Brothers in Arms
Written by: Craig Ryan and Beth Mashburn
Story concept by: Constance Cochran
Illustrations by: Jessica Entis
Previously on Timedancer…
Brooklyn: "Let's say you're right. What can we do? Goliath still believes humanity will accept us eventually."
Demona: "Goliath must be made to see the truth for the good of us all. There is a way, Brooklyn. The Grimorum Arcanorum. Bring it to me. There is a spell of truth in its pages. With it, I can open Goliath's eyes. Once Goliath understands, the rest will follow him."
* * *
Demona: "Excellent. Now all I need is Goliath. But, how to get him here..."
Brooklyn: "I'll handle that. Anything to make him see the truth."
* * *
Brooklyn: "No, this wasn't the plan. I-I wanted to free his mind, not enslave it."
Demona: "You wanted him to know the truth. Now what we tell him will be the only truth he knows."
* * *
Brooklyn: "I don't know if you can understand me, Goliath, but, I'm sorry. This is all my fault. If I hadn't let Demona talk me into stealing the Grimorum..."
~ Temptation ~
* * * * *
Brothers in Arms
* * * * *
Flickering streams of light flowed through the thin slits of the tiny blockhouse set on the northwestern side of the great hill. Animals froze and listened to the yells, chuckles, and laughter coming from the inside of the square building. The moon shone softly upon the stone structure that night, illuminating the stone building as well as the dense woods surrounding it.
Inside the blockhouse three young soldiers huddled around a small cookfire. Held above the fire by two pairs of rusty bars was a pot of bubbling brown stew. The chunky liquid was routinely stirred by a large and rather chubby soldier named William. His thick arms and large torso easily made him the biggest and heaviest of the trio. The two other soldiers stationed at the blockhouse gathered around the cookfire with William upon the chilly spring night.
Henry, an unusually small and wiry man, sat poking the cookfire with his walking stick. Occasionally, Henry would "accidentally" push a log over towards William who immediately skipped back from the fire. After a round of curses he would kick the burning log back into the fire and continue stirring the stew.
Simon, the tallest of the three, with his long blond hair drawn back into a tail, sat gazing at the fire. A confident air surrounded him like glue, making it obvious that he was in charge.
All of them wore similar coats that had been quickly dyed red and blue: the colors of the infantry. "US Infantry" was also stamped on their blue caps. It was the spring of 1814 and the United States had been at war with Britain for two long years.
"Come on! Hurry up with dinner, Will," Simon urged as he took in the scent of the stew that floated about the blockhouse.
"I'm goin'. I'm goin'. This stew doesn't cook fast you know..." William muttered.
"By the time you're done with our stew this stupid war will be over!" Henry retorted.
"Yah, and if the Brits ever show their faces around here we'll kick them all the way back to England," Simon said as he grabbed his musket and swung it in an arc, "just like our fathers and grandfathers did last time."
"And with that cannon up top we can blow their armies to kingdom come!"
William seconded as he stirred the stew.
"Or blow yourselves up, knowing you fellows..." Henry retorted.
"How about we fire you out the cannon instead!" Simon laughed as he sat back down.
"A human cannonball?!" Henry shot back, "At least I'd kill more people than you two ever will... You two couldn't hit the broadside of a barn much less the British Army!" Henry pulled his coat closer around him, "Why couldn't they put us up here in the summer?"
"At least then we could actually fight the Brits without freezing to death." William chuckled.
A small red flame began to form in a corner of the blockhouse. To the trio's surprise, the flame quickly grew to a large sphere that nearly touched the stone ceiling, illuminating the entire stone chamber of the tiny fort.
Simon and Henry leapt to their feet, screaming as they made for the door.
William dropped his spoon in the stew and likewise, turned to run. The ball of flame dissipated, leaving two strange creatures in its wake.
The young soldiers could only stare at the two winged beings that stood before them. The first one looked like a demon from some evil plane of existence. The long bone horns, the bleached mane, and the scarlet colored skin all made the creature appear to be an evil apparition. The other, a jade green female being, had an air of peacefulness around her. Strapped to her back were two slender swords. Her elaborately designed kimono had a calming effect on the soldiers, but her large wings and razor sharp talons added to the trio's fear. Both creatures had confused expressions engraved upon their faces, and both were blocking the only exit.
The soldiers scrambled backwards, and grabbed their muskets hoping they could protect themselves from the creatures that blocked their escape. William began muttering a prayer, while Simon raised his musket and pointed it towards their unwelcome guests.
"D-D-Don't move you-you MONSTERS!" Simon yelled as he jabbed his musket towards the gargoyles. Henry made his way to the wall on the left side of the door, flanking their unwelcome visitors, while William stuck close to Simon.
"St-st-stay back or I'll kill you," Simon yelled as he jabbed his musket at the two gargoyles. William's musket shook as his hands trembled in fear.
"G-Get away you demons!" William screamed.
"What's going on here..." Brooklyn started only to have a musket shoved in his face.
"Get back, demon!" Henry shouted.
"Please calm down young ones. We are not here to hurt you," Sata softly spoke. William stopped trembling for a moment, but then began shaking even more violently.
"Go back where you came from, demons!" he screeched.
"And keep your hands up," Simon added.
"Look, we don't know who..." Brooklyn stepped forward only to have two muskets jabbed at his belly, forcing him to retreat.
"Keep your distance, demon!" Simon spoke. Brooklyn coolly and slowly raised his arms into the chill air.
"Please just listen..." Sata began.
"Just shut up!" the agitated William commanded, "We don't want you putting any of your spells over us!"
"Make another move, creature," Henry started," and I'll shoot you. I swear
"If we were demons you wouldn't be able to hurt us anyway," Brooklyn said with a wry look. He sighed. It wasn't the first time and it probably wouldn't be the last.
"And we do not want to hurt you three," Sata calmly said, "Please put the guns down..." Her soft, even tones had a calming effect on the young men. William stopped trembling, and Simon lowered his gun slightly. Henry still had his musket ready and aimed at the gargoyles' heads.
"We are not demons," Brooklyn repeated emphatically. An idea popped into his head, "If we were, we would have pitchforks or something."
"We are not your enemies, and you are not ours," Sata said.
The trio looked at one another, each silently asking the others what to do. Finally, Simon and Henry lowered their guns. William looked back and forth at his friends, and held his gun up for a moment longer before lowering the barrel to the dirt covered floor.
"Thank you," Sata sighed. Henry wiped away the sweat that had built up on his forehead.
Simon shrugged and tried to make the best of it, "It's been pretty dull up here these past few months. If you are devils, then perhaps we've been shot by the British and don't know it yet. If you are a hallucination, you are a most interesting one."
The gargoyles and the soldiers introduced themselves, though the trio was still a bit edgy. William sat aside his musket and attended his stew, still keeping an eye on the two gargoyles. Brooklyn's nose caught a whiff of the bubbling stew above the cookfire. Sata smelled it too, and it reminded her just how long it had been since their last meal. Henry caught the expressions on the gargoyles' faces, but hesitated a moment before speaking.
"If you two are hungry, you can have some of our stew," Henry offered looking to his companions to make sure they agreed, "We have more than enough..." Simon and William nodded reluctantly.
"Please!" Brooklyn interrupted, "We're starved!"
"It's been a while since we last ate. Thank you for your offer," Sata added as she bowed eloquently. William warily poured a little of the watery stew into the cups and handed them to the famished gargoyles. "It's mostly roots. We haven't been re-supplied for a while and the hunting's pretty thin this early in the spring."
"So where are we, anyway?" Brooklyn inquired as William served the rest of his comrades.
"Well, we are in the southern part of New York," Simon said.
"The army set up a bunch of blockhouses like this one all across the northern frontier just in case the British attack from Canada," Henry continued.
"We've been stationed up here for more than two months, and everything's been fine, except no one's stopped by," William took the empty pot from the fire and began to rinse it out.
"The closest thing to a British soldier we've seen is a wild deer," Simon remarked. "Right now it looks as if nothing will ever happen."
"I wish they would get on with this war or end it soon. I'm not sure how much more of this waiting I can take..." William said.
"Why?" Henry returned, "We're getting paid good money to sit up here in the blockhouse. We're going to need it if we're going to keep feeding you!"
"Just, one thing," Brooklyn interrupted, "What year is it?"
"It's 1814," Henry replied. The three soldiers looked at Brooklyn as if he'd grown another head.
Simon muttered to William, "Where're they from that they don't know the year?"
William looked sidelong at him with an 'isn't that obvious?' look on his face.
"You three must have a lot of time on your hands..." Sata remarked to break the silence. "What do you do for entertainment?"
Henry shrugged. "Lately? Mostly hunting for supplies to make the stew edible." Simon snickered. William glowered and muttered something about unexpected guests ruining the cooking.
Henry quickly continued, "Mostly we whittle."
Sata cocked her head inquisitively. Encouraged, Henry dug into his pack and came up with some handmade slingshots and a couple of cleverly joined wooden boxes.
"Ah," Sata said with delight, "These are much like ones made in my homeland! May I see?"
Henry carefully showed her how the boxes worked, each having a small compartment with a hidden opening. Brooklyn looked over and shook his head. "I never could get the hang of those things."
Sata tossed him a short scowl, then shook her head. All conversation in the room stopped, leaving an awkward silence in the air.
After a few moments Simon spoke up. "Shouldn't we get some sleep?" William and Henry glanced at the gargoyles and back to Simon, obviously wondering if their friend's proposal was wise. Brooklyn caught the worried looks on the trio's faces as they silently debated. He was about to say something when the problem solved itself.
"Regs say that someone should be standing guard," Simon said quietly. William quickly agreed, confirming Brooklyn's thoughts.
"Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable if we step outside for a little while?" Brooklyn said.
"Yes, we would..." William mumbled under his breath. With that, Brooklyn quickly caped his wings around himself and squeezed his way through the tiny entrance to the blockhouse. About midway through his chest and back became stuck in the doorway. With a little shoving he succeeded in getting through the tiny doorframe and into the icy night air. Sata managed to get through the door awkwardly, but with little difficulty.
Outside, the half moon gave off a dull light as it hung in a starry expanse of cloudless night. Sata glanced around at the lush woods that lay before them. The moon's dim light cast a white glow upon the dense trees and thick underbrush. Sata turned and looked up to the roof of the tiny blockhouse.
"Shall we take a better look, my love?" she said wryly. Brooklyn glanced up to the top of the blockhouse.
"Sure, Sata-chan," her mate replied. The two companions dug their claws into the stone wall and easily scaled the small structure.
"Even considering this is over a hundred years before your time, this doesn't much look like the New York area that we have seen and that you described," Sata said as she reached the top. When Brooklyn got his first look at the magnificent view, his jaw dropped.
The soft glow of the moon and the dull starlight lit up the dense forest below them. The forest continued down at the bottom of the great hill and on for miles ahead. Above them, billions of tiny stars filled the huge sea of darkness that was the night sky, lighting the early spring night. While Sata was immersed in the splendor of the sky, Brooklyn was more concerned with the ground below.
"But...this can't be...if this is the southern part of New York, this should be...uh...oh, wait," Brooklyn pause for a moment and let the realization set in, "Yeah, there wouldn't be a Yonkers yet. Smart, Brooklyn. Real smart."
The two gargoyles seated themselves upon the stone roof and looked out over the wild forest and upon the sea of stars, each immersed in their own thoughts.
* * * * *
Inside the Blockhouse
A lone, burning piece of wood rested among the blistering coals of the dying cookfire. Simon and William lay next to one another, close to the warmth of the embers. Both were curled up with their thick wool blankets covering their warm bodies.
Henry, stuck with guard duty, poked the burning log, raising a multitude of sparks. He watched the sparks dance with each other in the air until they finally winked out of existence. He froze for a moment as his ears picked up a dull sound of scratching coming from above. Holding his breath, Henry tensed and glanced up at the stone ceiling. He sighed as the scratching ceased and the quiet sound of the two gargoyles talking replaced it. His gaze came back to the dying cookfire as he thought about the two. They looked different, but they behaved well. Although, that was no guarantee that they weren't hiding secrets of their own, as Henry well knew.
Henry reached over to his personal supply pack and pulled it closer to the fire. Silently, he undid the latches and opened the top of his tattered pack. After a few moments of fumbling through his various supplies and gadgets, Henry withdrew a tattered letter.
Slowly he unfolded the letter, careful not to tear the already frayed edges of the paper. His weary eyes scrutinized every letter of every word that had been penned on the deteriorating paper. It didn't matter too much. He had read across this letter thousands of times before, firmly embedding the message into his mind. Still he read over the words again and again.
Slowly, the young man's head drooped and he let the letter slip from his fingers and into his lap.
The topic that raced through Henry's mind was not a new one. He had stayed up many nights debating with himself. Every night he would go to sleep without an answer or a course of action. This night would be no different.
With a deep sigh, Henry retrieved the letter and neatly folded it in thirds. He opened his pack again and slid the letter inside, deep under his other belongings.
What if his friends went looking through his bag and found the letter? What if they figured out what he was? What would they do to him?
Henry quickly pulled the letter back out from his bag and tucked it inside his coat. After making sure that it wouldn't fall out unexpectedly, Henry grabbed his blanket and curled up next to the dying fire.
* * * * *
The bright stars gradually disappeared as orange rays of light appeared over the eastern horizon. The ball of fire that dawned every day was only minutes away from releasing its great light upon the land. Brooklyn looked over to the coming dawn and sighed. His whole body was telling him not to get up from his sitting position. Sata looked so peaceful with her head on his shoulder, but Brooklyn's mind knew there was danger being out in the open.
"Dawn's coming," Brooklyn pointed out. Sata lifted her head from the crimson gargoyle's shoulder. "We had better get back inside the blockhouse or at least hide in the woods before the sun rises."
"Why, Brooklyn-san?" Sata asked.
"Sata-chan, let's just say that if the British do attack, I don't want to be out in plain view as canon fodder." Sata nodded. During the night she had examined the cannon mounted on the roof. After seeing the iron cannonballs and canisters of grapeshot, she could well understand Brooklyn's apprehension. Brooklyn approached the edge of the roof and leapt silently to the ground below with Sata close behind. Brooklyn knocked on the iron door, letting its clang echo through the blockhouse. After a moment, the two mates heard rustling inside the building.
"Who is it?" came Henry's voice.
"It's us, Henry. Can you let us in?" Sata replied. Brooklyn covered his ears as the bolt screeched against something. Henry, with some trouble, pulled the door all the way open. He put a finger to his lips.
"Quiet. My friends are sleeping." The two gargoyles nodded and quietly squeezed their way through the doorway. Henry quickly shut the door behind them. Sata and Brooklyn found a corner in the blockhouse and waited for the dawning sun. Sata looked over at Henry.
"Do not be alarmed by what happens, Henry-san. We will return when the sun goes down."
To Henry's horror, Brooklyn took up a crouched menacing position and Sata struck a contemplative pose just as the sun peeked over the horizon. Like laser beams, the sun's rays came through the slits of the blockhouse. Henry's terror turned to amazement as the two creatures of the night turned to stone before his eyes. After a few seconds Henry found the will to approach the two statues. Slowly, Henry let his hand fall upon the cool stone of Brooklyn's beak.
"Wow..." Henry murmured. Henry turned around as his friends began to stir.
Once more he looked back at the two sinister looking statues.
"I really hope you two aren't demons..."
* * * * *
Henry sat watch until the day was well advanced and his stomach started to grumble uneasily. He brewed some watery coffee, then woke his bunkmates.
"What's for breakfast?" William said as he yawned and stretched.
"Dried meat, hardtack, and black stuff-- same as always."
"Feh," Simon muttered. "You'd think that someone would figure out something better than hardtack."
William grinned. "You can always go ask the Indians and Brits if they've got something better."
Henry smothered a yawn and moved into the corner. "I'm for the sack. You two can keep an eye on our visitors for the rest of the day." He jerked a thumb at the statues in the corner.
Simon's eyebrows rose. "Either that was no hallucination or the hardtack's rotten and I'm seeing things."
"They said that they'll wake up as the sun goes down..." Henry's voice trailed off into small snores.
William slowly crossed himself and backed away. He grabbed up the bucket and hurried outside to get water and take care of the day's business. Simon got up and peered carefully at the frozen forms of Brooklyn and Sata. "Amazing, even their clothes and weapons change!"
"I don't see what's so amazing about a couple of demons turning to stone in the light of day," William grumbled as he came back in. "Maybe we'll be lucky and they'll be that way permanently." He grabbed a cloth and started polishing the barrel of his musket.
Simon settled himself by the door and pulled out a half-carved block of wood and a penknife. "Will, why see the worst? They might look like demons, but they certainly don't act like it."
"Humph! Appearin' in a bunch of flames, turning to stone in the sun, horns, wings, and tails! I know what I think!" William bent over his weapon and polished harder.
"You're going to polish a hole in that if you keep going."
Simon thought about it awhile. Almost unnoticed, the wood in his hands began to take on the rough outlines of a gargoyle. "You know. I'm not quite sure what to make of them either, but I remember stories that some of the old sailors used to tell about strange people and beasts in Africa and the Indies. Maybe these two are from someplace like that. The green one, Sata, her clothes remind me of a description I once heard of some people in the Indies."
William stared at Simon, but stopped working on the musket. After a moment, he picked up the weapon and stepped outside. It was a warm day, but he shivered a little bit as he thought about Brooklyn and Sata. His mind whirled with conflicting thoughts.
They looked like demons, but they hadn't tried to do anything demonic. They turned to stone during the day. Well, some animals went into hibernation. The hardest thing to accept was the way they had appeared in the blockhouse. He couldn't come up with an explanation for that one, except some kind of magic.
The big man sat and thought for a couple of hours as he kept watch in the warm spring sunlight. Finally he sighed. The two gargoyles hadn't offered to harm anyone. Maybe Simon was right. Maybe they were just strangers from some other place.
Simon looked up from his whittling. He had carefully watched William's face as the other soldier sorted through his inner turmoil. "Made a decision yet? It's going to be time to start supper soon."
"I'll give them a chance. But, I'll still keep my eye on them."
"Oh, I will too. Better to trust your bunkmates than a friend you've just made."
* * * * *
As dusk approached the young soldiers built up their cookfire once again.
"Alright, Henry, it's your turn," Simon declared.
"No way Simon," Henry shot back, "I cooked the stew for us two nights ago!"
"If you could call that dirt filled water stew..." William laughed.
"Like you did any better last night," Henry returned.
"Hey, at least it had flavor, William said meaningfully.
"Alright, I'll do it!" Simon yelled, seeing that the insults weren't getting them any closer to supper. Simon grabbed some wrinkled potatoes and carrots that looked more like painted orange sticks and dumped them in the pot of water. On top of that, he tossed in some black shriveled pieces that might have once qualified as meat, though who knew what kind. William and Henry continued insulting each other's cooking, while the sun dipped farther below the horizon.
Henry glanced out one of the gun slits and watched the sun disappear below the horizon. He spun around when he heard loud cracklings and pops. Simon's eyes went wide, and he nearly dropped the stew spoon when he saw thin cracks begin to snake their way up and down the stone gargoyles. William backed up as the eyes of the statues began blazing: Brooklyn's an almost fiery white and Sata's an eerie red.
The gargoyles broke from their stone skins with great roars, sending pieces of rock everywhere. William stumbled backward into Henry, sending them both to the stone floor. Simon instinctively dropped the spoon, grabbed his musket, primed it, and aimed at the sinister appearing gargoyles.
As the waves of adrenaline quickly wore off, the two mates looked over to the frozen soldiers near the metal door. Sata's jade green cheeks grew slightly red. Brooklyn's gaze dropped to floor while he ran his taloned fingers through his white mane.
"Um... Yah, uh...sorry," Brooklyn apologized, "That sorta happens every sundown." The soldiers still stood there, frozen with fear and astonishment. William's face began to shift from peach color to a light blue.
"You can breathe if you want..." Sata suggested.
Simon dropped his musket as he took a deep breath. Henry and William sighed in relief as the color flowed back into their faces. Sata offered her hands to the two frightened soldiers, but both failed to move an inch. She smiled, but didn't change position. The boys hesitated for a moment longer before taking Sata's clawed hands. Simon carefully unloaded the powder from his musket and set the weapon aside as Sata easily lifted his two friends from the floor.
"Whew...you scared us half to death!" Simon stated.
"All the way TO death if you ask me..." William let a deathlike expression cross his face. "I hate getting scared on an empty stomach." Henry just rolled his eyes at his comrade's statement.
"Like it was ever empty, fat boy," Henry spoke as he poked William's rather large stomach. William winced at the insult, but made no effort to counter it. Brooklyn shook his head at the bickering. It sounded all too much like his rookery sibs.
Simon went back to the stew, while the rest of the party found their seats on the dirt covered floor. It wasn't long before those around the cookfire began to sense a pungent and vile smell. It only took a moment before and the others figured out where it was coming from...
"Simon! The stew's burning!" Henry shouted. A thin stream of smoke began to float up from the bubbling stew.
"You're supposed to stir the stew, you dolt, and soak the vegetables first!" William sighed, "I should've cooked supper like I did last night!"
"If you can call the stuff we had last night stew!" Simon shot back.
"At least it was edible," Henry added. Brooklyn got to his feet and peered inside the iron pot. Within he could see the orange colored stew simmering over the fire. The crimson gargoyle could make out black morsels of food floating around in the concoction.
"I hope you all like charcoal..." Brooklyn announced.
"Why?" Sata asked.
"Because it looks like that's what were having."
"Only you could mess up this stew. Only you..." Henry muttered. Simon sneered at the comment. "Well, if two certain other people hadn't been busy arguing…"
"He's not that bad is he?" Brooklyn asked. William chuckled.
"Oh, yes. We didn't have supper once last week because he managed to spill the whole stew into the fire by stirring it too hard," Henry smiled
"It was an ACCIDENT!" Simon fumed.
"Right..." William rolled his eyes. Henry turned to William.
"Maybe we should just cook from now on, William. I mean it's obvious our great chef over there doesn't know beans about cooking."
"WHAT?! I don't know how to cook?! Remember that deer I shot and cooked for you two? You liked my cooking then!" Simon shouted. The other two soldiers snickered.
"That was a squirrel, Simon, and it still had most of the hair on it..."
Brooklyn couldn't help, but smile at the comment. It somehow reminded him of some of the arguments that he used to get into with Lex and Broadway.
"You two must have felt all warm and fuzzy inside after that dinner..."
Sata just chuckled.
"Hey, William, remember the time he used the wild mushrooms?" Henry joked.
Simon's face grew stricken.
"Don't you dare say a word about that or I'll..."
"Muuuuuushrooms..." William chanted. Henry bent over with laughter, holding his sides.
"Hey, you fellows have had your own share of bad days too!" Simon shot back.
"Not as bad as your cooking. What you call stew is what most people call poison," Henry jested. William just laughed.
"I am going to make you hurt so much..." Simon stepped back as if to charge his two friends, but instead jostled the crimson gargoyle. In the heated exchange of playful insults, Simon had not realized that Brooklyn was still standing behind him. Simon froze. In the moment before he turned, Brooklyn's twisted sense of humor kicked in. He realized exactly what Simon was thinking and decided to have some fun. Brooklyn grinned and winked at the others to let them in on the joke, quickly hiding it as Simon turned around.
Simon slowly looked up at the red gargoyle. Brooklyn neither smiled nor frowned at him, but his eyes seemed to have a raging madness boiling with in them. A look of complete and utter terror spread across Simon's face as quickly as a cloud covering the sun. His mind instantly created a million possible conclusions to this event...all were bad. He thought that if he scarcely breathed that the red demon would tear him to shreds.
Brooklyn began a low rumbling growl deep in his chest, which was all the encouragement Simon needed. Half crawling, Simon stumbled away from the demon over to his fellow soldiers as if they could offer him some protection, but Henry and William had collapsed against each other, laughing hysterically.
Sata was trying, unsuccessfully, to be stern. "Brooklyn-san! That was not… not..." She gave up and started chuckling.
Simon looked bewildered for a moment, then realized that Brooklyn, as well as everyone else, was laughing at him. He clenched his fists in anger.
"That wasn't..." he started. Then he shook his head and addressed the gargoyles. "You two are all right in my book. Anyone who can play that kind of prank just can't be evil." Then he suddenly grinned back at everyone. "However, the real joke's on all of you. You still have to eat the stew!"
William and Henry groaned and looked at each other. "Do you think we can keep him from cooking again?"
"I dunno, but it might be worth it just to save our stomachs."
* * * * *
Although it was thick, chunky, and very crunchy, all five of them managed to eat all of Simon's ill-made stew. Sata politely pronounced it good. Brooklyn looked at her incredulously and muttered something about never letting her taste his cooking if he could help it.
The insults kept on coming at Simon all throughout dinner, but eventually the party grew bored of the subject and moved on to more interesting topics.
"Yah, life sure is good in the army, especially out here in the middle of nowhere," William announced as he stretched his arms. Sata, meanwhile, laid her head gently on her mate's shoulder. As she did, she grabbed Brooklyn's hand and entwined her fingers with his.
"So where are you guys going to go when the war's over?" Brooklyn asked in an effort to keep his mind on the conversation as well as Sata's soothing touch.
"Well, most of my family is in New Jersey," Simon started.
"Wow, Jersey's around now?!" Brooklyn interrupted. Simon looked at his winged friend questionably.
"Yup, so New Jersey is where I come from. My fiancée lives there too. We'll probably marry when I leave this ugly fort."
"Right now I'm engaged to this pretty girl back home." William had a totally goofy, lovesick look on his face. He sounded so much like Broadway pining after Angela that Brooklyn had to rub a hand across his beak to hide the grin.
"Pretty? She's downright ugly!" Simon eagerly spoke.
"You ain't never seen her!" William shot back. The two lovebirds chuckled.
"I still say she's ugly." Simon smiled. This was obviously a longstanding source of gentle ribbing between the two. William could only sigh.
"Anyways, I met her through one of my brothers... or was it sisters? I don't know anymore..."
"How many brothers and sisters do you have?" Brooklyn inquired. William answered without flinching.
"Man, your mother must really love children..." Brooklyn said.
"Naw, she hates them, they're always running around underfoot, getting skinned knees, and being sick. Us older ones always ended up taking care of the younger ones. I was lucky enough to be one of the older kids. I was apprenticed to a chandler, but the war came along. So, here I am."
"I only wish I could have children of my own some day," Sata said wistfully. Brooklyn smiled.
"One of these days we'll get back to... um… where we started. Then we can settle down together."
He turned towards Henry.
"So, Henry what's your life like outside the army?" Brooklyn asked. Simon and William both snickered.
"Oh, Henry, he's a leaf blowing in the wind, the lucky fellow," Simon laughed.
Henry thought fast. He had to remember what he had told Simon and Will before.
"It's not much really," Henry shrugged, "My parents died when I was young. A little bit after that I became an apprentice to a blacksmith for a while. He realized after a couple of years that I was never going to grow strong enough to work as a smith, so he released me from my apprenticeship. I had a small talent for woodworking, so I wandered from town to town and built things for people. I didn't get paid much, but it was enough. A month or two after the war started I joined up. I guess it's an ok life if you like drifting from place to place."
"Yah, that's a pretty good life you got there Henry..." Simon said thoughtfully, "I always wanted to wander around and see the country, but there were always too many responsibilities to my family."
"Well, you both know I'd trade my way of life for either of yours in a moment," Henry said softly. He gazed straight at Simon and William, his eyes never wavering. It was like he was looking directly into their souls. He looked down.
"You know, you two are like the brothers I never had." A long silence followed as Henry looked away, embarrassed by his admission. William cleared his throat.
"Yah, well I know I would trade my life for that general of ours in an instant," William said with conviction. "What's his name?" Simon snapped his fingers.
"Harrison? General William Harrison I think..." As the three began to converse about other things, Sata noticed that Brooklyn was unusually quiet. She glanced up and saw sadness in her mate's eyes, an emotion she saw little of. He stared fixedly into the dying fire. With a push from her finger, Sata lovingly turned Brooklyn's head so that it faced her own.
"What is troubling you Brooklyn-san?" Sata whispered softly so the three soldiers wouldn't hear. Brooklyn's eyes met hers.
"It's... ah, it just that joking around with you and the guys over there reminded of our trio, my trio, when we were still a trio," Brooklyn heaved a great sigh, "I guess I'm just a little homesick. I only wish I could be with them now..." Sata smiled lovingly and understandingly.
"My love," Sata paused, "You aren't the only one who's had those thoughts,"
The green gargoyle leaned over and kissed Brooklyn's beak comfortingly as Simon got up from his place upon the ground.
"Alright you two, it's time to do the worst part of our duty up here."
Simon began, "William, you're on cleanup tonight."
"I was on it last night!" William whined
"Nobody was on cleanup last night!" Simon shot back as he jerked his head in the direction of the trio's two guests.
"Oh, yaaaahhhh..." Henry rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry, William. We will help you out," Sata added as she glanced back at her slightly horror stricken mate. William quickly offered his thanks to the two gargoyles.
"Come on Henry, let's go walk our patrol." Henry grumbled as he rose from his comfortable seat on the dusty ground.
"Feh, why do we have to walk these stupid patrols?" Henry protested, "We're out in the middle of nowhere, and IF the Brits DO come we'll see them before they get within ten miles of this place."
"Regs are regs. And if any officers come by, we'll be in big trouble for not doing our duty. Now come on," Henry nodded his head. All the while he was muttering curses under his breath.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn and William began scrubbing the pot out and scouring the utensils. Sata found the sorry excuse for a broom and swept out the main area of the floor. Once the dishes were done, William pulled out his kit and began checking his supplies of powder and shot. Meanwhile, the green gargoyle grabbed the hilt of her katana and easily withdrew it from its sheath. William froze as his gaze locked on the lustrous blade.
"Wooooowwww...," he murmured. He quietly finished putting his supplies in order and moved over to watch Sata. Sata looked up from momentarily from her careful examination of her weapon. Noticing William's actions, she nodded approvingly. "A good warrior always cares for his or her weapons."
"I wish I had one of those," he said longingly. "Then I'd be able to cut those Brits into shreds."
"It's a fine blade," Sata said. She continued to polish in smooth even strokes. William had moved closer to examine the blade, never noticing how close he was to one of the 'demons'. Sata grinned as her ploy successfully relaxed the big man.
"Why are you at war with the British anyway?" Brooklyn asked as he set the cookpot on its low shelf. Sata sheathed her katana and pulled out the shorter wakazashi to give it the same examination and cleaning. William's eyes never moved as he watched Sata. He replied with a slightly distracted air.
"Uh, there are a lot of different reasons, but I guess if you had to put it on one thing it would have to be trade. The British have been seizing our ships and pressing the sailors into their navy. It's not like they have a choice. You either join the navy or go overboard."
"I can see why your people weren't happy," Sata spoke as she finished polishing the smaller blade. In moments, it was back in its sheath, to the dismay of William.
"So you guys decided to go and blow them away," Brooklyn smiled. William eyed the gargoyle.
"Are you kidding? We've been getting killed! The Indian problem hasn't helped us out either. They ain't hurting us much though."
"You guys will win," Brooklyn said confidently.
"Come on! If anything, we'll be their colonies all over again!" William muttered.
"Then you shall fight back the way you did before, William-san." Sata spoke.
"It was just luck that we broke away decades ago. We don't have that luck anymore, and we sure haven't got the strength to beat back the Brits either. We've been lucky that up until recently ol' George has been occupied with France and Spain." William shook his head. "I don't mean to speak badly of the government, but I sure wish that they hadn't gone and stirred things up."
"Peace might be the only way out for your..." Sata was abruptly cut off by a faint, deep growl coming from outside the blockhouse. William's heart skipped a beat as the growl reached his cold ears.
"What the heck was that?" Brooklyn asked. William only shook his head and motioned for silence. The three friends silently listened for the growl again. The only thing they could hear was the beating of their own hearts. Just as they thought the sound was gone, a roar echoed through the woods followed by the crack of a musket shot. This time it was very clear that it was the roar of a bear. Following the roar were two very human screams.
"Henry! Simon!" The three shouted in unison. William wasted no time. Seconds after the screams, he was out the door with his musket in hand. The two gargoyles were close behind. William wasn't even surprised when he noticed the gargoyles' eyes blazing with a fiery light.
* * * * *
The bear roared again at the two soldiers. Fortunately, they were well out of range of its razor sharp teeth, but they were also cornered up in a tree. Henry's musket lay a short distance away from the tree, but Simon still had his tightly clenched in his thin hands.
"Go away, you beast!" Simon yelled at the bear. The bear roared back, but instead of walking away, the ferocious animal got on its hind legs and started pushing the tree with its forelegs. Simon was attempting to load his musket, but his cramped position made it difficult, if not impossible. From his height in the tree, Simon couldn't jab the bear with his bayonet either.
"We are in deep trouble!" Henry screamed. The bear shoved the tree again. This time Simon nearly lost his grip on the thick branch he was straddling. The bear roared furiously. After getting up from hibernation, it was starving, and these two were easy prey. Summing up most of its energy, the bear gave the tree a massive push. Simon held on, but Henry wasn't as lucky.
Henry's hands slipped from the branch he sat on. Simon, who was still fumbling with his musket, grabbed one of Henry's flailing arms, but lost the musket in the process. After hitting several branches on the way down, the musket bounced harmlessly off the bear's thick hide. The already enraged beast snarled at the annoyance and redoubled its efforts. Simon cursed his luck at losing his only weapon. Now he concentrated on saving Henry's life.
Meanwhile, Henry was still thrashing around and screaming at the top of his lungs.
"Shut up, Henry, and stop moving your arms!" Simon shouted above Henry's screams, "You're not falling anymore!" Unnoticed, a tattered piece of paper slid from Henry's jacket and fluttered to the ground. The bear ignored the paper completely and continued to focus on its potential supper.
Simon, using all his strength, managed to pull the dangling Henry up to a thicker branch. Henry concentrated on clinging tightly to his new perch.
"I was almost a goner!" Henry said.
"We'll probably still be goners," was Simon's optimistic reply. Henry nearly lost his grip again when the bear slammed its weight into the tree yet another time.
Battle cries cut through the night as the two gargoyles, with eyes blazing, dove towards the beast. The bear turned just in time for the warriors to smash right into its empty stomach. The bear went tumbling, while the gargoyles landed on their feet and prepared for a charge. The surprised bear shook itself, took one look at the gargoyles, growled, and then lumbered off into the dense woods. This meal, though large, wasn't worth that much trouble. William came running onto the scene with his musket ready just as the bear disappeared into the woods.
"I missed it," William sighed. From up in the tree, the two terror stricken soldiers glared at William, "Oh, sorry," he said rather sheepishly. "I was thinking of the cookpot."
Simon and Henry easily climbed down from the battered tree. Scratches marred the trunk of the tree from the bear's failed attack on the soldiers. Simon looked up at his two saviors with great awe.
"Well," Simon quipped, "All I can say is, if the British DO decide to attack from the north, they're in for a nasty surprise!"
"The way you two came out of the woods with your eyes all lit up like that," Henry spoke, "You two looked like bats out of hell... uh, no offense if you are." Simon knelt and retrieved his musket as Henry uttered his words of praise. As he knelt there, he noticed the letter that had fallen out of Henry's coat pocket. There it was lying unfolded upon the damp ground. The stars that hung in the night sky offered just enough light to reveal the seal at the edge of the rumpled letter.
"Henry, you dropped something when you..." Simon's voice trailed off when his eyes fell upon the seal. Simon's fingers trembled as he plucked the letter from its resting place on the ground. The color drained from Henry's face.
"Simon, give that to me," Henry managed to say through clenched teeth. It was too late, though. Simon's eyes grew wide, then narrowed.
"What's going on, Simon?" William asked hesitantly. Simon just shoved the letter onto William's chest and slowly raised his musket at Henry. William could only hold the damp and torn letter in his hands.
"We're going back," Simon muttered coldly.
"Simon, what are you doing?" Brooklyn demanded.
"First, I want to read this in better light," was Simon's only response. With that, he easily shoved the wiry Henry back in the direction of the tiny blockhouse. Strangely enough, Henry didn't utter a single word of protest.
* * * * *
Simon took a moment to reload and prime his musket, then read the letter to the five present. Only four of them needed to hear it. Henry just sat there with his knees up to his chest and his face buried deep within his hands. William just stared at Henry. His jaw easily went slack when Simon read the letter to the group. He just couldn't believe what he was hearing, but in the back of his mind he knew it was true. Brooklyn and Sata were the only ones who remained calm through the whole situation. Simon, meanwhile, grasped the letter tightly against his raised musket, ready to fire a shot at a moment's notice.
"You're jumping to conclusions. You have to think these things through..." Brooklyn began.
"Think it through?" Simon interrupted, "Brooklyn, this is the seal of the British Army. On a letter to Henry, telling him to meet a messenger so he can get his reward for a service rendered." William's mouth still hung open and he could say nothing.
"But he has not done anything that we can see," Sata argued. "Appearances can often be deceiving."
"Yet," Simon countered.
"You have no proof," the crimson gargoyle again argued. Simon's gaze, as well as his musket, still remained locked upon the thin traitor.
"He's a traitor!" Simon shouted, "I don't know what his mission was, but he's going to give information to the British." He glared at Henry. "Another Benedict Arnold! What did they promise you?!? And I can't believe...can't believe I trusted you all these months..." Simon's voice cracked as the stain and stress quickly reached its peak.
"Look at the date on the letter. The date he was supposed to meet the messenger. It's weeks past," Brooklyn pointed out. Simon wasn't about to accept that answer.
"No doubt he delivered the goods and has decided to stay on to feed them more information," Simon accused. Henry still sat there, curled up in a little ball and took all the verbal punishment that was dealt to him. He never defended himself. He just sat there with his head hanging as if he lacked the strength to bring it back up.
"In case you hadn't noticed, we're at war here!" Simon continued.
"You are at war. Out there. But what about within these walls?" Sata wisely spoke, "Think about what you are doing. One should have all the facts before making such a serious decision."
"Listen to Henry's side before you decide anything," Brooklyn pleaded. Sata knelt down next to Henry's tiny figure. Soothingly, she placed a clawed hand upon one of his hunched shoulders. Slowly, Henry raises his head and looked up into the gargoyle's tender eyes.
"Henry, you MUST speak. Defend yourself. Otherwise... perhaps you are a traitor." Henry gazed into her eyes for a moment longer before he faced the group.
"I wasn't supposed to give them information..." Henry started. A broad smile appeared on Brooklyn's thick beak. With that he set his hands on his hips and stood tall, but Henry wasn't done.
"It was worse..." Henry's quietly added. The smile vanished from Brooklyn's face, and his arms dropped back to his sides.
"I was in a tavern somewhere when he approached me," Henry explained. "It was during that last little leave, just before we were assigned up here..."
* * * * *
A tavern somewhere in New York
The sleazy smoke filled tavern was like any other found on the waterfront.
Burly sailors gambled and talked with each other while other poor souls drowned their sorrow in a bottle. The lanterns placed about the room only cast a dim glow on the few tables and the counter at which one wiry figure sat with so many others. The bartender, a brawny man almost twice the size as his customer, gruffly asked the thin, dusty man what he wanted.
"A mug of ale," answered the man as he tossed the last of his money upon the counter. The bartender looked over his small customer. He wore the uniform of the federal army, such as it was and looked like his life was about to end. Only caring about his money, the bartender scooped the coins into the palms of his sweaty hands. In a few moments his customer was slowly sipping his mug of ale.
Henry remained in the bar for some time trying not to think of what came next. He was sure that the British were going to come down from Canada and overwhelm New York. He sighed. At least he would probably die quickly, being posted to the northern lookouts. He worried. He didn't want to see himself, or his friends, Simon and William, get killed. They had become close friends during their training. Henry had even started imagining that they were the brothers that he never had, although he would have been highly embarrassed to tell them so.
"Hello my friend." A well-dressed man sat down beside him. Henry glanced at him and back to his ale.
"What do you want?" Henry said between sips. In a place like this, someone didn't call you friend unless they wanted something.
"I want to offer you a job and a lot of money." Money immediately grabbed Henry's attention. He could always use more cash.
"I've got a job," Henry pointed to his uniform, "but I'm listening."
The man leaned over to Henry. "I represent some powerful people who want a job done. Are you interested?"
"Meet me around the corner and we'll talk." He slipped a note with an address into Henry's hand and left.
Henry thought about it for a little while, then got up and left. He smiled as he walked. Whatever it was, he could always turn it down since he was marching out in a week. He went around the corner to the address, an old warehouse office. The man was waiting for him.
"My friend, how would you like to earn a lot of money?"
"It depends on what it is and how long." Henry was no fool, but he would take the extra money if he could get it. "And I won't go killing anyone unless I have too. Tracking them down, yes. Killing's another matter."
"No, no killing, but we do need your help. The British Army needs your help. You've been posted to a small, three-man fort north of New York City. If we were to change our strategy and attack from the north we would need someone to take the other soldiers prisoner. This would stop the chain of communication and help us get deeper into American soil. The man who would help us would get paid most handsomely. Would you like to be that man?"
Henry thought it over for a moment. He had done some mercenary work before, and had even been a bounty hunter, so this wasn't new to him. But he had to see how things stood.
"What if I just take your information to the U.S. military?"
The man smiled. "You could do that. But, first, they won't believe you without proof. Second, we may never come that way. Third, you won't leave here alive if you say no. And finally, even if you say yes now and try to turn us in later, we will make sure that you are implicated in everything."
"Well, as you say, I can use the money." Henry forced a smile to his face and took the letter and money the man gave to him.
* * * * *
"...I never wanted to kill you fellows even when I took the job. It was something I wouldn't do to anyone. But after I spent the first few weeks up here with you two, I began to think that I couldn't betray you, either." Simon again jabbed the barrel of the musket towards Henry's face.
"You're a traitor to your country!" Simon yelled.
"I have no country," Henry replied bitterly, "I was an orphan at birth, and I spent my whole life wandering the land. I was a drifter who never belonged anywhere- until I joined the army. In these past few months, I tricked myself into thinking that I had siblings, that you two were my brothers. It was something that I had always wanted. I kept the letter because I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell anyone, I didn't know if there might be other spies watching to see if I did." His hands worried nervously at a button on his coat. "I thought that if the British did come through, I could save our lives with it. I told myself that you two would become prisoners of the British. That you would be kept in prison, though not too badly treated. I swear I couldn't see any other way out."
Simon's eyes began to soften as Henry's words hit him with full force. It took a moment for Simon to contemplate the full meaning of the words. Once he did, confusion flowed swiftly through his mind. His brain sunk into shock and despair as a course of action failed to present itself. He just didn't know what to do.
Slowly, Simon's musket lowered. Henry neither flinched nor breathed a sigh of relief. A small part of him still wanted to die if this was going to cost him his 'brothers'. All the same, he was somewhat relieved to finally get it all off his chest.
"Oh man," muttered a stunned Brooklyn. He thought back to another situation- a certain night at the Cloisters and his own actions. He too had thought he was doing the right thing- the only thing that he could at the time. His ears drooped as a bleak expression covered his scarlet face.
Sata slowly looked around the room at each person. Henry sat very still with his head hung down, still playing absentmindedly with the button. Simon stood there with a confused and frustrated look on his face. William was standing in the corner, glancing back and forth between Henry and Simon as if he still couldn't believe that any of this was happening. Brooklyn was still lost in thought. Sata decided that it was time to say something to break the deadlock.
"Where I come from," Sata said, "to betray one's clan has only two punishments. Exile or death." William glanced at Sata and back to the cowering Henry across from him. Simon didn't flinch.
Brooklyn's head snapped up with a determined look in his eyes. "But everyone deserves a second chance!" he pleaded. Simon looked into Henry's dark eyes. As he did, a tear ran down the smaller man's dusty cheek dragging along the dirt and ash that had collected up there the day before. The bead of liquid trailed down Henry's cheek, leaving one single shining line of skin.
"However," Sata said thoughtfully, "is it betrayal if the action has not, and will never occur?" Simon looked at her as if she had said the moon was green. He was usually a very straightforward person, and seeing things in black and white was the easiest way to deal with them. Slowly he turned over he comments in his mind.
Brooklyn watched the play of emotions in Simon's face as he thought about Sata's words. The red gargoyle knotted his hands into fists, not even noticing when his talons dug into skin. Suddenly, he felt a familiar tingling sensation. It spread throughout his entire body, from the tips of his talons, to the end of his white mane. He knew the feeling well. The magical energy contained within the Phoenix Gate was quickly coming to life.
"No, not now," Brooklyn reached out to Sata, "C'mon, not again..." As the magic reached its peak, a circle of fire enveloped the two gargoyles. William stumbled backwards as the magical ring imploded. In another moment the flaming gateway had disappeared completely, leaving no evidence of the gargoyles' existence. Now, the trio would have to solve their problem. Alone.
* * * * *
Six months later, just past sunset
Henry sat, nursing his beer, in a dingy tavern in Baltimore. The old room with its tall wall booths, dim lighting and dark wood matched the black mood he was in. He quietly cursed his luck. First the tree had fallen on him shortly after Brooklyn and Sata left, then the break healed crookedly, forcing him out of the army. He sighed and looked down at the cane that he would use for the rest of his life. At least he had straightened things out with Will and Simon. The cane, as a matter of fact, was a gift from Simon, carved from the tree that had fallen on him. Those two had given him a second chance and burned the letter. Things had gone well after that until the tree fell and he had to leave them. He had written two letters to them, but had no replies yet. Ah well, no surprise there since the fighting had gotten heavier. He just hoped that the two were all right.
Then the British blockade had been very effective and his schooner had been lucky to make it to Baltimore without being captured or sunk. He had thought about striking out towards the west, but he had waited too long. Now he was stuck in a city besieged by the redcoats. The only thing that was keeping them safe was the presence of Fort McHenry at the rivermouth; but now the Brits were marching overland from the north, towards Baltimore itself.
He sighed again and debated whether to make a run for it in the dark, or pick up a weapon and fight the oncoming horde. He had no particular wish to die. But he couldn't see himself just slinking away and leaving the besieged city to its fate. The British Army had made it all too clear what they did to captured cities in the past few months. And, if there was one thing he had learned from his experience with William, Simon and the others, it was that he couldn't stand idly by while people were in trouble.
As he leaned back, thinking, he overheard voices in the booth next to his. "Now you make sure to be there with the lantern when the tide turns. If those barges don't see that light, they'll run off course and alert the outer forts, Winton and Babcock."
"Right you are. The Yanks won't know what hit 'em when our lads start hitting those shore batteries." Henry almost panicked when he realized that he was overhearing a plan for British barges to hit the western shore batteries of the fort. He knew that if McHenry's defenders were forced to split their fire and defenses between two different groups of attackers, it was quite likely that the fort would fall.
"Alright then. You know the shoreline. Mind you, don't steer them into any of the sandbars. Here's half. The men will have the other half when you meet up with them." Just then, a couple of roughnecks in the corner started a fight.
"Right, that's our excuse," the taller man said quietly. The two in the booth stood up and started to leave. Henry came to a quick decision. He couldn't let another traitor complete his mission. He still felt horrible about the whole mess with the letter. And this man, from the sound of it, was a willing collaborator. Henry still didn't care about a lot of things; but betrayal had become a big sore point with him. He knew now that he would stay and fight if he had to; however, if he could stop this man now, he might save a lot of people without having to fire a shot.
Henry thought furiously and staggered out of the booth as if he had been drinking heavily all day. He got a good look at both men. The smaller of the two was a ratty looking man carrying a pouch and dressed for rough country. The other man was well dressed, but so ordinary that Henry had trouble even remembering his features after a few moments. No matter, he just made sure that he watched the smaller one, who looked like a local fisherman, to see where he went.
After a moment, the traitor headed to the back of the building, presumably to get rid of excess beer. Henry staggered drunkenly in the same direction. Leaning hard on his cane. Fortunately, everyone else was occupied by the fight in the corner. One of the roughnecks had pinned the other by the neck and was pounding his face into the table. The crowd was cheering excitedly for both combatants. As Henry exited into the dark back alley, he saw the traitor, silhouetted by a ring of fire. A very familiar ring of fire with two shapes at its heart.
The traitor, already nervous, gaped at the 'demons' that had appeared, rolled up his eyes and fainted-- all but certain that they were going to make him pay for his treachery right then and there.
Henry stared for a moment, then grinned. "Thanks. You two have just saved me a lot of trouble."
"Henry!" Brooklyn said. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again. Um, how long has it been? And what happened..."
Sata cut him off. "I think that questions can wait until later," she said with a wry grin. "What is going on now?"
Henry was busy rifling the traitor's unconscious body for anything of use. He picked up the lantern and looked thoughtfully at Brooklyn and Sata. "I'd love to tell you right now, but this alley is probably going to get very busy in a moment. Can we find someplace undisturbed to talk?"
Brooklyn shrugged and caped his wings. "Sure, no problem. But, what about Mr. Scaredy-cat here?" he asked, pointing to the prone form of the traitor.
Henry smiled. He checked to make sure that the traitor was still unconscious then socked the man in the side of the head. "I hate hitting a man who's down, but that should make sure that he stays out for a while. It's an old bounty hunter's trick."
They suddenly heard voices coming down the passageway to the tavern. Brooklyn and Sata looked at each other and up at the warehouse roof next door. "Henry," said Brooklyn urgently, "climb on my back and hang on." Henry blinked and did as he was told. Sata grabbed his cane and the lantern and both gargoyles climbed quickly up the side of the building. They were at the top before Henry had time to think twice.
"Uh, Henry? You can let go now," Brooklyn said in a slightly strangled voice.
The small man blinked and loosened his stranglehold on Brooklyn's neck and shoulders. He looked over the edge of the roof at the neat set of holes in the wall where gargoyle talons had bitten into stone. He smiled. Now he could explain the crunching noises from the first night at the blockhouse and the set of holes he had later found in the wall. Sata tapped Henry on the shoulder and handed him his cane. Then she helped him balance as they moved across the slightly pitched slate roof to a spot well away from the two-story drop to the alley.
"Now," said Sata as she set down the lantern, "what exactly is going on, Henry-san?"
Henry quickly brought the two gargoyles up to speed on what had happened at the blockhouse and its aftermath. "And so, he concluded, this fellow is another traitor. He was on his way to the shoreline north of the fort, to signal British troops in for a landing and bombardment when the tide turns. I was just planning on stopping him, but after that I had no idea
Brooklyn smiled and pointed to the lantern. "Easy. Without the lantern they'll go off course and alert the other forts. Your problem is already solved."
Henry shook his head. "No, Brooklyn. I don't think so. That channel is pretty deep. There's still a good chance that they'll be able to get into position. I've got to do something to make sure that they're seen."
Sata idly tapped the handle of her katana with one set of talons. "Just what were you thinking of, Henry-san?"
He looked embarrassed. "Well, I hadn't really thought of anything until you two showed up, but then I remembered how terrifying you were when you swooped out of the night at the bear..."
Brooklyn laid one hand alongside his jaw and tapped his cheek with one talon. He stared straight at Henry. "Suddenly, I think I see where this is going. You want us to scare the men in those boats, right?"
"Well...yes. If you can get me to the north side of the river, we can warn Forts Covington and Babcock to fire on the barges. Even if those soldiers don't get through, they'll draw support away from the army in the north. I'll do anything I can to slow them down and keep them away from the city."
The red gargoyle tipped his beak back and thought deeply for a moment.
Sata frowned slightly at the expression on Brooklyn's face. "Brooklyn-san," she said softly, "this is not our fight."
Henry licked his lips and looked desperately at Sata. "Look. If you won't get involved for me, how about doing it for the city? There're a lot of innocent people trapped in this city. If that fort falls, the British will burn this town to the ground, just like they did to the capital last month."
"Whoa!" Brooklyn came back to himself. "Did you just say that they burned Washington, D.C. to the ground?!?"
"Yes!" Henry hissed. "And they'll do it here too if we don't stop them!"
An unspoken look passed between Brooklyn and Sata. Even though Baltimore was not their own protectorate, their gargoyle instincts still cried out to them to protect the besieged city and its people from certain destruction. Almost unnoticed, a bell tolled in the distance.
"All right," Brooklyn said with a steel edge in his voice, "we'll help."
Henry looked relieved. "Look, this is probably harebrained, but how much can you carry when you fly?"
"You mean, could we carry you?" Brooklyn said with a smile. "And the answer is yes. You want us to get you across the river?"
"Yes. At first I was going to warn the forts, but I realized that my gimpy leg won't get me there fast enough and it's too late now anyway. The tide has already turned."
"Ok," Brooklyn said. "We can carry you between us across the river. You can still try to warn the forts in case our efforts fail."
"Hold out your hands above your head and stand here," said Sata, "and whatever you do, don't yell." Henry shrugged, strapped his cane to his leg, and did as he was told. Brooklyn and Sata launched off the roof; and, after carefully checked that they hadn't been seen, circled back around and grabbed Henry by the arms.
To his credit, Henry didn't yell; but he did hiss with the shock and pull. He was too busy concentrating on holding on to the gargoyles to pay much attention to the ground passing beneath him until the black waters of the river flew under his feet. He almost panicked as the flyers dipped low over the water, but focused on holding on. "I will not fall. I will not fall," he chanted over and over under his breath. Sata held back a chuckle and gave her mate a warning glare, as he was about to open his beak for some smart remark.
Henry swore softly as they set down on the beach. "We forgot..."
"A lantern?" Sata supplied as she held up said item in her claws. "I snagged it with my foot as we left the roof, but it has gone out." She bowed and handed it to him gracefully.
"Not a problem. A good soldier, or even most bad ones, always has flint and steel with him." He looked at the wavelets. "We're just in time. The tide has turned, but we're not going to have time to warn the forts!"
Brooklyn tipped his head back thoughtfully. "Well, there's no way we can beat them back if they get fully into the river basin. I guess it's time to improvise."
Sata looked at him disapprovingly. "That usually means that we are going to end up in big trouble."
He smirked. "Well, you I might, but Henry has the easy job."
"I thought so," she said in a flat tone of voice.
"Henry, just stand here and wave the lantern to guide them in." He climbed a nearby tree. Sata sighed and followed. "We'll be back in a while, just don't be surprised if there're some fireworks."
"Brooklyn," Henry said quietly, "be careful. Those men are armed with muskets, but the range isn't that great on those things."
Brooklyn looked down, "Hey, no problem. I've been shot at before by better goons than these!" The two gargoyles launched back over the river and glided out towards the bay.
"Brooklyn-san, do you mean to do what I think you mean to?"
Brooklyn just gave her an evil grin. "We need to attract the forts' attention, right? Just one loud pass. We'll startle them into making enough noise on their own."
Sata shook her head, but grinned back at him. "Hai! I have my misgivings, but I like your thoughts."
They both gained height as they saw the dark flotilla of barges approaching, zeroing in on the tiny pinprick of light that was Henry and his lantern. Far out on the point, the night sky lit up with flashes as the British ships continued to bombard Fort McHenry.
The two gargoyles nodded at each other, rolled out, and dove, one after the other at the flotilla. They skimmed over the heads of the British soldiers on the barge with heart-stopping roars that echoed over the waters. Men were diving overboard to escape the attack of the 'monsters'. Others screamed and fired off rounds. Both gargoyles sped away in a spectacular display of aerobatics, trying to avoid any rounds. Sata hissed as one stray shot creased her right wing, but the gargoyles escaped otherwise unscathed.
Suddenly, as the would-be attackers continued to panic, the night came alive with the thunder of cannons from the north shore. Both forts opened fire on the now thoroughly demoralized flotilla. Cannonballs and canister munitions rained down on the barges. The British soldiers were frantically trying to turn the heavily laden boats and get them out of range of the north shore forts as their surprise attack fell to pieces. The cannon continued to pound the ships until most were sunk and the remaining few had managed to get back out of range of the shore batteries.
The gargoyles landed beside Henry, who had dimmed the lantern down to almost nothing. He watched the battle with glee as the British ships tried to escape then turned to Brooklyn and Sata. "I can't thank you two enough. Without you, I don't know what I would have done. Thank you."
Sata cocked her head to one side, then bowed deeply to Henry. "No, Henry-san. The honor is yours."
"Yeah," Brooklyn said, laying a hand on the small man's shoulder. "If you hadn't made the choice to do something about that spy, then the attack would have succeeded and a lot of good men would have died."
Henry blushed and stared down at his feet. "I just did what needed to be done."
Sata smiled. "That is what makes an honorable man, Henry-san." The green gargoyle suddenly hissed as one wingtip dragged in the sand. She turned to inspect the wing and saw a small wound close to the tip. Brooklyn rushed over to her. "Are you ok?"
"It is nothing." She said softly as she turned her wing to inspect the shallow crease. "Stone sleep will take care of it. I just should not have been so careless." She looked reprovingly at Brooklyn. "I see that my misgivings were not unfounded, but I did not expect to be the one to pay the price."
Brooklyn looked embarrassed. Henry hadn't thought that the red gargoyle could get any redder, but a blush was clearly visible across Brooklyn's cheeks. Brooklyn looked around. "Hey look!" he said excitedly as he attempted to distract attention from himself. "I think that your tide has truly turned, Henry!"
In the gray light of the false dawn, they could just make out the shapes of British ships turning in the bay to leave. And there, just above the point, waved a tattered but familiar shape. Henry smiled. "I do believe that we've won!"
He suddenly realized what the increasing light meant. "Hey, we're going to have to find someplace for you two to hole up for the day."
"I don't think so," Brooklyn replied.
"Goodbye, Henry-san," Sata added.
Henry spun around just in time to see them disappear from sight in the blinding flash of the Phoenix Gate.
He shrugged and smiled wistfully. No one would believe him if he told them about the night's work except William and Simon. And even they might find it hard to believe that the gargoyles had returned and then gone again. Then he turned back to watch the sight of the flag waving defiantly at the retreating British warships. He whistled quietly and limped away towards the forts, and the light of a new day.
* * * * *