To the Soul
Written by Carolynn "Aerie" Marie
Outline by Rahsaan Footman
Illustrations by Damocles
* * * * *
Thick, red strokes of flame painted the nighttime sky above the burning city. Those who hadn’t been sent to the guillotine fled for their lives, taking with them whatever meager possessions that hadn’t been destroyed. Several buildings were already reduced to crumbling skeletons of wood. In the center of the city, near the Place de la Greve, an entire block of houses collapsed at once, their weak backbones able to support their heavy roofs no longer.
Among the dying structures and mobs of people, a dark shadow scuttled past some abandoned homes. To an onlooker, it would have appeared almost to hop along on all fours.
The front door of a nearby residence burst off its hinges as a hysterical throng of people stormed down the front steps. "Vive la Republique! Mort aux traitres!" The shadow ducked to the side as the crowd marched past with an unfortunate family, no doubt accused conspirators against the new Republic.
The observer waited until the mob had passed before making its way towards the River Seine. The very air scalded the flesh, and to look upon the fire hurt one's eyes. Water seemed the logical destination at this point.
Only the fire actually pursued the lone traveler instead. It came in the form of a ball of flame. The figure hissed instinctively and shielded its entire body as the blaze dried up, leaving two large forms lying across the entrance to Pont Marle, one of the many bridges overhanging the Seine River. The shadow deftly turned on its heel and launched itself into the safe haven of an open sewer.
"Ohhhhhhhh, next time, let’s not take coach," Brooklyn groaned, rubbing his back as he crawled to all fours. "Sata-chan? Sata?"
The limp form beside him sighed and turned over. "I am fine, Brooklyn-san. Just very tired. So very tired …"
He waited a moment, then shook her softly when he realized she had actually fallen asleep.
"Hey, I know this dancing can be stressful, but I didn’t know it’d make you nod off."
"Hmm? Oh, no, no. I am awake." A huge yawn nearly split her head in half. "Where are we?"
Brooklyn’s beak wrinkled as he caught sight of the city before them in flames. He then turned towards the canal, where the forlorn shadow of the Cathedral of Notre Dame hovered in the ghostly fog. "Wow, I always wanted to see Paris … again." He chuckled lightly under his breath. "Just never knew that when they named it the ‘City of Light’ they were being so literal," he added as a blaze of fireworks engulfed another building. "The question is, when are we?"
Sata’s ears flickered. "Did you hear something?" she asked, slowly drawing her swords.
Brooklyn growled at the oppressive darkness. "Hey, buddy, whoever you are, you’d better do some fast talking or you’ll be shish-kabob."
The dark shadow popped its head out of the sewer grate. Brooklyn blinked. He was positive he had seen long ears peeping up from beneath a thick layer of hair.
"Who are you?" the figure asked softly, drawing back. It appeared wary of Sata’s weapons. "I have never seen gargoyles such as you before."
Sata drew herself up, but she didn’t put away her swords. "You know of gargoyles then? Are you friend or foe?"
"I could ask you the same thing. You are most peculiar strangers. Especially at a time like this. But nevertheless I am extremely thankful." The light from the fires revealed a deep blue complexion and something even humans would call beauty. That was when Sata saw the spiral horns that twisted from the other female's brow and over her head. A few curly locks of chestnut framed the sides of her heart shaped face. She was breathtaking, almost like one of the carved angels from the ledges of Notre Dame herself.
Sata frowned, concerned with the way their new acquaintance hadn’t moved more than her upper body out of hiding from the sewer. "Would you care to come out into the light?"
"Quite the contrary, I think it best you two come into the dark." She suddenly ducked again as an explosion rocketed from a nearby building. Sata and Brooklyn whirled as the entire structure collapsed. The culprits were a throng of lighted torches from the darkness of the alley.
"Maintenant! Allez!" The figure held up the heavy grate for the new arrivals.
They had no choice. Brooklyn held up the iron slats for his mate while Sata jumped in hind-claws-first. He followed close behind, letting the bars fall behind him. Had he been in a less tense situation, he wouldn’t have worried about yelping as the grate slammed shut right on his tail.
He landed about ten feet below in a waist-deep pit of water and loam. There was a splash from the darkness ahead. He had to force his frozen legs to move forward.
"Where are we?" Sata asked, keeping her swords in front of her in the darkness.
"The sewers." The figure led them down one of the main tunnels, sidestepping rotting carcasses of rats. Floating alongside were grime and algae that were overtaking the walls. "Attention. There are many holes underwater leading to more tunnels, only if you fall into one, you will drown; the deeper ones are all filled up with sewage and water and have a terrible undertow." She hopped onto a ledge. "Stay on the rim that juts out of the wall, and hang on to the precipices in-between the mortar and brick. You may have to dig your claws into the side."
Brooklyn sneezed as he passed underneath a jetty of water descending from one of the main pipes overhead. "You seem to know a lot about this."
"I learn fast, mon ami."
Something heavy landed on Brooklyn's shoulder with a thump. He snapped his head to the side, only to find a pair of glittering eyes staring up at him. The rat squeaked as he slapped it off. "Sorry, Splinter," he muttered, rubbing where the animal's tiny nails had dug into his skin.
He leaned in close to his mate, squinting in the darkness at their companion. "Can we trust her?"
"She saved us from the mob, Brooklyn-san," she whispered, leaning in closer.
"She doesn't seem to have much of a clan down here."
"You think she is an outcast?"
"Dunno. But something's up with the humans around here. The natives are restless."
A hum of agreement echoed from her throat. "In battle, one must be wary of strangers, hai. Under most circumstances I would agree. But she has proven she does not mean us harm. Be wary, perhaps, but do not immediately dismiss a possible ally. That is how battle works."
He sighed. "Yeah, I guess I'm just anxious. Something weird is going on, wherever we are."
There was a splash as the figure hopped into a small antechamber. Brooklyn caught sight of a pack of food and several used candles stuffed into a hole in the wall, safe from the rushing water. Scratched into the low brick ceiling were crude drawings of various figurines. One, he noted, had wings and a tail.
"Those are part of my little family album I started while waiting down here," the figure explained. "It gets rather boring. And terribly lonely."
"She’s an outcast," Brooklyn mumbled decidedly to his mate. She ignored him, but only stared at their surroundings.
"Who are you?" Sata asked, starting to edge her wakizashi and katana slowly into the confines of her obi. She sounded calmer than before.
The figure lit a candle and pulled itself onto a wide ledge, out of reach from the underground river. The gargoyles blinked as the entire room was illuminated. The face leaned forward into the candlelight. It was the same pretty blue face they had briefly seen up above. She was thin and, by the look of her solid muscles, used to work.
"I am Etolie," she said, sneezing. The brilliant red dress she had on, a combination of a short, wide-sleeved bodice and loincloth, was clinging to her clammy skin. Sata and Brooklyn both were quivering somewhat themselves. "Et vous?"
Brooklyn was grateful as Etolie dug out several thick, dry blankets from somewhere in the darkness. "I’m Brooklyn, and this is my mate, Sata."
She bowed as best she could from her seated position. "Dozo yoroshiku. It is nice to meet you."
"Such interesting accents you two have, and yet you speak my language perfectly. Tres bon." Etolie wrapped a warm blanket around Sata's shoulders. The jade-green gargoyle wrapped one corner around Brooklyn, and they both huddled together for warmth.
"We’re from quite a long way off."
"Oh? How far?"
"Lady, the stories we could tell…" Sata nudged Brooklyn in the side.
"If you will excuse my mate, he is somewhat tired from our journey," she explained. "But that aside, what is going on up there? Why are you down here?"
Etolie blinked. "Do you not know? The days of the Bastille may be over, but now the humans have gone mad and are tearing down anything that resembles the king." Her eyes glowed a fierce red for a moment before she blinked.
"Guessing late eighteenth century," Brooklyn whispered to Sata.
"The humans are still fighting for freedom from the Old Regime, and many have been accused of being in league with the monarchy. A few families have been sent to the guillotine already." She raised an eye-ridge at their questioning glances. "Do you not hear the tumbrils over your head? Listen."
They strained their ears for a moment over the sound of running water and the occasional squeak of rats as they scurried through the elaborate maze of tunnels. Then they heard it; the groaning of wheels, heavily laden with cargo, as they made their way over the cobbled streets. Or was it, perhaps, the groan of … people?
"The tumbrils," Etolie continued, "are the carts used to carry the aristocratic to the guillotine, to be formally executed in front of all as an example to any who think of betraying the new Republic." She made a motion with one hand of a blade whistling down on her neck. "C’est tres affreux. I can think of no worse way to die than to be decapitated."
Brooklyn made a sound in his throat. "I can," he mumbled softly, his mind going back to the Wyvern massacre. There was something eerily familiar with all this.
"What are you doing down here? Do you have a clan?"
Etolie suddenly looked very irritated, and Sata tensed. "What is left of them. With the humans murdering their own brothers and sisters, they find time and logic in massacring our own people! They tolerated us, now fear us. Only a few nights ago, they publicly beheaded three rookery kin of mine in the town square, in the Place de la Revolution. C’etait terrible! We could do nothing …" She lapsed into a silence, her rage bubbling inside her.
"We lived in Notre Dame for years and years," she started, settling down and crossing her legs, "for so long that our Elders could not recall ever seeing the cathedral built. But then there were the massacres last year, when they killed thousands of Royalists, priests, and nobles, and before that convents and monasteries were abolished. The clergy in Notre Dame were made to swear loyalty to the Assembly, so they were allowed to keep Notre Dame in working order. After that, fewer and fewer came to worship at the cathedral. Many humans still worshipped, and the priests tended the church, but it was clear to me by then that the people were getting frightened, and that safety was no longer possible.
"We fled to an old farmhouse in the land outside the city and hid there. The riots and guillotining went on without us. I left the farmhouse several nights ago, thinking it too out in the open. And I have hidden here the past few nights, but I could no longer bear this alone-feeling, and so I … I went back to the hut earlier tonight to see if perhaps the others would come with me." Her voice softened, then dwindled till she was silent.
Brooklyn made a move to speak, but Sata laid a gentle hand on his arm.
Etolie, not even noticing the other two, smiled and wiped at the lone tear that trickled down her face. "They were in pieces. Everywhere. The humans had shattered them during the day." She stared off down the sewer, and a bulge formed in her throat, but she forced it down.
"I thought perhaps I would travel to Notre Dame and see if the rest of the clan was still there or if they went back to the countryside. They may have left word with Father Robert." She spat the word.
"A member of the church?" Brooklyn guessed, from his memories of Brother Edmund.
Etolie leaned against the wall, the coldness bothering her no longer. "Even Notre Dame herself is no longer a safe haven, though Valjean is adamant that the people would never actually attack her. She is perhaps the only church that hasn’t been closed or violated yet in France. If the humans so easily mutilate their own beliefs like that, then no one is safe. And yet, Valjean trusts a human in these times. He is so foolish…" A soft, breathy sigh escaped her. "So foolish."
"You don’t trust humans?"
"I don’t trust enemies."
* * * * *
Half a dozen rough hands latched onto the iron grate over the sewer. What one gargoyle had easily lifted one-handed, several humans had to pull to open.
"The beasts went down there," the leader of the group said to his followers. "They are trapped; without the use of their wings, they are helpless."
One timid member of the throng cleared their throat. "Alors, but what of their claws?"
The burly man drew a broad sword from his belt. Its pointed edges glittered in the torchlight. "Animals cannot attack after the hunter strikes first."
* * * * *
Sata stared into the dank underground river, thinking of her own clan mingling amongst the humans of Ishimura. The rift between this clan and their protectorates had already claimed so many lives on both sides. And Etolie had an almost obsessive fear about humans, though it was obvious her clan had lived with them for a long enough time. She should have bonded.
Perhaps the battle was not entirely above, on the surface. There was much more buried beneath than was visible at first glance.
Sata stared quizzically at Etolie, her mind rushing at a fast pace. "Perhaps we should leave now for the … cathedral. You said so yourself that your clan may still be there."
Etolie smiled as she helped them both up. "That, mon amie, is a good plan. Is it safe to go now? The humans may still be about."
Brooklyn went rigid. He stared down the dark tunnel, waiting expectantly. "Did you guys hear something?" Etolie and Sata looked at each other, silent.
Swap! Brooklyn ducked as a sword flew through the air, clanging against his stone perch. The sword’s owner prepared for another strike. "Leaving so soon, demon?"
Brooklyn grabbed the man around the waist and forced him into a side-pipe until only his legs could be seen. The legs kicked as the man screamed from the inside to his comrades. Etolie slung another human into the group. The humans flipped over backwards into the river of sludge with a unanimous scream.
Etolie didn’t see the sword from behind her as it cut through the air. In the process, it also cut through part of her wing. She hissed in a rage, spinning around and clubbing the unfortunate human about the head.
Sata wove her swords before her. "You still want to fight me?" The women and men looked at each other and took a few wary steps back, stumbling along slowly in the knee-deep water.
Etolie, still clutching her wing to her side, rasped, "Come, this way!" She disappeared into a pipe in the ceiling. Brooklyn and Sata slowly edged backwards, facing the advancing mob. The humans were packed tightly in one sticky mass, their weapons pointing outwards in preparation for a charge.
"Go," Sata breathed, never taking her eyes off the humans.
"No, you go first. I can’t let you get hurt." Sata looked ready to argue, but hesitated. "Sata-chan! Go!" She wheeled around and dove for the pipe.
"We have you now, monstre," someone hissed from the darkness. Brooklyn missed who.
"Time to make a hasty farewell," he muttered, moving directly underneath the tunnel. "Exit, stage left!" He jumped, pulling himself out of reach of the flying cutlasses.
* * * * *
The priest raised his arms to the crowd, crying out in a deep voice, "‘… and He shall spite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!’" He stabbed the air with one forefinger in a theatrical manner. There were a few murmurs from the crowd.
"There will be a time when the wicked will be persecuted by demons from down below! Hark and listen!" A few younger children actually bent down to the street, ears to the cobblestones. One little boy tugged on his mother's tattered skirt.
"Maman …" he started.
"Pas maintenant, Jean-Claude." She nudged her leg against him, shoving him away roughly. The little boy sucked on one chubby thumb as he looked at the sewer grate beneath them.
"Maman, look! A monkey!"
"Aiii!!!" his mother screamed as Brooklyn’s beak popped out from beneath the iron bars. The scream was a trigger. One shriek sent dozens of people stampeding out of the square in a confused swarm, women clutching their ragged children to their sides, men running each other over as they scrambled out of the gargoyles reach.
Brooklyn snorted as he hauled himself out of the gutter. "Monkey?" Etolie clambered out of the sewer. Sata followed, watching their tail with her swords drawn.
Etolie crouched down on the roadside and took in their surroundings; flies and fire, combined with the stench of rotten fruit, made the summer night around them almost unbearable. She drew back her lip to show her incisors in disgust.
"Where to, now?"
"Notre Dame," Etolie cut in. "I must know of my clan's whereabouts. They are all that matter, now."
Brooklyn lifted his nose to the sky and sniffed. "I smell a lot of smoke. Coming from the north."
"Are you sure … Brooklyn?"
He tapped the sides of his beak, grinning. "Hey, the nose knows."
Etolie wrapped her wings around her and motioned upwards. The night sky’s smoky atmosphere had melted into a lurid inferno. "Flying is not a good option, and it will take a day for my own wing to heal." She sheltered her head with her wings, protecting her from falling pieces of smoldering wood and masonry as they ran for cover.
* * * * *
The altar boy tottered down the steps leading to the pulpit. He tripped and sprawled to the ground as an unbearable pain shot through his leg.
Benches had been overturned and the pulpit ransacked when the mob had entered. Torn copies of Father Robert’s sermon for that evening lay strewn in the aisles among candles and oil jars. Oddly enough, the statues of Saint Peter and the Virgin Mary were still in their niches by the front door. Even in their hurry, the mob had been careful not to disturb them.
Using the edge of a bench, the boy managed to get to his feet. He limped down the aisle on one leg, trying not to trip on his robes. He had to find the rest of the clergy and do something. What if the mob came back? He quickened his pace.
"Agh!" Slam! The massive doors to the cathedral were nearly ripped off their hinges. Three cloaked figures forced their way through, leaving several of the mobs’ guards sprawled on the floor outside.
His entire body relaxed as he greeted them. "Ah! Help at last! Father Robert has sent for you? The mob-" He pulled back with a jerk, covering his mouth with his hand. He had just noticed that the newcomers’ legs were warped, and that they wore no sandals or shoes under their cloaks. "Mon Dieu! Vous etes les gargouilles!"
Etolie, ignoring his cry, grabbed the altar boy by the scruff of his collar and hoisted him into the air.
"Where is my clan?" she demanded.
The boy stuttered. "I-I-I do not know! Th-the mob c-came a few hours ago. Th-they assaulted the clergy. The priests are d-dead or have run away when the mob … you see, th-they broke my leg when I refused to tell them where … where the rookery was. They … they are down in the cellar now, tearing apart the old plans of the church, looking for the eggs' hiding place… I-I tried to stop them," his voice rose, "but I-"
Etolie swayed momentarily, but regained herself. "You know where my clan is?"
"A few came to stay late last night and slept here, that I know. Valjean was among them." He laughed nervously, unable to control himself. "Some men were heading for the loft with clubs-"
Etolie’s eyes reddened as she pulled him forward. "Non! C’est impossible!" she snarled. The boy gave a terrified yelp and his hands flew to his face.
Sata grabbed her by the arm, causing Etolie to drop the boy in a flustered heap. "Whether it is true or not, Etolie, you cannot harm this human! He is just a young one!" Etolie turned and bolted for the steps, running up the aged staircase with the alacrity of a distance runner.
"Sata-chan! Take care of the kid!" She nodded, watching silently as her mate bolted after Etolie.
The boy jerked away as Sata reached towards him. She frowned.
"If you would like my assistance, it would be best if you would calm yourself," she said.
He gulped. "You … you are a gargoyle."
"So I've been told. Do you have any family nearby?" The boy pointed a shaking finger out the doors and down the street. "Good. I will escort you."
She picked him up with surprising strength, he thought. He curled his weak arms around her neck and let himself drift off to sleep, only vaguely aware when she stealthily carried him into the street and down the block.
* * * * *
Brooklyn dashed after Etolie, following her up the cathedral's stone steps to the loft. He overtook her at the first landing, throwing himself in front of her.
"Etolie, you need to calm down!" He put his hands on her shoulders. "I understand your concern, but you can’t just hurt every human that comes-"
She slapped his hands away. "You have Sata," she said coldly. "If what I fear is true, what shall I do? I will be alone." Even as she spoke, her eyes wandered towards the door to the loft only a few steps away. There was a crazed look on her face. "Isolation is the worst sentence."
She brushed by him before he could stop her and threw her weight against the door. The doorjamb had been smashed and gave away too easily.
There was the odd scattering of debris over the floor from storage, mixed in with one or two objects that showed the place had been inhabited at one time. Etolie almost breathed a sigh of relief when she felt something sharp dig into her foot.
It was a sharp little hand, the same little appendage as on the top of a gargoyle’s bat wings.
Something in her heart started to rip and flake away as her eyes roamed around the loft. Near the balcony were large chunks of stone. Some resembled horns and talons, others had enough detailing to show the intimidating snarls of a gargoyles face. Then something gave her hope; a solid form lying on the floor of the balcony.
It was Valjean, she realized as she turned him over. He looked so peaceful, like a sleeping human. But he was too limp, almost as if he were a rag-doll that had lost all its stuffing. That was when she felt the blood soaking the floorboards underneath him…
"They’re dead," she whispered to herself, giving a hysterical giggle. Her laughter became a horrified sob. "They’re DEAD!"
Her self-control was lost as she wailed piteously, a mix of a human’s scream and an animal’s roar.
* * * * *
Brooklyn found her hugging one of the giant chimeras that dotted the roof landscape of Notre Dame. In the nighttime shadows, she and the grotesque statue looked like sculptures of an angel and demon together.
"They’re dead. They’re all gone." Her claws tore into the stone face of the statue. "I should have been here!" Her eyes blazed a brilliant crimson beneath her filmy tears. "Animals. All of them. Beasts."
Brooklyn froze at the sight of shattered clumps of stone. "It’s just like Wyvern," he whispered.
He struggled to block out the memories as he tripped over something in the dark.
"I guess this was Father Robert?"
Etolie stared at the body. "Oui." She turned away. "Valjean said he would protect them. Ha!" Her next sentence was a whisper. "He was such a fool."
Brooklyn tore through several fallen beams in the search for any survivors. He sneezed as some hay forced its way up his beak. "Nobody here. Aaaachooo!." He stepped onto the balcony, the night’s wind ruffling his hair. His hand was automatically on her shoulder before he could even think. "Etolie-" Where could he even begin?
"Where do we go, now?" she interrupted.
"Do you have any other clan? Anywhere?"
"Non. I am the last." Her eyes flared up again. "I was hoping that Valjean would be …" She glared at the chimera, at its mauled stone face. In a rage, she swung her arm and took off the rest of its head. It arced over the side of the balcony down below with a sickening whistle.
Brooklyn offered his hand. "Perhaps it is good if you cry."
"I do not cry," she snapped, turning away from him.
He gulped. "Um, I’m going to get Sata. I’ll be right back."
Etolie crossed her arms as she peered out over the burning city. A thought poked at her mind in its effort to attract her attention. She frowned. She had the oddest feeling that she had forgotten something, and yet …
"Did you say something?" Brooklyn looked up from the doorway. Etolie whirled to look at him, her eyes wide.
"Mon Dieu! The eggs!"
* * * * *
"Over here. Oui, la-bas. Next to those older books."
A rat craned his neck out from his hiding place beneath the cathedral’s cellar stairs, curious at the disruption. He had been annoyed to hear these strange humans tear through his home for the past half hour, throwing old shelves to the ground and damaging centuries-old manuscripts in their frantic search for something.
"Non! Vous etes un idiot!" A slender woman with a saber at her side, clearly in the dress of the revolutionaries, the sans-culottes, shoved a confused man to the side and started a hurried scramble through a pile of books. "There must be plans to this place somewhere."
The rat scrambled to safety as more books were thrown across the room.
"Where would the clergy keep gargoyle eggs?" someone mused, thumbing through a leather-bound copy of the Bible. He shook it to see if any papers were tucked away in its binding, but he was disappointed to discover nothing, and so he carefully stacked it to the side.
The woman grunted. "Keeping demons in the church. Such a paradox."
"That is not the point. We must get rid of them before they hatch. They’re too dangerous to have around." A heavy boot nearly trod on the rat’s tail as he scurried over the rough floorboards. He scrambled behind a large book and gave a sigh of relief. "To get rid of the king to be faced with gargoyles. Talk about a sick joke."
"Ai! I told you not to kill them before they could tell us," one woman snapped.
"Plans sometimes do not work out like we arrange them," came the frustrated reply.
She snorted and tore through several older volumes, then gave a shriek at the sight of the large gray rat staring dumbly up at her. Grabbing her dagger, she threw it, only to miss the animal by an inch. The rat took off like a shot for the safety of the stairs.
Pulling her dagger from the floor, her hand brushed against a paper roll. Curious, she unraveled it, only to find an architect’s plans for Notre Dame staring back at her.
"Depechez-vous! Tout de suite! Je le trouve!" she laughed, delighted. At once, several dozen people scrambled around her anxiously. "Hurry! Right away! I found it!"
Someone wiped stacks of books off a nearby table and lay the plans flat. "Look, here," he ordered, pointing. "Now, the cathedral’s records said the eggs were on the property, in the-oh, about here or so." He pointed to a small, underground chamber. Someone lit a candle and held it close to the plans. "Ah, merci, mon ami. Yes, yes, about here. What does that say? I can’t read that well in this darkness. Curse these old eyes of mine."
"I can," a young boy murmured from his side, eagerly peering under his arm. "In the graveyard, across the river. It’s the catacombs."
* * * * *
A torch flared up, sending hundreds of insects scattering out of the light. Brooklyn felt an antennae move along his toes, and he had to steady himself to keep from panicking. After all Sata and he had gone through, he shouldn’t be afraid of a few bugs. Despite that thought, Sata soon found Brooklyn holding her hand as they descended the stairs.
"This is an old crypt," came Etolie’s voice from a few hundred yards off. The sound bounced and echoed off the walls, disorienting the two. "Be careful where you step."
"Ouch!" Brooklyn ran his toe over what appeared to be a rock. It turned out to be a skull. He winced. "Someone didn’t get out much," he whispered.
"Allez, this way." A dark, feminine form hopped over the ground towards the back of the area. The bottom here was flat, smooth, and moist. Perfect for a rookery. "This used to be part of the old catacombs. The skeletons down here were ages old when we first discovered the tomb, older than even our elders’ time. We cleaned out most of them and set up a rookery down here."
The tone in Sata’s voice was one of disgust. "You destroyed the remains?"
"Non, of course not. We moved them to a different chamber, out of the way."
A second set of double-doors creaked open. Sata saw the inside of the rookery, located far in the back of the crypt. Wooden posts had been driven into the ground to create the framework for small scaffolds that supported at least two dozen gargoyle eggs, each the size of a watermelon.
"They will soon hatch." Etolie appeared from the darkness once again, materializing next to them with the air of a ghost. "We must get them out of here. The mob will come back." She sighed, rubbing a claw against one of the egg’s smooth shells. "It is so odd that the same clubs and hammers that helped to build this wooden nest also helped to destroy us."
"There is no back way out of this place?" Sata asked logically.
Etolie thought for a minute, then brightened. "Mais si!" She melted into the gloom, and a few seconds later came the creak of moldy hinges groaning open. A hole seemed to open up on one shadowed wall, showing the river and, just across it, Notre Dame; that was when Brooklyn realized that the crypt was located right underneath one of the small bridges connecting the main land to the Ile de la Cite.
"We always keep these torches down here lit." Etolie’s voice drifted from all directions of the tomb. "It is terribly damp. A river is a nasty place for a rookery. But it is big enough, and cool enough. The fires and hay keep it fairly warm, even in winter. But the wood doors grow soft and mushy within only a few years time due to water damage. We must replace them quite often."
Sata felt Etolie’s presence even before she appeared at her side. "Mais c’est un probleme. How do we get the eggs out of here? Where should we go?"
"You two prepare the eggs." Both females turned to look at Brooklyn, who was crouched down on his haunches. He delicately tapped an egg, watching the enormous nest with a calculating look. "I’ll be right back."
"Prepare them?" Etolie echoed dumbly.
"For travel. We’re getting these puppies out of here before that mob finds them."
* * * * *
A gold-and-porcelain clock sailed through the air. It rammed right down a tube hanging over the side of the barge. A few seconds later, there was the sound of something heavy hitting the water.
"He shoots, he scores!" Brooklyn laughed softly under his breath as he tore through bulky sacks on deck. "The Metropolitan Museum would be having conniptions right now," he added as a 17th century tea chest flew over the side of the boat.
Sacks of jewelry, family portraits, carved looking glasses, expensive silver tea sets, plush red mahogany chairs, porcelain statues of cherubs, powdered headdresses - all were thrown overboard into the river. Most items’ heavy gold and porcelain adornments were additional weights, causing everything to sink to the bottom rapidly.
After a few minutes, Brooklyn stood and surveyed his handiwork. The barge he had found bobbing alongside the port was now free of excess weight, and ideal in transporting the eggs. It was very weird, he observed, as he peered up and down the river; all the other boats were either in flames or half-sunk in the deep waters. This seemed to be the only one left floating.
Well, whoever owned it probably wouldn’t notice it missing, anyway. They had most likely fled the city already.
He quickly dug a pole into the water. The gargoyle felt around for a bit before he finally found something to shove off from. It took quite a lot of work due to the barge’s immense size, but within minutes he was slowly making his way up the river towards Notre Dame.
* * * * *
"It is a good thing there is extra hay down here," Sata whispered to herself as she wrapped another egg in some salvaged velvet scraps.
A groan from the doors above ended in a closing bang. Etolie patted down the stairs with more robes in her arms. "Here is some more. I had to raid Father Robert’s wardrobe for more cloth. Je t’assure, he won’t need them any more, to be sure." She deftly wrapped an egg in the cloth.
Sata smiled softly to herself and tapped the egg she was holding. She tenderly cradled it in her arms as she pressed an ear to its shell, listening for a moment. "They will hatch soon. Perhaps within a few months."
Etolie nodded. "Je sais." She looked surprised as Sata put the egg into her arms. The blue gargoyle gazed at the little encased bundle of life and wiped away a tear.
"What is wrong?"
"Nothing," Etolie responded stiffly as she turned her back to Sata and towards the other eggs.
"Special delivery!" Brooklyn shoved the river’s door open, motioning at the two females hurriedly. "Come on. Humans heading this way, and they look in the mood for gargoyle bashing." He picked up two eggs under his arms and headed for the door. "How many?"
"I counted 30 eggs, Brooklyn-san. They are all wrapped and packed so they will not break."
"Okay. Everyone grab some eggs, and hurry!" He nudged another egg along the ground with his tail as he went.
* * * * *
"The door is barred. It won’t budge."
A young woman took a stout stick and tried to snap the rookery’s doorjamb. "Tu comprend? It has been barred from the inside. Someone is in there."
The man scratched his chin. "How is that possible? All the gargoyles are dead."
"Perhaps the clergy is helping them."
He snorted impatiently. "Then we will deal with them soon enough." He turned and roared to the crowd. "Take whatever you have on hand!" He pointed a long forefinger at the rookery’s door. "Break it down! NOW!"
* * * * *
Sata’s ears flickered. She sat up, brushing hay off of her and steadying the egg she held on her lap. Etolie crouched next to her, fixing hay around the large lumps of wrapped cloth. "Did you hear that? It sounded like banging."
"Ce n’est pas possible. No one else can be in that crypt right now, except for Brooklyn. I barred the twin sets of doors to the rookery on my way back with Father Robert’s robes."
Sata handed the barge’s poles to Etolie before dashing over the water and onto the cement path. The doors to the rookery flew open. "Brooklyn-san! Hurry!"
There was a sneeze from the darkness. Sata drew her swords uneasily and crouched, prepared for a spring. Brooklyn suddenly appeared from the gloom, two eggs under his arms and a third wrapped in his tail. There must have been more hay stuck to him and the three eggs than on the entire barge altogether.
Sata deftly tucked her wakizashi and katana into her belt and took the eggs in her mate’s arms. Brooklyn hefted the last egg under his arm and pushed the creaking old door shut. He stopped short as Sata ran past him again, one of the barge’s poles in her hands.
"Sata! Where are you going?"
Sata deftly jammed the shaft between the door and a deep crack in the floor.
"That will keep them busy!" she laughed. She leaped onto the boat as Etolie pushed off with the barge’s remaining pole, the precious egg nestled snugly in her arms.
* * * * *
There was a moan and a snapping noise as the second door burst open. Torchlight illuminated the dank crypt for the second time that night. A woman in a tattered dress knelt down to the mounds of straw surrounding the empty rookery.
"There are no eggs here," she sniffed. "They are all gone."
The group’s leader spat something under his breath. "How? The doors above were bolted shut." He waved his torch around, scanning the catacomb’s gloomy interior. His eyes narrowed suddenly. "There! Try that door."
The bolt rattled. "Desole, Monsieur. It is locked."
"There’s no lock on the outside, you fool!"
The speaker sniffed in offense, but he was adamant. "I am sorry, sir, but it will not open."
"Well, throw your backs into it, now!"
The door rocked and groaned as several bodies were flung into it, but the rod held the door firmly in place. By the time they had finally pushed their way through to the outside, their prey was long gone.
* * * * *
Etolie hugged an egg protectively in her arms as she watched Paris burn. In the distance, a mansion’s roof collapsed, sparks flying up into the night sky like grim fireworks.
Sata watched this sad display as she rowed. A long yawn interrupted her thinking, and for a moment, the world seemed to dance in front of her field of vision…
"Are you okay?" Brooklyn’s concerned voice snapped her awake.
"I am fine," she insisted, her tone slightly harsh. Brooklyn literally cringed. Sata straightened her shoulders and softened her voice. "I suppose after all the excitement, I am just a little exhausted."
"Here, let me row." The red gargoyle took the pole from her and set to steering. "Why don’t you lay down for a while." He turned his back on the city. He didn’t want to see its burning. The fire, the smashed statues, the mobs of humans … it was like a terrible case of deja’vu.
Sata gave an exhausted sigh as she sat down next to Etolie. "Would you care to talk?"
"I can’t believe I’m forced to leave our home," Etolie muttered under her breath. She stopped, realizing her mistake. "That is, I guess it isn’t our home anymore. There is no one else to call it our for."
Sata rested her hand on Etolie’s shoulder. "Of course there is." The dark blue gargoyle gave her a questioning glance, so Sata directed her attention to the 30 gargoyle eggs safely nestled in the barge’s hay.
She felt relieved when Etolie gave her a grateful little smile in return.
* * * * *
Just off Rue St. Martin, beside an abandoned mansion, there was a hiss as a tinderbox was lit. The man who held it lit his cigarette and took a deep breath. "Ah, such a pretty night," he commented as he peered overhead at the stars, partly blocked by the smoke from the mob’s fires. "C’est vachement joli." He blew out a smoke ring.
He didn’t notice the piece of tinder was still lit. It burned down to his fingers, setting his sleeve alight. He yelped and did a little dance as he attempted to smother his shirt.
Above him, his partner stuck his head over the balcony’s side. "Hey, pstttt! Jean. Jean! Here, catch this."
Jean stuffed his sleeve into a convenient water barrel and gave a relieved sigh at the billowing smoke. "Phew! Catch what? Oof!" A large sack caught him unexpectedly in the chest, knocking him onto his back. There was a crack as his head hit the cobblestones.
There was a weak groan. "I caught it, I caught it, you idiot."
"Je regrette, Jean. Didn’t know you weren’t looking. Hehe."
Jean shoved the sack off his chest and massaged his oversized nose. "You’re trying to kill me, Andre! You nearly took my head off with your clumsiness!"
Someone landed on the ground from above with a thud. "But you don’t need your head. As far as your concerned, it’s already gone." Andre's brawny hands caught the scrawnier man by his collar and pulled him to his feet. He hefted another gunnysack onto his broad, well-formed shoulders. Side-by-side, the two men looked like giant and dwarf.
"That wasn’t funny."
"Oh, you’re just irritable."
Jean gave his companion a nasty glare. "Is there anything else?"
Andre shrugged. "None that I could see. We cleaned out this one."
Jean dropped his load in nervousness as two sharp whistles pierced the night, then laughed sheepishly when he realized his mistake. "It’s Xavier’s signal."
"‘Clear out’," Andre whispered thoughtfully, then turned and, putting both fingers to his lips, gave an ear-splitting whistle. Farther up the avenue, two other men peered out from an alleyway with equally heavy bags on their backs. Seeing Andre, they promptly disappeared into the alley.
"Pierre and Henri are going around the other side," he whispered to Jean. "We’ll meet them at the barge. Come on. Time to get back before Xavier gets annoyed." The thin little man attempted to leave the alleyway, but his companion stopped him. "Wait. Listen …" He spat a curse. "Hide!"
The mob suddenly stormed past, shouting and singing at the top of their lungs.
Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrive!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'etendard sanglant est leve!
Entendez vous dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces feroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!
A frightened, shackled young man kicked and screamed as they dragged him over the cobblestones behind them. The two thieves cowered behind some water barrels, afraid to make a noise.
"They’re heading to the Place de la Revolution," Jean muttered at the mob’s retreating backs. "He’s as good as dead now."
Andre growled. "Let’s get out of here. I like my head very much, thank you."
* * * * *
Ah! Ca ira, ca ira, ca ira!
Les aristocrates a la lanterne!
Ah! Ca ira, ca ira, ca ira!
Les aristocrates a la lanterne!
The chilly summer night’s air blew his hair in front of his unshaven face. He irritably pulled his thick, pale hair back into a loose ponytail, then continued humming the song under his breath. "Where the devil are they?" he breathed, letting his hand fall to his sword’s hilt as he gazed out over the Seine. He straightened his tall back and drummed his other hand against his knee.
Two young men, hardly over the age of eighteen, lit their cigarettes and leaned against the pier. Despite their age, they both had the firm muscles of hard workers. "They should be back soon, Xavier," Henri, the one with red hair and freckles, said with a yawn.
"D’accord," Pierre agreed. "They were working the same neighborhood as us."
"I should hope so," Xavier muttered under his breath. "We’ve gone to all this trouble. The last thing we need is Robespierre’s men catching us." He lifted his head and narrowed his eyes as two figures, large and small, ran down the hill to the docks.
"Look at what we found." Andre pulled an ornately carved candelabrum from his gunnysack. "We found another house that was loaded with this stuff."
"You are late," Xavier said darkly, without turning.
"We finished with the entire Rue St. Martin," Andre said apologetically. "We found some very nice jewelry." He held up a handful of precious rings.
Xavier peered over his shoulder, then smiled. "Well, that always brightens up my night. By the by, I found some splendid silver pieces myself." He clicked his tongue. "It’s a pity we don’t have any more room on the barge. That last house had such lovely furniture."
He pulled a ring from Andre's hand and held it up to the light from the fires. It was a beautiful ruby ring with the emblem of the crown of France set into its center. He smiled and slipped it onto his own finger.
"Xavier." Andre cleared his throat. "It has the king’s insignia on it. If the sans-cullottes find that on you, there’ll be trouble."
Xavier waved his hand at him with a critical snort. "You worry too much, mon ami.
"Now!" He looked to his other men. "How’s about getting out of this cursed city and onto someplace with a tavern?"
"Bon!" Jean exclaimed, rubbing his little hands together. "I’m up for some cards and drink."
"You’re always up for some cards and drink!"
Jean huffed. "I can’t help it if I love cards so much."
Andre snickered. "Too bad you never win."
Jean made a move for his dagger, but stopped when Xavier clapped his hands. "Now, then, gentlemen!" he said, smiling. "Let’s behave ourselves. It’s the end of a long night, and I want to stay here as much as Marie-Antoinette does in the Conciergerie prison." The men snickered.
"Where did we park the barge, again?"
Xavier thumbed in the direction of Notre Dame. "Over there. I made sure it would be hidden from the mobs. You should see it from here."
Jean nodded. "Oh, yes, I do. But it’s going awfully fast, don’t you think?"
Xavier whirled around and dropped his jaw at the sight of his precious barge making its way down the river. "WHAT?" he roared, drawing his sword. "Our barge is leaving, and with our loot on it!"
"We’ll never catch it now," Andre said. "It’s going much too fast, and we’re too far away."
"I knew I should have kept that diamond ring instead of throwing it into the hold with all the rest," Xavier sighed, raising his lip in a snarl. "That would have brought me a good five hundred livres at the very least."
He smacked his sword against the pier in anger. "We leave immediately," Xavier ordered harshly, causing his men to wince. "They are heading north. We will follow them and regain our property."
"Sir?" Jean said. "There’s not a boat or a horse for miles. The city is in a panic."
Xavier’s brow tightened into a knot as he watched the barge slowly trace its way up the river. He tore his sword from the wood and slid it back into its sheath. Whoever stole his property would pay. He would personally see to it.
His men sheathed their cutlasses and clubs as they followed their leader down the bank.
* * * * *
The low rumbling in Brooklyn’s stomach snapped him to his senses. He stopped poling the barge for a moment, sucking in his lower lip. What he’d give for a real New York hot dog and pretzel just then …
Unfortunately, those probably wouldn’t be invented for another 160 years at the least.
Sata landed on the barge with a thump. "Ah, look what I found wandering around?" she probed, showing a straggly chicken. It was missing most of its feathers and looked like it had been dragged through the mud.
"Is that Original Recipe or Extra Crispy?" Brooklyn teased, gazing at the fowl hungrily.
Etolie looked up from minding the eggs. "Alors, where can we start a fire? On deck? With all this hay? We will have to stop on the bank for a while."
Brooklyn visibly drooped. The entire shoreline was covered in pricker-bushes; they wouldn’t be able to land such a large barge and make a fire until they found flatter ground. "Oh, well. Starving sounds good this time of year …" He mumbled softly to himself as he returned to his poling. "Kinda puts you in the mood for a song. Anyone for ‘Row your boat’?"
"We have been on the river for two nights, and probably only traveled some two kilometers," Etolie mused, sucking on a tall strand of grass she had pulled from the overhanging bank. "Traveling only at night and the size of this barge makes such slow going. I wish there was a faster way …" She dug her incisors into the pulpy center of the plant, chewing at the tubers. "It should be faster. The Seine flows north and empties out into La Manche. The English Channel."
"Should we get off?"
"I think we should continue going," Sata pointed out. "We may find a faster boat up the river."
Etolie caressed the shell of a nearby egg. "Do not worry, petit poppet," she cooed. "You will be safe soon." She gave a dreary sigh. "But you will have no rookery parents or older siblings to learn from."
"No," Sata said softly, crouching on her haunches next to Etolie. "They will have you, remember?"
"Sata-chan, can you pole for a while?" Brooklyn’s voice, suddenly very soft and gentle, startled the two females. His mate looked at Etolie, then back at him before nodding and taking the rod from his claws.
Brooklyn plopped down next to the dark blue gargoyle, dangling his legs over the side into the river. "Pretty out, huh?" he asked. It worried him even more when Etolie looked away. "You know, you’re not the only one to lose a family." She looked at him, surprised.
"What do you mean?"
"I lost a family, too, in the same way you just did. Then, I had a smaller family. It wasn’t the same as before, but we still had each other. Then I lost that family again. But I found a new one." Here he couldn’t help but smile in Sata’s direction. The jade-green gargoyle kept a close watch on the pair, interested in the conversation. She kept her eyes on the river, pretending not to hear.
Etolie’s eyes narrowed as she stared downwards at the water. "But I am the last. I have no other family. Not even a smaller one." She gritted her teeth, and he could tell she was not used to laying her feelings out in the open. "What shall I do?"
He jerked his head behind them. Etolie turned to stare; the sight of over two-dozen gargoyle eggs, all nestled and hidden snugly in mounds of hay, greeted her eyes. "They need you, Etolie." She turned away, closing her eyes against her rising anger. "They need someone to care for and love them. And to teach them about their past. About their parents."
"Hatchlings have no parents. The entire clan is their parent," Etolie echoed softly. Her eyes shrank to red, angry slits. "And because of the humans, these babes will have no clan." A low growl rumbled in her throat.
Brooklyn turned her around to look at him. "It only takes one to love, you know, and that’s exactly what they need," he said. There was a sad look in his eyes. "I know it’s hard. Believe me, I’ve been there." He closed his eyes and looked away, silently adding under his breath, "I think I still am there."
"Mais … do you ever worry about your family?"
Brooklyn suddenly found interest in his hands, folded on his lap. He didn’t bother to wiggle his leg as he felt a fish brush by his ankle.
"Yeah," he finally said after a few minutes. He watched Sata out of the corner of his eye. "Sometimes it’s unbearable, and I think I’ll never see them again." The way Sata moved as she poled made Brooklyn cock his head and watch her. Such beautiful arms… "But it’s not so bad at times, especially when I think of destiny. You know, of what’s meant to be, how you meet people, how your life runs. Fate has a funny way of working things out by itself." As he gazed at his mate, a warm, soft feeling slowly filled his chest.
Then it faded, replaced by a cold, raw feeling that wasn't totally due to the river.
* * * * *
A few nights later …
"I almost got it!" Brooklyn leaned over the side of the barge more. "I almost got the sucker. Hold steady. Hold it, hooooold it…" He let his entire body slide further over the edge of the boat, scraping his muscled stomach and tearing at his loincloth. There was a splash as his arms rapidly dove into the water, quicker than lightening, searching for something in the black depths of the river.
Sata raised her eyeridge, brushing more chicken bones over the side of the barge. "You eat too much, Brooklyn-san," she scolded. "If I wanted a pig, I would have gotten one myself without your help." But the look in her eyes told her mate that she was teasing him.
"Har, har," he commented, dropping his body back over the side. His voice drifted up and over the side of the barge through the late-night air. "If only we had barbecue sauce … Got it!" Splash. Slap-slap-slap! "Agh! The dumb thing slapped me across the face with its stupid-Whoo-hoo-hoo!" Brooklyn’s legs thrashed. "Someone, pull me up!"
Sata dove for his legs, latching her talons around his ankles.
"Okay, slowly now. I got it! Boy, it’s a big one. Ha! I got you!"
Etolie couldn’t help but smirk despite herself.
"Here, take it." A stout-bodied fish, over a foot in length, appeared over the side of the boat in Brooklyn’s talons, fighting and struggling for its life. Brooklyn’s beak peeked up over side. Seeing the same creature that took it from its watery home, the fish deftly slapped him with its tail right across the face.
Brooklyn's hands flew to his cheek. "My beak’s taking a real beating, lately." He gently massaged his blushing nose with the tips of his claws. "I guess I had it coming."
Sata narrowed her eyes. "What do you suppose it is?"
"I’m not sure," Brooklyn commented, "but I bet it’s better than the slugs."
Etolie poked a finger at the fleshy whiskers that surrounded the creature’s mouth. "Actually, I believe it is carp. They need these for bottom-feeding. They are quite delicious."
Brooklyn grinned. "I’m all up for some French fricassee-"
Without warning, the deck groaned to a halt, and the sides splintered against something heavy. The barge’s deck cracked in half as the vessel lifted several feet into the air, throwing Etolie into Sata and sending Brooklyn headfirst into the river.
The nest jarred two eggs out of their place and they bounced quickly for the side of the barge.
Etolie struggled, tripped, and dove for the eggs, tackling them and curling them to her stomach protectively. She ran her hand over them to see if they had sustained any damage. They were all right. She sighed nervously.
Sata pulled her to her feet, then looked around. "Brooklyn-san? Are you alright?" Her eyes widened in alarm; he was not aboard the barge.
"Right h-here." A sneeze and a hiccup satisfied Sata’s worry. He climbed back aboard, soaked to the skin and with several water plants clinging to his hair and wrapped around his leg. He fell to the deck and coughed. "What happened?" Sata wrapped her wings around his shivering body. Brooklyn didn't even resist.
"Zut alors!" Etolie spat, infuriated. "We’ve hit something." She hopped over the side, landing not in the brown, muddy water as expected, but on a bank. "A sandbar. And from the looks of it, we’ve landed on the eastern side of the river."
"Is there damage?"
"Je ne sais pas. Un moment." Her curly chestnut head disappeared below the other gargoyles point of view, beneath the boat. She reappeared a moment later, looking more crestfallen by the second. "We have sprung a leak. The wood cracked." Brooklyn noticed the veins in her arms popped as she covered her eyes with her hands.
He grumbled as he peered at the barge. The deck was lined down the middle by popped floorboards and dark, muddy river water was already starting to swirl through the cracks. "Perfect." He jumped down next to Etolie and pushed his shoulder against the barge. "On my mark. One, two, three!" They dug their hind claws into the mud and strained. Sata jammed the remaining pole between the bank and the barge and attempted to lever them apart, but the pole gave a weak groan before it snapped in two.
The barge didn’t move.
"We’re stranded," Sata sighed, then motioned at the leaks that were now growing. Her tone was firm. "Come, we must move the eggs." Even as she spoke, another plank groaned and cracked, allowing more water to gush through.
Etolie let out a strangled gasp and threw her hands into the air. "But where to after this? We can not each carry ten eggs-" She whipped around as Brooklyn clamped his hands on her shoulders.
"We’ll think of something. Trust me." He motioned towards the eggs. "Sata has the right idea. I don’t think we’ll want to wake up tomorrow night to find all the eggs underwater. We’ll move the eggs out of the boat." He turned to Etolie. "You should go scout the area. Maybe there’s an abandoned carriage or something nearby. The least we could find is a path leading north."
Etolie stared sadly at the eggs before quickly melting into the darkness of the surrounding forest.
Brooklyn whistled under his breath. "I gotta know how she does that."
* * * * *
Sata bent down and strained her arm and leg muscles as she hoisted another egg into the air. She delicately placed it on the sand before letting herself fall against an old, gnarled tree.
"I must sit out for a little bit," she breathed hoarsely. "It is too much."
"Aw, you just want to get out of doing some work!" Brooklyn joked, rather unconvincingly. His face twisted into a very concerned expression as Sata closed her eyes for a moment. "Are you alright?"
"Just very tired. Give me a few minutes to rest." Brooklyn nodded, still looking doubtful, before turning his work back towards the eggs. He was aware of Sata’s eyes burning into the back of his skull.
"You never told me your clan was massacred." There was a tone in her voice that Brooklyn could not read.
"It’s not much of a story." His pace suddenly quickened. Sata opened her mouth to speak again, but closed it when Brooklyn turned to look at her with a sad face.
"You care much for this clan’s future, Brooklyn-san."
"Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to help these eggs." He stared down the river, interested in the way the water flowed and turned, churning over the rocks and fallen, rotting logs. He made a move to speak a few times, but failed.
"Why are we heading this way? The water is flowing into a body of water, is it not? The current is picking up pace as we go."
Brooklyn knew he couldn’t stall anymore. Sata was far too smart to recognize he was acting differently. "We have to get to the coast." The thought tumbled out of his mouth before he even knew what he had said.
"Why? What is so important there?"
"I don’t want to say. It’s a long shot and I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up."
"You may have to. There’s no telling when the Gate will take us. You don’t want to leave Etolie here with the eggs and no idea what to do with them."
Brooklyn stared down at the ground again. "Alright, I’ll tell her when she gets back if you want." A cold wind suddenly bore down through the small valley, whistling through the forest’s branches and whipping through Brooklyn’s wet hair. He shivered.
Sata saw this. Brooklyn felt her silky wings wrap around him in comfort and her soft lips kiss him tenderly on the cheek.
His usual grin spread across his face as he looked at her. "Thanks," he whispered, resting his head on her shoulder.
* * * * *
Brooklyn noticed something odd in the surrounding woods after a few minutes. It was far too quiet for so late at night. The throaty chorus of crickets had accompanied their journey down the river for the past several nights, but the insects had, for some reason, shut up. It wasn’t a good sign.
Either way, his suspicions were a few seconds too late. He and Sata were totally caught unawares when the men attacked them, knocking them both down and pressing their blades to their throats. Sata made a move for her swords, but halted; she couldn’t move. It would only take one swipe for the sword to slit her throat.
"Looks like a winged monkey," commented a thin, wry man with a large hooked nose. "Don’t it? Think it could beg for coins and do tricks?"
"Funny words coming from a little mouse," Brooklyn retorted.
Jean growled. "Watch it there, monkey."
"Don’t kill them before I question them," came a low voice from behind. Sata couldn’t strain her neck enough to see behind her, but she did catch the image of a sharp, annoyed man in the reflection of her swords tucked into her obi.
Her lip lifted over her fangs as she felt her muscles tighten. Brooklyn watched out of the corner of his eye as his mate slowly inched her claws for her swords.
"My barge! Excellent!" His tone dropped a notch when he noticed the damage.
A gold buckled boot nudged Brooklyn’s beak, forcing his snout into the muddy sand. "Ah, so you are the culprits responsible for stealing my barge," Xavier sneered. He gave the gargoyle’s beak another shove. "And after all the trouble I went to in order to steal it first!" He tore Sata’s long sword from her obi, inspecting the fine, well-made blade and the beautiful handle.
"Foreign made?" he asked, tucking the sword into his own belt. "Tres bien. I shall get a good price on it." He gave her a mocking bow. "Enchante de faire votre connaissance!"
He drew himself up and stroked his lip thoughtfully. "And yet, I wonder, how you possibly got out here? As I’m always on top of the latest gossip, and my sources are rarely wrong, Paris’ clan has been annihilated." He spoke the word as if he were asking a question. "And with my barge, too."
"Think they’re tasty in a sauce?" Jean snarled, tugging on Brooklyn’s ear. "I’m pretty hungry." The gargoyle snorted as he lunged at the upstart, but the cold edge of a sword dug into his throat. He took the hint and settled down.
Andre kneeled before the wrecked barge, rummaging through the remaining hay. "Xavier, the loot’s gone."
Xavier’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. "Well, this horrible problem can easily be remedied." He knelt down to Brooklyn and Sata’s eye level. His eyes were now slits, angry and dangerous. "Just show me where you stuffed my property and you two shall be left to go on your merry way. Aren’t I a good host?"
"In a pig’s eye," Brooklyn snapped, feeling his hot temper rising in his throat. Xavier wrinkled his nose.
"Where is it?" he shouted. "My patience is running thin."
"We threw it into the river." Brooklyn couldn’t keep the taunt out of his voice. "We needed the extra room."
"Travel luggage," came the smart response.
"Xavier!" Andre interrupted. "I’ve found something. It’s … eggs."
"Omelets! Even better!" Jean laughed.
Xavier ground his newly-stolen shoes into the mud in a rage. "You threw my hard-earned loot into the river for a bunch of EGGS?" Brooklyn’s eyes glowed in defiance. Xavier snarled at him and turned to Jean. "Where are these eggs?"
Andre smiled. With a well-aimed kick, an entire stack of hay went sliding into the river, revealing the vulnerable nest.
Sata felt her muscles tighten. She knew where this was going. "No!" she roared, struggling, but someone shoved her face first into the dirt again.
"Destroy them," Xavier snapped, waving his hand at Andre and Jean. He gave Brooklyn a cruel kick in the ribs. The gargoyle yelped, doubling over in pain. Xavier simply sighed, almost sympathetically. "You will see now, gargoyle," he said softly, tickling Brooklyn's chin. "I always win."
Andre and Jean nodded mechanically, then raised their swords over the nest to smash its unborn occupants…
* * * * *
To be continued…