Story concept by Kathy Pogge
Written by Earl Allison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Previously on Dark Ages...
"Berries of rowan, red and bright. Strength of thistle to give it might," Demona intoned, adding the final elements.
Alarmed, the blue-skinned gargoyle snatched away the metal dish and flung it discus-style out of the window, sailing it far out over the ocean.
The Archmage rose in the pre-dawn hours from a troubled sleep. He had spent several hours trying to determine how the Nuckelavee had been summoned.
"Brother Edmund, for all that he means well, is lacking in skill. I will be your instructor now."
He stroked her hair possessively. "Now then, shall we begin with Latin? Set aside that book of Edmund's; you shan't need it here."
-- "The Seduction"
From the journal of Brother Edmund:
"The young gargoyles continue to prepare for their ultimate destiny as castle defenders. Thankfully, I am still able to continue my own lessons with them. It seems that they, unlike the elder generation, possess less of an instinctive mistrust of new experiences. Nearly all of them show marked improvement from their practices of even a month ago.
"Another point of interest involves the young female I wrote of earlier, the one with hair like fire. Her meek ways have given way to a far more confident young woman's attitude. I cannot help but wonder where the child found such inner strength, but it pleases me to no end. Even more, it would seem that I am not the only one who has noticed.
"As their progress increases, the games of old fade away. More and more, these gargoyles are preparing for the harsh life that awaits them as fully-vested protectors of their clan and castle. If the young redhead is any measure, they will prove quite formidable indeed."
Brother Edmund walked quietly out into the courtyard, enjoying the crisp night air. Looking around for a moment, he took notice of the castle guards. Several were clustered by one of the ramparts, watching several winged forms pirouette and dance in the sky, coming together for an instant before soaring away.
Walking up to the group, he tapped one on the shoulder gently. The guard, a burly fellow with dirty blond hair, turned around, an annoyed expression on his face. The expression immediately changed when he saw who had tapped him.
"Brudder Edmund!" the man exclaimed, doffing his helmet and grinning sheepishly, whatever harsh words he had been prepared to use forgotten. "I did'na know it was you," he stammered. "I swear, sir, I did'na know ..."
"It's all right, Corvin," Edmund reassured him, clapping the big man's shoulder. He never ceased to be amazed by the man. In a fight, Corvin was a raging bear, chopping down his opposition with childish ease, but in the presence of a man of the cloth, such as Edmund, he became a timid little boy. Like a guard dog, Corvin was deadly to his foes, and loyal unto death to his friends.
"What are they doing tonight?" he asked, trying to shake Corvin out of his silent reverence.
"Oh, the gargoyles," he mumbled. "I think it's more a'the same, fightin' in the sky. You should watch, they're really gettin' into it."
Some of the guards moved a little, spurred by Corvin's glare, and made a small space for the monk. Moving closer, Edmund looked skyward, watching the juvenile gargoyles attack and dodge. Among the small clusters of gargoyles soared their Teacher.
She was fierce enough, certainly well qualified to instruct them, but her instructions held an edge to them. Nothing short of perfection was even remotely acceptable. Normally, such behavior made Edmund uncomfortable, but he had learned to accept her ways, and perhaps even to learn from them.
Even as he gently nudged the younger ones towards open-mindedness with his reading lessons, he saw the same sort of instruction in her. She was merciless because she had to be. No opponent would gently chide a gargoyle in combat, and the slightest error could mean death, not only for the individual, but perhaps for the entire clan.
"What was that saying?" Edmund whispered to himself. "For want of a nail ..."
Pushing his thought aside, Brother Edmund turned his gaze back towards the gargoyles. He and the guards were not the only ones paying close attention, though. High above them sat the Archmage, observing the aerial combat from the sanctuary of his tower.
His attention, however, was centered on one gargoyle in particular. A gargoyle with hair the color of fire, and skin of azure. A thin, cruel smile came to his lips as he watched. It had been child's play to manipulate the stupid beast so far. Tonight would see his plans through, one way or the other.
"Soon, my dear, very soon," he said coldly. "Soon you will be mine, body and soul."
Deborah soared through the night sky, taking a moment to assess the battling gargoyles. She had split the rookery into two large mock clans, giving each a mound to defend. Both clans had left one of their mightiest warriors to defend the structure, standing guard over what would serve as their "rookery", a small red flag. Although it was little more than an airborne version of "Protect the Hill", it would teach the young ones sound tactics. They were learning to fight as a group, now, instead of as individuals.
Ajax stood over one mound, his powerful frame braced for an aerial attack. His crested head followed any opponent close enough to be considered a threat, but he stayed with the flag.
Across the fields stood the other mound. Atop it stood mighty Othello, his tail lashing back and forth. He hadn't wanted to guard the flag, but all on his side agreed that he was best suited to the job. He too watched the skies carefully, lest one of his rookery brothers or sisters attempt to steal the flag away.
Above, the gargoyles flew together and apart, trying to disable their opponents and overwhelm their rookery. So far, the two sides were too evenly matched, and neither force had made substantial progress.
Demona's lips pulled back in a snarl as she sighted her target. She couldn't have picked a choicer target. Her cowardly rookery brother, Thersites, was gliding beneath her, no doubt looking for one of his brothers or sisters to hide behind.
Drawing her wings in close, the lovely azure gargoyle swooped down on her unsuspecting foe. As her shadow loomed over the crooked horned gargoyle in the moonlight, he looked up.
Thersites' eyes went wide. Demona was bearing down on him like an apparition from the depths of Hades itself! Her red hair flared out in the wind, highlighted by the glow from her eyes, giving her face the appearance of a corona of flame.
He desperately tried to swerve, but he was too slow. Of all his potential foes, Demona was one of the worst to face in the air. Her speed and skill in gliding were among the best of his generation, rivaled only by Desdemona.
Demona shot past him like a sling stone, seemingly missing her target entirely. A loud whipcrack proved otherwise as Thersites felt a white-hot pain on his back, between his wings. Demona caught an updraft and soared higher into the night sky as Thersites plummeted like a stone.
She looked back to see what effect her tail lash caused. Her chest swelled with pride as she watched Desdemona and Asrial catch their brother. It had left their team open and vulnerable, just as she had planned.
"Excellent work, child," the Archmage said to himself. "It seems that you learn your lessons well indeed." It had been only a few weeks since he had began to instruct her in rudimentary tactics, and he had been sure to stress the impact of compassion. Kill a foe, he had said, and he is nothing. Wound him, and others must tend to him, leaving fewer to fight.
He had found her like an unmolded piece of clay, waiting for him to imprint his own teachings on. With a minimum of effort, he had given her quite a ruthless streak, something she would certainly need in the days ahead.
Turning from the window for a moment, he opened a small drawer and removed a yellowed, brittle piece of paper. "Yes," he murmured. "Just what I was looking for."
Turning back, Demona saw some of her rookery siblings taking full advantage of the gap she had made. Iago and Diomedes soared towards the flag, only to be headed off by Desdemona and Goliath. Iago let Diomedes take the brunt of the attack, attempting to go around them, but Desdemona was too fast.
As Diomedes and Goliath tussled, limbs locked as they fought, Iago received a minor scratch from Desdemona's wrapped talons. Choosing discretion over valor, he soared back to the relative safety of his teammates.
As Diomedes tried to separate himself from Goliath, Demona made her move. With a blood-curdling shriek, she dove at Ajax like a falcon. In an instant, Desdemona moved to intercept her as Goliath hastily broke off his melee with Diomedes. In an incredible display of rolls and weaving, Demona outmaneuvered her rookery sister, continuing to pick up speed as she approached the opposing team's mound.
Ajax stood his ground, tensing for the impact he knew was coming. At the last possible second, Demona arced away, and Ajax followed, twisting his body to keep his front to her. This left him terribly off balance, something Demona was quick to take advantage of.
Circling back, she folded her wings close, picturing Ajax's sturdy legs as one of the brightly colored hoops from the Trial of the Wing. Shooting between them, she snatched the flag up triumphantly and let out a shriek of triumph.
Spreading her wings to gain altitude, Demona avoided Ajax's clumsy attempts to grab her with ease. She could see Diomedes gliding to meet her, and prepared to hand the flag off to him when she was attacked from above.
Asrial grinned triumphantly as the rope loop closed snugly around Demona's waist, pinning her arms and wings fast. The contraption was mounted on a long pole, which had allowed her to close the distance with Demona despite her inferior gliding skills.
"Gotcha!" she shouted, trying to reel the snared gargoyle in. Both Goliath and Desdemona were flanking their tinkering rookery sister, backing her up.
Panicking for a moment, Demona dropped like a rock before warrior training kicked in instinctively. Her drop in altitude tore the pole from Asrial's grasp, helping her somewhat. All three gargoyles soared after her, trying to catch up to her.
With a shrug of her muscles, she snapped the flimsy cord easily. No doubt Asrial had used just such a cord to prevent causing one of her rookery siblings serious injury.
Demona's wings billowed out again when freed from their prison, and she tried to regain some of her altitude. She watched with satisfaction as Asrial and Desdemona soared past her, unprepared for such a rapid escape. She was so smug, in fact, that she didn't realize her mistake until powerful arms wrapped around her.
"Surrender, sister," the voice teased good-naturedly. "You cannot escape. Merely return what is ours."
It was her lavender rookery brother, the one with the long mane of jet-black hair. Struggling for a moment confirmed her predicament; his grip was too strong for her to break while burdened down with the flag.
Both Asrial and Desdemona winged their way back and forth between the pair, waiting for Demona to drop the flag in her scuffle. If they recaptured it, they would gain more prestige.
Making quick eye contact with Diomedes, she dropped the flag. Those gargoyles of her 'clan' that could see gasped in horror. If the flag touched the ground before being brought to the opposing team's 'rookery', the game would be restarted!
As the flag fell, seemingly in slow motion, Demona kicked it with all the strength she could muster, sending it hurtling into the arms of Diomedes.
A resounding cheer went up from the assembled guardsmen. Some grumbled and handed money to comrades that had wagered on the winning side. Others simply looked on with a mix of admiration and respect.
"Simply amazing," Brother Edmund said, watching the aerial spectacle. "Quite simply, amazing."
"Aye, if your foe has wings," the Captain huffed.
"Be grateful these creatures are our allies and not our enemies," Edmund cautioned. "He who holds the high ground often wins the fight. And remember that they were invaluable in defeating the Nuckelavee."
"True enough," the Captain admitted. "Aye, despite any misgiving I might personally hold for the beasties, they're plenty useful to us," he said. He then lowered his voice to a whisper. "And if ye tell anyone I said so, I'll be denyin' it," he joked, slapping the man on the shoulder.
Brother Edmund smiled in response, looking back at the Captain of the Guard. It was then that he noticed that they were no longer alone in watching.
Mixed in the now sizable crowd were several of the adult gargoyles, nodding to themselves or offering commentary to those beside them.
Freed from her burden, Demona relaxed her body momentarily. In the split second that Goliath needed to secure his hold, she struck. Bringing both feet up, she used Goliath's body as a springboard, breaking his hold while it was its weakest.
Another shrill cry erupted from her lips as she soared off towards the mound, following Diomedes, who was just reaching it himself. As he set down, holding the flag high, another cry echoed from the assemblage on the wall and in the courtyard.
Demona alighted next to her crowing brother, a wide smile on her face. In a few moments, Deborah landed among them, her face as unreadable as ever. The celebrating gargoyles ceased their merriment, waiting for their Teacher to proclaim them victorious.
Demona flushed with pride as Deborah put a hand on her shoulder. "Well done," she said quickly, before moving on to the others, delivering both praise and criticism amongst the young warriors of both sides.
Dismissed for the evening, most of the gargoyles made their way to Edmund's reading lessons. Demona found herself the recipient of several glowing comments from her siblings.
"Well done, sister," Desdemona said. "Never have I seen such ability."
"What did I ever do?" Thersites whined, rubbing his still-sore back and looking utterly persecuted.
A few of the others good-naturedly laughed at his comment.
"Cheer up, brother," Asrial said. "We could have let you bounce a few times."
"True enough, sister," Desdemona laughed.
"An excellent maneuver, sister," Othello agreed, nodding with approval at his azure rookery sister.
Even Ajax grudgingly admitted Demona's skill. "Well ... done, sister. I was unable to stop you."
Demona accepted her praise graciously, nodding and thanking her siblings for their kind words. Some of the others were even acting out some of the melee.
Thersites tried to mimic Demona's aerial acrobatics, and fell to earth as Asrial snared him with her lasso-on-a-pole. Landing ungracefully, he looked up at the tinker with wide, moist eyes.
Asrial giggled and released her less courageous rookery brother. Bending down, she helped him up. "Up you go, scared rabbit," she joked, giggling as Thersites winced and clutched his heart in mock-mortification.
"Ohhh! How dreadful to say, sister!" he crowed, twirling around and falling over as if dead. More laughter erupted from most of the gargoyles, except for one notable exception.
"How graceful of you, brother," Iago scorned, arching an eye ridge.
"At least he did not turn tail and run," Othello shot back, his disdain clear. Iago foolishly tensed, as if to strike his larger brother, and Othello looked ready for him. In fact, he seemed to welcome it.
Before an ugly exchange could begin, Brother Edmund greeted his class, arms spread wide.
"Good evening, all of you," he said warmly. "I want to tell you how proud I am of you tonight. You all did admirably."
A soft murmur went through the assembled class.
"Despite your fall," he said, indicating Thersites, "you handled yourself well enough to recover with the help of your sisters." He nodded towards Desdemona and Asrial as that.
"And your noose device was ingenious," he continued, praising Asrial. "And you," he added, indicating Demona, "were like some sort of Avenging Angel. I've never seen such fighting in all my days."
At Brother Edmund's words, Goliath smiled and nodded to Demona, confirming that he felt the same way. His warm smile seemed to hold more than approval, though. Goliath was seeing Demona in an entirely new light.
Brother Edmund continued to single out gargoyles for specific praise before starting his class.
As the lessons progressed, the normally shy Demona handled herself with a newfound confidence. Everything about her seemed to change. Her words were clearer, delivered in bold, certain manner. Where she had once stumbled over pronunciation, she sounded like a new gargoyle.
The praise and successes of the night lent great strength to the formerly shy gargoyle, giving her a conviction she had never shown before. Eager to nourish it, Edmund was careful to praise her for her efforts, in the hopes that it would bolster her to even greater accomplishments.
As Edmund's lessons progressed, the Archmage was readying himself and his tower for Demona's arrival. Holding the sheet he had recovered earlier, the Archmage whispered something in Latin.
The page blurred for a moment as the magical energies coursed through it. In a few seconds, a large arcane tome lay where the page had been. Its cover was cracked with age, and mystic sigils crawled along its front and spine.
Picking the tome up, the Archmage opened it, thumbing through the contents. An evil smile crossed his thin lips at what he saw. Satisfied with the spell's results, he began to place specific scrolls and items in plain sight.
Several jars of herbs, crushed stones, and other exotic items were brought out and placed near the scrolls. Everything seemed to be placed without the benefit of rhyme or reason. The effect was not unlike that of a small whirlwind having surged through the tower, leaving rubble in its wake.
"This will do quite nicely," he murmured. "The bait is set. Now all that is needed is the prey." He chuckled darkly to himself and waited, looking out his window at the assembled gargoyles.
Seeing them hanging on Edmund's every word annoyed him, true enough. However, it had helped bring certain ... skills and abilities to his notice.
After classes had ended, Demona carefully made her way to the Archmage's tower, taking care not to be seen by either human or gargoyle. Climbing up the side of the tower, she pulled herself in through his window.
"Good evening, Archmage," she said warmly. She was still flush with her successes, and hardly noticed how preoccupied the human was.
At her appearance, the Archmage hardly seemed to notice. He was hunched over his table, picking up first one jar and then another. Muttering to himself, he put the two jars down, shaking his head.
"Blast it," he cursed silently. "Where is that griffin feather?" This preceded another round of fevered searching and rifling through the assorted ingredients. Only then did he notice the gargoyle's shadow looming over him.
"I'm sorry, child," he said gently, taking her hand. "Please, come in. Sit down," he urged. Even as he escorted her in, his eyed darted back to the mess behind them.
"Is ... is something wrong?" she asked tentatively. The Archmage had always had a kind word for her, but tonight was different. He seemed extremely preoccupied with something. "Are you all right?"
The Archmage sighed heavily, his frame sagging. To Demona, he looked incredibly fragile, as if some oppressive weight was pressing down on him. "It's nothing of importance, child. But without Ian here to tidy up anymore, keeping track of everything here has become almost impossible."
She reached out tentatively, not certain what to say. This man had shown her incredible kindness, and she didn't know what to say or do.
He noticed her look of concern, and patted her hand reassuringly. "It's not that you haven't been a great help to me, child. You have, to be certain. But I have so little time left, and no one to pass my knowledge on to."
Demona's sad expression deepened. She knew that humans weren't nearly as long- lived as gargoyles, and that he was old for a human. Despair began to well up in her. Surely he wasn't going to die on her?
The corners of the Archmage's mouth turned up in a cruel smile, one he quickly covered with his hand. Stupid beast, he thought to himself, so easy to lead along. Quickly he reassumed his pained, frail composure.
"It meant so much to me, to be able to pass the torch, if you will, to another deserving sorcerer." He then turned back to rummaging through a sheaf of aged papers on the table behind him. "Of course," he started, picking one piece out of the mass on his table and inspecting it for a moment. "First I must find someone with the right," he paused, discarding the paper in favor of another. "The right ... attitude," he nodded. "Yes, attitude. Of course, magical ability is needed too. But finding such an individual, child, is such a challenge."
He then studied Demona's hopeful face, and smiled paternally. "Like you, child. Bright, eager, ready to learn." He shook his head sadly. "But magical ability? Please don't take this as an insult, child, but no gargoyle has ever been able to practice magic. Your kind simply hasn't the aptitude or the talent."
He leaned heavily against the table, dark shadows obscuring his face. His voice, now little more than a whisper, held great pain and grief.
"No, now when I got to my grave, my secrets will die with me. What a waste."
Demona clenched her fists tightly in frustration, talons digging into the flesh of her palms. What could she do? She knew full well how much magical aptitude she had, no matter how untrained. But to admit to her accidental summoning of the Nuckelavee could well earn her a permanent banishment from the clan, or worse.
Scenes of Roland played unbidden through her mind. Exiled and alone, she would have no one to turn to, as he did. However, it pained her to see the one human that had shown her such compassion and kindness in such a state.
Seeing her discomfort, the Archmage skillfully changed the subject. "Now, child, tell me what you did tonight," he urged gently.
Demona nodded, relaying the night's events to him. She told him of her victory in the skies as well as her successes in Edmund's class. She practically glowed with her accomplishments.
"I'm proud of you, child," he said. "Your accomplishments give me great pride indeed. To see you improve makes me feel glad that I was able to help you."
She flushed crimson. "I could not have done any of it without your teachings, Archmage," she admitted.
"Nonsense. I may have given you the tools, young one, but you supplied the skills; the raw materials, if you will."
Perhaps," she relented. "But none of it would have been possible without you, and for that, I will be in your debt. No matter how long it takes, or what is required, I will repay your kindness," she swore.
"Thank you," he said, glancing out the window. "It's getting close to sunrise, and you need to get back to your clan. It wouldn't bode well if you became stone here in my workshop," he smiled.
Nodding, she hopped up onto the sill, spreading her wings. With practiced ease, she jumped into the air, letting her wings bear her aloft. Wind whooshing around her wings, she soared off into the night, deep in thought.
What could she do? The Archmage had done so much for her, and she hated to see him in such need. Surely there must be some way to prove her magical aptitude to him without revealing her involvement with the Nuckelavee, wasn't there?
She pondered that thought as she made her way to her usual perch. As he had been for almost every night of late, Diomedes was waiting for her, keeping her perch free.
Smiling to him absently as she landed, Demona assumed her typical fierce pose, waiting for the sun to change them all to stone.
As the first rays of sunlight crested the horizon, a crackling sound filled the air as the gargoyles of Castle Wyvern turned to stone.
Brother Edmund made his way through the castle, avoiding the hustling servants that were busy with midday preparations.
As he entered the Great Hall, he saw that the Prince was engaged in a game of chess with the Archmage. The two were well into the game, as evidenced by the large number of black pieces the Prince had captured from his opponent.
In fact, as Edmund came closer, he saw that the Prince seemed to be doing quite well. The Archmage had captured only half the number of pieces he had lost.
"Engaging in another game?" he asked politely.
The Prince looked up. "Good day, Brother Edmund. Yes, the Archmage asked if I was willing, and I agreed."
The Archmage seemed lost in thought, studying the board intently. A spidery smile came to his lips as he carefully moved his one remaining bishop in place. "Your move, Highness," he said.
"If you'll excuse me," the Prince said to Edmund, turning back to the game.
"Of course," he replied, sitting down to watch. In a few moments, he was absorbed in the game. On the surface, it had indeed seemed that the Prince was winning. He had captured more pieces, and even looked to have boxed the Archmage in.
But nothing was always what it seemed. As Edmund studied the game more closely, he began to see that the Archmage was far from defeated. In fact, the sorcerer seemed to be setting up for something, something that reminded him of a scene from not so long ago.
"Ian," he whispered inaudibly. The young boy had been the Archmage's apprentice for quite some time, and was exiled from the Castle for suspicions of being involved in an attack on the Prince.
Neither he nor the Captain of the Guard had actually believed that the boy was solely responsible. The Captain had admitted just that fact. He too suspected the Archmage, but could do nothing without proof.
He had used the boy to achieve a goal, discarding him once his usefulness was gone. He was playing this game in much the same way, using a piece to his own ends until no longer needed. In this case, it was to lessen the confidence of the Prince.
Had these instances happened in reverse order, Edmund would have thought nothing of it. After all, chess was but a game to sharpen the mind. But to the Archmage, people were apparently no more to him than the chess pieces he used to such ability now. Ian had been a pawn towards a greater goal, and Edmund wondered, who would be next for the Archmage to use in such a fashion?
As Demona dreamt, two images were foremost in her mind. One was the rampaging Nuckelavee, as it batted at human and gargoyle alike. The other was the visage of the Archmage, looking downcast and distressed. One force weighed against the other, warring for supremacy in her thoughts.
How could she disappoint the man that had given her so much? After all, his teachings had been paramount to her victory the evening before.
She recalled her lectures easily.
"Remember, child," the Archmage stressed. "Use any means you can to secure victory! Your enemy's compassion is but one such tool. Speed, strength, and cunning are useful, but without the foresight to seek your goal, you are destined to fail!"
Her recollections were cut short as the sun set.
With a roar, the gargoyles awakened, scattering their stone skin everywhere.
As Demona continued to struggle with her dilemma, a familiar sound greeted her ears. The whoosh of wind over wings announced the approach of one of her kind. A deep voice cut the night air's silence.
"Good evening, sister."
She knew that voice. Turning, she saw her large lavender rookery brother, his kindly gaze upon her. This one had never come to see her before!
"H - hello, brother," she stammered, both thrilled and startled by the unexpected attention. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Diomedes glower at the newcomer.
He was jealous, that much was obvious, she thought to herself. She had always admired mighty Goliath, not only for his obvious ... physical attributes, but for his superior leadership qualities. Despite that, she had resigned herself to the fact that she had little if any chance of attracting him.
Goliath had always seemed to have an eye for her more delicate sister, the somewhat scatterbrained inventor, Asrial. So, she had allowed Diomedes to pursue her. There was nothing wrong with Diomedes, she noted. He had always treated her well, but she had hoped for one of the strongest, one of the most skilled of her rookery.
"Perhaps we could glide together?" Goliath asked hopefully. This caused Diomedes to fume even more, but he held his tongue.
Before she could respond, the clan leader landed among them.
"Ach! There ye be, lad! Come along, I have a job for ye," he said gruffly, gesturing to Goliath.
The large gargoyle nodded in affirmation, turning back to Demona for a moment. "Perhaps another time, sister?" he asked hopefully.
She nodded mutely, watching him take wing to follow the leader. As he disappeared into the darkness, her original problem reaffirmed itself in her mind.
After a few hours of weighing her options, Demona came to a decision. She would prove her magical ability to the Archmage. Thanks to his tutelage and that of Brother Edmund, her reading had improved immensely. She already knew that she had the raw talent, and this would only improve her ability.
She would cast a simple spell, something that would prove her ability to the Archmage. Once she had succeeded in proving that she could be taught, she was certain he would train her. Then, his secrets could live on.
Leaping off her perch, Demona opened her wings, catching the cool night air and soaring toward the Archmage's tower. However, instead of simply landing at the window as she usually did, Demona landed a few feet above it, sinking her talons into the rough-hewn stone.
Cautiously, she crept along the wall until she was directly over the chamber window. Straining to hear, she craned her neck until she was at a better vantage point. Hearing none of the usual sounds that the Archmage made, she peered in. Seeing no one, she crept in, silent as a mouse.
After a quick scan of the chamber, Demona found what she had been looking for, one of the Archmage's many spellbooks. Opening it, she thumbed through the contents.
A spell of summoning? This seemed to summon something called a djinn; an Elemental spirit of the air. Images of an intelligent whirlwind clearing the place of dust and debris came to her mind. They were suddenly replaced in her head with the keening death wails of the last thing she had summoned.
No, her last attempt at summoning, the Nuckelavee, had been disastrous. Shaking her head to clear it of unpleasant memories, Demona flipped ahead a few pages, stopping as she saw another potential spell.
Lightning? She turned the page quickly. No, that certainly wasn't a good prospect. Crinkling her nose, Demona turned another page, and her face lit up with what she saw.
A Transformation spell! That should impress the Archmage, she noted. This particular spell would be especially useful, as it seemed to involve changing stone to gold.
Her kind had little use for the precious metal as anything other than an adornment. She herself had admired the way the metal glistened and shone in moonlight. But to humans, the metal was so much more. It was used as money.
Her mind made up, Demona looked the spell over carefully. She was determined to avoid the pitfalls she had succumbed to previously. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she went over the incantations over and over again.
Unknown to Demona, the Archmage was very much aware of her visit. Watching from a small window within, his lips turned up in a cruel smile as she selected the spellbook.
"Check," he whispered.
The three hatchlings scampered through the castle hallways, trying to keep from being stepped on as they made their way to a very special destination.
"Shhhhh!" the stocky aquamarine hatchling hissed, pressing a finger to his lips.
"We know!" a smaller, web-winged gargoyle answered, his large eyes watching for any signs of detection.
"Yeah, we didn't get yelled at," the brick-red, white haired gargoyle said.
The three watched intently, waiting for an opportunity to sneak a tasty snack. It had become much harder ever since they were nearly caught one night. As the three prepared to make their move, one of the scullery maids took notice.
"Oh, no ye don't!" she said sternly, putting her hands on her hips. She was an attractive woman with light brown hair, kept out of her way in a sensible braid. Her brown eyes were frowning down at the three hatchlings, who were frozen in place.
The little red gargoyle assumed a pitiful look; with big, moist eyes and a jutting lower lip. "But we're soooo hungry," he whined.
Quick to catch on, the other two followed his lead. Almost as if on cue, the stomach of the largest rumbled, proclaiming his hunger to the maid.
Her stern look melted under their innocent charm, and her eyes flashed with mischief. "I have three brothers m'self, you know," she admonished. "And they all do the same thing."
Little Brooklyn began to fidget, scuffing one foot against the stone floor, while Lexington pretended not to hear her. Broadway pretended to find something of interest on the ceiling, avoiding her gaze.
Finally, the woman relented. With peals of girlish laughter, she tousled each head in turn. "All right, all right, ye win, little horrors!" she teased. Turning around, she scooped a small quantity of meaty stew, hunks of bread, and three pastries onto a wooden tray.
Stooping down, she handed the veritable feast to the three begging hatchlings. "There ye go. And instead o' tormentin' us here, if ye insist on raidin' the kitchen, come ta me, all right?"
The three nodded as one, maintaining a tight grip on the tray, in case the human woman changed her mind.
"Verra well, then," she said. "M'name is Moira. So come ta me next time, my starvin' wee bairns!" With a gentle swat on the posteriors, she shooed them out of the kitchen.
Their food in hand, the three scurried to one of the castle walls to devour it. The Captain watched them go, suppressing the urge to stop them. A small frown came to his face as they walked by.
Giving a friendly nod to Moira, he straightened his sword belt and marched after the three. By the time he had found them, the tray was bare, with naught but a few paltry crumbs to indicate that there had ever been food there.
The three stood before him, the very image of impish children. Their faces were covered in crumbs and broth, and their (very likely) grimy hands were hidden behind their backs.
"We didn't do nuthin'!" Brooklyn protested.
As the others chimed in with similar statements, the Captain silenced them all with a glower. "I dinna care, lads! I know ye did na steal anythin'! I need one a'ye ta fetch something!" he said. Broadway and Lexington shrank back, leaving poor Brooklyn to his fate.
"You!" he shouted. "You'll do!"
"Me?" he squeaked timidly.
"Aye, lad, come along," he said, taking one of his dirty little hands. "I need ye ta get somethin' for me." A faint green glow flashed in the burly human's eyes for an instant, and quickly faded away.
Demona had gone over the spell again and again in her head, until she was absolutely certain she had it right. From listening to the Archmage, she knew that the slightest slip or tiniest mispronounced syllable could end in total disaster.
She gathered the ingredients she would need, including the familiar thistle she had used before. Taking a moment to marshal her inner strength, Demona began to saturate her lungs with deep breaths, concentrating on the small piece of stone she had taken for the focus of her spell.
Raising one hand high, she began to chant, her voice taking on an unearthly quality. As she read, green mystic energies coursed through the magical text, crawling up her body to course through her raised hand.
The Archmage also chanted, his voice a hushed whisper in Latin. The glow surrounding Demona's hand wavered slightly, flickering like the flame of a candle. As quickly as it happened, the glow resumed its pulsing in the gargoyle's hand.
Outside, little Brooklyn padded down the corridor, eager to finish his errand. A worn leather falconing glove was pressed tightly to his chest, the object of the Captain's "errand".
Smiling to himself, the Archmage whispered something unintelligible. Brooklyn stiffened for a moment, then relaxed.
Muttering another Latin phrase, the door to his chambers opened almost imperceptibly. As the mesmerized Brooklyn passed the open door, he heard the mystic chanting and pressed an ear to the door, his curiosity getting the better of him. At his touch, the door opened all the way, and the small gargoyle went inside. At the same moment, Demona finished the spell, gesturing towards the stone.
With a loud roar and a flash of light, the spell's energy exploded outward. A crackling sound not unlike that of a gargoyle turning to stone filled the chamber.
There was a moment of silence before the quiet was broken with a terrible sound.
Demona's keening wail, a combination of sheer terror and fright, echoed throughout the chamber. She looked with wide eyes at little Brooklyn. He was frozen, but not in stone. The hatchling was now a statue of solid gold!
"What have I done?" she screamed hysterically. Tears welled up in her eyes at the horrible fate that had befallen the young gargoyle. Despair and fear clutched at her heart with an icy grip. Bad enough that she had erred once, but now she had killed one of the hatchlings! She had slain one of her own!
The Archmage rushed in a minute later, his face and body language a perfect mask of surprise as he took in the scene before him.
"Spirits of Earth and Air!" the Archmage gasped, his eyes wide in horror.
"NOOOOOO!!" Demona screamed, tears streaming down her face. Dropping the spell like a hot poker, she held the little gargoyle even tighter, sobbing hysterically.
Looking at him with eyes filled with panic, Demona haltingly explained herself between fits of crying. "I swear to you, all I wanted was to make you proud!" she pleaded. "I wanted to show you that I could HELP you, to make it a wonderful surprise, and now look!"
The Archmage was stammered, unsure where to begin. "Incredible," he gasped, "A wild magic incident."
His face displayed shock at this terrible event, but that gave way to surprise and pleasure over the fact that she would even attempt such a spell, and cast it in a remotely successful manner, all for him.
He then fixed her with a stern look. "Child," he said, carefully choosing his words. "You know better than to toy with magic! Has my tutelage all been for naught?"
He gave her no chance to interrupt. "If someone with my skill could so totally misread your ability, child, someone who has trained all his life, can you imagine the danger of such an unskilled beginner working alone? You might have managed, no matter how well intentioned, to destroy this entire castle! I do not mean to scold you, but this is a serious matter."
"Now," he said even more solemnly, steepling his hands. "What are we going to tell the Clan Leader, or the Prince?"
"Please, she pleaded, now openly crying. "Is there nothing you can do?" She was desperate now, willing to grasp at any straw she was offered. "This is just like the last time!" she sobbed, hugging the golden statue fiercely, as if she could will the hatchling back to life.
"Last time?" the Archmage asked, smiling inwardly. Now he had her.
"Yes, I was the one who summoned the Nuckelavee!" she admitted. "But I swear, it was an accident!"
The Archmage's face went ashen. "No," he stammered. "Dear, no! How could you do such a thing, child? I swore to the Prince to turn in whomever I discovered! Now what am I to do? I fear that he will order your death," he said, glancing at the statue. "Considering what just happened."
"Please, help me!" Demona pleaded, her eyes wide with panic.
"There is, there is one possible solution, child. But it may be as dangerous as facing the Prince. Are you certain you wish my help?"
"The bond between an apprentice and her instructor is a powerful thing. If you would swear your life, your complete obedience, to me, I can conceal what you have told me of the Nuckelavee. I will also make every effort to undo this 'wild' magical outburst."
"I swear, I will always be loyal!" Demona pleaded. "My life and my fealty are yours unto death! Be it one hundred years or a thousand, I will assist you!"
The Archmage nodded. "The bargain is struck," he said. Reaching over, he picked the spellbook up and examined the spell.
"The Midas Spell," he noted. "An interesting choice, but as you can see, unforeseeably dangerous." He then began to search his extensive scroll and tome collection for a suitable counter spell.
After several minutes, he retrieved a dusty old scrap of vellum. Unrolling it, he scanned the contents.
"Yes, this is it," he proclaimed, taking Demona's hand. "Normally, such a counter must be cast by the one who cast the original spell. However, perhaps between your raw talent and my trained magic, it may be enough."
Opening the scroll, he held it so she could see the contents. "Now, read the incantation along with me."
The two begin chanting, the Latin words taking on an echoing effect as a blue aura surrounds the golden Brooklyn. With the crackle of eldrich energy, the statue slowly melted away, leaving a restored Brooklyn in its place.
The hatchling slumped to the floor, and Demona raced to his side in an instant. "I - is he ...?" she started.
"No, merely unconscious, apprentice," he reassured. "Such a transformation, the second one notwithstanding, cost the young gargoyle much energy. After a day of your stone sleep, he will be fine."
Demona sighed heavily, letting the collected tension seep out of her. "I owe you a great debt, one I will never be able to repay. I swear that I will make you proud!" she vowed. "You will never regret this!"
"We shall see, child. We shall see," he replied, his voice taking on a menacing air. He then ushered Demona and the barely conscious Brooklyn out.
Once they were out of sight, he let a wicked, triumphant smile curl his lips upward.
"Check and mate, apprentice," he whispered maliciously.