This is intended as an alternate version of The Goliath Chronicles episode "Runaways," another installment in the "re-write TGC" project being done by the members of the inlink fan fiction mailing list. We respect the time and effort that went into each episode of "The Goliath Chronicles," but something, somewhere, went wrong, and some vital part of "Gargoyles" got lost in the shuffle. This is our way of trying to recapture what we saw as that vital part. In this case, hopefully, a better answer to Brooklyn's character development.
This story was already posted to the gargoyles-fans.org archive, but under the title "On Winter's Wind." It had a big, long, mushy disclaimer, which can be read in the archived version.
Gargoyles and its characters is the property of Buena Vista/Disney. All other characters are the property of the author and may not be used without permission.
February, 1997 Manhattan
The strings of lights on the bridges linking island to island reflected off the waterways of the city. Steam curled up from the roof of a tower and turned to an odd hue in the colors of a neon sign.
Seven winged shapes, shadowy and almost indistinguishable against the darkness of the sky, rushed across the light that streamed dramatically upwards from a white skyscraper with a slanted, wedge-shaped roof. The rest of the building was dark.
The shapes sprang into sharp, black, outline for a moment. Then they continued, winging their way towards their destination with the determination of a flock of migrating birds. Except these were not formed like birds. And they were not migrating, but searching.
****** Castle Wyvern
It had been a quiet night.
In the courtyard of Castle Wyvern, Brooklyn, second in command of the Wyvern clan, crouched on his haunches and tugged at the ball enclosed in Bronx's jaws.
"Bronx," Brooklyn protested, as the gargoyle-dog growled in play. "C'mon, that's Alex's. Fox won't be happy with us...."
Seated with one leg bent, foot on the lattice-work chair, the other leg dangling down, Lexington looked up from his Game Boy.
"It's your own fault," he said. "You shouldn't have started using it to play with Bronx in the first place." The small, hairless gargoyle flicked his attention sharply back to the screen of the electronic game, and his forehead creased. "Rats!" He exclaimed, as the low-pitched tones of an annihilated player came from the speaker.
Bronx whuffed, and leapt away from Brooklyn, who overbalanced and fell forward. "Arrgggh, Bronx!" The beak-faced, burgundy gargoyle pushed himself to his feet.
Snow lay in a thin crust over the battlements of the castle and the grassy patches of the courtyard, giving it a magical-looking glow. "So, what did Hudson say he and Goliath were doing?" Brooklyn asked Lexington.
"There's an outdoor art exhibit in the north end of the park." Lex, deep into another game, didn't even look up. "Stone gargoyles from all over the world, England, France....even some from Manhattan. Goliath thought if he and Hudson looked at them, and read what the humans said about them, it might help us understand things better."
Brooklyn gave up chasing Bronx and cloaked his black wings over his shoulders. "It's a waste of time if you ask me." Turning his head, he scanned the top of the battlements surrounding the courtyard. All was still. Satisfied, the young gargoyle turned to glance up at the west tower.
His wings unfurled, snapping open to their full span in alarm. "Lex!" He barked the alarm, his gaze fixed on the sky.
The small brownish-green gargoyle looked up sharply -- then leapt to his feet, dropping the Game Boy from his limp talons. The game fell to the stones with a clatter.
Bronx dropped the ball and lowered his head, shoulders stiffening like a mastiff's as he growled low in his throat.
Brooklyn had thought, for a heartbeat, that he was seeing things. Then he decided it was Goliath, Hudson, Angela, and Broadway coming back early. But there were too many. The word "clones" came to mind --
And left as fleetingly as it had come as the shadowy forms of what looked like seven "true" gargoyles descended into the glow of the exterior castle floodlights and alighted on the stones of the courtyard. Astonished, Brooklyn could only gape as a young female with tawny, yellow-brown skin and a surprising mane of dark brown curls between her horns landed right in front of him.
The seven didn't speak for a moment. Several cloaked their wings while a few rubbed their shoulders, a gesture Brooklyn recognized as a sign of wing strain. Brooklyn sensed Lexington and Bronx coming to stand at his side in a united front.
The curly-haired female looked at him with a curious, steady gaze, her arms folded. Her wings, unfurled, were lined with a dark, rich brown, with three wing-digits the same yellow/brown as her skin.
Her companions also silently looked at back at Brooklyn, Lexington, and Bronx. Their expressions were unexpected -- eyes wide, fanged mouths slightly open, almost as if they were....awed.
Despite his wariness, Brooklyn took a few seconds for a cursory look over the group.
There were two females besides the first. One was small, delicately formed, with three digits rising from the point of her deep purple wings. Her skin was a pale lavender, redder than Angela's. She had fine white hair, tied back with a black band. Another female, taller than the other two, watched him levelly, almost challengingly. She was powerfully built, of a deep reddish brown with black hair. Two tiny, delicate horns peeked out from her hair, above a square-jawed, unusually beautiful face.
Next to her was a small male, a light blue, hairless gargoyle with the same type of wings as Lex's, but this gargoyle was bigger, more broad shouldered than Lexington. Next to him was a young male of about Brooklyn's height with dark, royal blue skin and black hair and wings.
Brooklyn blinked. For a moment, he thought the light blue one had moved position -- then he realized there were two of them.
The last gargoyle stood a bit behind his companions. He was smaller than the royal blue one, and had a thoughtful expression on his shallowly beaked face. His skin was a light coffee, brown, his hair the color of wheat.
The silence dragged out, while Lexington and Brooklyn stared, hard and wary, and the seven looked uncomfortable.
At last the yellow-brown female folded her wings over her shoulders, knelt, and held out her talons to Bronx.
"Hey, boy," she said softly. "Here, it's okay, we're friends."
Bronx took one step forward, sniffed at her hand, and whined once. Then he licked the new gargoyle's talons and his stumpy tail began to wag vigorously.
The young female laughed, a rich sound, and scratched Bronx behind his fanned ears.
"Well," Brooklyn said slowly, cautiously, "Looks like you passed the test. Now," he added, more forcefully, "Tell us who you are, and what you're doing here? We thought there weren't any other gargoyles in New York."
"We're not from New York," the royal blue male said, coming forward. "We've traveled a long way, and we've come to ask for your help."
Brooklyn's eyes passed over the group again. "Are you from....Aval --" he broke off. The yellow-brown one was wearing a Greenpeace t-shirt and cut-off jeans. The other females wore leggings or jeans and cropped sweaters that exposed their midriffs, and the males had somehow procured blue jeans and t-shirts that would fit gargoyles.
"I think you'd better explain," he said, eyes narrowing.
"I'm Jaewing," the royal blue male said, grinning. "This is Karian," he pointed to the dark lavender female, who abruptly smiled, revealing a concealed dimple in her left cheek. "And Tala --" the reddish brown female nodded seriously. "The two who look alike are Rowland and Hunter, don't bother trying to tell them apart -- this is Guen...." the curly-haired one in the Greenpeace t-shirt nodded in a more friendly fashion..."And this is Birch," he finished, reaching back and pulling the golden-brown, smaller male forward.
"Uh....hi," said Birch, raising a hand briefly. His expression was friendly, his shallow-beaked face revealing intelligence and courage and....something....else. Something haunted, a look the others didn't have.
"I'm Brooklyn, this is Lexington, and Bronx."
Guen came forward, ahead of the others. "Brooklyn?" She said, trying out the name. "Lexington? Bronx?" She cocked her head to one side. "You're named after parts of New York City?"
"Something wrong with that?" Lex said defensively.
"No...no," she said, half-laughing. "I was just wondering...." Brooklyn heard her draw in a sharp breath, and her hand came up to her mouth. "Then it's true?" Her face lit up with the excitement of discovery. "You really _did_ survive the massacre at Castle Wyvern, and the Magus really did....wait. Aren't there more of you?" She added, sounding concerned.
"How do you know about the massacre? And the Magus?" Brooklyn stepped away from her and stiffened his shoulders in preparation for attack. Something was not right here.
"I read," Guen said shortly. "You guys are legends, don't you know that? The professor has this collection of old manuscripts, one of them tells all about the Grimorum Arcanorum, and Castle Wyvern....but I never thought the gargoyle we've been hearing about on the news were _those_ gargoyles...."
The heat that had begun to grown behind Brooklyn's eyes died away.
"By the way," Guen added, looking Brooklyn up and down with a slight grin. "Nice kilt."
Brooklyn felt the blood rush to his face. He coughed, shifted on his big feet uneasily, then turned to Lexington. "Why didn't they set off the alarms?"
Lex nodded in the direction of the group. "They're gargoyles. The scans probably thought they were us."
"Ooookkkkaayyyy," Brooklyn folded his arms. "So you're _real_ gargoyles and not some genetic trick sent here to make our lives a living hell. But if you don't start explaining things fast...."
"Hey, hey, take it easy, friend," said Jaewing. "It's a long story, you'd better get comfortable."
The two New York gargoyles remained where they were, muscles stiff.
"Right," said Jaewing. "Well, where to begin...."
"Where _are_ you from?" Lexington asked.
"Pennsylvania," said Jaewing.
Lexington's eyes widened as he put his hand on Bronx's neck. "But I thought there weren't any gargoyles in...."
"Oh, there are," said one of the twins. "There most _definitely_ are."
"We'll all tell it," said Karian. "So we don't leave anything out. Birch, you go first."
The golden brown gargoyle sighed as if they had been through this many times before. "Karian!" He protested.
"Come on, Birch, you remember, it started that night Jaewing and I tried to get you to glide...."
****** ONE WEEK EARLIER Southeastern Pennsylvania
He crouched on the crenellations, feeling the old, rough stone beneath his talons and his feet. It was a cold, crisp winter night. Below him the hard-packed snow glistened in the light of a luminous half moon, touched by the up-reaching bare branches of the woods. Because of the moon, the stars were dimmed, but he could make out a few, shining in a muted way in the dome of darkness arching above.
This was his world, the night. It was all he knew. It was home. So why the terrible pounding of his heart in his chest? Why did the talons gripping the stone tremble ever so slightly? It was not the cold, his kind rarely felt the cold.
He swallowed. ~Come on,~ he told himself. ~You can do it. Just spread your wings, and jump. It's not like you haven't done this a hundred times before.~
But never deliberately. Always to simply get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Never just for the heck of it.
His glance slid down from the trees, where a shadowy figure waited up on one of the branches, down to the ground one hundred feet below. Patches of flagstone showed through the drifted snow close to the manor house. The world tilted alarmingly, and he shut his eyes.
There wasn't much he remembered of details. It was more just sensations. He had been very small. A cool wind rushed under his wings, tickling him, keeping him aloft. He'd laughed, with a strange, aching exhilaration. There were others ahead of him, he was following them. Then the roar of a vehicle beneath him, someone shouting. A loud bang, fire-like pain through his wing. A sickening sensation of falling, so fast, unable to stop himself. Something tickled his sides, grass. Human legs covered in denim or dark cloth standing around him, blurred faces looking down, pointing, voices raised malevolently. One of them had raised some dark, heavy object in his hand.
That was all he really remembered, except for even more fragmented images, like a broken video tape. The sound of a battle-scream, blazing eyes, cries and thuds...arms, gargoyle arms, carrying him with the rush of wind in his ears. Of course, they had all told him what had happened, when he was older. It had been Hotspur who'd carried him home. It had taken only a day's sleep to heal the gunshot wound, once Anna had removed the pellets.
He opened his eyes.
Karian had her lavender wings folded over her shoulders like a cloak, partially covering the long, off-white, knit tunic she wore. It had been especially cut to allow for her wings, and left her arms bare. Under the tunic she wore loose, black leggings, and no shoes. Her long white hair, hanging loose over her shoulders, tugged in the winter wind.
"Come on, Birch, just get it over with." Karian moved closer to the edge of the tower, tilting her head to one side as she looked at him. The dimple made its appearance in her small, delicately-formed lavender face. "You promised me you would at least try."
Birch sighed. It was difficult to say no to Karian. He glanced across the grounds again, and saw Jaewing raise an arm to wave at him cheerfully from where he crouched on the tree branch.
Flexing his wings, Birch inhaled deeply, and felt the cold night air rush into his lungs. It steadied the dizziness. He tugged at his shirt, tucking it into his jeans, stalling.
Behind him, he heard Karian let out a long, resigned sigh. "Ah, Birch," she said softly.
Relaxing his wing muscles, Birch lowered his head. So he had failed them -- again. Maybe they would give up, just leave him alone. Besides, he could glide -- when he really had to.
"Birch, I'm really, really sorry," Karian said, more loudly.
"Huh? For what?" He raised his head.
He felt her small hands -- deceptively small, with terrifying strength behind them -- on his back, against his wings. Before he could leap away, she shoved.
Birch lost his footing on the stone. Scrabbling to grab hold with his talons, he failed, and fell. Tumbling over and over, he desperately tried to unfurl his wings and catch a wind current. The stones of the castle fell past him in a blur. He heard the beating of another set of wings, just as he opened his own, and caught the wind.
Karian glided along side him as he headed for the branch where Jaewing waited. She'd gone down after him, he realized, just in case. That didn't make things better.
He landed lightly on the thick branch of the oak at the edge of the woods.
"That was _great_!" Jaewing clapped him on the shoulder. "I knew you had it in you." Jaewing grinned, the corners of his beaked face turning up rakishly.
Karian landed on another branch, breathing hard with delight and excitement. She slapped the palm of her hand against the tree trunk in triumph. "That was a whole fifty yards! A hundred feet up! For no particular reason. See, all you had to do was..." she caught Birch's expression and her rich, jubilant voice trailed off.
"Just -- leave -- me -- alone," he told both of them through clenched teeth. Birch registered the way the happiness drained out of their faces, replaced by hurt and regret. It tore at him, but he was too angry to take it back.
Without another word, Birch linked his wing digits and tucked his wings over his shoulders. Then slowly, with deliberation, he began to climb down out of the tree like a human child, resting his big feet on the branches below while his talons clutched the branches above. He dropped heavily to the snow-covered earth. With his back stiff, he marched towards the manor house, a brown-gold figure against the gleaming whiteness.
Cadwyn Castle looked like a Gothic novelist's dream come true. Its central part was four-towered, of pale brown stone, a late 17th century replica of its prototype, an ancient castle on the cliffs of Southern Cornwall. The original was now owned by the town of Traminswick, and kept as a historical landmark and a tourist attraction. A favorite story of the tour guides involved rumors about stone statues of gargoyles that came to life.
Around the central core, generations of humans had added new wings, each according to the taste and preferences of the age, from Colonial stone to Victorian brick. The gingerbread latticework and fussy cupolas of that wing clashed with the earlier sections, but other than that the manor house somehow managed to appear as a unified whole. It seemed to belong in its hollow at the edge of a wood, surrounded by a vast, rolling lawn that boasted, among other things, a stone bridge over a stream, plenty of flower beds, and an ancient stone out building now used as a gardening shed.
At the moment, the glory of the flower beds was covered with snow. As Birch reached the massive main door of the house, he paused on the stone steps, looking behind him.
Across the shining, pristine carpet of snow ran a trail of footprints, four-digited, rounded at the heel, and quite large. Their weight had left deep indentations in the hard-packed snow.
"Oops," Birch sighed. Cal and Phyla had warned them again and again about snow, and mud, and other things that left unwanted, telltale marks. He would catch it for that lonely line of footprints, shining coldly under the moonlight.
He opened the door, and entered the Great Hall.
It really was a Great Hall, part of the central castle replica. Almost as broad as a football field, the walls soared up to a gallery running around near the ceiling. The floor was paved with flagstone. The Brodwins had installed spotlights along the walls just beneath the level of the gallery. They cast a soft glow across the dark gray slate color of the floor. Birch's footsteps tapped loudly in the quiet, and the door banged shut behind with a resounding echo.
He would just go upstairs, check his e-mail, look in on his latest experiment, and forget tonight had never happened. Birch wasn't angry anymore, just deflated, with a vague, sad, worn feeling.
"Hey, stop that! Wizard, watch out for --"
As Birch approached the study, where one of the family computers was located, he heard a crash from inside the room. Birch ran to the door and looked in.
Next to a mahogany pedestal white shards lay in a pathetic array, the remains of a vase. A small gargoyle hatchling of about twelve stood frozen a few feet away, her wings flared, her hands clamped over her mouth. She wore a black mask, with slits cut for eyes.
Cal bent to pick up the shards, muttering. "Fifteenth Century if it was a day...how do I explain _this_ one to the insurance company?" He ran his fingers through his dark, thick, slightly graying hair. "Aw, Wiz, don't look at me like that. It's my own fault for having stuff like this in a house with hatchlings. Oh, hi Birch."
Another small female hatchling, Levis, stood crouched on the rug, holding a large rubber ball. She also wore a mask, a green Halloween mask that had belonged to Ivy Brodwin. "Is it my turn, Cal?" She asked.
Professor Brodwin smoothly got to his feet. "Uh...I think we've played enough Calvinball for one night." He glanced at Birch uneasily, as if embarrassed to be caught playing with hatchlings.
Birch went over to the desk and sat down in front of the computer monitor. The computer was already on, with a marquee screen saver running. "I want to believe," it read, Hunter's work, no doubt.
"Birch, play Calvinball with us!" Wizard tugged at his wing. Her eyes widened in a cute way, but he wasn't fooled; Wizard did that on purpose.
"Maybe later," Birch said distractedly as he logged on to his server.
Disappointed, Levis and Wizard left the study, looking for excitement elsewhere.
Cal swept up the broken shards and dumped them into a trash can. Then he settled into an arm chair, picked up some papers for grading, and put on his glasses.
A smile twitched at Birch's slightly beaked face as he found an e-mail message from Braveheart in his in-box.
"Yo, Pendragon! Wow, so you're afraid of heights? Well, a lot of people are, I guess. Thanks for confiding in me. Maybe I can help -- heights are not a problem. Where'd it come from? I've got a friend who's a psychology major -- she says phobias like that usually come from something specific, but sometimes people don't even remember. Anyway, enough with the depressing stuff. Did you get Rebel Assault II yet? It's just so cool, you've got to try it..."
The message continued for about a page or two. Birch finished reading it, then wrote a reply:
"Yo yourself, Braveheart! No, I don't have Rebel Assault II yet, but the folks keep promising..."
Birch stopped typing and glanced over at Cal, who seemed engrossed in his paperwork.
"As for 'the phobia,' I suppose it did come from one particular incident, when I was a hatch --"
Birch caught himself, deleted the last word, and typed "child" instead.
"I don't really like talking about it."
He finished the letter and sent it off, then went off towards the unused room in the Victorian wing that he used as a laboratory.
"Jalapena!" Lexington spoke up suddenly.
Birch stopped telling the story and looked at him curiously.
"I don't believe it," Lex stared at Birch. "Birch, tell me again what--"
"Lex, let them finish the story, okay?"
"But Brooklyn, I'mmppggffffff...."
Brooklyn reached down and locked his arm around his smaller rookery brother's face, muffling him. "Please, go on," he said.
For a moment, Lexington struggled, his eyes glaring up at Brooklyn furiously. Then as Birch continued, he stilled, and Brooklyn's grasp loosened. Apparently, Lex, caught up in the story again, had decided that whatever revelation had come to him could wait until later.
For about an hour, Birch lost track of things like meddling rookery siblings, snow, and wings. He entered careful records onto a data chart, occasionally picking up a vial and peering at the liquid inside.
He was gingerly adding a few droplets of a chemical to a vial, making adjustments, when the door opened.
He looked up, the vial held in his talons.
"You've got to come, _now_. Something's happened," she said, breathing heavily, as if she'd been running. Her small, pretty, face was twisted with concern, and her wings were flared.
Without a word, Birch set down the vial, with a frantic prayer that the chemical would sit without any adverse reactions. Then he raced after Karian.
Birch could hear the commotion in the Great Hall long before he and Karian reached it.
There were several voices: Phyla's calm, reasonable, tones; Hotspur's warm rumble, loud with anger; and Tala's clear, strong, distinctive young voice, protesting with an uncharacteristic waver.
"Phyla, I told you, I'm _fine_." Tala twitched her wings, which were already almost as broad as Phyla's, even though Tala was much smaller than the clan leader.
Birch and Karian loped forward, their heavy feet thumping on the stones. Behind them, Birch heard a door open as more gargoyles arrived, drawn by the commotion.
Tala folded her arms stubbornly, looking acutely embarrassed to be the center of so much fuss. Her eyes were glowing ever so slightly, her black hair falling loose over one shoulder. She had lost her gold hair band somehow, and was wearing a short-sleeved black sweater that matched her hair and jeans with holes cut in the knees. On her exposed left arm there was a thin trickle of blood, and against the deep, reddish brown color of the skin on her foot was a discolored area, a bruise.
"At least let Anna take a look at you," Phyla insisted.
"If I find those damn rednecks I'm going to bash their heads together," Hotspur growled.
"What happened?" Karian moved forward, into the middle of things.
Tala sighed. "Nothing. It was just a stupid thing."
"She was out alone in town," Phyla explained calmly, watching Tala. "And some local boys spotted her. She won't tell us any more than that."
Someone shoved roughly past Birch -- Rowland, who hardly ever moved roughly.
"Tala?!" He stopped next to Karian. Rowland reached out a hand to Tala, then let it fall, curling his talons into a fist. "What happened?" He turned to Phyla furiously. "Is she okay?"
Hairless, with pale, royal blue colored skin, Rowland was bulky but shorter than Tala, with wings jutting sideways from his body and along his thighs. But when he was standing upright, like now, he presented a formidable appearance.
"Excuse me," Tala told Rowland caustically. "'She' is right here." Tala unfolded her arms and waved her talons at Rowland. "And 'she' is just fine. I just need a band-aid."
The muscles in Phyla's pointed, gentle face worked tensely for a moment. Then they settled into the leader-like mask as she nodded. "Very well. Rowland, see that she really ~does~ tend to that cut properly -- it's hours yet to sunrise." She looked into Tala's eyes. "We will be discussing this later."
Phyla turned and slowly walked away from the cluster of young gargoyles, Hotspur following. At the far end of the hall, before they vanished through the door, Hotspur put his arm across Phyla's shoulders, murmuring something to her. She answered quietly, and then they were gone.
Birch realized that Guen and Hunter were standing beside him.
Guen was still wearing the plain white smock she used while working in her own lab, located in one of the Victorian section's towers. There were small green stains on the smock, stains that might have been anything from food coloring to some chemical used to detect pollutants in drinking water. With her wings tucked over her shoulders, she resembled a medieval alchemist, or sorceress, her long, brown curls tucked behind her horns, away from her face.
"Tala," she said, in her quiet, gentle voice, "Please tell us what happened." Guen pulled a clean cloth out of her pocket and held it out to Tala.
It was the right gesture. Tala took the cloth, and began to speak.
"I was on Font Street. Trying to see into the skylight of that new video store. And some jerks hanging out on a roof a few townhouses down spotted me. I hadn't noticed them when I landed there. They started...yelling...they called me a monster, a freak.... And then they started throwing things --" Tala broke off, and caught her lower lip with one small fang. Then her face hardened. "One of them jumped across the gap between the roof tops, got too close. I took care of him, then took to the air."
As she spoke, Tala fumbled with the cloth, trying to tie it around her arm with one hand. Rowland took the loose end of the cloth. Tala glanced at him, then allowed him to bind the wound for her.
"Maybe we should go after the rest of them," Rowland said in a low voice.
Birch, Guen, and Hunter, even Tala, looked at him sharply. A wind gusted outside, faint beyond the thick stone walls.
"Hey, easy, bro." Hunter put his talons on Rowland's shoulder. Physically, Hunter was identical to Rowland, except he was a few inches taller. They were literally brothers, twins, hatched from the same egg, an unheard-of occurrence in clan history.
"It would just make things worse," Tala told Rowland.
"We would draw more attention to ourselves," Karian agreed. "Let's just forget the whole thing."
Guen opened her mouth to say something, then closed it.
A swooping sound came from above, the sound of wings against rising, warm, indoor air currents. Jaewing dropped down from the gallery to the main floor.
"Wow!" He said, hurrying over. "You okay, Tala? Hotspur told me..."
Tala shut her eyes for a second. Birch could almost hear her counting slowly from one to ten. She opened her eyes. "What did you guys do, distribute the Tala newsletter? Yeah, I'm okay, Jaewing."
"Man, that was scary," Jaewing went on. "No one's ever been attacked like that....well, except for --" he broke off as Karian stepped on the talons of his foot.
Sighing inwardly, Birch followed the whole exchange. He understood how Tala felt, but at least they all looked up to her. They didn't view her as some delicate hatchling.
The others began to leave the Great Hall. Birch started to follow Jaewing and Karian, then paused and turned back.
Leaning on a limestone pillar as she watched the others leave, Guen had her talons twined together, a worried expression on her yellow-brown face.
"It's just one little incident," Birch told her. With the others gone, the hall seemed to echo in silence.
Guen straightened and stared at him. "Do you honestly think it will end with just 'one little incident?'"
The wind gusted again, for a moment sounding like Balthazar's howling. Birch thought of his footprints, cut sharply into the crusted snow of the lawn. He hoped fervently that it would snow again before sunrise.
In the courtyard of Castle Wyvern, several of the new gargoyles had settled onto the stones, legs crossed, wings falling about them like blankets. Brooklyn remained standing, while Lex crouched next to Bronx, his arm across the gargoyle-dog's broad neck.
"But Gues was right," Karian said softly. "It didn't stop with 'just one little incident.'" She looked down, frowning, and Birch rested his hand on her shoulder.
"Karian," Guen said gently, "You want me to tell it?"
The fine-boned gargoyle sighed. "No. No, I will." Her fists clenched, and a faint red glow flickered in her eyes before she spoke: "Guen, Hunter, Jaewing and I went into town to see the re-release of Star Wars. Hunter had been nagging us for weeks," she added, glancing at one of the two light-blue twins, who frowned.
"If you'd just gone with me opening weekend...."
Rowland, who Brooklyn noticed was just slightly smaller than his blood brother, but only if you were looking for it, whacked Hunter on the arm.
"Hey!" Hunter said indignantly, rubbing the tender spot. "All I meant was...."
"Of all the insensitive...."
"Guys, please...." Guen protested.
"Watch who you're calling insensitive. You --"
"_I_ wanted to go," Birch said quietly, "But then Jaewing said...."
"Guys!" Jaewing bellowed, and they fell silent.
Brooklyn, watching the exchange, swallowed. The rookery siblings used to bicker like that....a long time ago. Brooklyn glanced at Lexington, and figured he'd been awfully lucky not to have survived alone, without his rookery brothers. But still, he missed the rest of them badly sometimes.
"Karian, continue," Guen said with an exaggerated formality that seemed aimed at the twins.
"There's this door in the roof of the theater that's never used. We use it to sneak in all the time, and no one ever seems to notice. But this time was different...."
The flickering light of the end credits on the movie screen illuminated the faces of the four gargoyles perched at the edge of the crawl space beneath the roof. From the speakers lining the curtained walls came the stirring chords of the Star Wars end credit theme. Just below them was the window of the projection booth. Hunter spent part of the time watching the movie, which he had already seen three times, and part leaning over to stare fascinated at the flickering beam of light, trying to peer into the booth.
Jaewing reached out and pulled Hunter back, giving him a pointed look. Hunter grinned, and his eyes returned to the screen as he avidly scanned the names in the credits. The light-blue gargoyle was obsessed with movies and special effects. He'd said once he'd give almost anything to work at Industrial Light and Magic, "except I think I'd end up _being_ the special effects," he'd added with a laugh.
In the darkness, Karian let out a mild curse.
"What?" Guen whispered.
"Amber. She just squirmed out of my pocket."
"Well, go find her."
The lavender gargoyle began crawling around in the dusty space, making a small chirping sound. The end credit music segued into "Princess Leia's Theme."
"Karian," Jaewing protested, "Not so loud, someone will hear you."
"Doesn't matter," she whispered back. "The management just thinks we're rats."
"Oh, good, I feel so much better." Jaewing sighed and turned back to the screen.
At the inner end of the space, where the light of the screen barely reached, was the door which they used for access. Now Karian noticed it was open a crack to the chill winter night. Amber, a tamed chipmunk, had probably gone out that way.
"I'm going outside," she whisper-shouted back.
"Okay," Birch answered.
Karian pushed open the door and felt the cold air brush her face, stirring her long white hair. Ahead of her, the stairs led up to the opening of the roof. Reaching into the pocket of her sweater, she pulled out a peanut. "Chk-chk-chk, Amber, here girl..." Kneeling at the bottom of the stairwell with the rectangle of night sky above her, the gargoyle peered about the shadows. And then, at the top of the stairs, a tiny, pointed-eared silhouette appeared. It poised, looking at her.
"Amber," Karian scolded, as the chipmunk scampered down the steps and took the peanut as if that had been the purpose in the first place. Gently, Karian closed her talons over the fire-colored chipmunk with the black and white stripe up its back, and returned the tiny creature to her pocket.
There was no point going back now; the others would be up in a moment. Karian stepped out onto the night-lit roof.
As soon as she did, there was a step behind her. Startled, Karian turned and saw a human male dressed in jeans and a parka standing in the opening to the stairs. In his gloved hands he carried a piece of pipe.
"Well, this is gonna be easier than we thought," someone else said, from behind her.
Turning slowly, keeping an eye on the first man as she did, Karian saw two more figures on the roof.
"What's this?" The third one said. He held something in his hand that she couldn't place. "One lone girl gargoyle? This will be _too_ easy."
At once, the three of them leapt for her.
Reacting more out of instinct from generations of breeding rather than knowledge, Karian grabbed one by the front of his parka and heaved him across the roof. He landed and lay still. A familiar but rare sensation began to burn behind her eyes as they began to burn an angry red. Clumsily, she turned and ducked as the first one swung at her with the pipe.
But she had forgotten about the third one. Before she could move, she heard a click. There was a spark, and then some entangling substance rushed at her face, covering her. She tore at the material, but it was of some tough webbing, almost like bendable Lucite, that resisted her talons.
She hardly knew where it came from, the battle scream that rose out of her from some hidden place. She had never done anything like it before, and it startled her so much she cut it off abruptly. It reminded her of the scream of panthers she'd heard on a nature program.
Helpless under the webbing, she felt a hard blow across her back. Karian fell forward, the ropes pressing painfully against her face and limbs.
Then she heard one of the men grunt. Turning her head, Karian saw Jaewing lifting the human three feet off the ground with one hand, his eyes burning white. Hunter and Guen rounded on the other man, while Birch knelt by Karian, his talons working on the webbing.
Guen pitched the man over her shoulder in a neat throw; Karian reminded herself to ask Guen how she did that. Jaewing threw the third man on top of the second.
"Are you okay? Karian?" Birch gently pulled off the webbing, disentangling it from Karian's hair. "Did they hurt you?" He took her shoulders and looked at her carefully as they knelt on the rooftop.
"No...I'm okay." Karian swallowed; she would _not_ cry, not in front of Birch.
With a look of fury on his beaked face, Jaewing stood over the unconscious humans. "I can't believe it," he said. "How could this happen again? Karian, are you all right?"
"Yes," Karian said staunchly, getting to her feet. Her hand went to her pocket, ascertaining that Amber hadn't been crushed.
Guen shook her head. "This is bad, guys."
"It's just rednecks," Hunter said, "Out for yucks."
"No." Guen knelt, and picked up an object lying on the ground: a thermos. "They were waiting for us. They must have seen us go in." She picked up the limp webbing. "I've never seen anything like this, have you Birch?"
The brown gargoyle knelt next to Guen and ran his talons along the webbing. "Feels like nylon, but mixed with something else, too. Special. Almost like...."
"Designed for us," Guen said, low.
The others looked skeptical.
Below them, humans began to file out of the theater onto the street, which was lined with tall, old maple trees, their branches bare, dusted with snow. Across the street the proprietors of an Italian restaurant had strung up white lights on the small trees by the entrance. Their glow reflected off the snowdrifts that edged the street. In the sky hung a full moon, the shadows of its geography visible in the crisp, clear night.
"Come on," said Guen, coiling the webbing in her arms. "We'd better take this home. Phyla needs to know what happened." *****
The leader of the Cadwyn Clan stood with her powerful wings cloaked as the others in the Brodwin living room spoke excitedly, filling the air with a buzz.
Hotspur, standing beside Phyla, cleared his throat, and the sound cut through the intense conversation, bringing quiet.
"Thank you, my love," Phyla said, and turned to look at those gathered there.
Professor Brodwin sat forward in his armchair, hands steepled together, as if he might jump up at any moment. His handsome face looked forbidding. On the couch, Anna Brodwin, M.D., inspected the bruise on Karian's back, on the ridge of her wing.
Birch leaned against the wall beside the couch, his head next to an oil painting of a Cornish castle -- the original of the replica they lived in. The castle rose from a headland, surrounded on three sides by the sheer cliffs falling down to the sea. The artist had portrayed the castle at night, and the moon cast a path of light across the water. Up on one tower of the castle a winged outline perched, poised as if to take flight. The title plate set into the eighteenth century frame read simply "Guardians, 1789." The artist was unknown.
"Guen, are you sure about this?" Cal asked.
She nodded, seated in another arm chair with the webbing heaped at her feet. "I read about it in the papers, there was an article about a gargoyle-hate group in New York City. It described netting very much like this." Guen shuddered. "It also mentioned electrically powered hammer devices. Apparently --" Guen swallowed. "Apparently they shatter stone on contact."
Cal ran his hands through his thick, dark hair. "It has happened before, in the history of The Trust," he said. "Morgan will know, or 'Rica. But there are only two recorded cases of a deliberate, vicious attack like what happened to Karian and Tala. At least, only twice since the witch-hunts of the seventeenth century."
"_Recorded_ attacks, Cal," Anna said. She turned Karian to face front, her acknowledgment that the exam was over and the wound not serious.
Her husband shook his head. "The keepers of The Trust always recorded everything. They wouldn't have omitted something like that."
"The point is," Phyla said, "What we're to do about it. Karian, Birch, Guen, spread the word to the others. Until further notice, no gargoyle leaves the estate."
Guen got to her feet. "But Phyla, we can't just...."
"Guen, that is how it must be, for now. We can't risk anyone else being hurt. I'll gather my council for a meeting, and we'll discuss what we should do. In the meantime, Anna and Cal and the kids can keep their ears and eyes open."
"And that's it?" Jaewing demanded, standing on the east tower. "We're going to _hide_? Of all the...."
"Phyla's our leader," Karian said softly. "She knows what's best."
Tala, arms folded as she looked out over the grounds, looked resentful.
Around the castle/manor house spread the wide, snow-covered lawns. Beyond them stood the woods, branches bare, and the open space of the farm. To the north stood the small range of rocky hills that bordered the Cadwyn estate. Ivy and Ben hiked there, and it was the perfect place to roost and glide.
Guen leaned her talons against a balustrade, staring east, towards the faint glow that marked the town. Beyond its glow the horizon was lightening faintly. "It's just not _fair_," she said.
"No, it's not fair at all."
The door leading back inside the attic had opened, and a small figure emerged onto the roof, a figure wearing a ski parka over flower-print flannel pajamas.
The young gargoyles turned and saw the child standing there. Her usual braids were undone, and her long dark hair fell in loose waves over her thin shoulders. Ivy Brodwin had her hands shoved deep in the pockets of her parka. On her feet were a pair of thick, gray wool socks.
"Ivy, what are you doing up?" Guen asked patiently.
"I heard all the commotion, couldn't sleep. Ben can -- he'll sleep through anything," she added smugly.
"Little rookery sister," Jaewing said, kneeling in front of her, "Your mother wouldn't be happy if she knew you were up here."
Ivy smiled, her eyes lighting up as they always did when any of them called her "rookery sister." "What she don't know can't hurt her," the girl said flippantly. Then, theatrically, she stretched her down-covered arms and yawned. "But, maybe you all _don't_ want to hear what was said in Phyla's council."
"You listened in on the council?" Guen sounded shocked for a moment, then a broad grin crossed her face. "Why am I not surprised? Okay, kiddo, spill the beans."
As Jaewing got to his feet, Ivy tucked herself under one of his wings, shielding herself from the wind. "Morgan was appalled; he says your clan have been here for four hundred years, and he won't cower like a mouse while human upstarts intimidate his clan. Phyla got mad and told him times had changed since he was leader a long time ago, and just look at the news reports. Then she said no one could leave the estate. Everyone started arguing. Siward sort of accused Phyla of being a coward, and Hotspur might have killed him if the others hadn't been there." Ivy frowned. "It really is rotten. You guys never hurt anyone. Why can't they just leave you alone?"
"I don't know, little sister," said Jaewing. "But we can't just stay here and _take_ it," he added, something like a growl rumbling in his chest.
"And what are you going to do," Tala said sharply. "Go about tearing up the town, looking for gargoyle-haters? Oh, that'll really improve our image."
Guen turned back to the others. "Dawn's coming," she said simply. "We'd better get back to the battlements."
In the pre-dawn light, they could already see, on the castle walls rising beyond the maze of roof-tops between, the clan gathering to greet the day.
"No flight tonight, Ivy," said Jaewing. "Sorry, maybe tomorrow."
"That's okay," Ivy said. "I just wanted to let you guys know what was going on. But....can you take me over with you? Otherwise I might miss it."
Jaewing gathered Ivy up in his arms, hopped onto the balustrade, and took flight. The others followed.
The eastern sky brightened and a fiery red crept up. On the battlements the whole clan was gathering to greet the day -- of all ages from the smallest hatchling to the most weathered elder. The cold rays of the dawning sun touched the gargoyles. Many of the elders adopted defensive, warning poses, their talons curled, fangs wide, to greet the day. Others crouched with their arms about their mates, or rested their chin on their hands in a contemplative way. Guen, in unconscious imitation of Morgan, took a pose similar to the elder's, poised as if to take flight at some unseen enemy, her wings unfurled. Hunter and Rowland took up their position side by side, Karian handed Amber to Ivy before standing straight with her wings folded over her shoulders. Birch crouched facing the courtyard, well away from the edge of the parapet.
None of them seemed to think it amiss to have a small, dark-haired human child in pajamas and ragg socks watching solemnly as they turned to stone.
***** Sunset at Cadwyn Castle.
The last remnants of light burned beyond the bare trees like cold fire. It had not snowed, and the winter evening had a cold, bleak, odd beauty. The estate pond was frozen, crusted with snow. A single star gleamed at the horizon.
On the battlements, all was silent, as if the stone statues were caught in a frozen winter spell. But as the final rays of the sun lanced over them, then died, tiny hairline cracks began to form in the statues.
As night descended, they broke free, chips of stone skin scattering to the night wind. The gargoyles yawned and stretched after their day's nap --
"Karian," Jaewing interrupted, "You can't possibly know what's it's like to watch us all wake up."
"Can too," she retorted. "Ben described it to me."
"It wasn't that night, anyway," Hunter put in. "Two or three nights later at least. It was pretty quiet for a while..."
"Who's telling this story?" Karian objected.
The gargoyles yawned and stretched after their day's nap.
A teen-aged boy with light brown hair badly in need of cutting leaned against the inside of the tower door providing access to the battlements, watching them. He was gangly, dressed in worn jeans, a red down jacket with old ski-lift tickets attached to the zipper, and gray wool gloves. His nose was red with the cold, and the earphone wires of a walkman dangled from one pocket.
Some of the gargoyles leaving through the door greeted him by name, taking his presence for granted as they went past, tucking their wings over their shoulders.
At last the boy stepped out of the doorway and walked along the battlements.
"Jaewing!" He called. "Karian, Birch!"
The three stopped and turned.
The boy shoved his gloved hands into his pockets. "I have to talk to you about something." He glanced around and saw that the wall was otherwise empty. "Before I go to Phyla," he added.
Karian and Birch cloaked their wings while Jaewing crouched on a crenellation. "What is it, Ben?" Jaewing asked.
Benjamin Brodwin (always called "Ben" unless someone was trying to annoy him) removed a hand from his pocket, his fingers clutching a folded, rumpled brochure that looked as if it had been hastily stuffed into the pocket and left there all day.
"We've got trouble, guys," he said. "But I don't want to start a panic. So I figured I would show you guys and let you decide what to do."
"What is that?" Birch reached out his hand.
Reluctantly, Ben handed it to him while Jaewing leaned down to see better, crouched with his hands curled around the stones to steady himself, and Karian read over Birch's shoulder.
The booklet was printed on cheap, dull white paper and looked as if it had been folded by hand. On the outside flap in gray scale was the image of a hammer with a rectangular shaped head against a circle.
Karian felt a piece of memory stir -- something Guen had said about hammers.
Birch opened the booklet, as the wind tugged at the corners of the paper. Printed in gray scale was a generic drawing of a man, woman, and child looking terrified while a vaguely drawn shadow with wings hovered above them. The wording beneath was in some kind of Gothic-style font.
"'Ye shall not fear the terror of night.' --Psalms 91"
"You do not have to be afraid. You are not alone. There is an evil rising -- but it is within your power to stop it. The night can be safe again. Take up the hammer. Join the fight."
Beneath that, in smaller lettering, it read:
"Weekly meetings of the local chapter of The Quarrymen Society convene at 7:30 pm on Thursdays in the basement of 212 Spring Street."
Birch's jaw dropped, speechless.
"But -- what --" Jaewing stammered.
Ben stabbed at the paper with one gloved finger, his breath rising in angry clouds in the cold air. "I think that's supposed to be...their idea of a gargoyle," he said, disgusted. "I found one of these pushed into the slats of my locker at school." He brushed the shaggy hair out of his eyes. "I showed it to Ivy. She hasn't seen any."
"I don't understand." Karian shook her head. "What 'evil'? Do they mean _us_? How could they possibly..."
"I don't know!" Angrily, Ben kicked the toe of his sneaker against the stones. "They just started appearing today."
"Quarrymen?" Brooklyn exploded. "Are you sure that's what it said?"
"Yes," Karian replied, a bit shortly. "I guess we should have brought you a sample, but with everything that happened next, no one had time to think of it."
"He doesn't believe us," Tala said bitterly.
Brooklyn extended one hand, palm up. "Look, you have to understand, we've been fooled one too many times. Our life here is dangerous. Maybe you are telling the truth, but Lex and I have to be sure."
"We read and saw the news reports." Guen rose and faced Brooklyn. The wind tugged at her cloaked wings, curling them around her arms and legs. "We know your clan has been hunted, has been forced to hide from this city. We thought...we thought that with your experience with humans, you could help us with our problem."
"Your problem?" Lexington cocked his head to one side. "You mean the flyers? The attacks? I mean, that's terrible, we'll help if we can, but if that's all you have to deal with, consider yourself lucky."
"No, not just the flyers," Jaewing said grimly. "The Quarrymen have our leader. They have Phyla."
In the upstairs room the Brodwins and the gargoyle clan habitually used as a family gathering area, the hatchlings Bat, Gabe, Astra, Kell, and Mera were playing Monopoly, seated cross-legged with their wings folded over their shoulders. Gabe purchased two more hotels just before Astra's turn, and when she landed on his settled Atlantic Avenue, he grinned smugly, revealing his sharp, tiny fangs. Astra stuck her tongue out at him as Bat took up the dice, vowing revenge for his acquisition of her railroads.
Anna Brodwin sat in the armchair beneath the painting of the Cornish castle, her jean-clad legs tucked under her as she went through the mail. Through the tall, many-paned windows the clear night sky was filled with stars, along with the skeletal tops of the trees in the nearby woods.
A fire burned in the fireplace. Lying before the hearth on her stomach with her wings spread about her on the rug like a dark brown pool, was Guen, a dusty book on medieval warfare open before her.
Phyla and Hotspur were on the couch side by side, also reading. Phyla was deep into "Beowulf," while Hotspur was twelve pages from the end of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy." Every so often he would stifle a laugh, and Phyla would playfully whack him on the arm with the end of her light-brown colored tail. The gold streaks in Hotspur's coarse brown hair caught the firelight. Both wore jeans, and Hotspur a large flannel shirt, Phyla a cream-colored, long cable-knit sweater, with slits and special buttons on the back to accommodate for her wings.
With the only partially-stifled arguing of the hatchlings and the sound of crackling fire and turning pages behind him, Birch sat at the computer with his wings draped over the shoulders of his shirt. His tail curved along the rug, around the supports of the ergonomic swivel chair. Anna had ordered it specially designed to allow for the wings on a gargoyle's back and the additional weight and bone protrusions. There was also a computer in Cal's office which everyone used; but the special chair had appeared soon after Birch had gotten his own e-mail account.
He logged on, and was pleased to see a pile of messages in his in-box. Grinning, Birch waited for the messages to load. His rookery siblings were great company, all the company he would ever need, but still...people he would never dare approach in person held interesting back-and-forth exchanges with him. It made him a little sad, behind it all, because if they saw him face-to-face, he knew what the reaction was likely to be.
There was one from Braveheart; Birch read it first.
"I've been thinking about your heights problem . Myself, I prefer heights, if you can believe it ;) In fact I really hate, low, cramped places. But being up high...that's different. It's exciting, you don't have to be afraid of it. My psych major friend says the next time you're nervous to try this. (Don't worry, I didn't tell her about you, just asked what to do about phobias in general. She gave me this worried look, but I persuaded her not to pick my brain). Imagine yourself on the top of the highest building around. It's night. The stars shine in the sky over your head, and below...you can see the lights of the city..."
In the courtyard of Castle Wyvern, in New York City, Lexington cut Birch off in mid-sentence, and finished it for him:
"...The wind is in your face, but you aren't scared of falling. It's exhilarating. You're above all your troubles, above those that could hurt you, the sky is your haven."
A winter wind skirted around the towers of the castle, whistling. Brooklyn was staring at Lexington, Bronx had cocked his head to one side curiously, and the Cadwyn gargoyles looked completely confused. Except for Birch, who had an oddly suspicious look on his face.
"How did you know the rest of..." He trailed off, and then awareness spread across his beaked features. "_Braveheart?!_"
Lex nodded calmly. "And you must be Pendragon. I was wondering when you'd figure it out."
Birch opened and closed his mouth several times, then shook his head, stepped forward, and grasped Lexington's arm in a warrior's handshake. "Wow," he said. "All this time, I was thinking, well, I can never meet any of my net pals because they'd be utterly terrified if they..." The two gargoyles looked at each other, and they began laughing.
"Oh, boy." Brooklyn rolled his eyes. "I can't believe there's _two_ of them." In his wry voice there was a hint of pleasure; it was difficult to remember the last time he had heard any of his clan laugh.
The two young gargoyles began to exchange inside jokes and puns using terminology that made Brooklyn's head hurt. He looked pleadingly at the group. "Could someone please finish the story?"
Guen glanced at her watch, which looked water-proof, and nodded. "Anna kind of gasped when she opened the letter. When we asked her what was going on, she stood up and read it out loud to us, then and there..."
"To the gargoyles of Cadwyn Castle," Anna read, standing in the middle of the room. "We have come to realize that we may have been hasty in our judgement of your kind. Open-mindedness and acceptance is something we pride ourselves on; and we have perhaps been neglectful . There may be hard feelings, but I can assure you we meant only to protect our families. We hope you can forgive us, and would like to meet with your leader and hold what I would like to presumptuously call a peace summit. Just to talk, to get to know one another. And perhaps, come to an understanding."
Slowly, Guen sat up, closed her book, and got to her feet. Birch turned away from the computer. Even the hatchlings were silent.
"Come to the mill on Bucksram Road at midnight tomorrow. If you are uneasy about this, bring along other members of your clan for protection. But I assure you, it won't be necessary."
Brooklyn made a low, repetitive sound in his throat. "Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh." He shook his head. "I hope Phyla didn't actually go, did she?"
Guen sighed. "Yes, she did. With Hotspur, Lorica, Morgan, and Siward. When they got to the mill, there was a light burning inside. So they went in -- and six Quarrymen Society members jumped them. They had those nets. If it hadn't been for the knife Siward always carries, they'd never have gotten themselves free and able to fight. But they got out. Three Quarrymen were injured."
"Did they have hammers?" Brooklyn let out a whuffling sound through his beak, part concern, part exasperation. "Like sledgehammers, only with a switch to turn on the electrical current?"
"Not that Phyla and the others mentioned." Guen shook her head, and fixed her gaze on Brooklyn. "But I read about the Quarrymen in New York...that they have a weapon that can shatter stone on contact."
Behind her, Tala shuddered, convulsively, once, and stopped. Rowland chewed on his lower lip.
"But you said the Quarrymen had Phyla," Lex said. He and Birch had abandoned their revelry and were listening quietly.
"It was after the ambush," Guen explained heavily. The wind tugged at her brown curls as she folded her arms over her chest, as if for warmth. "This afternoon, Ivy and Ben didn't come home from school."
"The second message arrived just after sunset," Jaewing said grimly, his eyes almost but not quite phosphorescent, "Told us that if three gargoyles were not delivered to a field off of route 611, Cal and Anna would never see their children again. They argued about it for a while. Phyla insisted on going. Hotspur was yelling at her, Morgan looked ready to send her to the rookery. But she was...is..." he added hastily, with a shake of his black hair, "our leader. In the end, Hostpur and Siward went with her. And they wouldn't allow back-up, in case the Quarrymen found out and hurt Ben and Ivy."
Tala balled her hands into fists. "No one was listening to anyone else...arguing like a bunch of stupid hatchlings," she growled. "For all we know they're still discussing it. And meanwhile, those jerks have our rookery siblings and Ben and Ivy." Her voice rose to a shout. Bronx barked.
"Guen told us about the newspaper reports...and we'd all seen you guys on TV. She said if anyone knew what to do about Quarrymen, you would. It was Jaewing's idea," Birch added, almost enviously. "So we took off for New York."
As the others leapt from the ramparts of Cadwyn Castle, Birch hung back a moment, nervously looking down at the grassy lawn below. He was going with them, he was determined. It wasn't the trip that worried him. Once airborne, he could glide competently enough.
There was a light touch on his shoulder. Karian. She lowered her talons from his shoulder and took his hand, crouched for take-off. He sighed resignedly. There wasn't time for fears just then.
"Birch," the pale lavender gargoyle looked at him with her large eyes, her forehead tucked with concern. "When are you going to glide just for the sheer joy of it?"
Then, with Karian pulling the brown gargoyle along with her, they leapt.
They saw it from far off, nothing but lights to mark its solidity in the darkness. Around the island sprawled broader islands, all glittering, linked by gossamer bridges which seemed to be made of light. Soon the dark hills, cut by houses, gave way to denser areas of population. The seven gargoyles winged swiftly around a mountainous piece of rock, the remnants of the earth blasted out to make way for the highway, and crossed in front of a massive billboard.
Now they could see the towers of light, the tallest of them wreathed in pale, thin wisps of clouds, and the glimmering surface of the water, like a black mirror. In the cold night, the pinpoints of light seemed to spring out sharply like stars fallen to earth.
They veered left, the wind in their hair and caressing their wings, and approached the section of the island with the tallest buildings, towards the southeast.
"Is this Manhattan?" Karian asked wonderingly.
"That's Manhattan," Guen answered triumphantly, giddily, the wind swallowing her words.
Soon they were over the water, and headed towards the center of the island. In the distance they saw a huge green patch like a quilt. Its southern end was marked by a grand row of towers, not all of glass and steel, some of older lineage, made of stone and brick, with stone faces as decorations. Beyond them was a brighter, more luminous patch of city, as if there lay the true heart. Between buildings they caught glimpses of brightly lit billboards and digital readouts mounted on the sides of the skyscrapers.
"That must be Times Square," said Jaewing. He sighed wistfully. "I hope we have time to go see it."
"Man, are my wings tired!" Jaewing said. He got a strange expression on his face, then laughed once, like a bark.
"What?" Hunter asked.
"I just got it! That joke humans tell. It's funny, because they don't _have_ wings!" Jaewing snickered, then sobered. "We're going to have to stop and rest soon," he added, looking down under one outstretched arm.
"Hm." Tala scanned the buildings beneath them.
"Wow, look at that!" Rowland said suddenly, and dove off to the right.
The others followed. "Rowland!" Guen called after him.
The small gargoyle's artistic eye had been caught by a building that seemed constructed of blue glass. It was circular, the top crested by multiple terraces, each one narrower than the first. Perched on the innermost, and narrowest, layer, was a large ball, held in place by brackets. The ball was lit from within, turning it into a glowing, blue orb.
Rowland settled onto the ball. He crouched there, leaning slightly forward, surveying the city with wonder in his eyes. "I wish I could paint this."
Hunter landed with the others on the next terrace down, then looked up at his twin. "I should have brought the video camera. But VHS would never have done this justice..."
"Guys," Jaewing pointed out. "We need a plan."
Guen nodded. "We have to find the Manhattan gargoyles. Problem is, none of the articles I read seemed to know where they live now." She began to scan the skyline.
"It would be a high place," Birch said suddenly. "Up close to the stars..."
Hunter looked north. "The tallest building."
Her talons curling around the railing of the terrace, Guen inhaled sharply. "No, but why would _he_ hide them?" She mused aloud.
"What?" Jaewing asked.
"A high place, the tallest skyscraper. It fits the bill. And it was, at one time, Castle Wyvern." Guen pointed south, towards the east 40's.
Rising up in a haze of illumination, The Eyrie building seemed to both tower over the other impressive landmarks and make them look clumsy and awkwardly designed. The lower floors gave way to a delicate structure of steel beams and glass that held, as if in offering to the sky, a castle.
"What are we waiting for?" Jaewing climbed up onto the railing. "Let's go!"
Birch stopped his narrative with a sigh and looked around the empty corners of the courtyard. "But the rest of your clan...your leader..."
"They're all out, I'm afraid," said Brooklyn. "When Goliath's not here, I'm in charge."
"Then you two can help us!" Karian face brightened. The dimple appeared, and as her eyes fell on Lexington he squirmed.
"Aw, Brooklyn," he whispered, "We've got to do something!"
"I'd...like to talk with my rookery brother in private for a moment." Brooklyn turned and marched across the courtyard, Lexington hurrying in his wake.
They stopped under the enclosing curve of an arch. It struck Brooklyn that some of the XE security team, and no doubt Owen Burnett, should have come running when seven strange gargoyles appeared on the cameras. Then again, knowing Owen Burnett, he was probably watching the whole thing with that smug, controlled smile on his face, dutifully recording everything for Xanatos, or, with the part that was Puck, was interested in the game, to see how it played out. Brooklyn flinched. That first thought had an acrid flavor to it -- maybe even unjust. Fine. If Owen wanted an evening's entertainment, let him. Brooklyn had other things to worry about.
"So, what do we do?" Lex's young-old features wrinkled with uncertainty as he looked up at his rookery brother.
"I don't know," Brooklyn answered truthfully. "They seem to be telling the truth. But we've been tricked so many times." He turned and slapped the palm of his hand against the stone wall of the castle. "I wish Goliath were here," he muttered, low enough so that he hoped Lexington hadn't heard.
But Lexington had. "So?" He spread his arms, his flying-squirrel like wings flattening out. "You're second in command. Just think of what he'd do." Lex paused. "We could go out looking for them," he said uncertainly.
Brooklyn shook his head. "There isn't time. If we go, it's got to be well before sunrise. Otherwise Phyla won't have a chance." His long, beaked face seemed to lengthen as he thought. Then he raised his head. "Goliath would never knowingly allow gargoyles to die at the hands of the Quarrymen. He'd never turn his back on a clan asking for his help." Abruptly, Brooklyn turned with a flick of his tail, walking with his particular, bobbing gait out of the archway. "C'mon, Lex. We're going to Pennsylvania."
The seven had been talking quietly, but stopped abruptly when Brooklyn and Lexington returned.
"We'll do what we can," Brooklyn said, spreading his arms. "We'll come with you back to your home."
"Bronx, guard the castle." Lexington knelt beside the doggoyle and patted his broad shoulders. "Guard Alex."
Bronx *whoofed*, then made a small, inquisitive whining sound, cocking his head to one side as if asking Lexington if he was sure this was such a good idea.
"Wait here," Brooklyn told the others. "There's something I have to do first."
He found Owen Burnett in his office with the baby monitor at his elbow. The desk, as usual, was immaculate, with reports in neat piles. As the gargoyle came in, the glow of the computer monitor reflected off Owen's glasses, hiding his eyes for a moment. The effect unnerved Brooklyn.
Then Owen moved, getting to his feet. His stone arm hung fisted at his side. "Good evening, Brooklyn. Is there something I can help you with?"
Wings cloaked, Brooklyn cleared his throat and stepped closer to the desk. "I need to leave a message with you for Goliath. It's important."
"Of course," Owen said calmly, reaching up with his good hand to adjust his glasses. Then a tiny smile, not even a grin, touched his lips and was gone before Brooklyn was convinced he had even seen it. "This wouldn't, by any chance, have something to do with your seven guests?"
Brooklyn tried not to glare at Xanatos' aide. "So you do know about them."
Owen nodded. "The security team was most...anxious...about it, but I persuaded them not to interfere."
From the baby monitor came a soft sigh, not a fussing sound, but that of an infant stirring in his sleep.
"Oh, uh, thanks," Brooklyn said. "About that message --"
"Perhaps it might be best if you wrote it down. Then I can deliver it personally to Goliath." Owen handed Brooklyn a legal pad and an elegant fountain pen, and stood waiting.
The gargoyle leaned the pad against the gleaming wood of the desk top, uncapped the fountain pen, and wrote in his oddly archaic, slightly spiky script:
"Goliath -- Lexington and I have gone to Pennsylvania to help a clan of gargoyles. They're having trouble with some local Quarrymen. Sorry I couldn't wait to talk with you first, there isn't time. Don't worry about us. We'll be back--"
Brooklyn paused, started to gnaw on the end of the elegant, blue and silver fountain pen, and caught himself. "We'll be back as soon as we can," he finished, and signed his name.
He tore off the yellow sheet of paper and handed it to Owen, who folded it in three neat creases and tucked it into the inner pocket of his blazer. Brooklyn dropped the pen to the desk.
From the baby monitor, Alexander whimpered, then began to cry.
"If you will excuse me," said Owen, stepping past the gargoyle with a nod.
"O-of course," Brooklyn said.
At the door, Owen paused and looked back. "Good luck, Brooklyn," he said.
There was the trace of that smile again, and then Brooklyn was alone in the office.
Brooklyn led the way up the flight of steps leading out of the courtyard, up onto the battlements. He crouched on the wall, waiting as the others joined him.
Nine gargoyles perched on the stones, the wind skirling about them. Then, one by one, they gathered their muscles, and took flight, leaping out into the clear nothingness, buoyed up by the winter wind under their wings, the city gleaming far below.
Lexington was about to dive after Hunter and Rowland, when he noticed Birch crouched about a yard away. One hand held the crenellation, the other touched the stones next to his feet. The brown gargoyle was looking out at the heady air, and the fine wisps of dark gray, night clouds that curled about the castle.
"Birch?" Lexington turned to him.
Birch slowly looked up.
"You coming?" Lexington asked.
"Uh...yeah. Yeah. In a second." But his wings were still folded over his shoulders.
"Can I ask you a question?"
The Pennsylvania gargoyle glanced over at Lexington. "Sure," he shrugged.
"What exactly happened to you when you were a hatchling?"
The wind tugged at Birch's wheat-colored hair. His eyes turned in the direction of the light-formed arcs on top of the Chrysler building. "I was shot. The adults were giving the hatchlings gliding lessons. It was spring, some local guys were driving around in a truck, some sitting in the back. I lagged behind. They must have seen me, mistaken me for a rare bird or something, I don't know. The bullet tore right through my wing. All I remember is lying on the grass, with these men standing over me -- and then Hotspur, Phyla's life-mate, came back and scared them away. He carried me back to the castle." Birch paused. "The wing had healed by next sunset."
"I broke my wing once," Lexington said quietly. "Last year. It healed over a day. It was great to be able to glide again."
"Yes. Great," Birch said.
"Take your time," Lexington said, squatting on the wall. "I won't leave until you do." He leaned his elbow on the crenellation in a relaxed posture.
Birch looked at him in surprise. "You don't think it's...dumb? A gargoyle who's afraid to glide?"
Lexington shook his head. "Remember what I wrote to you? Listen, try this. Close your eyes and _imagine_ yourself gliding. You're spreading your wings and soaring off into the night. The wind's rushing past you, holding you up. _You're not going to fall, Birch._"
The other gargoyle squeezed his eyes closed. A peaceful look came over his face.
"Now, open your eyes, spread your wings, and jump. Don't open your eyes until you're in the air. I'll be right next to you."
Lexington saw Birch's talons curl convulsively. Then they relaxed. Slowly, he rose, unfurled his wings, and leapt. The small, brownish green gargoyle leapt after him.
He saw Birch's eyes pop open -- he didn't look afraid.
The others had pulled far ahead and were already approaching Times Square, heading for the Hudson River.
"We're slow-pokes," Lexington called. "Quick, do what I do." He went into a barrel roll, dove lower, caught a swift updraft, and let it shoot him forward. He glanced back and saw Birch hesitate, then do the same.
As the coffee-brown gargoyle came up beside him, he had a grin on his beaked face. "Wow, how'd you learn to do that?"
"Try being chased by immortals," Lex said. "You pick things up." Then he zoomed ahead of Birch on purpose.
"Immortals?" He heard Birch say faintly behind him. "What....?" And then he had caught up with Lexington. "What are you talking about?"
Lexington looked at the others taking a curve around the large white building at the heart of Times Square. "It's a long journey. I'll tell you about it."
****** The same time A barn in Southeastern Pennsylvania
"C'mon, kid, we aren't going to hurt you!"
The speaker, a young woman in jeans and a yellow sweater with her head and face covered by a blue hood, kept a firm grip on Ivy, despite that fact that Ivy was kicking her repeatedly in the shins. The woman gasped in pain but didn't let go.
Ben tried to wrench away from the two other hooded figured that held him, but another stepped forward and Ben found himself surrounded. He subsided, glaring up at them through the hair hanging in his eyes.
Around them the empty main room of the renovated barn was cold, though not dark, illuminated by track lighting. Ben squinted as the light caught him in the eyes.
The fourth hooded figure pulled out a key and unlocked the dead bolt of a door set into one of the newly constructed walls that divided the barn space. The air smelled of wood shavings and paint.
Light from the outer room streamed into the smaller space beyond the door. Ben noted that in addition to the lock, the door was of thick wood, unpainted. One of their captors switched on the light, a bare bulb in the newly painted ceiling.
Ben felt a light push on his shoulders, an indication that they wanted him to go inside. Dragging his heels, he continued to pull against the gloved hands holding his arms. Another, harder shove sent him stumbling forward. He turned and saw the one holding Ivy pick her up, kicking and struggling, carry her into the room, and drop her onto the cot that stood against one wall.
The springs creaked, and Ivy let out an indignant yelp.
On the cot were several blankets, neatly folded. A wooden table held a bottle of juice, paper cups, and a package of cookies. In the corner stood an area heater, its coils glowing orange.
"Okay," the fourth hood, with the manner of a leader, folded his arms while the others barred the door. "You two behave yourselves. No one wants or is going to hurt you. We just want the monsters."
Crouched on the cot in her parka, a sound rose in Ivy's throat like a snarl.
The leader moved his head, looking at her sharply through the eye slits.
"They aren't monsters," Ben said, swallowing several times because his mouth had gone dry. He glanced at the juice, wondering if it was drugged. "If anyone's the monster here it's you. You kidnapped us!"
"For your own good." His voice was not unpleasant, deep, reasonable, average. "Children, you don't understand. Spending so much time with those creatures has corrupted you. You are innocent and impressionable -- and they have used that against you. They're beasts, demons -- they will destroy all the humans if we don't stop them."
"They aren't beasts! Or demons!" Ivy scrambled off the cot and stood with her fists clenched. Her braid had loosened in the struggle, and wisps of hair fell around her face. "They'll come get us. They'll tear you apart."
Ben moved towards his sister. "Ivy..." he said, teeth clenched as he glanced at the blue hoods. "You're not helping..."
"You don't want to make them mad at you." Ivy said in a low voice. "You really don't. And when they find out what you've done, they'll rip out your hearts. They'll take you a hundred feet up in the air and then drop you. They'll come here after you."
"Yes," one of the figures in the doorway said, fingering the sledgehammer at his belt. "That's the idea."
Ben felt a chill run through him. Ivy froze as if turned to stone, the color drained from her face.
"No!" She screamed, and sprang at the leader. She began to punch at the man with her fists, having little affect.
"Ivy, Ivy stop it!" Ben ran to her and tried to pull her off. "Don't, you're only making it worse."
Then he staggered and fell to the floor as someone shoved him aside and the others grabbed for Ivy.
"Let go of me, you jerks!" Ivy socked one of them in the eye.
The one she had wounded clutched at his face through the hood. "Stupid kid," he muttered, and gave Ivy a backhanded slap that caught her on the cheek.
Ben struggled to his feet and leapt on the man's back. "Don't you dare touch her!"
"Oh, for crying out loud," the woman muttered.
"Enough!" The leader ordered, as the man Ben attacked grabbed the boy by the front of his parka and drew back his fist to strike. Ben flinched away, but then the leader put his palm over the other man's fist.
"No. Don't hurt them. They are not the enemy here. They are the victims."
"We'll have to tie them up," the woman insisted.
The leader looked down at Ivy, who was crouched on the floor with her legs tucked beneath her, her hair hanging in her eyes as she glared up at them sulkily. "Not necessary," he said gently.
Ben crouched next to Ivy and smoothed her hair. The four hooded figures left the room, and the door closed, followed by the click of the deadbolt.
"They're going to kill them," Ivy said dully. "They're going to trap them and wait until dawn and then --"
"Don't say it," Ben snapped. "Don't even think it."
In silence, they huddled together on the floor of the warm little room under the glare of the bulb, and waited.
To be concluded...