbed a mace and went on a rampage in the streets. Just like the Vikings did to us, when most of our clan was slaughtered… When she smashed their statues, those humans died. We still don't know how many people she murdered that way."
"Oh, Christ!" one student cried agonizingly. "She must have killed my roommate's brother! She said he's been missing since that night…"
"She probably did." Brooklyn swallowed hard, not daring to look up just then to see what he knew was in many of their faces; fear and horror, as they realized that some gargoyles were monsters after all…
"It's a sorrowful truth," MacBeth said, stepping forward again and deliberately laying a comforting hand on Brooklyn's shoulder, both for the young warrior's own sake and to counter the growing fear and horror he could see reflected in some students' eyes. His eyes shouted the unspoken message: This gargoyle is a friend, see? "That in both our races, there is capacity for both good and evil… Thankfully, in both races, the good folk far outnumber the evil ones."
"Yeah, but it's the bad guys that get all the headlines," Brooklyn retorted, while giving MacBeth a grateful look for his support.
"Another sorrowful truth," MacBeth acknowledged. "But do not blame yourself for those who were lost, my friend; you did all that you could."
"He's right," Madelyn said as she stood up again. "We don't blame you for what she did; if we did that, we'd have to blame ourselves for every serial killer and rapist that prowls the streets." She gestured to the bruised half of her face as she said, "I certainly hope Mary doesn't blame herself for holding that first meeting, where I ended up with this… I blame the Quarryman that hit me!"
"Hear, hear!" Jim called from the back, and several other students chimed in their agreement as well.
Madelyn finished, "It's better that we know the ugly truth right from the start; that way, no one can say we're living in a fantasy world or some kiddie cartoon, thinking everyone can live in perfect harmony just like that," as she snapped her fingers. "With gargoyles like Demona out there, winning acceptance for your species is going to be a lot harder… but even more after meeting you, I think it's worth the struggle."
"Same here!" Dave called out from his seat beside Madelyn, and over half the room expressed similar sentiments.
Brooklyn turned his grateful smile on them all as he said simply, "Thank you. It's people like you that give my clan hope for a better tomorrow…"
MacBeth judged that was a positive note to end the meeting on, and said so. Shortly afterwards, Brooklyn found himself being given a boost up to the skylight by two burly and enthusiastic football players. He caught the rim and pulled himself up, then leaned back in the hole to call down to them all, "If I can't make it to the next meeting, I'll see about having someone else in my clan come talk to you instead!" He grinned again before putting the skylight pane back into place.
As he carefully put the pane back in, Lexington popped out of the shadows by the building's air conditioning unit and said gleefully, "My turn, next time!"
Brooklyn turned around, utterly unsurprised to see him there; Goliath had not wanted to Brooklyn to truly go alone to the meeting since Quarrymen had disrupted the first one, and had directed Lexington and Broadway to accompany him. The other two members of the Trio had circled the nearby buildings, looking for sings of stirring Quarryman activity, while Brooklyn waited to make his appearance. Once he'd gone in, Lexington had silently come in to watch from a different skylight, ready to instantly jump in if things got ugly at the meeting, while Broadway still scanned the surrounding area for approaching Quarrymen. "So, what did you think?" Brooklyn asked him as they launched off the roof together.
"I think we've got real allies at last," Lexington said happily. Then his grin turned wicked. "I also think Xanatos is going to hit the roof when he hears that tape; labeling him as a multibillionaire, gullible drunkard…!"
"But I didn't call him a villain," Brooklyn countered with a grin, as Broadway banked in to join them. "He can't say I didn't keep my word…"
PART II: SOUL SEARCHING
Sunset came to the castle again the next night, and this time when the gargoyles awoke, they had a different guest awaiting them. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of that sight," Father Sullivan said with a reflective smile, from where he was standing by Anne and little Bethany as they watched stone shells burst apart as the gargoyles stretched and roared their greetings to the night. Anne agreed with him with a smile, while Bethany jumped up and down and cheered with excitement.
"Father Sullivan!" Angela said with a smile as she turned around and saw him. "It's nice to see you again!"
"It's good to see you too, Angela," Father Sullivan nodded cordially. "Just for the record, is it any bother at all to find people behind you at sunset that weren't there at sunrise?" He had seen the gargoyle clones awaken before, in their underground chamber that had been jury-rigged with sun lamps by the other Labyrinth residents, but this was the first time he'd come to the castle in time to see the 'originals' awaken.
"Och, no, we're well used to it; 'tis the way things are, for all who've outgrown being kept in the rookery," Hudson said with a grin as he came forward to clasp forearms with him. "Now, a new turret or other change to the castle itself whilst we slept would be another matter, but 'tis perfectly natural for flesh-by-day folks to be coming and going while we sleep, and we don't begrudge it of ye; we just learn early on to take a quick look around whilst we shake the last few shards off."
"Yeah, we're used to spectators," Brooklyn agreed as he combed the last few stone chips out of his mane. "So long as they stand far enough away that we can turn and see them before they can touch us, no problem. But then, the way we wake up tends to keep people beyond arm's reach anyway."
"Indeed," Goliath agreed as he leaped down from the highest perch and backwinged to a gentle landing not far from where Father Sullivan was standing. His expression was cautiously hopeful as he said, "And friends to the clan are always welcome in our home. But is there something in particular that brings you here tonight?"
"Just the desire to learn more about you and your culture," Father Sullivan said amiably. "I'm always eager to learn more about nearly everything; my classmates in seminary school often said I should have been a Jesuit priest instead of Roman Catholic."
"Well, let's have some tea, then, and we'll talk in the living room," Hudson said with a wide smile as he gestured towards the stairs. Goliath nodded to them both, then turned to the rest of the clan and began assigning patrols for the night.
Father Sullivan eyed Hudson as they went to the kitchen, and noticed that the tension that seemed to have been building in the last few visits had disappeared, leaving a relaxed amiability and an undercurrent of joy in its wake. "You've had good news lately, haven't you?" he guessed with a smile.
"Aye, I have!" Hudson happily agreed, and while the kettle was boiling for tea he told the priest about how his eyesight had been failing him for the last month, but his good friend Jeffrey Robbins had amazingly discerned the problem he'd been too stubborn to admit to, and Jeffrey's doctor friends had managed to save the sight in his remaining eye. "'Tis a true joy, to be able to see clearly again," he finished.
"No doubt," Father Sullivan agreed with a smile, that turned reflective as he recalled, "I remember how I felt when the orderly finally pulled the bandages off my eyes, that morning in the hospital in 'Nam. The docs had been telling me for the last three days that my right eye was gone for good, and they weren't too sure they'd managed to save the left. So when they finally took those bandages off, and I saw that doctor's face… He must've had killer acne as a kid, and his nose would have done an anteater proud, but right then he was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen." His smile turned wry. "I think I scared him out of six months' growth when I grabbed and kissed him, and the rumors that I was secretly gay nearly followed me all the way back Stateside."
Hudson chuckled as he poured tea for them both, and they went out to the living room together. They sat down in the overstuffed chairs as Hudson asked genially, "What questions have ye come up with for tonight?"
Over the last three talks Hudson and Father Sullivan had shared, one in the Labyrinth and two in the castle, the priest had learned a great deal about both the biology of gargoyles, and the clan's culture back in 10th-century Scotland. Hudson had told him about their regular diet, and how they had hunted and fished both for their nightly meat and for kills to trade with the humans, for the fresh-baked bread the humans made. He'd learned of their protectorate and how they patrolled it, guarding it against both Vikings and local raiders and brigands. They'd spoken of the clan's relations with the humans of Castle Wyvern: the few that the clan had termed true friends, and the rest that either avoided them or reviled them, but that they still protected for the sake of the alliance, and because protecting is what gargoyles do best.
Hudson had detailed the raising and teaching of hatchlings, explaining how and why they were raised all together as children of the clan instead of individual blood-parents. And he'd explained about how they customarily courted and chose mates, and about the Breeding Moon. For every question Father Sullivan had, Hudson answered with complete candor, and gave reasons for their customs when he could give reasons at all, other than a shrug and a "That's just the way we are." (That response came most often when questions were raised about stone sleep.)
Tonight, after sitting down and getting comfortable, Father Sullivan took a deep breath and said, "Tell me… what do you think happens when a gargoyle dies?"
Hudson looked at him in mild surprise; they'd gone over that on the last visit. "I told ye already; after a few minutes, he turns back to stone, then crumbles to gravel and dust."
"Well, yes, but I was referring to more than the body. Perhaps I should have asked first, do you believe that there is more to you and your clansmen than just your bodies?"
"Ah, now I see what you're leading up to." Hudson chuckled briefly. "Heh; and here I'd nearly decided ye weren't going to bring the matter up at all, for fear of going against that 'Political Correctness' I've heard about."
"Are you offended by my asking?" Father Sullivan said cautiously.
"Och, no, I've been expecting it! Ye being so much like Brother Edmund, and all… He once asked that verra same question of us, and many more about spirits an' believing."
"So, what do your people believe in?"
Hudson got to his feet and gestured. "Come with me; 'tis best to speak of this outside."
They went up to the roof again, Hudson saying as he went, "Now, most gargoyles prefer to spend their time thinking about what goes on while they're still breathing, not about after they stop. While ye breathe, ye've got a home and protectorate to keep watch over, a clan to feed, and if all's well, either eggs or hatchlings to mind; that's usually enough to keep a body busy from dusk to dawn. But still, the questions have come up, and been answered."
Once they were out on the roof, Hudson leaned easily against a parapet, inviting the priest to do the same, and closed his eyes for a moment while an errant breeze ruffled his beard. "Do ye feel the wind?" When the priest replied that he did, Hudson asked rhetorically, "What causes the wind? Why, 'tis the world itself breathing, is what we say. And do ye see the stars?" as he opened his eyes again, and gestured at the stars overhead. It was an exceptionally clear night for New York, and the night sky twinkled with thousands upon thousands of stars. "Those stars overhead, the ones we steer by when we ride the breath of the world… That's where we go, when we give back to the world our own breath, and give our bodies back to the dust. A gargoyle's spirit goes up to the stars, and joins all the generations already shining there, to give light to the next generation that rides the wind."
After a few moments of reverent silence, Hudson gave Father Sullivan an almost impish look. "Brother Edmund, and the priests and monks who came after him, told us about the Heaven that his people would go to when they died, with streets of gold and fountains of wine and angels with harps and suchlike, though all of them said they'd never actually laid eyes on it themselves, not while still breathing. But they still talked about it, and about that terrible Hell that bad humans would go to when they died (though they'd never seen that either), going on and on about them until some few of us figured they were still trying to convince themselves of it." Father Sullivan harrumphed, as Hudson went on, "But we gargoyles can see nearly every night where our spirits will go, so there's no need to go on and on about it. And until we join the Clan of Stars, we just do the best we can for the gargoyles we live and breathe with; that's all there is to it."
"Hmmm." Father Sullivan cocked his head to one side. "And if a gargoyle does not do well by his clan… like, say, Demona… What happens to him or her upon death?"
"Likely that same thing that happened here on earth, unless her spirit mends her ways once she's freed of her flesh," Hudson said grimly. "Banishment. 'Tis the worst punishment we know of, to make someone clanless; in the past, some have greeted their last sunrise rather than face a life without clan. Only Demona was so perverse and unnatural as to leave the clan even before we could formally banish her, and even she tried to make a clan of her own afterwards; ye've already met them, the clones in the Labyrinth. Anyway, if ye ever see a star being cast out and falling to earth, ye'll understand now why we never look at it or make foolish wishes on it as humans do, let alone try to track where it falls to die; we ignore it, out of respect for the Star Clan's decision."
Father Sullivan just stood there blinking for a few moments, absorbing the information he'd been given. Then he asked, "So… do you ever, ah, talk to the Star Clan? Pray to them?"
Hudson chuckled. "Just to pass the time of night? I suppose some might have, hoping to talk to loved ones who've joined the stars already, but generally not; their only reply is the light they give us. But still… Some have thought that perhaps when a star has shone long enough and bright enough, the spirit closes its eyes and returns to earth, leaving room in the sky for another spirit to shine in its place, while it enters an egg to become a gargoyle again." He sighed softly as he confided, "My mate believed that, or said she did. On the off chance that 'tis true, I'll admit that I've looked up at the stars and asked her spirit to wait till after I've joined her up there for a good long spell, before giving flesh another go."
Father Sullivan rested a comforting hand on his shoulder as he said softly, "I'm sure she'll wait for you. I never met her or saw the two of you together, but I'm sure she would think you're worth waiting for."
Hudson smiled. "'Tis kind of ye to say so."
After a few moments, Father Sullivan coughed softly and said, "So, you don't, ah, believe in a… deity?"
Hudson eyed him in puzzlement, not knowing the word. "Deity?"
"Ah, a supernatural being one prays to… Such as a, er, a Great Creator, the one who, ah, made the world. Unless you believe that the world, ah, 'just happened'…"
"Well, of course the world was made! It didn't 'just happen', any more than I or my sword and tunic 'just happened'. But if ye're asking me if we pray to the Creator, like ye humans do… We're not so arrogant. Aye, arrogant!" he said in response to Father Sullivan's raised eyebrow. "Like a hatchling demanding special treatment for no good reason, only a thousand times worse! How ye folk can believe that the One to create the entire world and everything in it, and all the other planets and solar systems and galaxies that I've been hearing about in this new era, can still take the time to listen to each and every one of ye whining and begging favors, saying, 'treat me special'…" He shook his head in disbelief. "Pure arrogance."
Father Sullivan's face contorted and reddened like he was holding in either a roar of rage or a bellow of laughter; Hudson couldn't decide which, and thought perhaps the priest couldn't decide either.
After a few moments more, Hudson mused, "Although, now that I think on it, I suppose we gargoyles have a 'deity' of sorts, though I'm not used to thinking of Her that way."
"Aye, Her. The Great Dragon, the one who gave gargoyles wings, as our history says."
"The Great Dragon?" Father Sullivan took a more comfortable leaning stance against the stone wall again, and faced Hudson expectantly. "Tell me more…"
Hudson nodded, and his demeanor subtly shifted into what another gargoyle elder would have identified as 'the teaching way', the manner of speaking and subtly authoritarian body language that accompanied the lessons and tales rookery keepers told their hatchlings. "Ye've doubtless noticed how we have wings but our watchbeasts don't. This is the story of how we gained our wings, as my old rookery keeper told it to me, and as her rookery keeper told it to her: One night in ages past, ere humans named even themselves, the Great Dragon came to the territory of the first gargoyle clan, seeking a safe place to make a nest for Her eggs. Back then, dragons and gargoyles were no friends to each other, just as a wild dragon is still no friend to either gargoyles or humans in this age. But the leader of the first clan agreed that the Great Dragon could make a nest for Her eggs at the edge of the gargoyle territory, and the gargoyles would leave the nest in peace, so long as the Dragon hunted on the other side of the mountains." Hudson paused to explain to the priest, "Y'see, even a standard dragon is a great beastie, the size of a city bus and larger. But the Great Dragon, the mother of all her kind… when She rose into the air, Her wings hid half the sky from view. One full meal for Her would clean out half of a clan's territory of game."
Father Sullivan nodded in what Hudson chose to think was agreement with the first clan's conditions, rather than merely humoring the elderly warrior to keep him talking. Hudson went on, "The Dragon agreed, and so She laid Her eggs in a sheltered valley at the edge of the clan's territory that spring, and left them to hunt on the other side of the mountains. When winter came, She would return to her nest and curl around the eggs to keep them warm and sheltered from the snows. In the spring, once the snow was gone, She would leave the nest and go hunting on the far side of the mountains, trusting Her nest, warmed with magic and Her own breath, to keep the eggs warm and safe until winter came again.
"Forty years passed in this manner, and always the gargoyles left the Dragon's eggs in peace, no matter how scarce the hunting was. Then one spring, the rains came far heavier than they ever had before. The rivers that ran through the gargoyles' territory all swelled full with rain and began overrunning their banks, until the great nest that the gargoyles had made for their own eggs (for they had held their own breeding season three years before) was threatened by the flooding. The clan scrambled to find higher ground for their eggs, and made a new nest in a cave far above the waterline, that would never be flooded out. And after each precious life-to-be was carried up to the new nest and made warm and safe again, the rookery keepers wondered about the safety of the Dragon's eggs. Half the clan set out to the sheltered valley, and when they got there, found the river running through the valley had not only flooded its banks, but caused a rockfall in the pass leading out of the valley that dammed up the swelling river, and caused a great lake to form. The nest that the Great Dragon had built for Her eggs was already partly in the water, and beginning to break apart; once it did, the eggs would roll and sink to the bottom of the lake, and cool down so much the new life within would die before hatching.
"The gargoyles set to rescuing the Dragon's eggs, carrying them one by one (for each egg was nearly half the size of a full-grown gargoyle) out of that valley and over to the next one. There the clan had enlarged a cave high on the side of a hill, to make it big enough to hold all twelve of the giant eggs, and packed it tight with their own bodies to warm it up before the eggs were brought in. Once the eggs were safe in their new nest, the gargoyles returned to life as usual, though two rookery keepers stayed behind to ensure the Dragon's eggs were kept warm and the rest of the clan brought meat to them.
Over the months of summer and autumn, the floodwaters receded and the rivers ran nearly as they had before. When the first frost came, the Great Dragon returned, and great indeed was Her wrath when She saw Her nest lying in ruins and not an egg in sight. Believing that the clan had broken their word and stolen Her eggs for food, She rose up into the air again, the force of Her wings beating half the valley's forest down and Her fiery breath burning the other half, and flew into the heart of the clan's territory. When She found a hunting party of the clan setting out, She screamed at them, "Beasts! For taking back your word, I take all your words from you!" Then She cast a great spell that stole their speech from them, and even reshaped their bodies to where they could no longer walk on two legs, but would always go on four, like the beasts they hunted.
Then She began to hunt the changed gargoyles down, scattering them throughout the forest as She tortured them with bursts of fire. Many gargoyles who had not been changed, when they saw the devastation She was wreaking, ran and hid deep in caves to escape Her wrath. But the leader of the gargoyle clan, who had been in another hunting party, fearlessly ran up to the Great Dragon and shouted, "Peace, Great One! We did not break our word! Your eggs are safe!" Then he told Her where Her eggs could be found.
When the Great Dragon went to the cave where the gargoyles were keeping Her eggs, and realized that they had done Her a great kindness far beyond their oath in keeping the eggs safe and warm--while She had done them a great wrong with Her spell and the destruction She had wrought--great was Her shame and sorrow. She laid Her muzzle in the dirt before the clan leader's feet and begged his forgiveness, and asked if She might undo Her wrongs and do the clan a further kindness in return. With one spell cast wide over the forest, She brought a magical rain that instantly put out all the fires She had started, and turned charred wood to green and growing wood again. Then the clan leader summoned all his people together again, including those who had been spell-changed to beasts. The Dragon cried tears over the ones she had spell-changed, and when the tears touched them they changed back into their old forms. Then She breathed a great spell over the entire clan, and instantly wings sprouted from their backs as She said, "For showing kindness to My children, you and your children will always have the wings of dragons, so you may also know the joy of riding the wind!"
Then the Great Dragon cast another spell that hatched Her precious eggs on the next dawn, and took the new-hatched dragons with Her to the southern lands that same day, so when the clan awoke the next sunset only the shards of the giant shells remained. That is when two changed gargoyles returned to the clan, a male and female who had been wounded by the Dragon's fire before she calmed, and so could not return with the others to be changed back and given wings. Stone sleep had healed their burns so they could walk again, but they were forever changed and went about on all fours always, barking and yowling instead of speaking. The clan leader declared that they were still clan members despite their lack of speech, and so would their children be if they bred to the same form… and they did. This is why our watchbeasts are always full members of our clan, not merely 'pets' or beasts of burden like ye humans often treat your dogs and horses.
"That dawn before the Great Dragon left, She told the Clan leader that while most of Her children from this clutch would be wild dragons, the story of how gargoyles had saved the dragon eggs would be passed from mother to daughter among those dragons who spoke, and Her Spirit would always look kindly upon them. And so, from time to time gargoyles in great need and adversity have called upon the Dragon's spirit, in hopes that She might be listening that night, and come to help… Though since She has not appeared in the skies over any clan I've heard of, for over a hundred generations, 'tis usually a vain hope. But still, we say 'By the Dragon!' and we remember Her for giving us our wings."
When Hudson finished his story, Father Sullivan said quietly, "That is the finest legend I've heard in years."
" 'Tis history, not mere legend," Hudson corrected him sternly.
"Of course, of course," the priest hurried to agree. "But… what you said earlier about the Clan of Stars… Your people saw the stars as the spirits of gargoyles floating in the sky, their eyes shining to give you light for gliding, am I correct? But now, you said yourself you've heard of other solar systems and galaxies, and so you know now that each star is actually another sun, immeasurably far away from our own solar system… What now do you believe?"
Hudson gave him a quirky smile in return. "In the 'old days', Brother Edmund and those after him thought that their Heaven was up in the sky as well, sitting on the clouds like they were masses of new-shorn wool. Now that ye know the clouds are but intangible masses of water droplets, and above them is only more sky, and beyond that sky is cold and airless space… What now do you believe?"
Father Sullivan smiled. "That Heaven is on another plane of existence, invisible to mortal eyes."
Hudson eyed him knowingly. "And this 'other plain' that exists… what shines in the sky above it at night?"
That shut Father Sullivan up for a few long moments, while Bronx came up and nudged Hudson, grunting his 'I'm hungry!' grunt. "What, ye didn't sneak enough table scraps from little Bethany?" Hudson grinned down at him knowingly. "All right, let's get ye some proper dinner…" as he went back down with Bronx to the living quarters.
Father Sullivan watched him go, then turned up to look at the stars shining overhead again. After several long minutes he said quietly, as if thinking out loud, "Faith. They have faith, and love… and souls. Lord help me, because I know already that I'm in for the fight of my life… but they have souls."
The next evening, while Elisa was showering before going to work, the telephone rang. "Never fails," she grumbled to herself as she shut the water off and hurriedly wrapped a towel around herself before running out to the phone. "Hello?" she barked into it, then immediately wished she hadn't, when she found out who it was. "Oh, hi, Father! Sorry I was so rude just now; your call caught me in the shower. Ah, is everything okay in the Labyrinth?" That was the only reason Elisa could think of for the priest to call her.
"Yes, they're all quite well; I visited the Labyrinth and saw your brother and his wife less than an hour ago. I'm afraid Maggie is still suffering from 'morning sickness', but other than that she's in good spirits." After Elisa thanked him for the information, Father Sullivan went on, "Actually, I'm calling because I could use your insight, as a friend of the gargoyles in much longer standing. There are questions I want to ask them, but without knowing what they might consider taboo, I could give offense just by my asking. Could we meet on your dinner break?"
"Sure," Elisa agreed. "I know this diner close to the precinct that usually has a quiet corner booth…"
When Elisa came to the diner on her dinner break, she found Father Sullivan already ensconced in a booth and sipping coffee while waiting for her. They exchanged greetings as she sat down, then ordered together; Elisa recommended the priest try the "Monte Cristo" hot sandwich. Once their food had been brought, Elisa carefully folded her jacket and hung it over the end of her booth; it was a signal she'd long ago worked out with the diner's waitresses, that she wanted some privacy for conversation. No waitress would approach that table to offer coffee refills or dessert unless Elisa or her companion deliberately raised a coffee cup to catch their attention; in this way, Elisa had been able to conduct a few quiet off-the-record interviews in the past, for cases she had been investigating. "So, Father," Elisa asked as she turned back to him, "What did you want to talk about?"
"Whatever it is gargoyles don't like to talk about," Father Sullivan replied. "Subjects that they seem to avoid or consider taboo for general conversation. Have you encountered any such subjects?"
Elisa thought for a few moments as she ate a few bites of her sandwich. "Mmm… Y'know, I honestly can't think of any. They're pretty open about everything I can think of… Well, there's one subject they really don't like to talk about, because it's so painful. Has anyone you've talked to mentioned Demona?"
"A few times," Father Sullivan nodded slowly. "A former member of the clan who turned to evil, hates humanity with a violent passion and has tried to destroy the clan more than once. She had been kept prisoner in the Labyrinth for a few months, but ultimately escaped."
Elisa sighed. "I'm afraid they left out a few things, Father. If the Labyrinth folk didn't tell you what I'm about to tell you, I'd appreciate it if you keep this under your collar…"
"Of course," he nodded again.
Elisa took a deep breath, then let it go. "Okay… It's not just the clan Demona has tried to destroy. She's also tried to wipe out every human in New York—twice!—and the entire human race at least once that I know of. We haven't told anybody, even the Labyrinth dwellers, about those events, because we don't want to scare people more than they're already scared. But she's a psycho to her twisted and rotted core, after over a thousand years of hating humanity. Oh, did I mention that she's immortal, basically unkillable?"
"Immortal? Not just very long-lived, but truly unable to die? Somehow, that hasn't been mentioned until now," Father Sullivan said with wide eyes.
Elisa nodded as she sipped her coffee. "Result of a magic spell; it's a looong story."
The priest seemed about to ask that she relate that long story, but almost visibly restrained himself. Instead, he said, "So the clan doesn't speak of her, because they dislike admitting that their kind is as capable of evil as mankind?"
Elisa said, "Yeah, that's part of it," just before taking another bite of her sandwich.
Sullivan waited for her to finish chewing, then asked mildly, "And the other reason that they don't like to speak of her…?"
Elisa swallowed hard, then admitted, "She was Goliath's mate."
"Yes, Hudson mentioned that once," the priest said. "His mate, and the clan's second-in-command; and so she ultimately betrayed both her clan and her mate."
"Yeah. It just about ripped his heart out, the first time she tried to kill him; afterwards, if I hadn't been there to talk him out of it…" Elisa sighed. "I think he's gotten over her as much as anyone can get over something like that, but it's still a painful subject."
"I can imagine," the priest said with a sad nod. "I once had a member of my flock with a similar situation, though it was the wife who barely escaped death at the hands of her husband. But fortunately, she had friends in the flock, truly loyal friends who helped her over the worst of her fears and anger and grief, after they helped her escape his clutches and divorce him."
Elisa eyed him with sardonic amusement. "I thought Catholics didn't practice divorce."
"We also don't practice murder," was the priest's wry retort. "Seeing her leave him and get a divorce was preferable to seeing her coffin and presiding over her funeral. But I imagine Goliath had to face a similar dilemma, and was truly grateful for the help of his clan, and your friendship, in helping him weather the storm."
Elisa half-smiled. "Yeah." Then she went back to eating her sandwich in silence.
After a few minutes of concentrating on their food, the priest looked up again and saw the troubled look on Elisa's face as she stared off into the distance. "Something troubling you?" he asked mildly.
"Mmnnot really," Elisa said, shaking her head, but the faintly troubled look remained.
Father Sullivan eyed her keenly for a moment, then said quietly, "I realize that your faith differs from the one I administer to my flock. But I will never turn away from someone truly in need of aid or comfort, regardless of what they believe in. And if you are in need of a 'sounding board' for some difficulty, I can promise you that whatever you tell me, I will treat as if under the seal of the confessional, and tell no other living soul."
Elisa said hesitantly, "I appreciate the offer, Father, but I… I think I can work it out on my own."
"As you wish," Father Sullivan said with a solemn nod. (Internally, he began counting; the next ten seconds were usually the turning point. One… Two… Three…)
"I just don't know what to do!" Elisa blurted out, then looked surprised at herself for doing so.
(Bingo! But Father Sullivan knew better than to let one iota of that show on his face.) "Regarding what matter, Elisa?" When she hesitated again, he reminded her, "No other living soul will know, if you wish."
Elisa finally sighed and leaned forward, putting her head in her hands. "I don't know what to do about… About Goliath and me."
"Your relationship with him?" Father Sullivan inquired softly.
"Yeah. He… I…" she glanced uncertainly and with an element of dread at the priest, not knowing how much he could handle before going all Wrath-of-God on her. It had taken over two years for her and Goliath to have the courage to acknowledge their love for each other was stronger than any species barrier, and physically become lovers; what would this utter newcomer to the clans think of her if he found out? The ugly word "bestiality" resounded inside her skull, though her soul cried out in protest against it.
At her second pause, Father Sullivan sighed and leaned back again. "Elisa, you should know I've been to the castle twice in the last two weeks, to talk with Hudson and the others. And on my last visit, I overheard Lexington snickering to Brooklyn about Goliath returning from an extended visit with you… wearing a towel instead of his usual loincloth."
"Oh, God." Elisa leaned forward and buried her head in her hands again, just knowing she was blushing clear to the roots of her hair.
"In that respect, he's luckier than I was," Father Sullivan continued, half to himself. "That one time in 'Nam, I ended up reporting for duty wearing nothing but my dog tags and my boots…"
When his words finally registered in Elisa's brain, she jerked her head up again to stare at him in open-mouthed astonishment. He said with a wry smile, "My dear, I was not born to the priesthood. I spent considerable time in the world, learning firsthand what sin is all about, before accepting the calling and taking up the cross."
"So, your relationship with Goliath…" the priest gently prompted her.
Elisa sighed, looking off into the distance. "I love him, Father. Heart and soul… I know he'll always be a gargoyle and I'll always be a human, but when I look at him I don't see a monster; I see the most wonderful man I've ever met or ever will. I tried to deny what I was feeling for a long time, told myself it could never work out and that he couldn't possibly be thinking what I was starting to think, but eventually I couldn't deny it anymore… and neither could he. We've been lovers for about a month now, and I'm happy, but at the same time I just don't know where we're going to go from here, if we can really make this work out after all…"
"What obstacles do you see?" the priest asked quietly.
Elisa sighed. "Well, there's the minor fact that he turns to stone every morning; even if I sleep during the day too, there's a large chunk of my life he'll never be able to be a part of. I've learned to accept that, but I know he worries about somebody attacking me during the day when he can't protect me… Just as I'm terrified by the possibility of somebody attacking him during the day, when I'm not always there to protect him. And then there's 'the ex', Demona; she's not just his ex-mate but Angela's mother, and I know Angela still harbors some hope in her heart that her mother and father will get back together again someday."
"A frequent wish for children of divorced parents," the priest nodded. "But most children eventually come to accept a parent remarrying, if the new spouse was chosen wisely, and come to accept the step-parent as well."
"Yeah, and Angela's a big girl now; not to mention she's seen what her mother's capable of," Elisa sighed.
"So what other obstacles do you see?"
Elisa looked down at her plate and pushed her last French-fry around for a while before reluctantly admitting, "I'm afraid I won't always be enough for him. I mean, I'm human! No wings, no tail; every time we go gliding, he has to carry me. It's like asking a regular guy to live with a woman who's lost the use of her legs! Yes, lots of them have wonderfully happy marriages; I know one couple that've been married thirty years and still act like newlyweds. But a lot more of them end up with the whole one resenting always having to make allowances for the handicapped one, feeling stifled and held back, and ultimately making both of them miserable. Just last year I had a murder-suicide case in which the wife utterly lost it and killed her paralyzed husband, then shot herself when she realized what she'd done. I know things will never get that bad for us, but I'm scared that someday Goliath will feel like I'm holding him back… And besides, we'll never have kids, which the gargoyle race really needs right now! What if some night we discover a new clan that has single young females ready to breed eggs for the rookery, and one of them takes a liking to him? When we ran into other clans on our 'world tour', I was half-afraid and half-expecting that some female in one of them would turn out to be his mate-to-be, particularly after we figured out that Avalon had a reason for sending us to every place we went. It didn't happen then, but if it ever does happen some night… I'd have to let him go, for the sake of the gargoyle race!"
"And so, for fear of having to let him go, you avoid holding onto him at all," Father Sullivan concluded softly.
Elisa sighed and hung her head. "Yeah."
"Those are all valid obstacles… if you accept them as obstacles. If your fear is stronger than your love."
Elisa jerked up her head again, to glare at him. "Hey!"
"My apologies for putting it so bluntly, but sometimes it's best to cut to the chase," he said mildly. "Every obstacle you've mentioned thus far has centered around fear. Fear of losing him to violence in his sleep; fear of alienating his daughter; fear of him coming to resent your lack of wings; fear of losing him to another gargoyle female. Have you ever talked these fears over with him?"
Elisa hung her head again. "No… Heck, I have a hard enough time admitting them to myself!"
"Self-examination is usually painful," The priest nodded in sympathy. "But the pain can lead to cleansing and healing… and the alternative to self-inspection, to just blindly react to situations without knowing your own true reasons why, can and frequently does result in far more pain."
"I suppose," as Elisa gave a wan smile.
"If you have any hope of continuing your relationship with Goliath, you must speak with him about what you've just told me; secret fears can fester just as secret anger and rage. You might also speak with Angela about your fear of alienating her, though I suspect you will find that she has already accepted you, and has no objections to whatever you and her father ultimately choose." When Elisa visibly hesitated, the priest gently urged, "Goliath usually returns to the castle before your shift is over, in hopes that you will stop by on your way home before dawn…"
"He does?" The thought of him waiting for her night after night, like a lovesick girl waiting forlornly by the phone for her boyfriend to call, was so poignant that Elisa thought she was about to cry. Then a sudden thought banished the incipient tears, and she looked at the priest suspiciously again. "You seem to know a lot about the clan, for a guy who came to me to find out what questions he could and couldn't ask."
"Largely a pretext for conversation, I admit," the priest said amiably. "Hudson has always been honest in answering every question I've ever asked him over the last few weeks. He seems almost tickled to have a man of the cloth as an ally again, and often compares me to a Brother Edmund he once knew. And Hudson was one of those who asked me to talk to you, 'human to human' as he put it, and to help ease whatever burdens you might carry inside, as Brother Edmund once did for castle residents in days of old."
"He did, huh? I always knew Hudson had a busybody streak in him," Elisa grumbled half-heartedly, then paused. "Wait a minute… You said 'one of those'. Who else wanted you to talk to me?"
"Goliath, of course," the priest said with a shrug. "He knew you had worries and tensions that you would not express to him, but your intimate relationship is so new that he feared to press you himself." At her increasingly irate expression, he hastily said with a hand raised to forestall the upcoming storm, "Now, before you start to think I'll go running to him after this, may I remind you that I said at the beginning I would treat all of this as under the seal of the confessional. I will not tell him what you have told me. But again, I strongly urge you to do so. Honesty is required in every relationship, for it to succeed." And with that, he gestured for the waitress to bring the check. Five minutes later he was gone, leaving Elisa thoughtfully sipping her coffee.
An hour before dawn found Elisa on the battlements with Goliath, sheltered from the elements in his wings as he patiently waited for her to admit her fears and concerns to him. When she finally did, he sighed and admitted, "I do share at least one of your fears, beloved. I do fear that someday, something will happen to you, when I'm locked in stone sleep and helpless to protect you."
"I'm a cop, and you're a clan leader and warrior," Elisa reminded him as she rested her head on his chest. "We've both seen death and violence, and know that someday it might happen to one of us; worrying about it won't help."
"Now if only your own fears would hear your words," he teased her gently. He held her closer in his arms and wings, then continued, "As for your fears of losing me to another female needing a mate… Beloved, this clan has other males who are even more in need of gargoyle mates than I am. I can promise you, any unmated female who meets the clan and seeks a mate will take one look and one sniff at me, and concentrate on the others instead."
Elisa snorted. "Big Guy, modesty is all very well, but you're really selling yourself short. It's my utterly objective opinion that you are the studliest garg on the planet, and any female who's in the market for a mate will give you much, much more than just one look…"
"I said, one look and one sniff," he gently corrected her. "And Elisa, any female who's 'in the market,' as you say, will know after just one sniff that I'm 'off the market'. We've bonded, remember? I already told you how my body has adjusted to your fertility cycles; that's part of the bonding process. It ensures not only that the male is ready to breed his mate when she's ready, which is why I was so 'vigorous' for those three nights, but that he'll know by subtle body and scent clues when she's approaching her fertility, before any other male would know. That gives the breeding pair time to isolate themselves from strange unmated males before the season begins, to avoid breeding battles between the males."
Elisa blinked in thought. "That makes sense, I guess; that way you avoid the equivalent of catfights out on the back fence. But what does that have to do with unmated females?"
"I just explained it! Why—oh." He sighed. "I keep forgetting just how poor your sense of smell is. Elisa, when we bonded, my scent changed in a subtle but distinctive way. You can ask Hudson, if you like; he's the one who first detected the change in me, and privately teased me about it for over a week. An unmated female who comes close enough to catch my scent will pick up on that 'mated' marker… and she'll know, even if only subconsciously, that she'll have to look elsewhere. As I understand it, it's like a wedding ring on a man's finger would be for a human female… an instant 'turn-off' when mate-hunting."
"Oh." Elisa blinked again. "Then… I've already taken you off the market, haven't I?"
Goliath chuckled. "Brooklyn would probably say you've stapled a large 'SOLD, awaiting pickup by owner' sign onto my forehead."
Elisa had to chuckle at that image. "And… you're okay with that?"
Goliath rolled his eyes for a moment, then reached down to pick Elisa up, as easily as a child with a favorite doll, holding her up to stare directly into her eyes as he said, "My Elisa, I love you with all my heart and soul. You are my life, my moon and stars. I am far more than 'okay with that'." And he brought her in for a deep, thorough kiss.
Once they came up for air, Elisa said as she ran her fingers through his mane, "I love you, too, Big Guy. Heart and soul…" Then she gave her typical half-smile as she said, "Guess we might as well make it official, huh?" She wondered just what exactly was involved in a gargoyle mating ceremony, besides standing in front of the clan and declaring you were mates, then going on a mating flight. Did they at least have flowers and fancy tunics?
Goliath grinned from ear to ear. But to Elisa's surprise, instead of immediately bellowing for a clan assembly and a prompt mating ceremony he asked her, "Did Father Sullivan give you any messages to pass on to me?"
Elisa blinked in surprise and a little dismay at the abrupt change of subject, then remembered. "Yeah, he did, but I almost forgot… Just before he left, he said, 'Tell Goliath I think the Labyrinth would be suitable. He'll know what I'm referring to.' So what was he referring to?"
Goliath grinned even wider as he said, "He was saying the Labyrinth would be a suitable location for another wedding… our wedding. That was his way of agreeing to perform the ceremony!" And Goliath abruptly set Elisa down on her feet, then fell to his knees in front of her and took her hand, and looked soulfully into her eyes as he asked, "Elisa Maria Maza, will you marry me?"
NEXT: THE WEDDING!