A Timedancer Story
Written by Todd Jensen
Artwork by Thundra
* * * * *
SOUTHERN BRITAIN - THE MID 5TH CENTURY A.D.
Evening had changed quickly to night in the woods. The last rays of the setting sun in the west had long since vanished, and the distant glitter of the stars shone above the tree branches, providing small illumination for the solitary horseman below. He was cautiously riding down the road that ran through the forest, eyeing his surroundings carefully.
"I should have stayed at that inn," he muttered to himself with an unhappy sigh. "Yes, it did look distinctly flea-ridden, and yes, if I had spent the night there, it would have taken me longer to reach Londinium. But at least I would have been safe beneath a roof and within four walls. That would be much better than being in this forest after dark."
He looked uneasily about him, and tried not to think about the tales that he had heard about what lurked in the woods during the nighttime hours. Britain was filled with such tales, and even a junior member of the Order such as he himself had heard them. Night was when the various demons and evil creatures emerged from their lairs, to trouble anyone fool enough to be out of doors after sunset. Goblins, hags, werewolves, and all other manner of dreadful beings prowled freely from nightfall to dawn, and wreaked misfortune as they went. In vain did Blaise remind himself of everything that Aegidius had taught him during the years that he had lived in the villa, being instructed in the ways of the Order. It was easy enough for him to dismiss such stories as little more than superstition at noon, when he was at home and safe. When he was in the forest at night, however, and all alone, it was a very different matter.
And even if those tales were lies, there were real dangers in the forest, dangers whose existence Aegidius himself would not deny. There were wild boar rooting about, ill-tempered beasts with mighty tusks, that even an armed knight would not gladly meet. And then there were the bandits that waylaid travellers upon the roads, assaulting wealthy merchants and pilgrims bearing offerings to holy shrines with equal enthusiasm and ruthlessness. Blaise had no doubts whatsoever that they would find a single horseman a perfect target for them to attack and rob. And a lonely and forsaken woodland such as this would be ideal for them to haunt.
"I wish that I knew how to wield a sword properly," he said to himself ruefully, gazing down at the sheathed blade that hung from his belt. It was more for show than anything else, as he well knew, and furthermore, he felt certain in his heart that any robbers whom he might meet would realize such a thing swiftly as well. "Or failing that, I wish that I had brought a few armed warriors with me, to guard me on my way. Then I would not need to fear an encounter with brigands at all."
His thoughts were suddenly broken upon by a low groan up ahead, to the left of the road. Blaise turned quickly in the direction of the cry, and gazed down at its source. A man was lying on his back beneath a tree, writhing in pain.
Blaise dismounted at once, and rushed to his side. "Good sir!" he cried at once. "What happened to you?"
"Bandits," gasped the man, in a weak voice. "They fell upon me, and robbed me of my money and my horse, then left me for dead. Help me, I pray you!"
"That I will do," said Blaise, in an assuring tone of voice, as he approached the wounded traveller. "Just hold still, and let me tend you."
"Thatíll not be necessary!" said a harsh voice behind him.
Blaise spun about, to see two unkempt-looking men with heavy beards standing on the road, swords drawn and pointed for his throat. He was just about to draw his own sword, more in a frantic gesture of self-defense to ward them off than anything else, when strong hands seized him from behind and held him tight. "It works every time, Cynfal!" chortled the "injured wayfarer". "People can be utter fools, canít they?"
"And all the better for us, say I," replied Cynfal. "All right, then," he continued, moving his sword-point a little closer to Blaiseís throat. "Give us the gold in your purse. All of it. And be quick about it!"
"I have no gold, sirs," Blaise replied, trying to sound bold, and failing even by his own standards. "Only a few silver coins and no more. I am not a wealthy man."
"Youíre not, eh?" said Cynfal, with a wicked smile. "The more fool you. You should have thought of that before you strayed upon our hunting grounds. Well, no matter. Your remains hanging from a tree branch will make an excellent means of persuasion to future travellers, I warrant, and - "
But he never finished his sentence. For suddenly, in the sky above, there was a burst of crimson flame, and out of the flame, a creature emerged. It was a strange winged creature, with red skin, a large beak, and a mane of wild white hair. The four men stared upwards at it in amazement, and, in the case of the three bandits, open-mouthed fear.
"A night-demon!" cried Cynfal, his voice and his sword both wavering. "They do exist!"
The winged creature blinked for a moment, as if getting adjusted to its surroundings, and then swooped down at the brigands, its eyes glowing white. The robbers did not dare remain long enough to face it, however. Instead, they turned and fled into the woods and out of sight, the one who had been holding Blaise releasing him. Blaise remained where he was, however, staring at his unheard-of rescuer in awe. "Amazing," he said, in a low voice.
The winged creature alighted on the road and turned towards him, the glow having faded from its eyes. It tucked something away hurriedly into the pouch at its belt, and then spoke to the young man. "Are you all right?"
"I - I believe so, whoever you are," Blaise replied. "Although in truth, I imagine that I should not be so had you not arrived. I very much believe that I owe you my life in saving me from those robbers. Thank you."
"Well, thatís a much better reception than the sort that I usually get when I do this sort of thing," the creature replied. "At least Iím not being called a demon this time around. Makes a nice change of pace, Mr. - um, I donít believe that I caught your name."
"My name is Caius Blaesus," the traveller replied. "But you can call me Blaise. All my fellow members of the Order of Scholars do. Iíd ask you your name in return, but my tutors already told me that your kind have no names."
"You mean, you know about gargoyles?" asked the creature, sounding astonished.
"Only a few things, I must confess," Blaise admitted. "Even Magister Aegidius does not know much concerning them. Very few of the Order have ever actually exchanged words with a gargoyle. And truly your presence here is all the more a surprise to me, I must confess. For one thing, you are not of a breed native to these parts."
"I beg your pardon?" the gargoyle inquired, sounding half astonished, half offended.
"Your features proclaim you to be of the gargoyles that live in the Pictish lands in the north, beyond Hadrianís Wall," said Blaise. "The gargoyles of Logres have feathered wings like those of a bird, rather than the wings of the sort that you bear, and their heads are shaped like those of birds or beasts. It is most odd to find such a one as you so far south. And furthermore, you appeared in a burst of flames, as if by enchantment. Nothing that I had learned about gargoyles in my studies informed me that they had such a gift."
"Whoa, shouldnít we slow down a little?" asked the gargoyle at once. "Iíve barely caught my breath, you know. Letís do this one step at a time, please. Oh, and what your teachers told you is a little out of date. My clan and I do have names. My nameís Brooklyn."
"Brooklyn?" asked Blaise, pronouncing it carefully. "Thatís an odd name, in truth."
"They donít think so back in Manhattan," Brooklyn replied. "But never mind that. You actually know about gargoyles?"
"Not much, as I said," Blaise explained. "And all the more so because it is said that your race is dying."
"Yeah, I know that," said Brooklyn glumly. "Um - as for the entrance thing that I did, I really canít explain it. Itís - well, itís very complicated, and Iím not sure that I should be going around telling people about it anyway, not just off the top of my head."
"I quite understand," said Blaise, nodding. "Not that I would not have liked to learn how such a thing might be accomplished. When I was a youth, I had a certain fondness for making dramatic entrances and departures of such a nature - although after Aegidius chided me concerning them, I performed them less often."
Brooklyn looked at the woods about him, and then spoke again. "Say, what are you doing out here on your own, Blaise, anyway? This forest looks rather dangerous."
"It is indeed," said Blaise. "That much I know. In truth, I knew of its perils before I ventured into it. But I had to do so. You see, I am on my way to Londinium, to deliver a petition to the High King there."
"Londinium?" asked Brooklyn, both looking and sounding bewildered.
"It is the chief city in this isle," said Blaise. "Some call it London."
"Ah, yes," said Brooklyn, nodding. "So this is Britain that Iím in?"
"Indeed it is," said Blaise. "But you seem astonished to learn this, Brooklyn. How is it that you did not know where you were until I told you?"
"Itís a long story," said Brooklyn. "And it sounds as if yours is a long story, too. Maybe we should sit down, get more comfortable, and then you can start telling me about it?"
"Very well," said Blaise. "This place seems as good a camping site as any, I imagine. Let us prepare ourselves to spend the night here, and I will tell you my tale."
* * *
It was some minutes later, as they both sat by the campfire that Blaise had prepared, that the young man began to tell his story to Brooklyn.
"Iím a member of the Order of Scholars," he said. "Not a very high-ranking one, I must admit; in truth, Iím little more than a novice. But I am a member, all the same."
"What is this Order of Scholars, anyway?" Brooklyn asked. "Iíve never heard about it before."
"I suppose that thatís scarcely cause for surprise," Blaise admitted. "For in truth, there are few in Britain who know about it. Not that it is a great secret, of course; indeed, I am on my way to Londinium that I may speak about it with the High King. But we prefer to remain in the background, for our own reasons.
"I can tell you this much about us. The Order was founded over four centuries ago, when the Emperor Augustus ruled in Rome. There was a powerful wizard at his court, a wise and learned man, who formed a body of scholars like himself, devoted to the gathering of knowledge and using it for the weal of humankind."
Brooklyn nodded, looking interested. "The Mage?" he asked.
"So many of our chronicles name him," said Blaise. "I see that you know of him."
"Well, yes," said Brooklyn. He was about to add that he actually knew him, but then thought better of it. "Go on," he said.
"For many years," Blaise continued, "the Order of Scholars met in Rome, even after the Mageís passing. But as time went on, its fondness for the city waned. Augustus died and his successors to the Imperial purple were all too often greedy and corrupt men; Rome itself grew as corrupt as they. So the Order removed itself from that city, and moved northwards, first to Gaul and then to Britain. There it continued its studies, and made more recruits. Some of the surviving Druids in Gaul joined them, and those of Britain before Suetonius Paulinus destroyed the last of them in the sack of Mona. They shared their learning with us, and so greatly enriched our knowledge.
"We gather all the books containing things that are good and useful to know, works of history and science, even the writings of great poets such as Homer and Virgil. And we copy them so that these valuable words may not be lost to the world. In this way, we can preserve the wisdom of those who came before us, so that later generations will not lose it. And we seek out whatever new knowledge that we can, that we might add to this store."
"Sounds good to me," said Brooklyn, nodding approvingly.
"I am glad that you think so," said Blaise. "But of late, things have not gone so well for us. The Order has dwindled greatly in recent years. Most of our members in Gaul are slain or in hiding now. There has been much unrest in that land across the Narrow Sea, thanks to the wars fought in it by the Huns and the Visigoths, and Rome scarcely controls it any longer. We are confined to Britain now, and even here we are in danger."
"Danger?" asked Brooklyn. "From whom?"
"From our neighbors, mostly," said Blaise. "We have lands of our own; the head of the Order is a wealthy lord, with a prosperous estate, and so are many of our other members. And there are those who set covetous eyes upon our fields and yearn to make them their own. There are also those who believe that we are sorcerers, and fear and hate us accordingly."
"I know the feeling," said Brooklyn darkly.
"The worst of our bad neighbors is Count Elafius of Winchester," Blaise continued. "He is one of the most powerful lords in these parts, and enjoys a prominent seat in the Council of Britain. But he is a shrewd and greedy man. I do not know if he cares whether we are practitioners of the black arts or not, but it hardly matters to him. What does matter is that Magister Aegidiusís lands border on his own, and Elafius would very much like to add them to his own. It is very likely that he may actually encourage the rumors that portray us as being in league with the Evil One, in order to justify his making war upon us. Certainly it seems also to be the case that he is making alliances with our other unfriendly neighbors, seeking to form them into a fighting force against us.
"And this is not good news, for the Order is not mighty in men of war or weapons. We are scholars, peaceful folk, and have few armed knights in our service; Count Elafius could easily best us in battle. Nor do we have strong allies near at hand whom we can trust to aid us against our foes. Therefore, the Magisterís decision was that we should petition the High King at Londinium, and beseech him to bestow royal patronage upon the Order. Once he were to do that, even Elafius would have to leave us alone, rather than defy the will of his own liege lord."
"And theyíre sending you there?" asked Brooklyn.
Blaise nodded. "I am their messenger."
"And theyíre just sending you alone?" asked Brooklyn. "Isnít that - well - rather dangerous? I mean, if something had happened to you -"
"The risk was known to them, it is true," Blaise admitted. "But they could spare nobody else. There is too much going on upon Magister Aegidiusís estate, and nobody else might leave it. I am their sole hope."
"And you really think that the King is going to listen to you?" asked Brooklyn.
"I do not know for certain," Blaise replied. "All that I can do is hope. He must listen, though. Vortigern must grant us his patronage."
"Vortigern?" asked Brooklyn.
"That is what men call him," Blaise replied. "His real name is Vitalinus - he was Senator Vitalinus of the Gewissei before he was raised to the throne - but everyone calls him Vortigern now. It means 'Overkingí in the British tongue."
"I heard something about a guy named Vortigern once from Brother Edmund, when I was a hatchling," said Brooklyn. "I canít remember it now, though. Something about a kid named Merlin and a couple of dragons fighting each other. I wish that I could recall more of it."
"That can hardly be about our High King," said Blaise. "I certainly know nothing about anyone by the name of Merlin, and there have been no dragons seen in Britain south of the Wall since the coming of the legions four centuries past. I should like to know more about this Brother Edmund of yours, Brooklyn. But maybe this should wait until later.
"I might add that our own travails are not the only matter that I wish to speak of to the High King. I also have been asked to inform him about the troubles that beset your kind."
"My kind?" asked Brooklyn.
"Quite so," Blaise replied. "Things do not go very well for gargoyles in Britain, these days. They are subjected to persecution by my fellow humans - though it shames me to say it."
"That doesnít surprise me at all," said Brooklyn glumly. "Theyíre massacring us?"
"From Landís End to the northern treaty-kingdoms," Blaise answered, nodding sadly himself. "Even by the time that the legions departed, gargoyles had grown few in Britain, and now they are growing still fewer. Men seek them out and slaughter them in their stone sleep, out of fear of them - and greed for their homes. For they know how your people choose to place their rookeries in strong places, places on which they plan to build mighty strongholds. The worst of it was at Tintagel in Cornwall. A gargoyle clan had dwelt there for several centuries, one of the most prosperous in all Britain, from what we could learn of it. Then, scarcely three months ago, young Duke Gorlois came upon them by the day, and destroyed them all. Not even the hatchlings or the eggs were spared. And even now, he is building a castle for himself over the remains of the beings that he so brutally murdered. It makes me ill only to think on it."
Brooklyn growled low, his eyes glowing white. "Iíd like to have a few words with the humans who did that," he said.
"You have experienced such tragedies yourself?" Blaise asked concernedly, gazing at the gargoyle. "I can sense something of that in your voice."
"Some humans massacred most of my clan in the daytime as well," said Brooklyn. "Only a few of us survived. I thought that Iíd gotten over it, but hearing you talk about that sort of thing -".
"I am sorry," Blaise said sadly. "I did not wish to reawaken such memories for you, my friend, and I apologize to you if that is what I have done."
"Yeah, well, itís not your fault," said Brooklyn. "You couldnít have known, really. So, youíre gonna do something about it as well?"
"Indeed I am," said Blaise. "I also intend to ask Vortigern to place the surviving gargoyles of Logres, Wales, Cornwall, and the Northlands under his protection, and to make it a crime to hunt them or slaughter them, as surely as it would be a crime to murder a man. I do not know if such a decree would come in time to save your people, Brooklyn, but I must do what I can to help them."
"It certainly sounds like a good idea to me," Brooklyn replied. "A very good idea. If you can get there, that is. I mean, this place does seem pretty dangerous."
"The roads are not as safe as they once were," said Blaise sadly. "Vortigern has done what he can to protect travellers, but that has not been much. Youíve already seen a few of the bandits that harry them now. Itís becoming rarer to reach your destination safely, when youíre a solitary wayfarer like myself."
"Then maybe Iíd better come with you to London," said Brooklyn. "To watch your back all the way. That way, you can get there safely."
Blaise thought it over for a moment. "I must admit," he said at last, "that that is a very generous offer that you have given me, my friend. And it would indeed make me safer were I to travel in your company, I must confess. But I am not certain that I can accept."
"Come on," said Brooklyn. "Just let me come with you. It wonít be any trouble for me. Especially since youíre doing this for us gargoylesí sake."
"Maybe, then," said Blaise. "Of course, you do understand that if you come with me, we will only be able to travel by night. That is, unless you do not sleep in the day as do other gargoyles."
"No, Iím stuck with the stone sleep just like the rest of them," said Brooklyn. "But thatís okay. I suppose that we just leave tomorrow evening."
"Very well, then," said Blaise. "In truth, I could probably use a longer sleeping-time. And so it is settled. We travel to Londinium together."
* * *
Blaise fell asleep not long afterwards, and Brooklyn stood guard over him. To his relief, nobody else came by that night. There was no sign of the bandits, or of any other trouble-makers; there was only the sound of the usual birds and beasts that were about after dark.
Brooklyn had safely tucked the Phoenix Gate away in his pouch; he didnít feel like sharing its secret with Blaise just yet. The man did seem trustworthy, but all the same, Brooklyn knew that this magical talisman was not something to be shown to others lightly, not even somebody who belonged to an organization that had been founded by the Mage that he had met in Rome at the beginning of his travels.
He thought back to the Mage, who had provided him with so much assistance when he had first begun his hopping about through the centuries with the Phoenix Gate, mentally replaying his encounter with the Roman wizard. How long ago it had been! It had been long before he had even met his beloved Sata in Ishimura, in fact. And yet he still remembered what the Mage had told him about the talisman that he had been entrusted with, and given him the scroll that pertained to its use.
The scroll. Brooklyn had not given it any thought for a long while, not since leaving the Rome of Caesar Augustus, in fact. Too many adventures had come up since then, and that had been enough to drive it from his thoughts altogether. But Blaiseís words about the Mage had reminded him of it now. He pulled it out of his pouch, and looked at it.
The scroll was still firmly sealed shut, and Brooklyn knew that he wouldnít be able to open it. Not on his own. But if Blaise belonged to an Order that collected all sort of rare magical information, and one founded by the Mage at that, perhaps he would know. It didnít seem like a good idea to wake him up and ask him about that now, but Brooklyn decided to raise the issue on the following night, and hope that Blaise would be able to assist him with it.
* * *
"And you are wondering if there is any way that a member of the Order can open this scroll?" Blaise asked.
Brooklyn nodded. "Exactly. Maybe this Magister Aegidius guy, or somebody like that. Do you think that itís possible?"
Blaise turned the scroll over in his hands, looking thoughtfully at the gilded wax seal that had been stamped upon it. "I honestly cannot give you the answer to that question, my friend," he said, at last. "This is certainly beyond my capacities; I am not far beyond the status of novice. It is indeed possible that the Magister might be able to break the seal, or one of the other leading members of the Order, but I would have to ask them." He looked up at Brooklyn thoughtfully. "What interests you so about this scroll, that you would like to read its contents, if I may ask?"
"Itís a long story," said Brooklyn hurriedly. "I can probably tell you about it later."
"I see," said Blaise. To the gargoyleís relief, he evidently did not feel like pursuing the subject any further. "Well, I will submit it to my superiors when I return to Aegidiusís villa. But that I can do only after I conclude my business with the High King in Londinium. Does that satisfy you, Brooklyn?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," said Brooklyn. "I can wait for that long - I think." Always assuming that that blasted Gate doesnít whisk me away before I ever reach the villa, he thought darkly, but did not say it.
"Well, let us be on our way, now," said Blaise, mounting up upon his horse. "We have many miles still to travel, and we must do so by night now, on your account."
He rode off down the road, while Brooklyn climbed a tree to get a vantage point from which to use the air currents to glide upon, and then followed him from above.
* * *
To Brooklynís relief, the Phoenix Gate did not transport him away from Blaiseís company on the journey to London. Instead, the magical talisman remained dormant, showing not the slightest hint of flaring up and transporting him to another time period. He hoped that it would stay that way until after Blaiseís superiors were able to get that scroll opened.
"If only I could figure out how to control the Gate properly," he murmured to himself. "I could get back to Sata in the Manhattan of 2158 at last. And then the two of us could finally get home. I mean, really get back home, to Goliath and the others. Iíve missed them all. Hudson, Bronx, Elisa, Broadway, Lexington, Angela - at this point, Iíd almost be glad to see Xanatos again. For that matter, Iíd almost be glad to see the Pack or the Quarrymen again! Well, almost."
"Brooklyn!" cried Blaise from down below, breaking in on his thoughts.
Brooklyn looked down at him. "Yeah, what is it?" he asked.
"We have reached our destination," Blaise replied. "It lies before us."
Brooklyn stared straight ahead. The woods that they had been travelling through came to an abrupt end before them, and beyond them the Roman road down which Blaise had been riding stretched through open countryside, towards a walled city. A few gleams of light shone from its houses, but they were faint for the most part, very different from the brilliant night-time illumination of Manhattan that Brooklyn had become so used to. It was a bit of a jolt for him to remember that the London of this time period was much closer to the world that he had been hatched in and grown up in than the New York that he had lived in between the time of his awakening and the time that the Phoenix Gate had had its fateful encounter with him.
"So thatís London," he said to Blaise. "I hope that you donít mind my saying this, pal, but it - well, it doesnít look all that impressive from here."
"True," said Blaise, nodding. "And no offence has been taken, my friend. I knew even before I left that Londinium is no longer what it once was, in the days when the Romans held this island. Magister Aegidius had warned me about it, as had many of the other senior members of the Order. But it does not matter. What does matter is that Vortigern still rules there, and it is there that I may have an audience with him."
He looked at the nighttime city again. "The gates will be shut by now for the night, and it is too late for me to demand admittance from the watchmen there. I will have to wait out here in these woods until morning. Then I can enter the city, and seek out the High King."
He looked at Brooklyn thoughtfully. "And you, my friend," he said, "had better wait out here for tonight, as well. Your presence would no doubt frighten the townsfolk, and jeopardize our mission. You will be safer in these woods for now, both by night and by day."
"Fair enough," said Brooklyn, nodding. "But Iím probably gonna have to find some way of getting in touch with you tomorrow night, to find out how things went. Do you know of any place in the city where we can meet? I donít think that youíll be able to get back out here tomorrow before dark, you know."
"I will find some means of signalling you," Blaise replied. "I do know a few procedures, taught me by the Order. Look for something out of the ordinary in Londinium tomorrow night - such as a blue glow coming from a window of an inn. That will mark where I am."
"Very well, then," said Brooklyn. "And best wishes with your meeting tomorrow."
"I thank you, my friend," Blaise replied. "I very much believe that I will need them."
* * *
I had hardly expected to find this many people in London, Blaise thought the following morning, as he stood near the back of a long line of petitioners in the throne room of Vortigernís Roman-built palace.
He had been fortunate to gain admittance to the High Kingís court at all. Fortunately, he was well-dressed enough to convince the guards at the palace gates that he was of high birth, which had eased their suspicions of him. He was relieved at least that he had not been forced to stoop to the expedient of bribing them; he would probably have been able to afford it with the money that the Order had given him, but it would have disgraced him in his own eyes to use such methods, even under duress. Even so, he still found a number of supplicants before him, who all had boons to beg of the King, and many of whom were alarmingly long-winded.
At least Brooklyn doesnít have to endure this, Blaise thought, thinking back to his friend in the woods, who was no doubt in the middle of his stone sleep by now. He is no doubt in the middle of some very pleasant dream. I, on the other hand, must wait for these others to finish presenting their grievances to the King, and hope that it will not be time for dinner by the time that the one before me has completed his petition.
Nevertheless, the line did move forward, and at last Blaise stepped forward to present himself to High King Vortigern of Britain. As he did so, he looked up at the king, seated upon his throne on the dais at the end of the hall, seeing him for the first time.
Vortigern was anything but impressive in appearance; indeed, his features hardly seemed what one would have expected of the man who had managed to - to a certain extent - unify the various British tribes and hold them in some sort of loose alliance as their ruler. He was a tall, thin man, almost gangly, with red hair already beginning to grey early and thinning at the top and a rather scraggly beard. He half-slouched in his throne, although he did his best to look attentive, and looked exhausted. A number of richly-dressed courtiers and nobles stood about him, looking far more splendid than did their king. Blaise felt their eyes upon him, and shivered slightly. But he spoke up to the High King, all the same.
"My liege," he said, with a bow. "My name is Caius Blaesus, and I am an envoy from Magister Flavius Aegidius, Head of the Order of Scholars. I have come to petition Your Highness on behalf of my Order."
"We welcome you to our court, Caius Blaesus," replied Vortigern, nodding good-naturedly. Then he paused, looking as if he was trying to remember something. "Flavius Aegidius. Flavius Aegidius. The name should be familiar to my ears, but I cannot quite place it." He turned to one of the nobles, standing at his right. "Do you know it, Eldol?"
"One of the minor lords of southern Logres, my liege," replied the man. "He lives on a villa near the lands of Count Elafius of Winchester, and keeps to himself."
"Ah, yes," said Vortigern, nodding. "Thank you, Eldol. I remember this Aegidius now. A scholarly recluse, is he not?"
Blaise nodded. "I come to your court, my liege, as his representative," he said. "We wish to appeal to your justice for our protection against our enemies."
"Indeed?" asked Vortigern, still seeming interested. "Tell us more, pray."
"Your Highness, Magister Aegidius is the leader of a body of learned men who desire only to preserve the lore and wisdom of the generations before us, that it not be lost to our people. We are peaceful folk, who labor daily to gather the writings of Rome and Greece in our libraries and seek out fresh knowledge, to add to our stores. But we are attacked by many of our neighbors, who deny us this right and raid our lands, seeking to seize the Councilís belongings to enrich themselves. We ask that you place us under your royal patronage, and shield us from our foes."
Vortigern nodded in silence. The nobles and courtiers standing by his throne, however, were far less silent. They murmured excitedly among themselves, speaking to each other in low voices, but ones which betrayed a considerable amount of consternation. Blaise could not hear everything that they said, but the tone of their voices was, in many cases, disapproving. Once or twice, he caught fragments. "canít trust them.... quite harmless... dabblers in sorcery... a fool if he grants this request..."
Vortigern coughed sharply, and the company fell silent. "That is a - most interesting request of yours, Master Caius Blaesus," he said. "So interesting that I would prefer to speak with you on it in private. If that is to your liking, of course."
"It is," said Blaise. "I am willing to abide by it."
"Very well, then," said Vortigern. He turned to the courtiers. "Wait without, while I speak with this man," he said to them. "And you as well," he added to the line of petitioners behind Blaise. "When I have concluded my interview with this man, then I will call for your return. Go out, all of you."
Still murmuring in surprise, but obedient to their kingís command, the crowd left the great hall of the palace. Even the guards by the doors exited, closing the doors behind them. At last, only Vortigern and Blaise remained in the room.
"We are alone now," said the High King, sounding relieved. "And now I may speak more freely with you. You must understand, Master Blaesus, that there are certain matters that I prefer not to speak of when many ears are listening to them, and this Order of Scholars - now that I have placed it in my memories correctly - is one of them."
Blaise nodded. "That much I can understand myself, my lord," he said.
"Now, then," said Vortigern. "I have already heard of the plight of the Magister and his followers from others, my friend. Being High King of Britain, I am scarcely ignorant." He gave a slight smile, but it quickly faded from his lips. "That you are at times at odds with those whose lands abut your own is thus not new tidings to me."
"So you will help us?" asked Blaise hopefully.
Vortigern sighed. "I would that it were that easy," he said. "But there are - certain problems involving the Order, that prevent me from acting to the full extent that I otherwise might."
"Certain problems?" asked Blaise. "What are they?"
"Well, to begin with," said Vortigern, "you must be aware that your Order is not well-loved by a great many Britons. There are rumors surrounding it, rumors that the members of it are sorcerers who associate with demons and practice unholy arts. The neighbors of Magister Aegidius have reported to me that they have beheld eerie sights upon his lands - blue fire descending from the heavens at night, monstrous shapes flying against the stars, bolts of lightning arising from Aegidiusís home. Count Elafius of Winchester in particular has told me of such things."
"Count Elafius?" cried Blaise, temporarily forgetting himself at the sound of the name. "My lord, the Count of Winchester is the Magisterís enemy! He will say anything, concoct any untruth, to destroy Aegidius! He covets his lands and possessions, and tells falsehoods about us for that purpose!"
"Those are very strong words to speak about one of my strongest vassals," said Vortigern gravely. "I hope that you realize the full import of what you are saying, Caius Blaesus."
"I do indeed," said Blaise in a calmer voice. "And if these words offend you, then I apologize for them. But they are the truth, all the same."
"That much I will privately admit," Vortigern said. "I may require the Countís support, Caius Blaesus, but that does not mean that I am blind to what lies in his heart. And I will confess that he is indeed an ambitious and greedy man. But I need his help to keep Britain safe from its enemies, and so I cannot act against him - not unless he were proven to be guilty of high treason. And such a crime he has not as yet committed. Even your words have not accused him of that.
"But in any case, you must understand, Master Blaesus, that though these tales about the Order of Scholars may indeed be false, the people believe them to be true. And it is precisely for this reason that I can do nothing openly to protect you. Remember, I am in a delicate position with the Church at present. I have already had to endure nothing less than a visit from a legate sent by the Pope himself, because of my leanings towards the followers of Pelagius, who was proclaimed a heretic in Rome. If I now give aid to a body of reputed sorcerers and warlocks, held to be in league with the powers of darkness, Bishop Germanus might well deliver me an excommunication the next time that he visits me, rather than merely a public rebuke. The very foundations of my throne would be undermined. I am sorry, but I cannot place your people under my protection. Not in public, and private help would do you little good."
"But we are not the demon-worshippers that Elafius claims us to be!" Blaise cried. "Is there no way of convincing the people of this?"
"Not when they feel more inclined to believe the rumors," answered Vortigern gravely, shaking his head. "Black magicians seem more probable to their imaginations than peaceful scholars. And even I cannot persuade them otherwise. I am sorry, Master Blaesus." He was silent for a moment, then added, "Is there aught else that you wish to speak to me about?"
"Only one other matter," said Blaise. "And I imagine that you will deem it necessary to refuse that boon as well."
"Try me anyway," said Vortigern. "Speak, man."
Blaise briefly explained to him about the plight of the gargoyles of Britain, the same as he had done to Brooklyn a few nights before. Vortigern listened attentively, but shook his head.
"You are beginning to worry me now, Caius Blaesus," he said. "Even if these - gargoyles - of yours truly existed, I could scarcely declare them to be protected by law. Remember, there are all too many Britons who believe them to be demons and evil monsters, deserving only destruction. My enemies would be just as certain to accuse me of being in league with the Lord of Darkness if I were to shield these gargoyles from my people as they would were I to defend your Order - maybe even more so. Also, I can scarcely chastise such lords as Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. He is another vassal whom I need; he has kept the Irish raiders out of the West Country, and that is of greater importance than a few gargoyles that he has slain.
"But in any case, I must tell you, Caius Blaesus, that I do not even believe that gargoyles are real. You can speak of what your superiors believe concerning them, but I have never set eyes upon a gargoyle myself, nor have any of the members of my court. I believe them, in truth, to be no more than myths, tales to tell children by the fire at night. It would make as much sense to protect centaurs or fauns from my subjects as it would to protect gargoyles. No, I can scarcely do anything of the sort.
"And now, if you do not mind, this audience must end. I have many more petitioners to meet with today, and cannot keep them waiting. This interview is at an end."
Blaise sighed unhappily. "As you wish, my liege," was all that he said, however.
* * *
As the sun sank beneath the western horizon, Brooklyn awoke from his stone sleep, stretching and yawning as stone fragments flew in all directions. He climbed up the side of a tree until he had reached a suitable launching height, then glided off towards the city of Londinium.
Once he had gone over the walls that surrounded it, he cautiously kept to the shadows to avoid being seen by either the few sentries that patrolled the battlements at night or any townsfolk that might be out after dark. As he did so, he kept a keen eye out for the signal that Blaise had mentioned to him the night before. "Blue light," he muttered to himself, landing on the rooftop of a house and gazing about him. "There has to be a blue light around here somewhere."
One thing he did have to admit; London in this time period didnít strike him as particularly impressive. The city was much smaller than the Manhattan of the 1990ís that he knew so well - or the Manhattan of 2158 that he had visited more recently, where he and Sata had parted company. Indeed, Brooklyn only now fully realized how much his view of the world had been affected by his adventures in modern times. The Brooklyn who had grown up in the late 10th century would no doubt have viewed this city as large indeed.
But it was not just the size that made it seem so unimpressive to him. As he looked about the London of the 5th century, he noticed other matters. Many of the houses appeared deserted, and were slowly falling into ruin. Even those that seemed lived in had loose stones and crumbling ornaments. The mortar that held the masonry together was chipped and cracked, and there was no sign that anybody had even attempted to mend it. The place seemed to be dying.
He looked down into the street. The only living creature that he could see below was a stray dog, snuffling about. It showed no sign of having noticed him. Sighing, Brooklyn launched himself off the roof and continued his search.
It was a few minutes before he finally saw Blaiseís blue beacon, shining from the roof of another small building. He glided over to it at once, landing in front of the young human scholar.
"So this is the place?" he asked.
Blaise nodded. "I am sorry that I cannot meet with you indoors, my friend," he said. "I could not find lodging in a private room at this inn, and the common sleeping-room was no place to meet with you. Fortunately, I was able to make my way up to the roof without being noticed." He gestured, and the blue glowing light that he held on one outstretched hand winked out.
"So how did it go with Vortigern?" Brooklyn asked.
Blaise shook his head and sighed. "It went poorly," he said. "The High King refused to give us any aid. He was most courteous and apologetic, but it was still a refusal."
"That bad?" Brooklyn asked.
"He says that he cannot support the Order because there are too many that see us as practitioners of the forbidden arts," said Blaise. "And as for your people - he does not even believe that gargoyles exist. He claims that you are naught but myths."
"And it looks as though heís gonna be stubborn about it?" asked Brooklyn.
Blaise nodded. "I tried to convince him otherwise, but was unsuccessful."
"Then weíre going to have to try something else," said Brooklyn. "Iím going to have a few words with him myself."
Blaise stared at him, shocked. "You do not intend to show yourself to him?" he cried.
"I know, I know," said Brooklyn. "It is taking a big risk, that much I agree. But I donít see what else is going to work on him. Once he sees me, he wonít be able to use the old Ďurban mythí story. Heíll have to see that weíre real."
"And what will happen after that?" Blaise asked. "Suppose that he truly does mistake you for a demon?"
"Itís just something that Iím going to have to chance," said Brooklyn. "Even back home, we sometimes had to show ourselves to humans. Maybe your Vortigernís going to be open-minded enough to accept me."
"Maybe," said Blaise. "But I still do not like the sound of this. I would very much that there was another way."
"I donít think that there is one now," Brooklyn replied. "So, do you suppose that you can meet with him again tomorrow, and set something up?"
"Perhaps," said Blaise. "It will not be easy, granted. But I will make the attempt."
"All right," said Brooklyn. "So letís start figuring out how weíre going to do this."
* * *
Some time later, Brooklyn glided off from the inn. He and Blaise had worked out their strategy, and now all that he had left to do was to find some place in this city where he could safely sleep during the day, and wait for nightfall.
"Thereís gotta be somewhere in this place that I can use for a perch," he muttered to himself, dismissing one house after another. Then he suddenly saw a large building looming up ahead. He nodded approvingly, as he drew closer to it. "Yes," he said to himself. "Yes, I think that this place will do just fine."
* * *
It was mid-morning as Gratian of Rouen made his way past the chief church in Londinium. He had just arrived in this decaying British town to attend to some business matters, and had planned to remain here no longer than for the time that it would take to conclude them. "The wretched place hasnít been the same since the Britons stopped paying homage to Rome," he muttered to himself, looking at abandoned houses and crumbling public buildings with a sniff of disapproval. "They should have remained loyal to the Emperor, instead of following their own path. I certainly doubt that thereís anything worthy of note in this place -"
Then he suddenly saw it, out of the corner of his eye. Startled, he halted in his path and stared up at the roof of the church, to make certain that it had not been his imagination. His eyes widened as he took in the statue perched almost at the edge of the roof, a statue of a bat-winged demon with a mighty beak, posed in a fierce and threatening manner.
"What a strange ornament for a church," he said to himself. "I wonder what led the builders to place it there."
There was nobody passing by at that moment whom he could speak to and ask about it, and so, after staring at it for a while longer, he continued on his way. Although he knew that he should be concentrating on the errand that had brought him to Londinium to speak with some of the merchants there about various matters relating to trade and commerce that concerned them all, he still found himself wondering about it. Why should a monster grace the roof of a Christian house of worship? It scarcely made any sense at all. Unless - .
"It seemed ready to challenge any attacker in the pose that it took," he murmured. "Perhaps it was intended to frighten away demons and evil spirits that would seek to threaten the church. Yes, that may be the answer. It certainly is a most intriguing notion. Perhaps I should tell the Bishop about it, when I return to Rouen. Statues of monsters mounted upon a church, placed there to strike terror into the hearts of any minions of the Evil One and drive them off."
Then he shook his head. "No, that will never happen," he said to himself. "Not in a thousand years. Itís too unlikely a notion."
* * *
Vortigern stood in the garden of his palace in the twilight hours, pulling his cloak about him closer and shivering in the cold winds that blew about him. After looking about him cautiously, he turned back to Blaise to speak with him.
"I still have my doubts about this notion of yours, Master Blaesus," he said. "For one thing, I cannot remain up long past sunset. I have to leave for Kent on the morrow. A messenger has just arrived from there with tidings for me."
"Tidings?" asked Blaise. "What tidings?"
"Three longboats have landed at the Isle of Thanet, bringing with them a body of Jutes from beyond the North Sea," said the High King. "Their leader Hengist has already declared that he comes in peace, but wishes to meet with me in person. I have to receive him, and soon. I hope that he speaks the truth about his intentions."
He sneezed. "Also, it simply is not good for my health to be out after dark, in the wind and cold. I should be inside, by the fire. If this friend of yours wishes to have words with me, then he should keep them brief. I have no desire to catch cold while out here."
"Do not fear, my lord," said Blaise. "He will be here soon."
The evening sky darkened, and became a night sky. The winds continued to blow about, becoming colder all the while. Vortigern wrapped his mantle about himself, pulling it ever tighter. "He is certainly taking his time," he said.
"Be patient, sire," said Blaise. "He will come."
Even as he spoke, there was a soft but clear swooshing sound, drawing closer. Something shadowy appeared against the night sky, lowering towards the garden, preparing to land. And then it alit before the High King.
"Hullo," said Brooklyn, caping his wings. "My nameís Brooklyn. You wanted to see me?"
Vortigern stared at the gargoyle before him for a few seconds, his eyes widening and his mouth open but wordless. Then, with a cry, he retreated. Even as he did so, however, he stumbled over the bench that he was standing in front of, and landed on his back.
Blaise and Brooklyn stared down at the High King in alarm. Both were silent for a couple of minutes. At last, Brooklyn spoke.
"Is he - dead?" he asked. "I swear, Blaise, I didnít want this sort of thing to happen."
Blaise knelt down by Vortigernís side, and placed his hand upon his chest, listening intently. Then he arose. "He is still alive," he said. "He was merely struck unconscious by his fall. I believe that he will recover."
"I sure hope so," said Brooklyn. "This definitely isnít the best way of starting off our meeting."
Blaise murmured something in Latin, which Brooklyn could not quite catch, placing his hand upon the High Kingís forehead as he did so. "This is a minor healing spell," he explained to the gargoyle, as he stood up. "It will speed his recovery - I hope. And then we will see what we can do."
Vortigern stirred, murmuring something, then sat up. He struggled up to his feet, and then opened his eyes, staring straight at Brooklyn. His mouth opened, but no words came out of it.
"Relax," said Brooklyn. "As I said, Iím -"
He never had the opportunity to finish his sentence, however. For Vortigern, with a horrified cry, turned and fled off down the garden path.
"No, wait!" cried Brooklyn. "Come back!" But it was too late. Vortigern was already out of sight. Blaise sadly shook his head.
"Itís no use, my friend," he said. "I donít think that heíll return tonight. And I very much doubt that heíll want to see either of us again. It seems that I had underestimated the fear that most of my kind have towards gargoyles."
"So, no help from him now?" asked Brooklyn.
"Precisely," said Blaise sadly. "It is over. Our mission has failed. And I will need to return and report this to the Magister."
* * *
* * *
It was a melancholy pair who departed from Londinium the following night and made their way westwards towards Magister Aegidiusís villa. Brooklyn was the more broken-spirited of the two.
"Itís all my fault," he said to Blaise at last. "I should never have suggested that meeting with him. We blew it, thanks to me."
"Brooklyn, you should not blame yourself over it," said Blaise, though he did not sound particularly cheerful himself. "It seemed a sound enough decision then. Even without your arrival, I doubt that I could have persuaded him. He already believed that it was unsafe to protect the Order, or your kind. I do not think that you made any difference there."
"From what you told me," Brooklyn replied, "what I did do was to make him give orders to the palace guards, the following morning, to keep you from coming in again. He didnít want to even speak with you at all, ever. And Iím to blame for it."
"Well, that is in the past for now," said Blaise. "And we must return to the villa. Perhaps there the Magister will at least be able to help you with that scroll of yours."
"Perhaps," said Brooklyn, and fell silent, brooding.
* * * * *
A FEW DAYS LATER.
"We should be at the villa soon," said Blaise to Brooklyn. "And once weíre there, I can introduce you to the Magister and those other members of the Order that might be present. I very much believe that they will receive you far more hospitably than Vortigern did, and -"
Brooklyn sniffed the air, a troubled look on his face. "Is that smoke I smell?" he asked.
Blaise sniffed the air as well. "It does smell like smoke," he said. "A great quantity of it. And from what I can tell, it must be coming from - No! The villa!"
He rode swifter down the Roman road, a horrified look growing in his eyes. Brooklyn glided straight beside him, the uneasy feeling in his heart growing stronger all the while.
Then they emerged from the woods into an open space, and saw before them, at some distance ahead, a ruined building, still smoldering. Still forms lay in the fields nearby, and fires danced upon the shattered walls here and there. Brooklyn alighted beside Blaise, and stared with him at the horrible sight. For a moment, neither one spoke.
"We were attacked in my absence," he said. "It - itís dreadful! The villa, put to the sword! Who could have done this?"
"Letís see if there are any survivors first," said Brooklyn. He tried to keep his voice even, but found himself remembering that terrible night when he and his rookery brothers emerged from the rookery to find nearly all of their clan slaughtered and the castle sacked by the Vikings. At least I wasnít the only one who came out of it alive. Letís hope that Blaise is that fortunate.
They came forward, entering the ruins. Blaise dismounted, and he and Brooklyn began checking the bodies they found, one by one, for signs of life. They found none, however. Whoever had made the attack had done his work thoroughly. With his head bowed low, Blaise moved on in silence to the interior of the building.
"Is anybody here?" he called out. "It is I, Caius Blaesus! Have any of you survived?"
For a few moments, there was no answer. Brooklyn was just about to announce that he believed that there was nobody left alive here but the two of them, when he heard a faint groan, coming from behind the doorway to his right. He quickly nudged Blaise. "Thereís someone over there," he said, indicating the open portal as he spoke. "Letís see if itís not too late for us to help him."
Blaise rushed into the room with him. It was filled with the charred remains of tables, benches, and bookshelves, all still smoking from the fire that had ravaged the chamber. But they scarcely noticed the remains of the furniture. What their eyes were drawn to at once was an old man lying in the corner of the room, dressed in much the same fashion as Blaise of tunic and mantle. He moaned again, and writhed slightly.
Blaise rushed to his side. "Magister Aegidius!" he cried. "Who did this to you?"
The old man groaned again. Brooklyn came cautiously forward, to take a closer look at him. From the red stain upon his clothes, the gargoyle judged that he must have been very badly wounded, most likely by a sword or spear. His eyes glowed white for a moment in anger. "Whoever did this has to be a major creep, to pick on an old man like that," he muttered to himself. "If I get my hands on him...." His claws flexed themselves, as if in anticipation.
"Blaise?" asked the old man in a faint voice. "Is that you?"
"It is indeed, Magister," said Blaise. "What - what happened here?"
"Count Elafius," said Aegidius weakly. "He came here with his men this morning - laid siege to us. We could not keep him out." He wheezed and coughed violently, before continuing. "The Grimorum," he murmured. "The Grimorum."
"The Grimorum?" asked Brooklyn, pricking up his ears at that familiar name. "What about it?"
"The Count stole it," gasped the Magister. "He took all our books. I know not what he means for them - ohhh - but took them he did."
"Do not worry, Magister," said Blaise concernedly. "I will not let you die. You will live."
"Too badly hurt," groaned Aegidius. "My time is short, Blaise. This is - aahhh - my death-wound. I know it."
"Which way did they go?" asked Brooklyn sharply. "Count Elafius and his men, I mean?"
"I can answer that," said Blaise grimly, tearing a strip off his mantle and doing his best to bandage Aegidiusís wound with it. "The Count lives in the town of Winchester, which lies to the south of here. Most likely heíll have gone back there with his men."
"Thatís what I needed to know," said Brooklyn. "Thanks. You stay here and look after him, Blaise."
"Where are you going?" asked Blaise.
"To bring back some overdue books," Brooklyn replied, climbing to the top of one of the ruined walls and gliding off.
* * *
Count Elafius of Winchester sat by the campfire, gazing again at the codex lying upon his lap. He could not read, but ran his hands delightedly over the serpent and staff on the cover, admiring its workmanship.
"Ah, this should be worth a fortune, eh, Arcavius?" he asked the knight sitting next to him. "Look at the binding upon it. This could well be the finest prize in our raid upon that fool Aegidius."
Arcavius frowned. "I do not like this, my liege," he said.
Elafius laughed. "Do not like what, you old fool? Having second thoughts about our attack? A belated stirring of sympathy towards that coven?"
"It is not that at all, my lord," Sir Arcavius answered. "But you are far too rash tonight. I deem that most unwise."
"Rash?" asked Elafius. "In what way?"
"We have only a handful of men with us at present," said Arcavius. "We should have held our allies together with us longer after we sacked the villa, rather than letting them return to their separate fiefs. If someone were to come upon us and attack us, we would be easy pickings, with no more than ten knights and men-at-arms accompanying us."
"And who would attack us?" Elafius replied. "The sorcerers are dead or dying, all of them! What can they send against us? They were too weak to even prevent us from sacking their home! I hardly think that they can do us any harm!" He laughed again.
"All the same," said the knight worriedly, "I believe -".
"What you believe hardly matters," the Count of Winchester answered. "What matters is that we have won a great victory. The Magister and his band of warlocks are no more. We have looted their home and brought back with us these treasures." He looked again at the Grimorum Arcanorum in his lap. "It is a pity that they had so little gold, but this book may be worth more than all the wealth that Aegidius had. If I can but find the right buyer for it. Maybe a rich merchant from Gaul. If this book wasnít filled with the spells of those wizards, Iíd sell it to the Bishop; he certainly has money enough to meet my price. Arcavius, are you listening to me?"
"Iím sorry, my lord," said Arcavius, pricking up his ears. "I thought that I had heard something."
"Heard something?" asked Elafius, with another chuckle. "And what did you hear? Some demon sent by those wizards after us, perchance?"
"Well, -" began Arcavius. But before he could finish his sentence, a roaring sound filled the night. And diving out of the heavens towards the camp, came a red-skinned white-haired monster with an enormous beak, great wings outspread.
Elafius gasped at the sight of the horror confronting him, then struggled to his feet and drew his sword. "Stand your ground, men!" he shouted to his retainers frantically. "Fight that monster! Do as I say!"
His knights did not heed him, however. The mere sight of the monster was enough to make them take flight, running pell-mell into the darkness. Their horses whinnied in fear, and galloped off as well. Only Arcavius stood by the Countís side, and he trembled as he drew his sword.
The strange night-creature alit and strode towards Elafius, its eyes glowing white as it advanced. "The book," it said, looking sharply at the tome in the Count of Winchesterís hands. "Give it to me."
"That book is mine!" shouted Elafius, doing his best to keep his voice steady. "My lawful spoils! You cannot have it!"
"Lawful spoils?" asked the creature, a low growl at the back of its throat. "Lawful spoils? You stole that book! It belongs to the Order of Scholars, not to you!"
"How dare you call me a robber, monster?" Elafius cried, his fear temporarily forgotten in his anger. "I am the Count of Winchester, and one of the great lords of the High King Vortigern himself!"
"Youíre just a thief with a fancy title," the monster replied. "Take that away, and youíre no different from Tony Dracon or Tomas Brod or any of those other hoodlums that my clan and I busted in New York. Now are you gonna give me the book, or am I gonna have to take it from you?"
Elafius nervously stepped back, while motioning to Arcavius with one hand. "So the Order of Sorcerers does indeed traffic with the minions of the Evil One," he said, still doing his best to sound bold. "Even as I suspected. But I will keep what I won, and you cannot make me yield it up to you."
Arcavius crept up on the creature with a drawn sword, ready to strike from behind. But it must have sensed his movement, for it suddenly lashed out with its tail, knocking him off his feet. The knight dropped his sword and scrambled away quickly, leaving Count Elafius standing alone before the enraged winged monster.
"Well?" asked the creature, moving one step closer to Elafius. "Are you going to give back the book?"
Elafius stared into its glowing white eyes, and lost his nerve. "Here," he said, handing the book to it. "Take it, and go! Only let me live!"
"Donít worry," said the creature sharply, looking at him with disgust. "Iím not going to kill you. Iím not like you." And with that, holding the book tightly in its claws, it turned and disappeared into the night. Elafius made no effort to pursue it. He simply stared after it, trembling, without a word.
* * *
It was a quiet glide back to the villa. Brooklyn turned back from time to time, just to make certain that Elafius hadnít sent any of his men after him to recover the Grimorum, but there was no sign of any of the knights from Winchester. "I guess that I really did scare the lot of them," he said to himself. "This was easier than Iíd expected."
He looked down at the Grimorum in his grasp, pondering over it and remembering how, for a while, he and his clan had watched over it in the clock tower, along with the Phoenix Gate and the Eye of Odin, later on. After Demona and Macbeth had stolen it on the Weird Sistersí orders, he had never again set eyes upon it, except for his brief sighting of it in his visit to the Mage in ancient Rome. But it was familiar to him, all the same. It was a spell from its pages that had placed him and his clan in stone sleep for a thousand years, uttered by an angry Magus. And then, not long after they had awakened in Manhattan, Demona had used another spell from it to turn Goliath into a mindless zombie, forced to do her bidding, which Elisa had only managed to neutralize with some quick thinking.
That last memory was what played through Brooklynís thoughts most prominently. He still remembered, with shame, how he had been foolish enough to steal the Grimorum for Demona, lead Goliath into a trap, almost condemn him for the rest of his days to be an automaton helplessly carrying out Demonaís orders. He no longer truly hated her for those memories, not after his own visit to her in the 23rd century early in his Timedancing when he had seen the repentant and grieving person that she had become. But he still hated himself for having helped cause such damage to Goliath, even if Elisa had mended it.
"And it came about through you," he said to the Grimorum, clenched in his claws. "You know, I could just tear you to pieces right now, or find a bonfire and toss you into it. Then you wouldnít exist for Demona to use on Goliath. None of that would ever have happened."
It was indeed a very tempting thought - so tempting that for a moment he actually caught himself looking about to see if there was some handy place about where he could destroy it. But then he checked himself in time. He had already seen that the past could not be changed, and that trying to do so would only cause trouble. And even if he could destroy the book, did he have the right to do so? Blaise had indicated that the information in its pages was important to the Order of Scholars. If that was the case, then he, no doubt the last surviving member, might need it. And also, he had been sent to find the book and bring it back. If he destroyed it instead, then would he not have betrayed his trust to Blaise? Would he be any different from Count Elafius?
"No," he said to himself. "No, I wonít do this. Iím giving the book to Blaise, as I promised." And with that, he glided on.
* * *
Despite Blaiseís best efforts, he could tell that nothing that he could do would stave off Magister Aegidiusís death. The wound that Count Elafiusís men had given him was simply too strong; it could not be mended, not with what Blaise had at his disposal, at least. But he pressed his cloth against the gash all the same, to do what he could.
"Blaise?" asked the Magister, in a weak voice. "Are you still there?"
"Yes, sir," said Blaise, nodding. "Do you wish to say anything to me?"
Aegidius nodded feebly. "You - you are the last of us," he said. "You must continue the work. It - it will be lonely, but you must do it all the same. And -" - he coughed hard, then continued - "- you must go to Dyfed."
"To Dyfed?" asked Blaise.
"Maridunum," said Aegidius, in a weaker voice, the death-rattle already in it. "King Cynanís court. An evil is heading there, an evil older than even the Order. You must stop it, stop it from -".
"Yes?" asked Blaise, leaning forward. "Stop it from what?"
There was no answer. Blaise looked down at his masterís still face, and bowed his head in silence, then covered it. He then arose somberly, gazing down at the body of the Magister. "I will fulfill your request, as best I can," he said to it, in a quiet voice. "This I vow. I will go to Dyfed, and do whatever I can to thwart this 'great evilí of which you speak."
He heard the sound of footsteps behind him, and turned around. Brooklyn was standing there, the Grimorum clutched tightly in his talons.
"Iím back," he said. "And I got the Grimorum. Howís Aegidius?"
"Aegidius is dead, Brooklyn," said Blaise sadly. "I am the only one left now."
"Iím sorry," said Brooklyn, his head bowed. "I wish that there was something that I could do."
"You have done one thing, at least," said Blaise. "You were able to recover the Grimorum. It is a small victory to compare with what we have lost, but still, it is a victory. And for this, I thank you."
"Well, itís not over yet," said Brooklyn, looking at the Magisterís form. "We still have a lot of work to do, in taking care of these people."
Blaise nodded in silence.
* * *
It took them most of the night to dig graves for the victims of Count Elafiusís raid and give them decent burial, but they managed it all the same. The eastern sky was already beginning to lighten when Blaise turned to Brooklyn.
"I must thank you for the help that you gave me," he said to the gargoyle. "It is small consolation for the loss of my fellow Scholars, but still, I am glad that I had one friend to stand by me during this hour. For that I am grateful."
Brooklyn nodded. "I wish that it hadnít ended like this," he said. "Well, what will you do now?"
"The Order is no more," said Blaise, "and I must find my own way in the world. And I cannot remain here. Count Elafius may not dare trouble this place again, but there is nothing left for me here any longer. And I have been given a charge by Aegidius, which I must fulfill. I must leave for Dyfed at once."
He then suddenly paused, as though he had just thought of something. "Oh, and there is one piece of good tidings for you, my friend," he added. "I looked through the Grimorum during a rest, and found a formula which can aid you with your scroll. And I tried it out, as well. Here."
He pulled Brooklynís scroll out of his pouch, and handed it to him. The seal had now broken, and the scroll could be unrolled.
"I have not opened nor read it," said Blaise. "That is for you, my friend."
"Thanks," said Brooklyn, eagerly unrolling the scroll. "Thatís quite a big help to me."
He looked at the writing on the parchment, and his heart sank again. "I - I canít read this," he said.
Blaise looked at the scroll with him. It was written not in the familiar alphabet of Rome, but in strange characters, looking rather like a crude form of Egyptian hieroglyphics. "I cannot read them either," he said. "It is not Greek, that much I can tell. Nor Ogham, for that matter. The alphabet is one strange to my eyes. I wish that I could tell you more."
Brooklyn nodded. "It does look Egyptian, though. Pity that I only got this thing open after my visit there. Maybe some of my friends could have deciphered it. Well, at least itís a start."
Before Blaise could reply, a sudden fiery glow enveloped Brooklyn. The young scholar stepped back in wonder and silent awe, even as his friend vanished in the brilliant flame. And without a trace, he was gone.
"He departed even as he came," said Blaise, his eyes widening. "I wonder if I will ever learn how he achieved such a feat."
He turned to face the eastern sky. The sun was now just beginning to creep up over the horizon. Blaise sighed. He would have a long journey to Dyfed before him, and what lay at the end of it, he still did not know. It would have to be important, to judge from what Aegidius had told him, but he could not even guess as to its nature. He only hoped that he would arrive in time to do whatever it was he had to do.
As he walked away to where he had left his horse, he opened the Grimorum and began to thumb through the book that was in his charge now. He passed over several pages without comment, and then suddenly halted. In the middle of the book was a picture, an old-seeming picture, its colors already dulled with age but still strong enough for him to see. It was a picture of a gargoyle. And not just any gargoyle, either, but his friend Brooklyn.
He stared at it, his eyes widening, for a few minutes. "I wonder," he said to himself.