The Inn Between: Ditto Story 8
Ditto Story Number 8
Welcome to the Inn Between, home of the Ditto Town Story! To learn more about what the story is and how it works, check out the Ditto Story Index, created by BERNINBUSH, here, and an updated version, created by Ryadian, is here. In addition, the authors discuss the story in the Library, elsewhere in Ditto Town.
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Emily sat down at her computer and stared at the screen. The next issue of the Dittotopian Times was due out in 24 hours and she still did not have a lead story. Writer’s block was hitting her pretty hard and she pounded the desk in her fury. Ruffling through her papers for the dozenth time, she stumbled across some research that she had done on the mysterious entity known as the Nine.
Katherine said that the Nine was responsible for the Hunter and the kidnapping of her cousins and brother.
Chase said that one of the Nine were behind the school he was attending.
Is there a link from the Nine to the Star Defenders problems?
What about those weapons that Katherine carried?
Katherine’s disappearance, not talked about beyond ‘she went away with Gwanuig’, is there more of a story here? The Ditto Rider is very trouble prone.
Then there’s this shredded parchment I found:
Three thrice is nine, and each three governs…
…centre of all things
write the thoughts … to come.
Is there more to the parchment somewhere? What does this have to do with the Nine? Is it even the same Nine?
She sighed. This wasn’t much help. It was very frustrating. She read over it again and latched onto the parchment and thought about the treasure trunk where she had found the scraps. Maybe that would make a good story; old treasures found in strange places and what to do with them.
Tucked away in the “Historical Books” section of a prominent university’s library, there is a slim book entitled On Beetles and How They Build. It’s in the top left corner of the shelf in the west corner, and there are spiderwebs in front of it. If you were to open this book and flip to the back cover, you would find an envelope glued thereupon. Inside the envelope is this letter, the twin of the parchment of which Emily had only the remains. This letter, however, is the later copy.
This is the structure of the Nine who would rule all.
Three thrice is nine, and each three governs a side of time: Past, Present, and Future.
Three are the parts of the sentient lifeform, and each three governs one: Body, Soul, and Spirit.
The Body Past is our physical history.
The Soul Past is the history of thought.
The Sprit Past is the history of faith and belief.
When we control these, we control where we come from.
The Body Present is our world and self today.
The Soul Present is how we think now.
The Spirit Present is how and in what we believe now.
When we control these, we control where we are.
The Body Future is our perfect form to come.
The Soul Future is our thought united as one.
The Spirit Future is complete faith in the Tenth,
And the Tenth is the centre of all things, the Whole.”
In older days, before a selfish corruption overtook us, we would chant our parts at the opening of each session. We were wiser then, perhaps.
I should be clear: the Tenth is not and was never a god, but it was our driving passion and ultimate goal, though we knew it not.
I who write this was Eight, the Archon of the Soul Future, and I oversaw the Philosophers who write the thoughts of the generations to come.
I will never again see daylight, but I have seen true light, and the truth of the Tenth. I write so that whoever comes after and finds this may also know
At this point the letter trails off. Doubtless Eight had something important to say, but his life expired before he could write it. Others have found the truth he spoke of, but never another from within the Nine- who, despite a certain change in organization to suit their egos, are still in existence, and would still rule all.
((I don't remember what color I used before ))
Jesse paced nervously back and forth across the floor of the small apartment in Ditto Town. He could not believe he had been roped into staying in the town for three whole months! Did the child not know that spies could be anywhere? That they could be taken at any time? That they could trust no one?
But the child did not seem to understand that. He had found an artist in town and had wanted to study the old man's work. Eventually Caelen had asked if he could become the old man's apprentice, despite Jesse's protestations. A day had turned into a week, a week into a month, and so forth. Jesse was itching to get moving again. Every time he left the apartment, it was as though someone were watching him, observing his every movement. It was unnerving to say the least.
The brooding teen started slightly as a door downstairs slammed shut. Almost without thinking, Jesse leaped into the corner beside the door, fingering his knife. Sharp eyes watched the door, every muscle tense. The door banged open and the sudden movement startled the teen into action. He leaped forward, knife raised.
"Jesse, don't!" Caelen cried, his bright eyes wide. Jesse had to twist in mid-air to miss the child, landing painfully on his side. Grimacing, he shoved the knife back into its sheath.
"What have I told you about the secret knock?" he growled through gritted teeth, waving aside the elf's attempt to help him up. Clutching his ribs with a wince, he stumbled over to the small bed and collapsed on it.
"I'm sorry, Jesse," Caelen said earnestly. "I forgot. It won't happen again, I promise. Please don't be mad." The little face was so innocent and ashamed that Jesse could not help but sigh and wave the apology away.
"No one's hurt . . . much," he muttered. "It's fine."
Caelen was quiet a moment, then grinned. "While you're nursing that, look what I did today!" Pulling a rolled canvas out from underneath his shirt, the elf child spread the artwork across the bed so Jesse could have a good look at it. Jesse frowned automatically when he saw the painting.
It was himself, looking regal and serene, sitting atop a boulder in the woods, staring off into the distance. His wild curls and cloak flew backward in the wind, and his hand rested on an elegant looking sword. It was not a good likeness, Jesse thought. That man looked nothing like him. For one thing, he noticed, looking closer, this man had pointed ears. Jesse tapped them with his finger.
"Don't have ears like that," he said.
Caelen smiled as he stared down at his masterpiece (for really the detail and colors were superb). "I know. But I like to pretend you do. Like family."
Jesse scowled again and stood, turning away and walking over to the single window, peeking out between the closed curtains down on the street below. He thought he saw a suspicious shadow and did a double-take. It was just an over-large dog, trotting its way down the sidewalk. He let the curtain fall back and stared at the faded print.
"I'm not your family," he muttered. Grabbing his cloak he threw it over his shoulders. "Stay. Here." He commanded, pointing directly at Caelen's inquisitive face. "I'm going out for food."
Without another word, he left, making his way out and toward the center of town.
Lianna let out an exasperated sigh as she went through her empty bottles in the apothecary. A periodic inventory was required to keep the place looking halfway decently. The door bell rang and she jumped.
Lianna untangled herself and went to open the door. “Tara! What a pleasant surprise! Come on in.”
“Thanks Lia. You ok?” Tara pointed at Liana’s hand rubbing the back of her head.
Lianna laughed ruefully. “I was organizing my extra bottles and was back inside one of the cabinets when you rang. You can guess what happened then.”
“Ouch,” Tara said stifling a laugh.
“So why did you drop by?”
“I just wanted to check up on you. It’s been a few days since you’ve been by the PATROL headquarters.”
Lianna let out a soft puff of air and slid against the wall. Ever since her sister had taken Verena back in time and Katherine’s disappearance, she had been fairly flaky. Vanishing for days at a time and not talking to anyone other than Emily were not unusual for her these days. Tara was the closest friend she had in town. Ryder was nice to talk to, but he was a guy and busy with his job at the Tireless Engineer’s site.
“Tara…” And everything came spilling out.
Tara had been busy with the PATROL during the last three months and she realized that between Lianna's fading into the background and her own schedule, she realized that she had been out of touch too long. Her friend was hurting. Tara listened until Lianna’s well of emotion ran down and then hugged her friend. “Why don’t you let me stay and give you a hand with inventory and then we’ll go out to eat at the Cup and Platter, my treat.”
Lianna’s smile reached all the way to her eyes as she nodded.
Thanks to JillPole for her helpful suggestions on this segment.
Life couldn't be any better, Erik thought to himself. It was a pleasant spring evening, and the chorus frogs had begun their nightly song. Dusk had fallen but a big round moon provided all the light he needed to see the tiny gargoyle now asleep in his lap.
Abby was out this evening, enjoying a welcome “ladies’ night out” with some friends from town. Erik had heard something about them putting the finishing touches on plans for a surprise party for their friend Ryder Knight.
"Just wait till you have kids of your own," the clan’s first human friend, Elisa Maza, had told him so long ago after seeing his affection for human children, including her own toddler-age daughter. "It's like nothing else." He had chuckled softly at this; at the time he’d had no prospects for a mate, much less hatchlings.
But now he understood. His love for Abby was stronger than ever, and not just because of the little one their union had produced. She was his beloved soulmate, the one he would do anything to protect and cherish. Their affection for each other had endured and grown, through the good times and the bad.
Yet a father's love for his child was different, he knew now. This was his child - his and Abby's - to care for, nurture, and protect, dependent on them for everything; his paternal instinct had blossomed with this realization. He would bear almost any pain if it meant sparing this precious little one an ounce of grief. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
Erik smiled, once again recalling the arrival of his firstborn. It seemed like only yesterday...
The old year was drawing to a close, and many in Ditto Town were eagerly marking off the few remaining days until Christmas. The short days led into nights that were long, deep, and dark. But this did not bother the gargoyles one bit; not only were they creatures of the night, but Erik loved those crystal clear winter skies that frequently showcased the stars so gloriously.
This night was one of those rare beauties and Erik wanted to savor the moment. There was no moon, and his faint, starlit shadow was outlined on the ground. Yet his mind was elsewhere, and eager anticipation filled his very being. For tomorrow marked the solstice – the shortest day of the entire year, and the longest night – and the time when he and Abby would finally become parents with the long-awaited hatching of their egg. He was barely able to keep from shouting his joy to any who might listen.
He was not alone, for on his way out of town he’d chanced to meet his good friend Thundershadow, and together they had walked to the low rise that they had come to call the “star-watching hill.” Though the calendar said December, the night was mild and both creatures were quite comfortable gazing at the beauty above them.
“I can’t believe it’s finally here,” Erik finally whispered, breaking several minutes of silence.
“I’m glad,” the unicorn replied. Her gargoyle friend’s voice was filled with a rare excitement and anticipation. “I’m so very happy for both of you.”
“Thanks,” he replied, and silently recalled the time he’d first met Thundershadow near this very spot, on a night much like this one. Over the following months their friendship had been forged and then refined, as it were, by fires of agonizing pain and separation, and reaffirmed by unexpected, joyful reunions. The friends he’d found in this town were so much more than he’d ever expected after stumbling through the gateway to this world so long ago.
The unicorn must have picked up his thoughts, for she said, “You are a good friend, Erik, and I too am grateful for your friendship.”
They exchanged other words of companionship before Thundershadow eventually asked, “How is Abby handling the excitement this evening?”
A small chuckle came out of the darkness. “Better than I am. She has a few friends over and they’re preparing the Emporium for tomorrow night. I think keeping busy is her way of making the time pass.”
“Why aren’t you there helping?” Thundershadow teased, though she already knew the answer. Normally he would lie on his back under a sky like this, peacefully enjoying the wonders spread above. But this night his glances at the heavens were punctuated by anxious pacing back and forth, his tail lashing nervously to and fro.
She again sensed amusement from him as he answered. “I began pacing around right after we woke up at dusk. I offered to help get everything ready, but she only smiled and said there really weren’t any big preparations to make. She said I should burn off my nervous energy – take a walk, do some stargazing, and come back in a few hours.” He grinned. “I would have only gotten underfoot; this was her way of getting me ‘out of her hair,’ as the humans say.”
Thundershadow smiled at her friend’s eagerness to finally hold his firstborn. “You and Abby will make great parents.”
He sighed contentedly. “Thanks. I’m glad I met you tonight, Thundershadow. We’re both grateful for your friendship and all you’ve done for us, and we hope that you’ll be able to join us tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t dream of missing it," the unicorn replied.
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
On days when the smog is thick enough, you don’t even know that Los Angeles is surrounded by the foothills of the Sierras. Today was one of those days: hot, muggy, and covered in brown haze. The palm rustled slightly at the breeze as if asking for a real Pacific wind to stir them, and light-distorting heat rose from the miles of black concrete. Alex Micah Wilkins was trying to take a nap in his dorm room with very little success because the half-broken air conditioning didn’t really keep the heat out. Alex had gained more weight than he liked to admit in his last semester at college which also wasn’t helping. The “freshman 15” had been lurking at the end of his college experience instead of the beginning… only now it looked more like the “Grad Student 25.” Also, the fairy dragons wouldn’t shut up.
Mystic was misbehaving, to say the least. Being blind, she was usually fairly tranquil, but today she kept messing with the venation blinds and it was making Alex nervous. The neighbors might notice the blinds moving and start watching, and if they spotted her… well Alex didn’t want to think about that. Kouadio* watched her calmly, mostly to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or get lost. This wasn’t likely since Mystic’s other sense were razor sharp, but Kouadio was a bit overprotective. He was even protective of Alex, watching his human intently to make sure nothing befell him that the 12 ounce African fairy dragon could prevent. Ember was curled up on an unoccupied corner of the bed. He had been snappy at the other two fairy dragons lately and several spats had broken out, something that hadn’t happened since Alex had first acquired Mystic and Kouadio from Professor Edward Johnson. Johnson was Alex’s mentor and apparently a person of some importance in the top secret global fairy dragon trade.
A suddenly noise from the direction of the blinds brought Alex to his feet. “Mystic, you’re going to knock them down! Would you sit still? What’s wrong with you today?” Alex’s voice was louder and harsher than he meant it to be. Kouadio clicked angrily and Mystic settled on the ledge and looked slightly hurt. Alex didn’t apologize, blaming the heat for his temper. He rolled over and stirred up Ember, who chirped then settled down after a few seconds.
Despite being uncomfortable, Alex finally felt his eyes getting heavy. The next thing he knew, he realized that he had forgotten to study for his calculus final. He scrambled all over the room looking for his notes without success.
“I think the Phoenix Archer should get one of our eggs. She seems to get into trouble all the time and one of ours could be useful, after all.”
“But she’s already taking care of three phoenixes, teenagers no less! I vote Chase. He gets into more trouble if you ask me. More, and stranger trouble.”
Alex ignored the voices, they weren’t nearly as important as not failing calculus, and they might as well have been speaking in tongues for as much as they made sense.
“He wouldn’t take one of our eggs. He was always in his own world a little bit, with his own fights, and he will probably continue that way, if he even survives his next adventure. Christie seems like a better idea, or..."
“He doesn’t seem like the type for small, unpredictable companions either.”
“Well what about Jesse? He needs to lighten up, and he’s such a newcomer, and something tells me that Caelen will need protecting. He’s too innocent and he could always heal our child if something goes wrong.”
“I like that idea…”
Alex managed to find his calculus notes only to realize that the final was in ten minutes. At some point he’d realized that it was important to listen to what the voices were saying, probably because it would help him on his test. “Tell me on the way out, okay guys?”
“Okay, well then, what about Varna.”
“I think she’d fall over and die of shock if she suddenly came into possession of a baby fairy dragon. It would endanger her books.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say.”
“I don’t mean it in a mean way, I’m just saying... I can’t see one of our children living in a book store for the rest of its life.”
“You haven’t met our children yet, how do you know what they’ll like.”
“Hmmmm…. I just don’t think he’d want one. He has his family to think about, and he’s lost his cousin.”
“Well that makes him a better candidate… he’s lonely. And when has a human ever chosen one of us. We always choose them. Lianna?”
“Hmmmmmmmm… I don’t think she’d be thrilled about a small, energetic creature either. I want someone who will appreciate our children, not merely tolerate them.”
“Well Aria would probably appreciate them.”
“Really dear, you think so? I just don’t know what to do about immortals… Not that I have anything against them… I just feel like we’d only be burdening some of the people you’re mentioning.”
Alex didn’t care what he thought about immortals. All he cared about was getting to the top of these horribly rickety stairs that were threatening to pitch him sideways. Why was it so hard to get to this class?
“I keep coming back to the Silvermoons. They now have a little one of their own. They could use a fairy dragon to help entertain.”
“As long as their little one doesn’t pull our little one’s wings out… I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea.”
“What about Isaac?”
“I don’t think he’s have time… Besides, I don’t trust anyone with the last name of Nemesis. Although Nerrha might be interested, especially if one of the babies is poisonous.”
“If you can think of someone who’s personality would clash more with ours, I’d be impressed.”
“Well I’m running out of ideas. Goodness!”
“The little hobbit would be a very kind master, there’s no arguing with that. The Banks seem unusually kind and generous. I don’t know what they’d think of the magic though.”
“Not sure I trust him. What do you think Alex?”
Alex started and stopped opening and closing doors, looking for a bathroom. “Oh, whatever you decide is fine with me.”
“Well then, I think I know who’s going to get our three eggs. My first laid should go to…”
Alex jerked out of bed at the sound of his cell phone going off. He sat for a moment while the dream faded around him. He remembered something about Calculus, and names, lots of names. He thought the fairy dragons had probably been in it too, but he wasn’t certain. Alex groped for his insistent cell phone by sound. He had slept far longer than he had meant to; the only light coming through the windows now was a yellowish, Los-Angeles-at-night color of light. Ah-ha! That’s where the stupid thing was hiding. One of the fairy dragons must have knocked it onto the floor.
“Alex Wilkins?” came a strained woman’s voice with an English accent.
“Yes,” answered Alex, his brain not registering who could possibly be calling him.
There was a pause. “This is Sarah Johnson.”
“Oh, of course, I’m sorry!” Alex said. He suddenly felt his throat tightening. He knew what words were coming next, but he didn’t want to believe.
“I just thought you should know, my father passed away this… this afternoon.”
The first flush of shock came with a tsunami. A human being was gone out of this universe, never to return. A very dear human being. “Oh. Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Yes, thanks…” was the uncertain reply. Sarah sounded close to tears. What were you supposed to say to someone who had just lost her father?
“Yah, I’m sorry. He was a great guy. Umm, when is the funeral?”
“Well I won’t be able to make it.”
“Oh no! I would expect you to!”
Alex winced, “No, I just mean, I wish I could be there.”
“Well I should probably let you go…”
“Alright… WAIT!” Sarah’s voice changed suddenly, “I need to let you know something. Before… earlier this week we visited your parents.”
“My parents? What…”
There was silence on the other side of the line although Sarah hadn’t hung up yet. Alex’s muddled brain wasn’t making the connection. What on earth could be so important about his parents that Sarah would feel obligated to tell him about it in the same phone call that informed him her father has passed away?
“We, know about how your sister vanished. Your parents have been looking for her of course, getting the authorities involved of course of course… and we thought it would be safer for everyone if their memories were erased. One of our fairy dragons can do that. It just protects us or there’s a possibility the police will inadvertently find out that fairy dragons exist while looking for your…”
“I… wait, what does that even mean?”
“It means they don’t remember that your sister was ever born and are living their lives happily now. Their brains function normally otherwise, and if your sister should ever return, their memories will be jogged. It’s perfectly safe.”
“They’ve FORGOTTEN about my sister?”
“And we had to find some of your other relatives too, and of course the police, and some of your friends, but we think we’ve cleaned their memories now.”
“They’ve FORGOTTEN her though?” his voice was rising with anger. He felt like his trust had been violated somehow. Alex wasn’t even sure why he was so mad. It sounded like a great deal that would make his parents happier, but it wipe his sister’s memory off the earth. Sacrilegious was the word that came to mind.
“Alex, please try to understand…”
“And you didn’t think to ask me if this was okay?”
Sarah’s voice was suddenly bitter and cold. “Alex, think what’s going on here. We’re all in more danger than we’ve ever been before. There are people in our ring threatening to expose us. If what we know goes public, well we’ll all be assassinated so that rich tycoons and world militaries can gobble up our fairy dragons and use their powers to murder. Do you really think your parent’s memories are more important than that? How selfish are you?” an angry pause ensued. “This line isn’t secure. I’m hanging up.”
A moment later the dial tone filled Alex’s ear and he closed his phone slowly. “I just wish you would have asked me,” he muttered to himself. It felt as if the world had turned upside down in one phone call. It was a lot more brutal now, and dangerous.
Alex sank back down on the bed and suddenly remembered the existence of his fairy dragons. Kouadio was humming quietly… it sounded a little like a dog’s whine.
“Well the professor is dead,” said Alex after a moment, “But you probably already figured that out.” All three of them sat silently and sadly. Mystic and Kouadio had spent much of their juvenile years with the man.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Alex. He needed to get away, and his small companions needed to stretch their wings.
Going for a walk was a much larger undertaking than it sounded. A three hour drive up into a lonely pine forest was necessary before Alex ever felt sure nobody would see the F.D.s. Tonight Alex didn’t care about the distance. He needed to drive. He needed to do something with minimal thinking involved.
At some point in the early hours of the morning, Alex arrived as his destination, bumping along an overgrown dirt road that might not have been regraded this century. He climbed out of the car and was met with the smell of pines and the sound of crickets. It was cooler up here too. Sometimes Alex forgot how vastly superior the forest was to the city. The fairy dragons didn’t wiz around as much as usually before all three of them tried to pile on his shoulders. Ember insisted on curling up around Alex’s neck so Mystic and Kouadio were forced to separate and sit on either shoulder. Alex followed the dark trail ahead of him with nothing but a small flashing that only illuminated a tiny sliver of the huge world around him. Alex didn’t walk very far before he started breathing heavily. As much as he hated to admit it, he was thoroughly a city kid.
“I just wish I could be sure my sister is safe,” he said at last as he sank down on a slightly rotten log. Ever since he’d gotten the fateful phone call, Erica had been creeping into his mind. The brief conversation with Sarah had reinforced the two facts that humans were fragile and that anyone who owned a fairy dragon was in danger. Alex dropped his head into his hands. He wasn’t the crying type, but this was close. He hated the utter helplessness he felt, and he didn’t want anything except to see his sister happy and healthy… and maybe engulf her in a big bear hug. A canopy of worry that he’d been trying to ignore for months pushed its way to the surface of his mind. She might be in danger or … worse. He hadn’t heard from her in a while. What had he ever been thinking to give her a fairy dragon? She was just a kid… And how had Sarah known? How had Sarah known?
Alex’s head jerked up. He pulled his cell phone out and stared at the most recent call number. It would probably be a pay phone or something else that couldn’t be traced. If he called, nobody would answer. Kouadio’s humming grew louder. Alex suddenly released he’s been hearing the sound for a while without registering it. He glanced sideways at the fairy dragon and could see him sitting rigid, staring off into space. Mystic was doing the same thing, only her milky green eyes seemed to almost glow. What on earth were they doing? Ember shifted uncomfortably and began to grumble, only he didn’t sound angry.
Suddenly the beam of Alex’s flashing caught something moving. Whipping the light around to follow the movement Alex saw what looked like a strange lizard. Or…
It was a fairy dragon without wings. It had to be. It was just in the molting stage of a fairy dragon’s wing cycle. It blinked and cheeped irritably at the light shinning in its eyes. There was a small popping noise and the creature was suddenly gone. Alex didn’t have time to blink before there was another small pop and the fairy dragon reappeared on Alex’s knee. The startled human went over backwards and the fairy dragons scattered by air or teleportation.
“Sorry about that,” said Alex, collecting his flashlight and sitting up again. “Hello Val.”
“The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.”
“What does it mean?” asked Chance as the three young men climbed over the dry brown rocks of the wasteland. “I would think the sun could not shine at night.”
“Unless maybe it was an eclipse,” muttered the dark-browed Aro. The Shadow Warrior huffed as he pulled himself up onto the ledge where Chase had been reciting poetry. He shifted the Midnight Sword on his back and laid himself out on the dusty ground. The sword had been growing heavier over the last few months as the trio wandered through the areas outside the thought of Dittopians.
“It doesn’t mean anything, really,” Chase told his clone. “It’s just a nonsense poem. It tells a story if you hear it all, but I’ve forgotten most of it over the years. It was something my mother told me as a child.”
“Why tell something that means nothing?” Chance asked. He was a mirror image of Chase, save that Chase’s chin was marred by a scar from an encounter with a Gorgon almost six months back. “It seems that if someone wanted to tell a story it would have meaning. Why waste time with meaningless thoughts?”
“Because the world and all that is in it is meaningless, Chance.” Aro had butted in with his usual spite. “Because eventually we all return to dust and there’s nothing that the Organization or the Nine or any other ‘secret society’” – he used his fingers to stress the words with visible quotation marks – “can do about that. They’ve been researching time and immortality and genetic mutation and everything else they can get their mitts on for centuries, and all they can come up with is a group of cousins they can’t control, a supposedly-immortal young woman who can’t be corrupted to their side, and the mixed-race lot of us, our sister, and that stupid gargoyle who’s split in half!”
Aro practically leapt to his feet compared to his sluggish movements earlier and huffed off away from the other two across the planed surface of the hill.
“Did I…what’s the phrase…strike a nerve?” Chance asked.
Chase shook his head. “I don’t know. I think losing the power and prestige he had with the Org and the Nine really took him down a few notches. Not that he didn’t need it. It will just take him some time to adjust to a position that’s not in power over someone.”
“I don’t suppose being forced to join us on this mission was very tasteful to him, either.”
Before either of the redheaded teens could think further of Aro’s difficulties, they heard a roar and a scream coming from the direction in which Aro had stormed. Turning to see what had caused these noises, they saw a large winged shape carrying a smaller dark shape away to the right, where the hill dove off in a cliff.
“Aro,” they both whispered and then ran toward the cliff in an attempt to catch the two figures in the air, drawing their swords in the first two steps.
As the two on the ground closed in on the flying figure’s apparent destination, they saw that it was orange, and of a familiar shape.
“Gargoyles? In Dittopia?” Chase wondered aloud. “So Ambrose isn’t alone after all.”
"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you..."
6689 posts from forum 1.0
Erik's reverie was interrupted by a tiny squawk from the little one in his lap. He looked down with a smile. "Hungry?" he whispered, and reached for the bottle waiting nearby. The hatchling drank with gusto, eyes only on him.
"Ready for a story?" Erik asked, chuckling softly. "I should warn you now; you're going to hear a few of these over the coming years. But this one is special..."
He took a deep breath, once again nostalgic. "Once upon a time..."
All gargoyle eggs hatched on the winter solstice; it seemed particularly fitting that the young of this nocturnal species should arrive during the year’s longest night. And so, as dusk fell that evening, Erik and Abby roared to life in eager anticipation. Together they brought the egg up from the rookery that had protected it for so long. Gently, lovingly, Abby placed it on the soft heather of the stardome. The gargoyles had anticipated this hatching for many long months, ever since Abby had first learned she was pregnant – but in truth it was a night they’d dreamed of for over a decade, since they were first mated.
Some time later, the room was filled with friends old and new; after offering a brief welcome, the couple sat near the egg, hand-in-hand, and watched as their guests made themselves comfortable. Outside, the night was overcast and a few snowflakes drifted toward the ground, but the dome above displayed a pleasant simulated sky, lit with faint twilight and a crescent moon low in the southwest.
In the background a Celtic harp played “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Abby mused that the song was doubly appropriate, given the solstice’s place in ancient tradition as “midwinter’s night,” and as a herald of Christmas – a holiday the gargoyles had eagerly embraced in recent decades. The symbolism of the new life and hope offered by the birth of the Child of Bethlehem was not lost on a race that hovered on the brink of extinction and relied on the all-too-infrequent arrival of its own young for its future.
The crowd formed a large circle around the pair, affording everyone an excellent view. Some sat in chairs they’d brought from home, while others relaxed on the thick soft heather that flourished on the stardome floor even in the dead of winter. Not a bad seat in the house, Erik smiled to himself.
He looked around, gratefully acknowledging the presence of so many who had enriched their lives in this new world: Thundershadow the Unicorn, his first friend here; Aria, who had designed the Emporium and overseen its construction; Lark the fae; Chava of the stars, and others too numerous to name.
A moment of sadness came as he considered absent friends, like Cymru, Katherine and Gwanuig; he offered a quick prayer that wherever they were, they were safe and happy. But his heart couldn’t be heavy for long; tonight was all about new life, after all. His gaze fell on their good friends Loren and Eliana DeHond, themselves expecting a child soon, and then upon Verena. The toddler had been so excited about this little playmate’s arrival that she’d been promised a ringside seat. For her, the wait seemed to last forever; while she was held in check by Ryder, Lianna, or Olivia, occasionally they’d let her burn off some energy, accompanying her on short walks around the stardome periphery. At the moment Ryder and Verena were off to the side, near the planetarium’s computer projector, where the holographic Hugh provided a variety of treats courtesy of the Cup and Platter. Toby and Rose sat nearby, their own twin children keeping them busy while they waited.
Erik smiled at the proud grandparents. His own parents, Angela and Broadway, had visited town before; his mother had attended the baby shower for Abby, Rose, and Olivia.
But this was the first time Abby’s parents had come to town. They sat next to her, nervous yet beaming with pride. Her father, Connor, was a big brown gargoyle with auburn-colored hair, while her mother, Kristina, looked much like Abby but bore brick-red skin. Both sets of grandparents acknowledged the friendly welcome of the crowd and marveled at all sorts of wondrous creatures who had welcomed and befriended their children.
Chica, as the egg’s pixie protector, had a place of honor just in front of the excited parents; like Abby, her gaze was fixed unwaveringly on the egg.
Many of their guests remarked that they’d rarely seen the couple so happy. Quiet conversations arose as everyone waited. The gargoyles smiled as they overheard questions like, “Have you heard if it’s a boy or girl?” “Have they picked a name?” and “What do baby gargoyles eat?” To Erik and Abby, the moments seemed to drag on eternally as they stared at the motionless egg.
Yet less than an hour had passed when Abby finally announced, “It’s time.” Though she whispered, the room was suddenly silent as all eyes focused on the egg.
A moment later, the lavender egg rocked several times, and there was a sharp crack. A hairline fracture appeared in the thick, strong shell. The gargoyles’ excitement grew as the egg was still a moment, then it rocked again and the crack rapidly grew. Suddenly the egg split open and a shrill keening sound filled the dome.
Swiftly, Abby wrapped her firstborn in a blanket she’d received at the baby shower, and some in the expectant audience caught glimpses of auburn hair, light green skin and purple wings. Abby held the child close, and Erik stood by his mate, enraptured, as the tiny gargoyle’s cry remained the only sound. Proud grandparents crowded in, obscuring the view from everyone else.
Then Abby leaned over and showed the hatchling to Chica and Verena, whose eyes were wide in wonder. For a time the newborn was quiet, eyes focused on the pixie, as if in gratitude for Chica’s special friendship thus far. Chica gently touched the infant’s hand; the tiny talons grasped her finger and held it tightly for a moment.
Verena watched all this in wide-eyed wonder, then, in the comparative silence, she cried out, “Aw, for cute!”
The crowd, meanwhile, waited as patiently as could be expected, until someone whispered, “Well?”
“Shhh!” came an anonymous reply, but Abby’s sharp ears caught the exchange and she straightened, blushing. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, raising her precious bundle so all could see the little gargoyle’s head. “Her name is Molly.”
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
Molly had finished her bottle, so Erik held her against his shoulder and gently burped her. He considered how ordinary this action was, and how similar his daughter’s needs were to those of any human infant. Yet, he chuckled, humans don’t have to be careful of wings and tail.
She seemed content once again, so he repositioned her in his lap and reminisced a little more…
In the long-past medieval world of Erik’s ancestors, the winter solstice marked one of the year’s biggest holidays, marked by huge bonfires, feasting, and, most importantly, the hatching of the clan’s eggs. Now, many of those same traditions lived on at home, yet with deeper significance, as the clans celebrated Christmas.
The idea had actually come to Erik several weeks before, and Abby had quickly agreed: it would be wonderful to welcome Molly into this world by inviting all their Ditto Town friends to the Emporium for a feast and bonfire, culminating in the hatching itself. But it had been Abby who had reminded him of biology’s habit of trumping the special effect of the pendants they wore – that they would probably sleep the day before their hatchling’s arrival, to prepare them for the busy nights ahead.
So it was that early in December invitations to the solstice-night hatching were sent out, with an additional note mentioning an open house a few days later, on Christmas Eve afternoon, in celebration of friendship, in honor of the holiday, and to allow everyone another glimpse of the new gargoyle.
Light snow was swirling outside when the first visitors came calling in early afternoon. Erik ushered them into the great room, now decorated with red and green streamers and a long table loaded with food. Delicious scents of fresh breads and roasted meats filled the air. Hugh and his Cup and Platter staff had outdone themselves this time, and Erik’s father, who loved cooking, had gladly assisted through the previous night, until the coming day had forced him to retreat to the stardome to sleep in stone with the other proud grandparents.
A huge fire burned in the hearth, offering warmth and light to all. On a table in a corner the sleeping Molly had a place of honor; her parents had modified an infant car seat into a convenient carrier for their daughter. Even in stone she proved to be irresistible to many of the arrivals; they couldn’t resist gently touching her fragile wings, her little tail or her cute face. Erik or Abby always lingered nearby; while they knew everyone was being careful they couldn’t risk any chips or inadvertent accidents. They promised that everyone would get to see her come to life once night fell.
The meal itself was that Christmas staple, turkey with all the fixings. The gargoyles knew that this was a hectic time of year and expressed their gratitude to those who’d set time aside in the holiday bustle to join them. During the meal Erik and Abby fielded numerous questions about the old solstice celebrations, the gargoyles’ thoughts on Christmas, and, most frequently, inquiries about the care of their new hatchling and reflections on their first few nights as parents.
The feast ended shortly before sundown, and as Hugh’s efficient staff began cleaning up, Abby, carrying her stone daughter, led the crowd in a procession to the stardome. The little family joined the four motionless figures in the center of the room while the guests again arranged themselves in a circle around them.
Many in the crowd had seen Erik or Abby awaken before, but to others this was all new. So when dusk finally fell there was plenty to watch: first, the four grandparents greeted the night with their various roars, stretching, and glowing eyes; then all attention turned to the tiny creature in the very center of the room.
Erik had already explained that minute variations in each individual’s biological clock often resulted in different waking times, and that little Molly would likely be last. A few curious and concerned whispers were heard among the crowd, until finally the familiar sound of cracking stone was heard.
With a tiny roar that Erik found incredibly cute, his daughter met the night with enthusiasm. Molly appeared contented for the moment, well rested from the day, so Erik once again lifted her up for all to see. The crowd responded with “oohs” and “ahhs,” and then a line of people eager to hold the little gargoyle formed. Molly’s life in Ditto Town had begun.
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
It is wonderful to see young birds; not yet old enough to take there place as adults, but older than a newborn in the nest. One can already tell, by the marking on their feathers, what type of bird they are going to be. It is maybe even more wonderful, however, to be privileged to see young talking birds, playing together. Such, on a sunny Spring day, were Koolin and Skrain, a young mourning dove, and a young mockingbird, as they chased each other in and out of the trees. Skrain suddenly dove a little farther into the forest. Koolin hesitated, but as his companion said "betcha can't catch me", he took the challenge, and followed. The chase was so intense that neither noticed how far they were getting from the clearing.
Finally, they collapsed together, laughing, on the bough of a large oak. Their laughter was cut short, however, by the sound of a twig snapping nearby. They listened, hardly daring to breathe, as a voice became clear to their ears: "What do we have here? Young birdsess? Deliciousss, yessss?"
The two youngsters huddled against the trunk of the tree, shivering, not daring to move, or fly. Suddenly a flurry of red flashed past them, and practically flew into the dark shape which had been steadily approaching. The red streak veered off at the last minute and the shape's attention was distracted. He turned to follow the streak of red, and last words they heard from him were "Ah, the red one. Much more tasty!"
Or that was almost the last they heard from him. In a minute or two, off in the distance they heard the frustrated yell of a vampire who had lost his prey. Seconds later, they were joined on their bough by Rege, the father cardinal who had lured their enemy away. He looked sternly at the two young birds. "You all know that you should not have come in this far. Now let's go back to the village; it is almost time to leave."
Hail, Cameron Rhodes. May you always have the best mushrooms in the Shire, and keep a sharp watch out in service to King Peter.
Narniaweb Chamber Orchestra
Defender of the Order of the Cricket
From the keyboards of stargazer and shastastwin
Act I Scene II
Erik smiled down at his daughter, now nestled tightly into the crook of one arm. Her breathing gradually slowed and he knew she was sleeping. Like so many human parents, he’d already learned to grab forty winks whenever his child slept, so he relaxed…
He jumped awake, disoriented for a moment, when he sensed Abby’s return to the Emporium. Quickly he glanced up at the moon and could tell about half an hour had passed since he’d dozed off.
Molly also awakened, startled by the sudden motion, her big eyes staring up at him in the dim light. But with seasoned practice he was able to soothe her before his mate arrived in the stardome.
Erik knew Abby wasn’t alone, but he didn’t know who their guest was until Ambrose entered with her. The half gargoyle smiled upon seeing the hatchling in Erik’s lap.
“Look who I ran into on the way home,” Abby said by way of explanation.
“Welcome,” Erik replied. “I’d get up but I’m a bit occupied at the moment,” he added with a grin.
“How was she?” Abby asked.
“Wonderful,” he beamed. “I bored her with stories all evening and she didn’t complain once.”
“May I... may I hold her?” Ambrose asked hesitantly.
“Oh, of course,” Erik quickly answered, gently offering Molly to the half gargoyle. Before long she was making little cooing sounds at him, and he smiled.
“I don’t quite know how to ask this without imposing…” he began.
Erik understood his meaning immediately but waited a moment, not wishing to interrupt. Then he said, “We’ll be glad to escort you to our world, though we’ll need a few days to prepare. I’m sorry it’s taken this long – I know you’re eager to see what our experts might say – but we had to make sure Molly was old enough to travel through the portal and take an extended trip like this.”
“I understand, and I really don’t mean to rush you. But you’re right – I want to know if anything can be done. The prospect of meeting more gargoyles after so long isn't a bad incentive, either.”
Erik nodded at this, trying to imagine his friend’s excitement. He envisioned that it was the same eager anticipation his grandfather Goliath had felt, long ago, when he’d discovered other gargoyle clans in the world. He looked over at Abby.
She said, “She’s old enough now, I think.” She paused. “Besides, if we don’t take her home soon we might have clans of eager gargoyles descending on Ditto Town. Wouldn’t that be a sensation?” They softly chuckled.
“Hey, Ambrose, I think she likes you,” Abby whispered, seeing how her daughter had snuggled up to their guest.
“She’s wonderful,” he replied in a soft voice that seemed filled with awe, but also with something else. Wistfulness, perhaps. He could hardly remember the days of his youth when the younger ones had hatched. Then he had been too rambunctious to be allowed the privelege of holding an infant. He wondered if the day might ever come when he would have hatchlings of his own. “Say, what’s this?” he asked, pointing to what looked like a miniscule bright spot on her little tummy.
“Well, there’s a story to that,” Erik grinned. “She’s heard several tonight but it looks like she’s up for one more. Here we go…”
Greya came to Erik a few days after the open house and requested an appointment with the parents and their newborn so that he could bestow upon the infant the gift he had labored over what now seemed so long ago.
When the appointed evening arrived, Greya met with the three gargoyles and he bore with him what appeared to be a small chip of diamond. In the last moments of night, he placed the chip on the tiny gargoyle's chest and said, "Receive the blessing which has been prepared for you. Awake when you must for friend or need. Receive the light."
As the sun rose above the horizon, the diamond on Molly's chest sank and became one with the infant. When she turned to stone in her mother's arms, there was a tiny spot in the stone where one could almost see a sparkle of precious gem.
"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you..."
6689 posts from forum 1.0
Aria rested her head on the window. She’d never had a real office before. Not one that was legitimately hers, had her actual name on the door.
…it had always been somebody else. Odd that being yourself wouldn’t be one’s most natural state.
She looked out across the courtyard. Members of the company were renovating the kennel areas into more civilized and varied living spaces, others maintaining construction equipment, and still others walking and discussing ideas, upcoming projects, and probably philosophy, from the way Bricklenog and Mithnin were hand-talking again.
The Tireless Engineer’s crew had found a home. After more than a year of tents and temporary buildings, the 157-creature crew had moved into the Vampire Fancier’s old compound. It had been empty for some time, save the painting in the basement, and both the Miss President and Methos had given their assent to the purchase. The money would be held in trust for any and all of the VF’s vampires who might have need of it.
While there were living quarters, the majority of the crew would live off-site. Aria, Eruheran, and the majority of the vaguely humanoid/human-sized crew members had moved into the Ditto Mansion. Still, many of the smaller creatures were able to find locations about the compound that would suit them well- a hollow spot in the wall, a renovated kennel, a system of large tunnels…and the VF’s quarters could be used as temporary accommodation for those all-nighters.
Ditto Town didn’t need a lot of all-nighters though. Aria had, true to her word, built her parents a house during the winter, having dug the foundations before the first frost. These days, her mother was looking forward to planting an herb garden and both Bellcaunion and Muireanne had begun working part-time at the Apothecary.
She’d even caught Eruheran standing in an infrequently travelled hallway, talking to someone invisible as if preparing for something. Like that was a surprise.
All was well, as far as anyone could tell in Ditto Town.
And Aria was feeling restless.
Perhaps it is understandable, she thought. I haven’t lived without a constant threat for so long since I was a child! But she wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to it. The bloodrush that came from danger, the way her mind would tick through a wide array of options and select the optimal course before she even realized it, the constant need for her to draw on all she was…it had become such a part of her. And she’d had three solid months of “normal” life, or what passed for normal in Ditto Town.
It was beautiful, there was no denying that. When the snow came and she sat in her apartment with Oceana and Song, who had come home for Christmas, she’d been as content and happy as she had ever been in her life. When Erik and Abby had welcomed their child into the world, she’d wept for joy.
And when Adrian, who was proving himself a hilarious companion, had suddenly decided last week that he was starting a band, and that Eruheran and Ryder, who’d happened to be innocently standing by at the time, needed to be in it, she’d nearly died laughing.
But the world, while warming, was still waiting to bloom. And then there was something else that was worrying her, she realized, and driving her potential contentment and rest to boredom, and boredom to antsyness. It went beyond her natural desire for adventure. It was the nagging remembrance that evil always seemed to come back to Ditto Town and its citizens. That nobody ever seemed to go on the offensive before someone got hurt.
Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be, though. Driving back the darkness from a place of light. I’m not doing a whole lot here right now, but perhaps for once I can learn to be content. Perhaps… She shook her head, and across the courtyard saw Ryder working with Burin. A sudden thought crossed Aria’s face, and she went to make a few phone calls.
Ryder walked to work on March 28th, a rather chilly spring rain falling on the already sodden ground. He was remembering this day last year- his 24th birthday, in fact, and his first with his sister and cousins. Katherine had kidnapped him, teleporting first into his room and creeping up from behind. All he’d felt was a touch on his shoulder and had only begun to shout in surprise when the room vanished and the Cup and Platter re-appeared around them, full of loud happy people. The party had been awesome.
This year, Lianna was a bit subdued and since it was only the two of them, had suggested they have dinner at her apartment. And as Lianna was as good at cooking-related chemistry as she was at the pharmacy-related variety, he was looking forward to it.
He hadn’t told anyone it was his birthday this year. 25. It was supposed to be a sort of milestone, wasn’t it? For normal humans, this might well mean a quarter of his life. He had no idea what his lifespan would be like now…Ryder shook himself from that odd and fruitless train of thought. He really only had one wish today…if someone could have given him the chance to see his sister, or even given him news - it had been 4 months, and it was still hard.
He grew chilled in the last half kilometer. As much as the move to the Vampire Fancier’s compound had come as a surprise, as soon as Aria had announced it, everyone wondered why it hadn’t happened before. And this morning, Ryder was indeed glad of indoor workshops and offices.
He walked through the front gates, greeting the dwarfish security guard, and jogged his way through the small bustle that was the inner courtyard these days. He was heading for Aria’s office to figure out his tasks for the day; as a jack-of-all-trades, Ryder tended to lend a hand wherever he was needed.
He stopped a few steps away from the door and straightened himself up, adjusted his jacket, and ran a hand through his dark, wet hair, standing parts of it on end. As he did so a muffled laugh floated his way. And when Aria’s voice sounded odd when he knocked, he knew something might just be up.
So he bent the light around himself and disappeared.
When nobody opened the door, Aria got up to investigate. She opened the door, took a look both ways, shrugged, and went back in, shutting the door behind her. “I don’t know…did everyone else hear that?”
There was a general murmur of consensus from all gathered- most of the PATROL, along with Lianna, Eruheran, Adrian, and Oceana.
“Oh WAIT.” This was Lianna, who had slapped a hand to her forehead. “Happy birthday Cuz!” she yelled, moving quickly across the room and hugging the air very close to where a floating knife was just slicing into the cake.
The room burst into laughter and exclamations of “Happy Birthday Ryder!” as he reappeared, laughing, and hugged Lianna back.