Art of War
Written by: Earl Allison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Story Concept by: Rahsaan Footman
China, the village of Mu Shahn
The village was a bustle of activity, despite the late hour. Men moved here and there, some carrying heavy bundles, others with farming implements. The small dwellings all fanned out from a central clearing. Beyond it were several large fields heavy with crops.
As the final red rays of the setting sun faded beyond the horizon, a cracking sound could be heard from the center of the village.
Two gargoyles, a beaked male in a loincloth and a horned female in Japanese clothes, roared as they awoke, scattering shards of their stone covering.
Eyes flashing red and white respectively, Sata and Brooklyn carefully scanned the immediate vicinity for trouble. Finding none, the two relaxed slightly, Brooklyn yawning and stretching. His new mate, Sata, began to slowly begin her katas, exercises that simulated the maneuvers of martial arts.
"So," Brooklyn said, scratching his shoulder, "sleep well?" He grinned as she began a particular motion, allowing him to admire her form.
Sata arched an eyebrow in mock-annoyance. "Do we not always 'sleep well,' my husband?"
"I'll remember that the next time you call me inconsiderate," he teased.
She grinned, stopping her exercises and giving him a gentle peck on the tip of his beak. "Males are always inconsiderate, and quite often slow-witted, as well."
Pleased with her pseudo-jab, Sata arched an eye-ridge, daring him to deny her comment.
"Remind me again why I married you?" he quipped, enjoying the game. What had once been serious arguing had changed, becoming playful teasing instead.
"I believe your exact words were 'beggars cannot be choosers'?"
"That's right. Just remember, first time I see a pretty gargoyle, you're history."
Sata merely snorted in amusement. "As if anyone else would take you."
"Nice place, though," Brooklyn added. "We've been here, what, three months now?" He turned to watch a pair of children scamper past, laughing and playing, oblivious to the two gargoyles.
Sata nodded. "And the Gate shows no sign of activating?"
Brooklyn checked the pouch at his waist, looking the fay artifact over. Aside from some slight scarring and pitting of the gold inlay, the item was still inert, showing no sign of life.
"Nothing. We might be here for a long time," he added.
"Is that so terrible?" she asked. "These are simple people to you, I know, but they are good and noble people as well."
"Hey, hey, truce! I wasn't complaining. Besides," he said, giving her an exaggerated leer, "anywhere is fine as long as you're with me."
As Sata was about to respond, the sound of running feet caused the pair of temporally displaced gargoyles to turn around. Rushing towards them was the village mayor, Cho.
"There goes the evening," Brooklyn sighed. It seemed that their calm routine was about to change.
* * * * *
Cho was a congenial fellow, probably in his mid-forties and always keeping the well being of his village in mind. The fact that he looked extremely worried told Brooklyn that something was terribly wrong.
"Brooklyn! Sata!" he yelled, crossing the distance quickly.
"What is it?" Brooklyn asked, waiting as the man paused to catch his breath and explain. Sata merely stood nearby, her almond-shaped eyes darting back and forth carefully, scanning the treeline.
"Army ... raiders ... villages," he panted, stooped over to breathe easier. In a few minutes, he was more understandable.
"A few days from here, some sort of invading army is coming. They've been raiding the other villages in their path," he paused, letting the information seep in. "Anything they can't carry or use, they burn."
"They're definitely organized; their armor and weapons are well-tended to, not the mark of brigands or highwaymen. They also possess excellent skill."
He gestured to their surroundings. "We are but simple farmers, not soldiers or warriors!"
Sure enough, the village was that peaceful. Brooklyn and Sata knew that from the time they had spent here. Surrounded by hills and a light forest, the small settlement was not constructed with siege in mind. No walls defended its borders, nor guard posts the perimeter.
Brooklyn's eyes narrowed in anger, and he looked to Sata, as if seeking her counsel. She gave a curt nod, placing one hand on the hilt of her katana.
He rose to his full height, looking both authoritative and noble, trying both to put up a strong front and to show his willingness to protect them.
"We'll do everything we can, Cho. If we can't drive them off outright, we'll make sure your people get away."
The mayor nodded, his expression brightening. "My thanks to both of you, but I have already sent for help. I have been assured that it will arrive in a day or two."
At the confused looks of the two gargoyles, he continued. "While it is true that I have sent for help, your assistance would be greatly appreciated regardless. You have served admirably as our defenders, but I would not ask you to face such odds alone, will you still help us?"
"We would be honored," Sata said politely, bowing.
"Remember how I always said the fun wouldn't stop?" Brooklyn teased.
"Remind me to ask you again what you consider to be 'fun,' beloved."
* * * * *
As the mayor walked off, Brooklyn looked around him. These were good people, just as Sata had said. But what if help didn't come in time? In Scotland, he would have had the help of an entire clan to defend his home.
And while he respected Sata's fighting skills at least as much as those of his rookery brothers, she was but one gargoyle. Alone, they could accomplish little, but with help...
A grin came to his beak as he began to formulate a plan. It was a long shot, certainly, but better than nothing.
"Excuse me," he said to the mayor, "can you gather the townspeople together in a few hours for me?"
"Of course, Brooklyn," he answered respectfully. "What shall I tell them?"
"Tell them we're going to teach them to fight."
Sata arched her eyebrow-ridge skeptically.
"I trust you know what you are doing, Brooklyn-san?"
Brooklyn grinned widely, his confidence practically oozing from every pore.
"Have I ever steered you wrong?"
She smiled sweetly. "Shall I answer truly?" Her grin became something a crocodile might be envious of.
* * * * *
A few hours later, Brooklyn and Sata were standing in front of a large number of the villagers, demonstrating some basic defensive maneuvers with the haft of a hoe.
To be fair, it was Sata who was demonstrating more skill. Brooklyn still tended to use the weapon like a spear, thrusting and lashing out, whereas Sata demonstrated incredible skill, using the makeshift bo staff to her fullest.
As Brooklyn crashed to the ground yet again, Sata's staff first knocking the air from his lungs and then tripping him up, he looked up to see her holding the tip of the staff to his throat.
"I win again, Brooklyn-san," she teased. Then, louder, to the crowd, she spoke again. "You see? Strength alone will not be enough, as we have demonstrated."
Reaching down, she helped her mate to his feet. Dusting himself off, Brooklyn addressed the assembled villagers.
"All right, who wants to volunteer?" he asked, scanning the sea of blank faces before him.
Inwardly, Brooklyn sighed heavily. These men were farmers, workers of the soil, not soldiers or warriors.
"Why can't I ever get a break?" he muttered to himself. A slight narrowing of Sata's eyes told him that he wasn't as quiet as he had hoped, though.
Finally selecting one of the sturdier men, Brooklyn squared off, readying his own staff.
Nodding once, to make sure the man was ready, Brooklyn suddenly lashed out with his makeshift weapon, intent on knocking the man's legs out from under him.
The man, Kim, fell victim to the maneuver the first couple of tries, landing heavily on the ground. However, he quickly caught on to the game, and was soon able to block the gargoyle's attacks.
With a little more prompting, Kim was even able to initiate a few attacks of his own.
"That's better!" Brooklyn said, blocking another of Kim's strikes, a strong overhead swipe that would have had him seeing stars had it connected.
"But, watch out for the unexpected!" he cautioned, lashing out with his tail and sending the man sprawling.
Brooklyn reached out, helping the man to his feet. Casting a glance to his left, he watched as Sata tried to demonstrate the basics of martial arts, particularly those that used the weight and momentum of one's enemy against them.
* * * * *
Hours later, the pair stood apart from the villagers, watching them fight with staves or judo-like flips.
"What do you think?" Sata asked, all traces of their earlier teasing gone.
Brooklyn watched even more carefully, wincing every time a man fumbled his weapon or failed to block an easy strike. He found himself being reminded of his own training centuries ago. Or was it in centuries yet to come?
That was probably the only thing he really disliked about this time travel, and that was largely due to Lex's stupid debates and comments on things from sci-fi movies. He hated losing the most basic references to when things actually happened.
Should he refer to his hatching as an event of the future? It had not, after all, even come about. And what of Sata's birth? She had been hatched even later than he had.
Pushing the confusing semantics to the back of him mind, Brooklyn forced himself to concentrate on the events at hand.
"I think I wish Goliath were here," he sighed. "I just can't seem to get them to learn this."
"And you blame yourself? Why?"
Before Brooklyn could answer, Sata continued.
"Brooklyn-san, beloved, they are not warriors, and even had they been such from hatching, they cannot be instructed in one day. I do not think even a week would be enough."
"So, you're trying to tell me not to worry?"
Sata shook her head quietly. "No, what I am saying is that you must crawl before you can walk. These humans must learn the basics, the very simplest of moves, before you can make warriors of them. Brooklyn-san, what I am saying is, there is only so much we can teach them in the time we have."
"Thanks, Sata, for keeping everything in perspective," he smiled.
"Is that not why I am here?"
The two embraced as the sun rose, freezing them in a stony embrace.
* * * * *
The next evening found the pair repeating their work, although Brooklyn was much less uptight thanks to his mate's careful words.
He and Sata were practicing now, demonstrating some more involved moves.
More often than not, though, Sata bested him, using some simple trick of balance to send him flying. After a few more sweeps, the two stood back to watch their charges, making corrections and suggestions where needed.
Most of the men stopped fighting at the sound of a horse trotting towards them. There, astride the dark-brown horse, was a man wearing the attire of an official messenger of the Emperor, as well as flying a banner in his name.
Beside him, on foot, was the mayor. He looked almost pleased, if such a Thing were possible given their plight.
Unrolling a parchment, the young man cleared his throat, as if making sure he had everyone's attention, and spoke.
"Under direct order of the Emperor himself, the General Sun Tzu has been ordered to the village of Mu Shahn to halt the enemy advance."
He then looked down at Cho, and handed him the parchment. Cho took it without hesitation, nodding.
"We thank the Emperor for his kindness," Cho said, bowing. The messenger nodded curtly, turning his horse around and urging it to a sharp trot, no doubt eager to return, his errand complete.
Suddenly a great commotion erupted from the practicing men.
"He's coming here?" one asked.
"That's what the messenger said!" another replied.
A great cheer rose up from the men, along with one name.
"Sun Tzu?" Brooklyn asked, "who's that?"
* * * * *
It was as if the attack was now no longer coming, Brooklyn noted. This mysterious, "Sun Tzu," apparently a general of some kind, was coming, and everyone was happy about it.
He would have simply chalked it up to relief at the thought of not having to fight, but there was obviously more to it than that.
The village elders, men who didn't take anything lightly, were equally pleased with the news. Brooklyn didn't think this would have been the case if this general were some no-name career soldier.
Sata was equally perplexed. She had never heard of such a man, so was at something of a loss as how to explain their reactions.
Brooklyn had to grudgingly admit that he wouldn't have known if the man were an important figure or not. Human history had never been of even the slightest interest to most of the hatchlings of the Wyvern clan, and he had hardly taken an interest even in the knowledge-filled world of the 20th century.
If Sata didn't know anything, there was really only one place to go.
So, having nowhere else to turn, the pair went to the village minstrel, the gamelan, to find out who this Sun Tzu was.
Well-liked in the village, the gamelan was an older man, though not as old as the mayor. Short and stocky, he seemed to make up for it with his phenomenal tale-weaving abilities.
The man could spin stories that would hold your attention for hours, done with the same skill of any master craftsman.
"Gamelan," Sata said, politely bowing her head. "Can you tell us anything of this general, Sun Tzu?"
The man smiled, and patted the ground in front of him. Like little children, the gargoyles sat down, looking at him attentively.
"Sun Tzu is one of the finest generals the Emperor has," he said plainly. "There are many legends of his skill and knowledge, and these are told all throughout China."
"One such tale shows the seriousness Sun Tzu takes in all his tasks. Years ago, the governor of a distant province bade the general come and share his teachings. The task requested was seemingly a simple one: to teach the governor's courtesans to march in formation."
"As the story goes, these instructions were met with much giggling and foolishness. The women failed miserably. Then, Sun Tzu selected two of the governor's favorites, and had them executed, over the governor's own objections."
"He killed them?" Brooklyn asked incredulously.
The gamelan held up his hand, signaling for silence.
"The women marched perfectly after that, performing as admirably as any soldiers of the Empire. As with all soldiers, they obeyed."
"This was no small task, as no other province, indeed, no other general, had accomplished such a feat."
"Sun Tzu's greatest triumph, though, is his amazing ability to wage war without fighting. Indeed, many of his teachings demonstrate that such conflicts are often best dealt with by use of strategy and knowledge. It has been his belief that, to accomplish the most, one should do the least."
* * * * *
"Did any of that make sense to you?" Brooklyn asked, following Sata back towards the practicing villagers.
"It is a simple Taoist theory, Brooklyn-san, a paradox. For one to end a war, there must be peace, yes?"
"Sure," Brooklyn responded. "But, last time I checked, ending a war tends to involve actually fighting. Besides, how can you accomplish the most by doing the least?" He still couldn't quite resolve the words of the gamelan, which sounded so certain, with his own experiences in battle. The Vikings, for example, understood nothing but violence.
"As I said, my love, it is a paradox. Didn't you mention something of that nature? I think it was something about having a weapon to scare your opponents into settling for peace?"
"Well, yeah, but that's different," he mumbled. "Well, at least the village is peaceful again. Maybe if this guy is half as good as everyone says he is, things'll work out fine."
"You do not sound particularly convinced," Sata quipped, eyeing him knowingly.
"Look, I just don't see how a paradox is going to be any help at all. It must just be one of those mysterious Oriental things you're always telling me I won't understand."
Sata sighed in mock-annoyance. "That is because you do not understand my culture, Brooklyn-san. My people, and these too, are not the brash, forward types that you always speak of. There are certain times and places for all things, and doing one incorrectly can be disastrous."
"I'll wait and see, okay, although I still think it's different than mutually assured destruction."
Besides, he thought to himself, having a nuclear warhead was a little different than making courtesans march in formation, or winning a battle against the Vikings.
* * * * *
The next night found the village in a frenzy of activity. As the gargoyles awakened, a lone man rode into town. Both horse and rider were decked out in ornate armor, and the man carried the standard of the Emperor with him.
He seemed to be of middle age, his hair graying slightly, but his posture unbent, strength still in his frame. A small mustache was the only facial hair he possessed. Keen, brown eyes scanned the throngs of townspeople as he passed, taking in every detail.
He virtually exuded an air of nobility, his head held high and proud, but not so proud that he felt the people were beneath him. Still, his eyes spoke volumes to the brick-red gargoyle.
Brooklyn recognized eyes like that; he'd seen them on Xanatos. Eyes that missed nothing, eyes that were always planning. Eyes, he prayed, that held the answer to their problems.
As if guided by an unseen hand, the crowd parted before him as he made his way to the governor's home. With precise, calm motions, he dismounted and strode to the door.
Brooklyn could only watch, mouth open in astonishment, as NO ONE followed the general into the village. No one, not a single soldier had accompanied him here!
He had expected something, a regiment, perhaps, or an entire battalion! Yet, here he was, the much-vaunted Sun Tzu, without so much as a messenger to aid him.
As Brooklyn observed this, the general and the governor exchanged a few words, Cho clearly very happy at the man's arrival. Sun Tzu nodded a few times, and turned to scrutinize the men assembling in the village square for practice.
As always, the men had their makeshift weapons. Tonight, though, they shifted in obvious discomfort at the scrutiny of the general, something they had never done with Brooklyn. He hoped it wouldn't affect their performance.
"Go to the fields," he ordered. "There will be no practice tonight."
Without so much as a question, the men obeyed, gathering up their tools and dispersing. In a few minutes, they were hard at work, their practice of the previous nights forgotten.
Brooklyn's jaw dropped open in stunned silence at the order, his eyes wide with shock. Sata's outward demeanor was, as always, neutral. Whatever her thoughts were, they were private.
Turning back towards Cho, Sun Tzu made a seemingly unusual request.
"Do you have maps of the village, and the surrounding terrain?" When he got an affirmative answer, the general walked to a table, using the same measured paces. With practiced ease, he unrolled the delicate parchment and spread it out in front of him, placing small stones at the corners to keep it open.
Careful eyes scanned every inch of the parchment, taking in details the same way Brooklyn remembered Lexington studying technical manuals. Clearing his throat, Brooklyn tried to get the man's attention.
Looking up, a look of mild annoyance on his face, Sun-Tzu looked towards the noise.
When he caught sight of Brooklyn and Sata, he gestured for them to join him, making room at the table. His look was of brief shock, quickly hidden and recovered from.
Just like Xanatos, Brooklyn thought to himself. This was definitely someone who didn't like surprises, and someone who wouldn't let it show.
"Forgive my ... unseemly staring, but I have never in all my travels seen anything quite like you. Am I to understand that you are 'Brooklyn' and 'Sata'?"
Brooklyn nodded mutely while Sata bowed in greeting.
"I am honored to make your acquaintance, noble creatures. Victory will almost assuredly be ours," Sun Tzu said.
"How can you be sure?" Brooklyn asked, casting another glance at the men in the field. If he had had his way, the men would be practicing now, not farming as if nothing were going to happen.
Sun Tzu smiled and spoke sagely. "Know your enemy and know yourself, and victory shall be yours."
"I have sent men into the hills and woods around us. They will bring the reconnaissance I need to defeat the enemy." He gestured to the map on the table, indicating various points beyond the village's borders.
"And, uh, save the village, right?" Brooklyn added. "I mean, that's why you're here, isn't it?" His tail began to lash slightly in impatience, until Sata elbowed him gently in the side and cast a downward glance. He got the hint and stopped.
"I am here, Brooklyn, to ensure that these invaders go no further. Those are my instructions, to stop them, no matter the cost." Where Brooklyn was impatient, he was calm and self-assured. His posture hadn't shifted, even when he was startled by the gargoyles.
* * * * *
Later, Brooklyn watched from one of the higher roofs as Sun Tzu sat, scrutinizing maps and writing on a parchment. He was sending more and more men out of the village, for more reconnaissance, and occasionally simply watching the men in the field.
Hunched over like one of his unliving, stone namesakes, Brooklyn watched the men go back and forth, trying to make sense of their actions. Without Sata to keep an eye on him, Brooklyn's tail began to lash back and forth again, displaying his annoyance.
Although the men that came to Sun-Tzu seemed energized by him, their faces and step lightening after talking to him, Brooklyn was still getting angry. All the man was doing was gathering information! He wasn't actually DOING anything!
That was it, just watching! He couldn't fathom it, and the more he watched, the angrier he got. Realizing that he would fast become foul company, he had asked Sata to give him some time alone, making it sound like he was upset over Sun Tzu getting all the attention.
Actually, it wasn't far from the truth. This was the man that was going to save them? He couldn't understand them at all! Here they were, in imminent danger of being attacked, and the man sat there watching them work in the fields, or poring over maps.
What was he doing?
Asking hadn't helped, either. If Brooklyn had found Hudson's mantra of gargoyles protecting the castle being like breathing the air annoying, he was about ready to kill the next person who told him to 'know your enemy and know yourself, and victory shall be yours.'
Brooklyn knew his enemies. They were a marauding horde, like the Vikings of medieval Scotland. They would burn and loot and kill until there was nothing of value left, and then they would move on, until they were driven back or destroyed.
He remembered the devastation at Wyvern, and wasn't going to let it happen here, not while he could do something about it!
Frankly, he couldn't see anything to Sun Tzu's strategy. It was either too cautious, or outright useless, and he couldn't decide which.
Leaping off the roof and spreading his wings, Brooklyn glided to a landing a few feet from the general, and snapped his wings shut noisily, attracting the man's attention.
"Can I talk to you?" Brooklyn asked, not bothering to hide the annoyance in his voice. Without waiting to see whether the man was following or not, he stalked a few feet away from the others. What he had to say, if it came to that, wasn't something he wanted to share with the village.
Sun Tzu stood up, gathering one of his maps, and walked after the angry gargoyle, matching his stride exactly, no sense of unease in his step.
Once the two had reached the trees surrounding the village, away from prying eyes and ears, Brooklyn slowed down.
"I wanted to speak to you about your ... plan," Brooklyn said, turning around and facing Sun Tzu, his eyes narrowed to angry slits.
"As I have said, know..." he began, as if addressing a child.
"I've already heard that!" the gargoyle snapped, clenching his fists angrily. "What I haven't heard, or even seen, is how exactly you plan to know anything! The enemy army is coming, and you haven't set any traps, posted any lookouts, or done anything remotely resembling defending this village!"
Sun Tzu fixed the gargoyle with a serious gaze, now stiffening, the calm gone from his eyes, replaced with thinly-veiled anger. He was not used to being questioned, that much was clear.
"And this is how you would proceed?"
"Darned straight I would!" he growled. "I may not be some high and mighty general, but I know how to fight!" To illustrate his point, Brooklyn lashed out with his tail, snapping a slender tree limb.
"Indeed," he replied, steepling his hands. "And what do you know of the enemy?" Gone was the anger, replaced now with something Brooklyn couldn't easily identify; either amusement or self-assuredness.
"Who cares? They're going to raze this village to the ground when they get here! They need to be stopped! Maybe if you'd brought an army, or bothered to train the men here, things might be different!"
Shrugging off Brooklyn's anger, Sun Tzu carefully unrolled a map, and held it out to Brooklyn.
"This," he said, indicating a thin red line, "indicates the path that the invaders have taken. Here, where the red line ends, is where the army is now, almost two days away."
"Two days?" he shouted. "What good is all this information-gathering when the enemy is two days away? You have to set traps, or get the village organized!"
"No," the general said plainly. "Traps are dishonorable. They will succeed only in angering the enemy further. This is something we cannot do."
As Brooklyn sputtered angrily, Sun Tzu continued, heedless of the gargoyle's anger.
"Without information, we cannot know our enemy, and victory will be beyond us. Do you understand?"
"What price are you willing to pay for that information?" Brooklyn cried.
"You do not understand," Sun Tzu said sadly, shaking his head. "I know what the farmers here are capable of. Now, I must know the opposing army, so that plans can be made. Without that knowledge, there is no hope."
"I understand enough! I'm going to get some men, and defend this village, whether you like it or not!"
The general sighed heavily, and rested a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder.
"Please, Brooklyn, understand what I am saying. I have been given a task, to stop these men from advancing any further. I will do this. I have seen the resources at hand, and will use them as I feel they will best serve in that capacity. Trust me, Brooklyn. All the pieces are not in play, yet."
"By letting these men be killed? I've heard of your methods, General, and I can't honestly see that you're doing -anything- here!"
For the second time, Brooklyn saw something other than calm in the general's eyes as he stared the gargoyle down.
"You will do nothing, Brooklyn, without my express consent! Your well- intended interference could ruin everything!" Now he was seemingly as angry as Brooklyn had been, but where Brooklyn's anger showed through in his eyes, his posture, and even his words, Sun-Tzu's anger came solely from his eyes.
With that, he turned his back on the sputtering, raging Brooklyn, and returned to his planning.
With a roar of anger and frustration, Brooklyn dropped to all fours and galloped off in search of Sata. He had to tell her what was happening here, before it was too late.
Tearing deep furrows in the earth, he quickly made his way back into the village.
* * * * *
Sata folded her arms and studied one of the maps. Sun Tzu had managed to map out the entire region, tracing the enemy's advance. There were strange symbols along the enemy's route, which she didn't recognize.
The sound of her mate rushing up behind her caused her to turn. A smile came to her lips. Brooklyn's skill at stealth needed a great deal of work.
The smile died stillborn on her face as she saw the look in her mate's eyes. That he was unhappy was an understatement, since he was nearly shaking in fury.
"What is it?" she asked, trying to calm him somewhat. Angry, Brooklyn was more likely to do something foolish, and that couldn't be allowed right now. Thankfully, he seemed to become more rational at her touch.
"Sun Tzu, that's what!" he shouted angrily. "Do you know how close the army is? Two days! Two days, and we haven't got anything! No traps, no soldiers, nothing! We haven't even been able to really train the farmers to defend their homes!" He was waving his arms angrily as he spoke.
"Beloved, please," Sata said, placing her hands on Brooklyn's shoulders and rubbing them firmly. "You must understand, this is a different time, a different place than your," she paused, trying to say the word correctly, "Manhattan."
"Sata," he growled, less out of anger now, and more from Sata's soothing words and hands. "Sata, I know that, but he doesn't care about these people OR their village. All he cares about is getting his precious information."
"Surely you do not believe that?"
"Look, Sata, this isn't the way I fight! Even back at Wyvern, we would have done something by now. Maybe we would have sent a group of gargoyles to scare them off. You know, burn their camps, scare their horses, things like that. There's more to this than drawing maps, and it's high time someone got to it!"
"And," came a voice from behind them, "I have forbidden it."
Sun Tzu stepped forward, his face again calm. "I cannot explain myself to him, it seems."
"Please, let me," Sata said graciously, leading Brooklyn away.
"Why did you..." Brooklyn started. He quickly stopped when he saw Sata's angry expression.
"Brooklyn-san," she said, her tone careful and measured. "Perhaps it is YOU who do not understand. This is not your time. War is an honorable thing here, as it was where I was hatched."
"If you go ahead with your plans, husband, you will destroy any chance these people have. Here, there are rules to this war, rules that must be honored by all!"
Her tone became icy with her last sentence. "If you cannot understand that, then perhaps I made a mistake in selecting a mate."
"Sata, I didn't mean anything by it," Brooklyn stuttered, reaching out.
"I know that," she replied, arms folded. "Please, Brooklyn, even if you cannot trust Sun Tzu, can you not trust me?"
"I, I just need some time," he mumbled, turning and walking away.
"What time, Brooklyn-san? Time to convince yourself that we are not as sophisticated as you? As knowledgeable as you?"
"I didn't say that!" he protested angrily. "Stop putting words in my mouth! You're so hung up on honor, Sata! I just don't want to see you impaled by it someday! Whoever's left standing at the end of the fight, that's what's important!"
Her eyes narrowed to angry slits. "How dare you presume to lecture me? You know what honor means to me, and yet you speak as if it were something to be tossed away when it suits you! Go, go and take your time, and perhaps I shall do the same!"
She turned and stormed off, leaving Brooklyn alone with his thoughts.
He just couldn't understand it, how could Sata not see the problems? If something wasn't done, something that didn't rely on their outdated idea of honor, the village was lost. Wasn't that more important than some concept of honor he didn't understand? Of course it was!
He was a gargoyle! It was his duty, his obligation, to protect! Sata should understand that better than anyone! A littler voice didn't agree, though, reminding him that to Sata, honor WAS the more important of the two. A victory that violated that honor would be worse than death to her.
Any further thoughts he had on the matter were lost, as the rising sun froze the angry gargoyles in stone.
* * * * *
As the sun set slowly, casting the last red rays of daylight across the horizon, cracks began to appear in Brooklyn's stone shell.
With a roar, Brooklyn awakened, sending minute pieces of stone everywhere. Shaking the last fragments of skin from his wings, Brooklyn looked up. There, not three paces away, was Sata, also shedding the last of her stone skin. Apparently, she hadn't gone far before the sun had risen.
"We should see what progress was made," she said, all business. Whether it was because she was still angry, or because she too regretted the argument, he didn't know.
The two made their way to Sun Tzu's makeshift headquarters, where the general was speaking to a man neither recognized.
Clearly, the man was a soldier, but his armor and insignia were not at all familiar.
Noticing their confusion, the gamelan took a moment to explain things to the pair.
"He's a spy from the enemy army, sent to feel out our defenses. One of Sun Tzu's reconnaissance parties caught him just outside the village. The general's been interrogating him ever since."
"Did he learn anything?" Sata asked, now watching the men intently. But for the gamelan's explanation, there would be no way to tell that the man was hostile.
"We don't know," the gamelan admitted. "Sun Tzu has not allowed anyone else near him, nor has he told anyone what the man said."
"Great," Brooklyn muttered. "Let's find out what he knows ourselves, okay?"
The two gargoyles made their way into Sun Tzu's camp, only to watch him release the man unhindered.
The enemy spy paused for a moment, taking in the sight of the two gargoyles. His gaze seemed to linger, not on Sata's figure, but on her wickedly sharp katana.
With a slow, deliberate movement, the jade gargoyle's hand fell to the hilt of her sword, while her lips turned upwards in a cruel smile, as if daring the man to try something.
His eyes widened slightly, but he quickly composed himself, gave the two a suspicious glance, and headed off.
Sun Tzu gestured to the pair to sit down. When they did so, he cleared his throat and spoke.
"I can see that you are curious as to why I released the man, am I right?"
The two nodded silently, the tension between Brooklyn and the others rising a few notches. 'Curious' didn't even begin to describe it. For all the faith these villagers had in the General, Brooklyn couldn't see any of it.
"I have learned all I can from him, and I must now report to my troops. Please stay here and prepare for my return." Anticipating a question from Brooklyn, he patted the brick-red gargoyle's shoulder.
"I know, you cannot understand why I simply released him, to return to his army with information on us, correct?"
Brooklyn took a moment to compose himself. He was livid over this man's strategies, but arguing hadn't made things any better before. It wasn't likely to now, either. Xanatos never listened to anyone else's views, and maybe this man was the same.
"Yeah, I was kinda wondering that," he grumbled, trying not to sound angry.
"As I said, one must know one's enemy. Through him, I do. Killing him now would gain us nothing, and detaining him overly long might bring their force down on us prematurely. I have learned what I needed to complete my mission." He gave Brooklyn one final glance, before turning to leave.
"I need to prepare my report, if you will excuse me."
He stood up, and mounted his horse, spurring it on to a healthy gallop out of the village.
Making a split-second decision, Brooklyn pulled the gamelan aside, away from Sata and the others. She was still angry with him, and he didn't blame her, hard words had been spoken, on both sides. He couldn't ask her to help him now.
"I'm going after him," Brooklyn hissed, thumbing towards the direction the enemy spy had gone. "This might be our last chance to do something!"
"Unfortunately, I'm going to need help. Since I can't risk being seen, I can't glide, and without an aerial view, I don't know the area too well. Can you help me, guide me?"
"Of course I can," the minstrel replied. "After all you have done for my village, how can I not help you now?"
Buckling on his sword, the gamelan followed the gargoyle, slipping out of the village.
* * * * *
Silently, the two crept through the woods, carefully following the trail their quarry left, but not so closely as to be heard or seen.
The edge of the woods around the village was simple enough to find his way through, since he had done so many times, but the farther they went, the more careful he had to be.
The trees thickened, becoming less a light woods and more like a full forest, blocking out most of the moonlight. Luckily, gargoyles had superior night vision, increasing the ambient light around them.
Taking the gamelan's hand to guide him, Brooklyn led the man carefully along the trail of their quarry, picking his way carefully through the densely wooded area.
As they passed over the terrain, Brooklyn cursed a few times. There were places where he could glide, after all. Unfortunately, since neither of them knew where the spy was ultimately headed, they couldn't afford to risk it. The moon was full and bright, so if they decided to glide, they would become painfully obvious to spot.
And, while Brooklyn was usually very headstrong, he was by no means stupid. Dead, he would be of little use to anyone in the village. So, they continued to carefully tread along the ground.
Brooklyn led, his eyes scanning the ground cautiously as they advanced, wary of the same kinds of traps he had considered using himself. While it wasn't very likely that the man had the time to set anything, it was far better to be safe than sorry.
Picking their way through the woods surrounding them, both man and gargoyle stepped carefully, lest they stumble or make a disturbance. Later, Brooklyn would marvel at how close the enemy had been. Even the fires they were using were carefully concealed, their telltale glow hidden from view.
It was only Brooklyn's sharp gargoyle hearing that saved them, as the distant sound of voices, one harsh and commanding, the other meek and unassuming, became audible.
Signaling the gamelan to stop, he peered through some brush into the nearby clearing. Sure enough, the spy Sun Tzu had released was on his knees, as a gesture of subservience and respect, while a taller, broadly-built man in battle-scarred armor stood over him, listening intently.
He had to marvel at the campsite, set in the middle of the dense forest. Where cutting down large numbers of trees would have given them away, only a few had been felled. They allowed some moonlight to spill into camp, which helped both men see better. It also provided for better camoflage. Had Sata and Brooklyn flown overhead, they might have missed the encampment completely.
The warlord looked older than Sun Tzu, what little hair Brooklyn could see was completely grey. The man's face was somewhat wrinkled with age, but the eyes shone with power and authority. Despite his age, the warlord was as unbowed as Sun Tzu, strength emanating from him.
His armor spoke of his skill as well, being scarred in several places. This was a man who led his men into battle, not one who hid from it.
We can't get any closer without being seen, Brooklyn thought to himself, and if we don't get closer, I can't hear everything.
Deciding again for caution over heroism, the pair stayed hidden, Brooklyn straining his ears to hear every word.
"... many more than you expected, general," the spy said, his voice taking on a nervous tone. He couldn't look his master in the eyes, and was doing everything possible to avoid even trying.
Brooklyn snorted. It would have been funny, if things weren't so serious. Apparently, from what he could hear, the spy hadn't admitted to being caught, and was making excuses for his delay.
Behind the men, Brooklyn could see hundreds of soldiers preparing for the upcoming battle. Some were cleaning their weapons, or sharpening them, while others inspected their armor. Still others were practicing with bow and arrow. Sure enough, the men practiced with the precision of trained men, not the clumsiness or carelessness of simple thieves and brigands.
These men knew their business, Brooklyn thought to himself, and knew it well enough to be a worse threat than he anticipated. A very small part of him was glad that Sun Tzu had stopped training the men - they would have been slaughtered!
The gargoyle's eyes went wide at the sight of how many there were! They outnumbered the villagers almost ten to one! If they attacked en masse, there would be nothing left!
As the spy continued his report, Brooklyn became more and more astounded. He was speaking of huge armies and horrible monsters. Even worse, the general seemed to actually believe him!
Then again, Brooklyn noted, he and Sata might well fit the monster category, and after Sata's little gesture with the sword, he wondered how much was simple exaggeration, and how much he had read into the two gargoyles.
The enemy general looked thoughtfully at his spy, as if he could pluck everything the man saw from his very mind. Carefully considering all his options, the general turned to his troops, and called a few of the men forward.
Like their general, the men had an air of confidence about them. They had come this far, and clearly weren't worried about one more village in their path.
They moved with the same powerful strides he recognized from Xanatos' private guard, the ones he had fought his first night in Manhattan. These were definitely professional soldiers.
Again, Brooklyn couldn't hear everything, but he heard enough to know that they were in deep trouble. While the general wasn't using words like 'demon' or 'monster,' he was apparently sending a far larger force than he had initially intended.
A loud roar went up from some of the troops, as weapons were held high. Blades glinted in the moonlight as the men gathered into groups with practiced ease.
Mounting their horses, the troops waited for their general to lead them into battle, as was his place.
Like Sun Tzu, it seemed that the enemy general wasn't taking foolish risks with his men. As the sizable force assembled and prepared to make their way to the village, Brooklyn grabbed the gamelan, and the two made their way silently away from the camp, taking care not to attract any attention.
Once out of the immediate vicinity, he dropped to all fours. Boosting the gamelan onto his back, Brooklyn broke into a run, his talons tearing up the earth as he went, moving far faster than any human.
"We're in big trouble," Brooklyn said, leaping over a fallen log and clearing it easily. What he lacked in grace, he more than made up for in power.
"From what little I heard, I am in complete agreement. I only hope we can warn the others in time," the gamelan gasped, hanging on for dear life.
"As if they'll listen," he grumbled. Even Sata was mad at him, now. He certainly hadn't meant to anger her. Still, despite everything they had been through, he still seemed to mess things up regularly. He just hoped he'd have the chance to tell her that in person.
"Hang on!" he shouted, stopping short and dumping his "rider" onto the ground.
Grabbing the gamelan around the waist, Brooklyn took to the air, leaping from a small hill. Staying close to the ground, the two made far better time, although the sounds of the army behind them didn't fade.
* * * * *
With the whistling of wings, Brooklyn landed in what should have been the edge of the village perimeter. Carefully setting the gamelan down, Brooklyn rubbed his eyes, as if to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
"Where - where IS everyone?" he exclaimed.
Sure enough, the entire village was deserted. Except for the fires that were still burning, there were no traces of either men nor beasts.
Exchanging confused glances with the gamelan, Brooklyn steeled himself for what he knew would be his last fight.
"Great, I defeat Olympians, Vikings, and Steel Clan robots, and I'm gonna die defending an empty village!"
The gamelan turned to face him. "And yet you still fight, Brooklyn. Such is the mark of a true hero, one who fights, not for glory, but for what he knows is right."
Yeah, carve that on my tombstone, he thought to himself as the hoofbeats of the approaching army increased in volume. I'm sorry, Sata, I wish we could have had the chance to say 'I love you,' once more ...
"Brooklyn-san! Gamelan!" a familiar voice whispered.
I can almost hear her, Brooklyn thought, preparing to take as many of the attackers with him as he could. A small pebble bounced off his temple, and he heard Sata's voice, more clearly this time.
"Bakas! Over here!" the voice said, urgently this time.
Turning toward the sound, he saw Sata waving frantically to them from her concealed position atop a nearby tree. Her jade skin concealed her almost perfectly from anyone on the ground.
Seeing the pair finally notice her, she descended from the tree, glancing carefully towards where the pair had come from.
The two hastily made their way to the Ishimuran gargoyle's side, and she led them into the hills surrounding the village. There, hidden amongst the trees, shrubs, and rocks were several shallow trenches.
There, hidden from the onrushing army, were the villagers, with a few soldiers guarding them. From the vantage point of the village, they were completely undetectable.
The soliders were as experienced-looking as the ones he had fled from, keeping the others safe.
"Where's Sun Tzu?" Brooklyn asked, relief and anger warring within him, relief at seeing his beloved Sata again, and anger at their apparent abandonment by their general. The presence of the soldiers didn't even register.
"There," she indicated, pointing.
The forest seemed to come alive with motion, scores of men pouring forth from concealed positions much like the ones the villagers were hidden in.
Apparently, Sun Tzu had done more than merely give his army a report. From all around the village, his army struck, choking off any hope of escape.
With roars and battle-cries, Sun-Tzu's men charged at the raiders, their weapons drawn and ready.
Caught completely off guard, the initial wave of raiders was quickly subdued, totally routed by the troops bursting forth.
However, the next wave of soldiers came rushing in, intent on overwhelming the seemingly smaller defending force.
Having seen the defensible position taken up by Tzu's men, they attempted to attack from the sides, cutting them off. But, as the mounted soldiers raced towards them, the lead men fell, their horses crashing down into carefully- concealed pits and sending them tumbling.
Now, even more of Tzu's soldiers appeared on the horizon, closing from almost every direction. Every direction but one, the path leading directly into the fields.
The two gargoyles, watching from the hills where the villagers were hidden, watched the battle, waiting for an opening.
"Shall we?" Brooklyn asked, offering Sata his hand.
She nodded curtly, unsheathing her katana and leaping into the air, her wings billowing out to support her.
Yup, still mad, he thought to himself, taking his frustration out on any soldier foolish enough to attack him, his eyes blazing white-hot.
Sata soared through the air with a grace he hadn't seen since back at Wyvern, when Demona had taught some of his rookery how to fly. The Ishimuran gargoyle was a thing of grace and power, dodging enemy arrows and diving again and again into the throngs of enemy soldiers, stunning them as she dived.
Anyone foolish enough to attempt swordplay with her found themselves quickly disarmed, their weapon either knocked from their grasp, or broken due to the superior strength of both weapon and wielder.
Brooklyn had taken a more hands-on approach, bodily throwing the soldiers around like toys, but never careless enough to leave himself open to a counter- attack. Diving into the midst of the soldiers again and again, he would snatch one up, divest him of his weapons, and send him to rejoin his comrades, usually by dropping him on their heads.
Sun Tzu's men were also doing well, overwhelming any organized resistance with superior numbers and use of tactics. Their position, coupled with knowledge of the terrain and their enemy's strength, allowed them to maintain control.
Surprisingly, the raiders surrendered quickly, realizing that their only possible route of escape was to attempt to scales the hills and attack Sun Tzu's army. They knew that high ground offered the advantage, and the presence of the gargoyles further convinced them that they were better off yielding, for who held higher ground than those who could fly?
Once the raiders were secure, Sun Tzu led his army against the now much weaker force still back at the enemy campsite.
This victory was even easier, since the enemy army had fully expected their initial force to crush all opposition, and therefore they had sent most of their soldiers in the initial attack.
* * * * *
The cheering and revelry was likely to go on all night, spirits were so high. Small wonder, since Sun Tzu had achieved a masterful victory, not only suffering minimal casualties, but inflicting only minor ones as well.
Somehow, he had achieved the paradox, winning peace with precious little in the way of spilled blood. Brooklyn was beginning to see what the others saw in the man, and that made what he had to do even harder.
Apologizing never came easily to Brooklyn, and his harsh words and unyielding manner were only making him feel worse.
Not only had he insulted Sun Tzu by implying that he hadn't known how to fight, but he had nearly ruined the man's plans as well.
And, possibly worst of all, he had hurt Sata, too. Taking a deep breath, Brooklyn made his way to Sun Tzu's side, moving through the crowds of celebrating villagers and soldiers.
"Um, look," Brooklyn began, scratching the back of his head absently, "I have to admit, I..."
"Please, Brooklyn," Sun Tzu said, holding up a hand to silence him before he could apologize.
"As I have said, 'Know your enemy, and know yourself, and victory shall be yours.' Both of us wished to save the village, however, we both simply have different ways of doing it. Besides," he said, looking over at Sata. "I think you have someone closer and far more important to apologize to than an old general."
He bowed to the gargoyle, and turned back to the men he had been speaking with, allowing Brooklyn a clear path to his mate.
With a heavy heart, Brooklyn walked over to Sata, who was watching the night sky, a distant look in her almond-shaped eyes.
"S - Sata?" he whispered, almost afraid to disturb her.
"Yes, Brooklyn-san?" she replied, turning to look him in the eyes.
Part of him wanted to back off, to leave her alone, but a larger part knew that if he didn't apologize now, he would seriously hurt her.
"Sata, I, I can't really say enough, not to make up for implying that your honor didn't mean anything. I was wrong, and 'I'm sorry' doesn't nearly cover it. I hope you can forgive me, in time."
He then hung his head, the pain clearly evident on his face, and turned to walk away.
"Will wonders never cease," Sata said, placing a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "The uncultured baka admits his mistake." She then slowly turned him around, looking deep into his eyes.
"These," she said, indicating his eyes, "apologize more deeply than words ever could, my love. How could I ever hold anything against you? Who else would even have you?" she teased.
Smiling weakly, he took her hands in his, and leaned close.
Matching his moves, Sata pressed her lips to his, letting her love speak to him, soul to soul.
A rousing cheer went up from the villagers as the two gargoyles kissed, their love healing the rift between them.
Suddenly, a familiar sputtering sound erupted from Brooklyn's belt pouch as the Phoenix Gate came to life once more. In its characteristic ball of flame, the two gargoyles were seemingly consumed as the walls of time and space around them burned away, propelling them to another place and time.
* * * * *