I changed the colors because my daughter said the lime green background hurt her eyes. Please let me know if this is better.
Disclaimer: Based on the Disney/Buena Vista cartoon, Gargoyles, that my boys still enjoy from time to time – not that you’d know it from this scene. Written for practice and fun. (What – you don’t watch cartoons with your kids and have spun off stories pop into your head?!) PS Don’t be weirded out by the use of my name – it has to do with Celtic folklore, not me putting myself in the story…
Paris Ice Caves, Idaho
Cavern walls stood strong and silent, offering sanctuary for the makeshift rookery. Overgrown stalagmites littered the ground making maneuvering by foot somewhat treacherous. Above, faithful stalactites dripped moisture into the smooth lake below keeping a rhythmic chime echoing into the paths that led away from the area. Maia’s heavy footsteps made her presence known before she entered the hidden room, her keen nocturnal eyes requiring no light as she moved with smooth deftness in the dark.
“Maia. You’re just in time,” a familiar baritone voice greeted her before the shape of an older gargoyle stepped into view. “The hatchling broke free only an hour ago.”
Aldo was the picture of a gargoyle beginning the end of his prime. Tall, tan, with golden eyes that gleamed in the dark, his black beard waved when he spoke. His chocolate-brown wings bore the marks of battle scars with quiet dignity, a stark contrast from Maia’s creamy grey skin tone.
“Hatched? I thought it was another few months before the eggs were ready,” Maia murmured, her usual forthright tone trembling slightly.
“Yes. The other eggs show no sign of hatching. The little one is early.”
Aldo opened his arms to reveal a white hatchling resting within his talons. Maia reached over to stroke silken hair, noting the dusky brown marks on an otherwise flawless face.
“That’s odd. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she said, pointing to the markings.
“Could be a reminder of origin. We don’t know what spells the goddess used to create life,” he reminded her.
Maia’s gaze moved over his shoulder, searching for the presence of any other members of the clan. Nothing.
“Remember, Aldo, that information is privileged. I won’t have my offspring exiled because I ensured a chance for life.”
Aldo held the tiny gargoyle out for Maia to accept. She didn’t hesitate.
“I have always been loyal, Maia. How you came manifest the egg is no concern of mine. Nor do I feel it matters to anyone else. If the goddess felt her life was important to preserve, then preserved it shall be.”
Maia felt a pang of guilt. Gargoyles were not in the habit of suspecting one another, yet she couldn’t help but suspect everyone and everything. The goddess had warned her that raising the hatchling would be difficult. There would be many who opposed her efforts. But the end justified the means.
“My apologies,” she said. “I have odd feelings towards this one.”
“The enchantments,” Aldo nodded. “Things are never what we expect when magic is involved.”
The hatchling blinked with eyes that were too big for its face. Sitting up, it shifted positions to a more comfortable position.
“She said the hatchling would be female,” she murmured, allowing a tiny white tail to curl around a talon. A yawn followed a nestling into the Maia’s grey skin.
“She was correct,” Aldo affirmed.
“Then her name will be Aine.”
“How touching,” a voice doused with venom spoke from behind. “If its existence wasn’t so revolting, I might cry.”
Maia spun, Aine now pressed tightly against her chest, hidden by Maia’s wings that folded protectively over her. Aldo and she both crouched in a defensive stance, low growls forming in their throats.
“Now, now, there’s no use for that,” the human laughed walking closer towards his prey. Maia’s eyes widened at the sight of him.
“Nicholas,” she croaked, taking in the stocky figure dressed in a black suit.
“None other,” he laughed, holding his hands out to give her a better look.
“But you were dying… you should be dead. How?”
“You aren’t the only one who found a devil to deal with, Maia,” he snorted.
Behind him seven more men appeared with sneers with expectancy. Each one had clothing in rags. No light, no sound had been made of their approach, but what bothered Maia the most were their eyes – beads of glowing red.
“Lycanthrope,” she hissed, taking a step backward. Her heart sunk when her foot brushed against a hard shell. There would be no escape for the eggs. It was impossible.
“Yes,” Nicholas taunted her. “You remember them, don’t you? The Clan Allta? The clan your ancestor doomed to an eternity of being hunted? Only now with a few enchantments, they’re the ones doing the hunting. Unlucky for you, of course. ”
“Allta?” Maia asked, her mind racing. “The curse was only to lose two at a time every seven years. And if they survived..”
“They could return to their clan? Forever changed? Haunted by memories of being a beast?”
“They aren’t beasts now,” Aldo observed, taking a protective step in front of Maia.
Nicholas threw back his head into a howl, the beginning of the shape-shift taking place. His companions followed suit, each one bursting with tufts of hair on their faces, veins streaking down their necks,and noses elongated into muzzles while their hands grew freakishly long claws. Clothing shredded and shoes exploded into tatters. Growls mixed with snarls as the enemies reacted to one another.
“Not a single egg survives,” Nicholas barked. “But leave Maia and the one she carries to me!”
Maia watched them advance on her and Aldo, her wings flexing. She felt Aine squirm against her grip, tempering her instinct to protect the eggs. She watched two of the creatures leap at Aldo. As soon as he was engaged in battle, she flung herself high in the air, arching her wings to glide into a crevice for refuge. Her eyes changed to glowing red as she watched the carnage below – eggs were crushed, the nearly hatched gargoyles within ripped apart. Blood flowed with saliva. The crunching of wings were more than she could bear. She screamed her remorse; her frustration.
Aldo’s tail swung in a perfect arch, catching one of his opponents off guard. The other sank its teeth into his arm. Aldo bellowed, throwing the great beast through the air. He began barreling through the crushed eggs when Nicholas caught his attention. The half-man/half-wolf dug his claws into the hard rock just as a gargoyle would, climbing his way to where Maia crouched. Aldo could see his intended path would take him just under the lip of the crevice. Once there, Maia and Aine would be blocked. Maia could fight her way out, but the danger to the hatchling was eminent.
“Maia!” he roared, running straight for the wall. She peered over the lip of rock. It took her an instant to access Nicolas scaling the wall, grab Aine, and shove off towards the furthest path away from Nicholas’s clan. Slamming bodies and more sounds of battle followed her up the path, but she ignored them all. Up the path Maia glided for as long as the stone walls would allow. Finally, the space became too confined, forcing her to her give up the air and use her feet.
Sounds of scuffling and growls haunted the pair from behind. Maia’s instincts demanded that she turn and fight, but something more compelling forced her to run. Twice she took a stalagmite to the knee when the sounds of howls sounded near, the second time sending her and Aine sprawling onto the underground lake covered with a thick layer of ice. Maia grabbed Aine and used adrenaline induced strength to puncture the thick covering before diving into frigid water, hoping the hatchling would survive the plunge.
After several minutes underwater, Maia discovered the opening she had been looking for. Squeezing them both out of a lava tube, she swam hard, surfacing back into another cavern. Quickly Maia looked Aine over. Seeing that she was still breathing, Maia once again lurched them into the caves, this time the path a discernible ascent. Within another half-hour, they surfaced into the fading moonlight. Two steps away from the edge of a cliff, Maia contemplated the best place for a stone sleep.
“Ah, you are the resourceful one, aren’t you, Maia?”
Maia and Aine both lifted their eyes in time to see Nicholas’s saliva drip onto the stones in front of them.
“I try,” she answered.
“Don’t bother calling for the others,” the lycanthrope chuckled. “They’re all gone. Every last one of them.”
“The eggs?” she asked, momentarily confused.
“And your clan.”
Nicholas jumped, his claws slashing at her tail.
Maia sucked in her breath at the sting of contact. She shoved off the cliff, taking Aine with her. The stark blue in her wings shimmered in the moonlight.
“It doesn’t matter where you go,” he called out, his throaty voice tinged with amusement. “It’s almost morning. I’ll find you both! Your betrayal, Maia, is at an end!”
Maia ignored his calls from the cliff, continuing to glide towards the area the clan had thought a safe haven. Sure enough, rubble was all that remained of her former family, proving their deaths had happened while they slept. If she had not spent the day in solitude inside the cave, she, too, would have met a similar fate. She moaned, too tired to screech her mourning. Her choice may have saved her life, but the lack of sunlight soaked into her stone skin during daytime hours left her weak.
South of the cliffs came a familiar cry – Aldo’s call. Maia shifted her wings to circle around and follow his beacon. The clan was more than just Aine and she after all. Perhaps more lived with him. Perhaps some had not sought the illusion of safety in numbers. She could hope.
Nicholas watched her disappear over the horizon before disappearing back inside the cave.
Daytime approached. The hunt would continue over time. South.
If you have time, I’m needing critiques. I’m told I have a weakness for too many noun modifiers, or being too descriptive. I know I am obsessed with movement… and I would like some opinions. Some people at WIFYR (the conference I went to) didn’t like the way I use short sentences and then longer ones. However the year before I was told that was good so that the writing didn’t get monotonous. Dave didn’t say either way – I think he prefers not to comment on a writer’s style. SO. What do you think – was it distracting, did it add to the piece, etc? I appreciate your feedback – even just reading this far!