Written by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez
Story by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez, Jonathan Cotleur, and Aaron Ziegler
Artwork by Lady Foxglove
Based loosely on a true account by MMC Alexander F. Martinez, USN (Ret.)
* * * * *
Previously on "Gargoyles" ...
Hudson: What is this?
Jeffery Robbins: My Purple Heart, for this. So busy trying to herd a bunch of green kids through 'Nam that I didn't watch my
step. Shrapnel, you never see it coming.
Jeffery Robbins: Vietnam. The War? Funny, something about your voice made me think you were a soldier once.
~~~A Lighthouse on the Sea of Time~~~
* * * * *
The orange of the Phoenix flame was lost in the glare of blossoming signal flares. The tranquil evening was suddenly transformed into a blinding white nightmare as Brooklyn was dumped unceremoniously into a rice paddy. He surfaced, then ducked abruptly as the tattoo of machine gun fire whined dangerously close to his head.
"Get down!" Someone yelled. Then came the cry of a man who heeded the advice too late.
The men around him hunched forward and advanced, returning fire as they sought to escape what was evidently an ambush. A fallen soldier struggled in the muddy water near Brooklyn's waist. Not knowing what else to do, he grabbed the man's ammo belt and pulled him into the relative safety of a stand of rubber trees.
"Thank you, mate." He raised his hand to his wounded shoulder and touched it gently. "Looks like I'm in a bit of a fix."
Brooklyn removed the man's canteen from his belt, unscrewed the lid, and held it to his lips. "I think we both are." He stared into the jungle and wondered just what he was supposed to do next.
~~~The Devilís Deal~~~
* * * * *
The boy tripped as the ash started to fall more heavily. Brooklyn stopped and helped him, the two looking back briefly at the volcano. Celer was crying, and whispering to himself. But Brooklyn could hear him clearly enough. "I donít want to die. Gods, please donít let me die."
"You wonít," Brooklyn said as winds of sulfuric acid began to descend upon the remains of the destroyed city. He felt a familiar tingle. The gargoyle grabbed the boy and drew him close, wrapping his wings around them both.
The Phoenix Gate erupted with fire, one of the few occasions that Brooklyn felt that it had had great timing.
~~~Fire and Ice~~~
* * * * *
Vietnamese jungle 5 clicks south of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 13 September 1969
"By the gods!"
Celer's quietly whispered oath, directed in no particular direction, fell upon the unhearing stone ears of his companion as he crouched in the patch of tall grass they were hiding in. The gargoyle had turned to stone just as the bizarre fire that had engulfed them had dissipated, leaving them both unhurt and Celer scared and confused. He had fallen asleep in his exhaustion, but woken quickly in this unfamiliar land. Now he acted instinctively, not wanting to be seen.
He looked up at Brooklyn's stone visage, sealed into an expression of anticipation upon arrival. The gargoyle had been the closest thing to a friend that Celer had known in his short lifetime as a Roman slave. Celer kept that in mind as he kept his hidden position in this strange grass, caught in the midst of an entirely unfamiliar plain. Knowing he would be safest that way, he kept himself close to his granite companion.
As carefully as he could, without giving himself away, he watched through the blades of grass. Watched as he had for most of the morning ... a group of three men, soldiers apparently, sharing in the glorious stories of war and triumph.
* * * * *
"... that poor kid didn't have a chance."
The two white Marines shook their heads in knowing sympathy. "Honestly, sarge, you've got to stop telling these stories, you're going to bring us all down."
The sergeant, the lone black man in their midst, shrugged. "I had to tell someone, Spencer. It may be a fact of life here, but it still hurts to lose a good fighter."
Corporal Spencer shook his head. "But come on, Sarge, we're headed for leave. Soon's me and Ferguson here get to Atsugi, we're catching the next plane to Hong Kong, and you'll have to depress someone else with your stories."
Ferguson, a slow-drawling Southerner, chuckled. "Just don't ever get the sarge in one of his mythological moods, man. He'll talk yer ear off about King Arthur and the Greek gods and all that ..."
"And what's so wrong with that, Private?"
Ferguson suddenly remembered himself in the scheme of the military chain of command, and remembered that no matter how many ways it was played, a staff sergeant always beat a PFC. "Nothing, sergeant."
"Good." Hearing the sounds of helicopter rotors in the distance, the sergeant stood taller than he had been. "Chopper's coming. Grab your gear, men."
Ferguson and Spencer did as the sergeant had suggested, picking up their duffel bags as the helicopter approached, its arrival heralded by the generation of an artificial windstorm around the Marines.
* * * * *
Celer's eyes widened as the great flying beast approached at alarming speed. Trying desperately to hold his ground against the wind the giant, odd-looking bird had generated, he grasped to one of Brooklyn's stone arms, holding on for dear life. But still, he was spellbound as he saw it approach.
"It must be the eagle ... come for Prometheus ..."
The bird alighted slowly before touching down on the ground. Celer fought with himself, conflicting between the instinct to run and the fascination in the strange creature that had just presented itself before the soldiers. Then he remembered Brooklyn, looking up to the statue beside him. Brooklyn would wonder where he had run off to.
Holding his fear in check, he willed himself to stay.
* * * * *
The side panel opened up, allowing the pilot to pop his head out the side of the helicopter. "Uncle Sam Express for Da Nang, Atsugi and all points east!"
"Cut the comedy and just get us out of here. I'm in need of a break from the jungle." Spencer turned to the sergeant. "Sarge?"
"You guys go on, Spencer. I thought I saw something out there ... I'll go on last."
Spencer shrugged. "Hey, it's your shore leave." He climbed aboard the chopper. Ferguson was close behind, and they pushed their bags to the other side of the fuselage.
The sergeant watched the horizon for a brief moment, but suddenly heard the sounds of an engine other than the helicopter's. He watched the nearby dirt road and suddenly saw it ... a U.S. military issue jeep, approaching the clearing. He turned to the pilot, still grinning at the helicopter's side entry.
"Hold up, guys, looks like we've got one more passenger coming."
The jeep zoomed up to the clearing, running up next to the chopper, then came to a halting stop. Out of one side of the vehicle stepped a younger man ... by the sergeant's approximation, maybe in the range of his late 20's. He took off several pieces of baggage from the jeep, motioned to the driver, and approached the helicopter as the jeep drove off. Only once the jeep had left could the sergeant see that the man who was approaching was an officer ... an Army lieutenant.
"Officer on deck!" The sergeant assumed a ramrod position, as did the occupants of the helicopter as best as they could, and saluted.
The lieutenant weakly returned the salute, looking up at the pilot. "Atsugi?"
"Yes sir, lieutenant. Heading our way?"
The lieutenant nodded, tossing one of his bags at the sergeant. "Load this for me, boy."
The sergeant quietly bristled, handing up the golf bag to Ferguson, who held it between his legs. Obedently, the sergeant helped to load the rest of the lieutenant's seemingly exaggerated collection of luggage into the vehicle, as the lieutenant himself climbed in, assuming a seat next to Spencer.
"Three on, one to go. Come on, sergeant."
The sergeant nodded up at the pilot, watching as Spencer and Ferguson tried to work some more room around the lieutenant's load of baggage. The pilot kept looking at his watch, tapping his fingers against the bulkhead of the helicopter.
The lieutenant, seemingly ignorant of the situation, pulled out a paperback novel and started reading.
Suddenly, motion in the nearby brush distracted the attention of the sergeant. He looked over to a patch of tall grass and saw a silhouette, moving. Impulsively he called out, "Who goes there?!"
* * * * *
Celer knew he had been spotted. Panicked, he fell down into a prone position, but suddenly realized he had drifted away from Brooklyn. His eyes carefully watched the strange black man approach him.
Just as suddenly, their eyes made contact. And Celer knew there was no point in hiding. The black man crouched down close to where Celer was lying now, putting out his hand to the boy.
"It's all right, son. I'm not going to hurt you." The man gestured toward the Roman boy, a motion that Celer translated into a welcome. He slowly stood up, finally walking over to where the black man was standing.
"That's better. Come on, we've got to get you out of here."
* * * * *
"Whoa, sergeant, who's holding the toga party?"
The pilot's question was greeted with a stern look from the returning sergeant. "Very funny. I just found him near the edge of the clearing."
Spencer and Ferguson were nearly speechless ... the little white boy in the toga was obviously not native, but at the same time they couldn't come up with any way he could have come to the middle of a war zone.
"I hope you're not expecting to take him with, sergeant. I barely had enough room for one more, I definitely don't have room for two."
The lieutenant, sitting quietly up until this point, chose this moment to chime in. "I would agree, for the one reason that it gets me out of here faster. Your name, sergeant?"
Almost stammering, the black man replied. "Robbins, sir."
"Very well, sergeant," the lieutenant intoned, "then I leave the boy's welfare in your hands. Pilot, take off."
"But sir ..."
"You have an objection, sergeant?"
Robbins looked down at the young boy next to him. "This is no place for a little boy to be. At least take him with you."
The lieutenant was clearly unhappy. "All the more reason for him to stay with you. You can protect him." He motioned to the pilot, who while clearly not thrilled with the prospect, returned to the cockpit of the chopper and prepared to lift off.
"Sir, please ..."
"Sergeant, that's a direct order. You are to stay behind and watch the boy."
Robbins sighed heavily, saluting. "Yes, sir."
"Good. I'm glad we understand each other." With those words, the helicopter lifted off, after Robbins' foot, on the helicopter's skid, was pushed off. The craft slowly gained altitude, away from the clearing.
Ferguson and Spencer traded looks, then looked at the lieutenant. Vaguely aware of their scrutiny, he finally spoke. "You have nothing to worry about. The area's been confirmed clear by U. S. Command. Trust me, there's no Charlies here."
The lieutenant turned to the pilot. "Come back for him, but only after we get to Atsugi."
The pilot nodded in acknowledgement, continuing his duties. The lieutenant turned back around, seemingly practicing his golf swing with his clasped hands.
* * * * *
The two had sat in the clearing for what seemed like an eternity, though it was actually only about an hour. Clearly out of his element, the little boy seeemed almost afraid of him, Sergeant Robbins thought, as though he has never seen a black man before. Breathing deeply, he made the first move to approach the child.
This caught Celer off guard. He started backing away, but not before Robbins had put his hand out to him, beckoning as opposed to punishing.
"We may as well get to know each other. It's going to be a while."
Celer calmed slowly.
"Let's start with names. I'm Jeffrey, Jeffrey Robbins."
He flashed a friendly smile at the boy. Hesitantly, Celer put his own hand forth, clasping Robbins'. "My name is Celer."
"Pleased to meet you." Robbins sighed quietly. "I'm sorry that I don't have anything to eat, you look like you haven't eaten in days."
Celer barely acknowledged the apology. "I go for days sometimes without food. I am used to it."
"That's terrible." Robbins slowly approached the boy, sitting down next to him. "Why would you have to do that?"
The boy's eyes drooped, seemingly regretful. "Sometimes when my master thinks I don't work hard enough ... he punishes me by taking my food."
"That's just not right."
"But it is." Celer stood up, looking at his companion. "It is the way of things, I am a slave, he is the master."
"That's not the way of things, young man," Robbins admonished the boy in a nearly teacherly tone. "Slavery has been outlawed for a century, no man is anyone's property."
Celer's expression suddenly became hopeful. "No slaves ... I could be free?"
"Not 'could be.' You are." Looking at the boy, Robbins noticed the slanting of the shadows, creating stripes on the ground where their shadows lay.
"Sunset's coming soon. Don't worry, the chopper will be back anytime now."
* * * * *
Watching silently in the shadows, he observed the passionate conversation between the American and the strangely dressed little boy. While it was all unintelligible to him, it also seemed as though the two were speaking entirely different languages. Wiping a sweating palm on the pants of his black guerrilla uniform, he quietly pulled the pin on the grenade in his hand, throwing it with a swift overhand motion.
* * * * *
The sun dipped below the horizon. At that moment, in the place he had appeared earlier that afternoon, Brooklyn burst free of his stone shell, returning to life for another night. Lifting his face to the sky, he started his obligatory evening roar to sweep the cobwebs free.
However, he was quickly and rudely interrupted by the strike of a falling hand grenade. The impact of the explosion immediately swept him off his feet, landing him on his tail, bewildered. Before he could even make a remark, the sounds of gunfire rang through the night sky.
His new vantage point in the field allowed Brooklyn to see into the clearing, just as a black Marine yelled "GET DOWN!" and jumped on top of Celer.
"Great, just what I need ... first volcanoes and now gunfire. Will this insanity ever end?!" Suddenly remembering himself, he turned back to the clearing, seeing the Marine using his body to shield Brooklyn's new traveling companion. At least Celer was safe. But who was this strange man ... why did he look so familiar ...?
Brooklyn's eyes focused in on the Marine's uniform, looking for any markings. The name ROBBINS stenciled over his right pocket stuck out like a sore thumb.
"Robbins ...Jeffrey Robbins! Hudson's friend ... "
As soon as Brooklyn realized that he had just vocalized his recognition, Robbins turned his head toward where he thought he'd heard voices. Another grenade impact tossed up a cloud of dirt, temporarily hiding Brooklyn from Robbins' view, and allowing Brooklyn enough time to recover his bearings, stand up and move to a better position.
* * * * *
Robbins was just about to give up hope when he heard another, quieter barrage of gunfire erupt from behind where he was. He picked his head up briefly, looking back toward where the second set of gunfire had come from.
"Those sounded friendly. Come on, we're making a run for it!"
He grabbed Celer's hand securely in his own, making a run for the opposite side of the clearing.
* * * * *
Another grenade had landed close enough to throw Brooklyn aside again. Picking himself up once more, he frustratedly brushed the dust off of him, growling under his breath.
"Where's this all coming from, I wonder ... maybe if I stop it, it won't hurt as much!" Brooklyn took a careful look into the clearing, seeing Robbins and Celer making a run for life, but at the same time spotting a fully armed enemy scouting party waiting for him in the same direction the two fugitives were running. Another opposing volley, and it was becoming painfully obvious that the good guys were outgunned.
"Well, it's as good a time as any to get in on the action." Brooklyn crept quietly toward one of the grenadiers, trying to keep his presence hidden until the very last moment.
* * * * *
Not seeing the impending danger approaching, another black-uniformed soldier pulled another grenade out, fingering the pin. The American and the strange boy came into view. The grenadier grinned, putting his finger through the pin's loop.
He was suddenly distracted, however, by a red demonic creature leaping up in his face, glowing eyes and fangs flashing. Startled, the soldier tossed his hands to both sides, pulling the pin on the grenade. The now-armed grenade traveled to a nearby patch of dense brush, exploding harmlessly. Growling, the demon made a motion to grab the soldier, a move which the soldier responded to by running in the opposite direction.
Chuckling to himself as he watched the man's hasty escape, Brooklyn looked down the line of attackers. "One down ... lots to go."
* * * * *
The gunfire was continuing to cross the clearing, but Robbins noted that one side seemed to be reducing in the strength of its attacking more than the other. Keeping himself and Celer close to the ground, he listened carefully to the sounds of the fire over their heads.
"It sounds like there's a path being cleared. Let's get ourselves over to the edge of the clearing, we'll have our best chance."
Celer looked at Robbins fearfully, but complied, following the black sergeant and keeping low to the ground, mimicking Robbins' protective posture as he ran.
* * * * *
Carefully, being sure to watch Robbins' route, Brooklyn followed him in his attacks on the Viet Cong soldiers, scaring most of them and throwing aside those who didn't scare so easily. Soon, he only had three left to attack, and those three chose to turn on him as soon as he came close.
"Uh oh ... I suppose you're tough guys to scare, huh?"
One of them laughed. "Scare us? What do you think those Americans have been trying to do for years, Monster?" He opened fire, but Brooklyn rolled faster, knocking the legs out from under one of his assailant's flankers before he could fire himself. Another barrage came toward him, one which he barely ducked. The soldier tried to fire a third time, but his weapon wouldn't respond. He fiddled frustratedly with the loading mechanisms, but Brooklyn stood up in front of him faster.
"Tough luck, Clyde." Brooklyn cocked a fist back and pounded it into the soldier's face. His eyes glowing, he turned to the last remaining black-pajama clad fighter. "You want to try your luck?"
Eyes widened, the Viet Cong screamed and ran away, as another barrage of gunfire launched from the other side. Brooklyn's attention immediately returned to Robbins and Celer, now kneeling in the middle of the clearing, hands held high, looking toward the other side of the clearing where the good guys' fire had been coming from.
* * * * *
"Hold fire, please!"
The gunfire trailed off. "Who goes there? Identify!"
"Robbins, Jeffrey, Staff Sergeant USMC, serial number ...!"
Robbins' voice trailed off as he watched some of the other soldiers make their way slowly into the clearing, rifles at the ready. At their head was an unlikely-looking soldier, by his markings a Private First Class, with unruly, longish hair and a sleepy looking face, looking almost sedated. His features, though, finally broke out into a smile as he approached.
"American ... " As a second thought, the private stood at attention and saluted. Robbins stood up.
"Cut it out, private! I'm a non-com, you only salute officers!"
"Oh ... right." The private returned to a relaxed pose. "Sorry." He extended a hand. "Private First Class Justin Wakefield Tylor, 169th batallion. We've been hoping to find someone to help us out ..."
"Whoa, whoa, slow down, Tylor," Robbins interrupted. "Where's your commander?"
Tylor sighed. "Well, that's just it, si ... er, sergeant. Our sergeant, our last radio and half our unit just got wasted by a minefield back there. Along with them went most of our recon maps."
Robbins sighed. "I thought this place was cleared."
"That's news to us, sarge," replied another Marine, another private with the name GARCIA stencilled on his extremely mud-encrusted uniform. "Our only maps are an area six clicks from here, are wildly inaccurate, and we haven't had contact with Command for about three days."
Closing his eyes resignedly, Robbins shook his head sadly. "Military intelligence ... as always, a contradiction in terms ..." At this moment, Celer, now standing up, crept up behind Robbins, hiding behind a convenient leg.
Tylor took notice of the Roman boy. "Hello, who's this? Definitely not a local."
Robbins looked down at the boy, lightly patting Celer's head. "This is Celer ... and the reason why I'm out here." Sighing, he looked back up at the ragtag batallion remnants. "Now it looks like I've got a whole bunch of green kids to look after."
Garcia looked back at the ragtag battallion remains, then back at Robbins and Tylor. "I don't like the looks of this place ... we're out in the open and sitting ducks."
"I'm inclined to agree." Robbins regarded the muddy condition of Garcia's uniform, seeing that it was shared with most of the rest of the men. "Where did this mud come from?"
"Half a click to the west, we passed by a creekbed, not a lot of water but plenty of mud."
Robbins nodded. "Our best move is probably going to be to head back there, it'll be more defensible than this clearing. I've still got a working radio with me. There's a chopper coming back here, I can inform them of our position when they get here."
Tylor looked back at his unit. "They need a leader, sergeant. I'm far from being one ... if you don't mind, we'll follow your lead."
Robbins smiled, taking Celer's hand in his. "All right. Lead me to the creekbed first, though."
* * * * *
Close by the clearing, in the tall brush, Brooklyn watched the exchange of words, hoping to keep Celer and Robbins in sight at all times. When they started loading their gear out, it was his cue to move.
"Anyplace is better than here." Caping his wings around him, he took to the ground on all fours, quickly but stealthily, trying to keep from being detected. Keeping a watchful eye on the area around the Americans for any attackers, he followed them closely for half a mile, making sure to check on Robbins and Celer at every opportunity. Brooklyn was quick to dispense with any Viet Cong who did appear in the way, keeping the path clear for the Americans.
Finally, the group pulled up at a creekbed, digging themselves in to defend their position. Brooklyn dug himself in as well ... climbing a nearby tree and sitting on his haunches in a conveniently large branch, watching and waiting for anything to happen, keeping on his guard at all times.
* * * * *
The night went by at an agonizingly slow rate, the soldiers not daring to sleep should they fall under attack by enemy guerillas. Celer too was wide awake, not only the danger but the unfamiliarity of the place being his worry.
Tylor looked over at him. "Hey, Kid! Whatís your story? Whereíd you come from?"
Celer looked back up at Robbins, who nodded.
"It's all right, Celer. You can tell them if you want."
Celer took a deep breath, then began to relate his life's story, what little of it there was, to the last remnants of the 169th, in an attempt to cut the stress of the moment. The soldiers listened with interest, but most of them dismissed the story as a young child's fantasy, especially the talk of the erupting volcano and the red-skinned winged creature that had taken him from the eruption to the middle of Vietnam.
Some of the men had chuckled a little, bringing scorn from Robbins. "Come on, young Celer here is a child with quite a history."
One of the laughers, a white private with PORTZ stencilled on his uniform, cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, sarge, but the kid's story sounds like a lot of imagination from a little kid like him. Now true fear ... that's what we've been going through for the last couple of days."
Another private came up behind Robbins, PAYETTE stencilled on his shirt. "Yeah, that minefield ... that's what I would call fear. I mean, here we are, marching along, minding our own business, then all of a sudden BAM!"
To punctuate his point, Payette slammed his fist quickly into the palm of his hand, creating a smack that brought a jump out of Celer. Portz continued for his fellow private. "It's stunning ... one minute you're hating your sergeant's guts ... the next you're burying him because he stepped on a mine. I mean, my best buddy bought it in that minefield, too."
Other soldiers around them started piping up. "I was right next to 'im, and he just plain got popped."
"I had a buddy who went behind a tree and ..."
"Guys, pipe down!" Tylor's quick admonition brought the Marines to silence at last. He crouched down by Celer, who was now shaking. "It's okay, kid. Don't mind them, they're fresh in from boot, they haven't gotten used to the toll yet."
Celer looked at Tylor carefully. "When do they ever get used to it?"
Tylor looked at Robbins, then back at Celer, sighing heavily. "Unfortunately ... I don't think anyone ever does."
Robbins shook his head. "Not 'unfortunately,' private. The day any man gets 'used' to death, destruction and killing is the day the man dies and the monster is born."
* * * * *
Brooklyn had listened to the conversations with interest. Though he had been in Vietnam in previous dances, he had never had the chance to get to know the soldiers as well as he had been able to get to know Robbins and Tylor's ragtag unit. It made him feel dirty, hearing the stories these men were telling, the destruction they had been forced to face day in and day out. It made him, for a brief moment, thankful that the Phoenix Gate was with him, that he would not be forced to face this horror forever.
That brief moment was interrupted by a gleam catching Brooklyn's eye across the creekbed from the Marines. Focusing his eyes, he looked carefully at the gleaming, caught in the moonlight. Metallic gleaming ...
... from gun barrels.
"Here we go again," Brooklyn muttered at nobody in general.
* * * * *
Robbins made a motion with his hands to try to lower the conversation's noise level, listening carefully. "Get your weapons, men," he whispered quietly.
The soldiers took the cue, carefully moving away from Robbins and retrieving their arms. Taking a brief moment to check their state of readiness, Robbins then turned his attention to Celer, making sure the Roman boy was safe.
Payette, unsure of whether his rifle was loaded, pulled back on the bolt to make sure that a round was chambered. An ear-splitting CLICK! reverberated through the area.
Robbins looked up. "Oh, cr ..."
His oath was interrupted by a slew of gunfire launching from the opposite side of the creekbed, as the Viet Cong on the other side opened fire. Getting up quickly, he spun around, bringing his own rifle to bear on the enemy and firing, keeping his wits about him enough to bark commands to the battallion.
"Split up, men! Don't give 'em any easy targets!"
Much to his horror, though, the men were far from eager to follow commands. Payette and Portz, their inexperience showing, were back to back and firing wildly, eyes filled with fear. A grenade strike next to them sent them running for drier ground, reassuming their firing stance, but this time their shots were poorly aimed, some even threatening to hit friendly troops.
Their firing was finally stopped by Tylor tackling them to the ground as another grenade struck, splashing muddy water over everyone. "You two are gonna get us all killed if you're not careful! Look," Tylor pointed, "the enemy's over there. That means you fire that way!!"
Still fearful and panicked, Portz and Payette nodded, turning themselves to point their rifles at the guerillas across the creek from them and firing. Tylor backed away from them, crawling back over to Robbins, who was crouched over Celer, shielding the boy.
"What do we do now, sarge?"
Robbins turned around, looking across the way. "Our best bet is going to be to get to their flanks and take 'em from the sides. Let the men keep them occupied, you take their northern flank, I'll take the south. We clear?"
Tylor smiled. "That's exactly what I was thinking. Good luck, sarge." Tylor grabbed his weapon and ran toward the northern flank of the attackers.
Robbins looked at him. "What an unusual person ... he'll make a great leader one of these days." Scooping up Celer in one arm and his gun in the other, he started running southward, as the rest of the Marines kept firing at the hidden attackers.
* * * * *
Brooklyn watched carefully, waiting for his moment to enter the fray. His mind was running on the same lines as Tylor and Robbins, and he also smiled as he watched Tylor and Robbins start running for opposite ends of the Viet Cong line.
"Good plan, Robbins." His eyes focused on Robbins' run, as he carried Celer with him and tried to get to their extreme southern flank. He also watched, though, as another grenade let fly, landing nearby in the water and exploding close to Robbins.
Celer shrieked. And at that moment, the shriek brought the attention of some guerillas, who broke away from their attack line to turn their attention to Robbins and Celer.
Brooklyn growled, more out of panic than anger. If he helped Robbins, he would probably have to reveal himself to the sergeant, in order to clear his path of danger. He looked to Tylor, who had assumed his position at the northern flank and was waiting for Robbins to hit the south.
"That tears it." Brooklyn stood up, his eyes glowing, and leaped out of his vantage point tree, zooming toward the threat to Robbins and Celer.
* * * * *
Robbins kept his gun pointed toward the trees, his progress stopped by Celer's shriek which undoubtedly revealed his position to the enemy. He ducked down, covering Celer, trying to protect the boy. He heard the gunfire come closer ... closer ...
... then just as suddenly stop. The sounds became more confusing through the violent noises of war ... men's shouts, bodies falling, and what vaguely sounded like ... growling?
A barrage of gunfire flew harmlessly to the sky, the gun's owner taken by surprise by something in the brush. At the same time, he could hear Tylor begin his assault on the Viet Cong northern flank. It was not hard to understand now that the enemy was in utter confusion.
This clinched it for Robbins ... he was now convinced that he had someone helping him. He looked at Celer, smiling.
"Come on, son, let's find a better hiding place." He grabbed Celer's hand and ran with him.
* * * * *
The assault Brooklyn had launched caught the Viet Cong completely by surprise, much to his satisfaction. He stood now in the center of a pile of unconscious Vietnamese, breathing heavily, his eyes still glowing from his adrenaline rush. He looked off a short distance, seeing a lot of soldiers, their backs turned, being kept plenty occupied with Tylor's assault. He finally allowed himself to relax a little.
Unfortunately, too soon. One of the prone guerillas quickly took out a grenade, pulling its pin and throwing it as hard as he could before lapsing into unconsciousness.
Brooklyn spun around as soon as he heard the whistling of the grenade sailing through the air, watching the projectile fly with growing horror as it approached Robbins and Celer. His eyes glowing with panic, he ran desperately toward them.
* * * * *
Celer's foot became caught in a muddy rut, making him fall behind Robbins. "Help!"
The boy's cry made Robbins turn, coming back over to him to try and free the boy's foot. He noticed the sound of the grenade's flight too late, as he arrived at Celer's side just as the grenade did, landing and exploding.
The shockwave of the blase flung Celer out of the rut and a good six feet away. He landed roughly in the mud, unmoving.
While the shockwave did not throw Robbins as far, the grenade's shrapnel sprayed into his eyes as it threw him on his back, screaming in his pain.
And behind all of the chaos, the sounds of the Viet Cong gunfire finally ceased ... Tylor had done his work well.
* * * * *
Brooklyn's headlong rush, panicked by the thought of his friends in danger, slowed as he saw both Robbins and Celer lying prone in the mud. Immediately, he ran to Celer's side, putting a hand on the boy's still body.
Nothing ... he couldn't feel the Roman boy breathing, couldn't feel his heart beat.
The gargoyle crouched down next to the boy, his features crunched into a sorrowful pose, regretting ever bringing the boy with him. "This is just great ... I save you from Vesuvius, only to kill you in a war zone." He cradled the boy's head in his arms, sadly moaning, "I'm so sorry, Celer ..."
Movement from Robbins caught Brooklyn's attention briefly, followed by Robbins' voice.
* * * * *
The pain was not so much blinding as it was mind-numbing. Blinding had already been taken care of with the grenade's shrapnel. Robbins could barely see anything around him, but when he heard a voice nearby, he spoke up.
"Are you ... American?"
His vision limited to blurry shapes, he saw a misshapen shadow turn its head one direction, then in the other. "Yeah, I am."
The voice spoke with a vaguely American accent ... and was accompanied by an unusual smell for the jungle. Robbins had been in enough libraries to recognize the smell of bookleather, especially when it was layered in dust.
"Where did you come from?" He suddenly remembered himself ... remembered the situation. "Where's Celer? The kids?"
No reply. The shadow made a motion, appearing to pick up a small body, which Robbins guessed was Celer. He watched with awe as a brilliant light appeared around the shadow, revealing the being's wings to him. The light disappeared suddenly, as did the shadows.
Robbins was shocked, not so much by the wound as he was by the sight he had half-seen. "An angel ... good journey, Celer, you're in a much better place now, son."
* * * * *
Tylor had assembled the rest of the 169th, bringing them all over to where Robbins now lay in the mud, his eyes filled with grenade shrapnel and unseeing. Tylor crouched down to Robbins' side.
"You okay, Sarge? The chopper's near, I can hear it."
Robbins groaned. "Other than being blinded, I'm fine. What about the others?"
"We didn't lose a single man, Sarge. The VC's are in disarray over there ... it looked like somebody beat me to 'em."
Robbins smiled enigmatically. As he did, the chopper approached from the east, touching down a short distance away. Tylor knelt upright, waving his arms wildly.
"Hurry up! We've got wounded over here!"
The pilot brought a stretcher with him. Unrolling it quickly, Garcia and Portz helped to roll Robbins on the canvas of the transport, while Tylor and Payette manned the handles and carried him over to the helicopter. The remnants of the 169th battalion followed the sergeant inside the chopper, relieved to be leaving the area.
Feeling the lurch of the chopper under him, Robbins looked to his side. "We made it?"
Tylor smiled. "We're on our way to Da Nang right now, Sarge."
Payette came up behind Tylor, approaching Robbins. "Man, Sarge, we thought you were a goner when that grenade hit. What happened, anyway?"
The enigmatic smile reappeared on Robbins' face. "An angel saved me."
Tylor and Payette looked at each other, shrugging, as the chopper continued on its way.
* * * * *
Vietnamese jungle 3 1/2 clicks south of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 16 September 1969
The brilliant flames of the Phoenix Gate erupted spontaneously into the same clearing they had only a few days prior, depositing a mourning Brooklyn on the grass. Tears that had formed before the dance were just now falling as he held the unmoving body of Celer in his arms. Brooklyn closed his eyes, cuddling the boy close to him.
"I'm so sorry, Celer ... you shouldn't have been here ..."
Teardrops fell upon Celer's nearly ruined clothing. Suddenly the boy coughed, moving very slowly in Brooklyn's arms. He opened his eyes and looked up at the gargoyle's face.
Brooklyn's eyes widened happily. "Celer! You're alive!"
Celer nodded, rubbing his eyes and wiggling out of Brooklyn's arms, using the gargoyle for support to stand. Brooklyn looked at the boy carefully, making sure he wasn't hurt too badly. Fortunately enough, the grenade had not deposited any shrapnel into the boy's body. He looked up at Brooklyn.
"That really hurt."
Brooklyn smiled fully at last, the tingling in the back of his neck going almost unnoticed. Soon the Phoenix flames had engulfed the two of them once more.
* * * * *
NAS Cubi Point (The Phillippines) Officers' Club, 2 August 1971
"Another, Major Thommes?"
Sighing a little depressedly, Major Alexander Thommes pushed his glass to the bartender. "Sure, why not?"
The bartender compliantly poured another drink for the Army officer, who cradled it carefully. Putting an elbow on the bar to support his chin with his hand, the barkeep asked, "Something wrong, Major?"
Thommes smiled kind of distantly. "Just thinking about a couple years back ... thinking about that sergeant, I remember hearing things about him when he got back."
The bartender straightened back up. "Do tell, sir."
Thommes turned fully to the bar, looking up. At that moment, both he and the bartender, the only people in the club at this time late at night, missed the ignition of the Phoenix flame and the entrance of Brooklyn and Celer in the club. Unknowing, Thommes started his story.
"It was late summer ... I was headed for shore leave, so was he. I managed to get him to stay behind, because he found a little boy in the brush. Heck, I wouldn't have had room for my new golf clubs if he had come on, so it was all for the best. Later on, I heard that he'd been caught in a firefight and blinded the same night."
Thommes chuckled. "If he hadn't abandoned his position in the first place, he wouldn't have been hurt. The fool ... and then he's saying an angel saved him. He needed one, believe me."
A tapping on his shoulder interrupted the major. At once the bartender's face showed a new level of fear, as Thommes turned around to face his inquisitor.
Seeing the gargoyle there, though, Thommes' face dropped. "What the ..."
Brooklyn's eyes glowed. The next thing Thommes saw was a red fist slamming into his face, throwing him over the bar and into the bartender. The gargoyle came back over to Celer, breathing deeply.
"I don't usually say this but ... man, did that feel good!" At that moment, the Phoenix flames engulfed the two of them, taking them away from the time.
Thommes and the bartender stood back up, the major rubbing his nose where the gargoyle's fist had made contact. Looking out into the club, they saw nobody there anymore. They looked at each other confusedly. Finally, it was Thommes who spoke.
"Pour me another, buddy."
The bartender nodded. "I think I'll join you on that one."