Hey, here’s a new Goyle Country update (at 2489 words, no less). In which dogs aren’t people, even though some people think they think they are (and that wasn’t a typo). And a plan is put in motion!
<A temple indeed,> Hevak intoned, the deep rumble of his words translated once again by the Spirits. <A temple to the hubris and arrogance of the ones who came before.>
Katherine took a moment to look around at all that was displayed on the walls. “I’m surprised you keep it around.”
The Speaker turned to face her, head tilted slightly. <Whatever else they did, whatever else they were, we cannot forget they created us. We keep this to remind ourselves of the good they did, and of all the good they could have done. And above all, to ensure we do not become like them. The last is a lesson some of my people have sadly forgotten.>
“Why bring us here?” Lonesome asked. It was that he didn’t see it as interesting. Far from it, in fact. Once things died down he hoped the goyles would let him in here to study everything in more detail. But what they needed now wasn’t a history lesson, it was a way to stop a demigod.
<Because here is where you will find the weapon you need to fight the Returned.> Hevak held forth one hand. <Open the vault, please. I have need of its contents.>
For a moment Katherine was confused. She saw no vault in the large chamber. But Hevak had not been talking to her. His words had been directed elsewhere, and merely translated with all the rest. Moments after his request, the floor began to shift. Katherine and Lonesome stepped back in surprise as a circular portion of the room seemed to drop away beneath their feet, collapsing down into a spiral staircase that led down into the bowels of the earth.
Hevak thanked the Spirits and motioned for his guests to follow as he led the way down. Katherine half expected it to be dark and foreboding, but the vault was just as well lit as the chamber above. Short columns sporting fist sized crystals were spaced at even intervals, and here and there was a statue like the ones above, if somewhat smaller. But here there were no murals. Instead, shelves lined the walls of the space, and expansive stone tables that seemed to have grown from the living rock occupied the center.
“What sort of weapon are we talking, Hevak?” Katherine asked. She gave the room a thorough looking over, but failed to see anything weaponlike. “Personally I’d settle for a ton or two of dynamite.”
Hevak loomed over one of the tables, it’s surface covered in what must have been truly ancient books and parchments. <The weapon I speak of is knowledge, Arbiter. The Returned is vulnerable, as his people were when they attempted their blasphemy to make themselves Spirits. And it was my people, the Gargoyles, who created their weakness.>
“You betrayed your own creators?” Lonesome asked, surprise ringing clear in his voice.
<Indeed, Lonely One. My people knew the true cost of their ascension, and could not let it come to pass. Here, in this vault, is the secret to that weakness.>
“I don’t mean to ruin the moment of revelation,” Katherine said cautiously, “But if you already have what you need to stop this, why do you need us?”
<An astute question, Arbiter. We are still our maker’s creation, and some things even time cannot undo. We cannot assail them ourselves, only serve. But you… you are free to act against the Returned as needed. We may act through you, as we acted in concert with the Spirits so long ago.>
“Is that why you couldn’t fight the other goyles?” she asked. “Because you’re somehow prevented from it?”
<Our hesitation to harm our brethren was a purely philosophical choice, Arbiter. Now that they have chosen their path, we must do what must be done. When the time comes, we will keep them at bay. By whatever means necessary. Shall we begin?>
Clem sat beside Clayton, watching as a Gargoyle loomed over him, poking and prodding and muttering to the Spirits. The questions it asked were many and varied, and some of them she had no frame of reference for. She wished she could hear how the Spirits replied, but such was the way of Talking – only those the Spirits spoke to could hear them, even if you did have the talent.
<How’s he look?> she asked.
The goyle, who’d introduced itself as Kasik the Healer, snorted. <He is wrong.>
Clem let her gaze rest on Clayton, once again unconscious. “Yeah, we guessed. Wrong how?”
<He is not what he should be. There is something else there, something wrong. It writhes and squirms within him, evading the Spirits that seek to cleanse it.>
<We ran into something out there, in the ruins of the city. One of the people who came before, now returned. It took part of Clayton’s arm. Could whatever’s in him have something to do with that?>
<Gravik the Longspear explained this to me,> Kasik told her. It looked down at Clayton, studying him thoughtfully. <This is not what I would expect the Returned to feel like. The Spirits agree. This is something else. Something from beyond, where they imprisoned those who came before.>
<Great,> Clem sighed. <As if we didn’t have enough to worry about. Do you think the Spirits can heal him?>
<They are trying,> Kasik shrugged. <All we can do is wait for them to do their work.>
Both Spirit Talker and Gargoyle jumped in surprise as Clayton sat bolt upright. Though his eyes were open they showed only the whites, and it was clear by the way he waved his arms around that he wasn’t really awake. Kasik was faster to recover than Clem, and quickly pushed him onto his back with one massive hand. The impact seemed to rouse him from whatever strange dream he’d been having. His eyes went back to normal and focused on Clem, wide with fright.
“Don’t let them take me,” he whispered, speaking normally.
“It’s alright Clayton,” she said as soothingly as possible. “I’m here.”
“I don’t want to be light enough,” he all but whined, one hand grabbing desperately at her arm. “I saw it. I saw where they take you. I don’t want to go, Clem. Don’t let them take me. It’s full of…” he groaned and relaxed, hand barely clinging to Clem’s arm. “It’s all full of them,” he whispered, eyes unfocused. With one last shuddering breath he was unconscious again.
Clem held his hand in hers and felt an incredible sense of unease. <That didn’t sound good,> she told Kasik. <Not good at all.>
“This is insane,” Carter groused, pacing irritably along the length of the room.
“Oh?” Hawkins asked, arching an eyebrow. “Which part? The one where an ancient evil got summoned back to the world and ate Clayton’s arm as an appetizer before grabbing Dorean as the main course, or the one where we’re going to try and kill it?”
“All of it,” Carter grumbled. “Every damn bit of it.”
“Good to know where we stand, then.”
Walsh watched the two of them from where he sat idly holding his rifle. The goyles had let him keep it, and it provided a much needed sense of security. He still couldn’t get used to the fact that they were in the middle of a Gargoyle hive. Everytime he saw one walk past he tensed up.
“Are you not in the least bit worried about this?” Carter demanded, turning on Hawkins angrily.
Hawkins frowned at the other man’s tone. “Of course I’m worried. And of course this is all gods damned insane. Merciful mother, we’re working with Gargoyles! But what the hell are we going to do about it? We can’t just run away and let that thing do whatever it wants. Not after seeing what it did to Dorean. And that means we’ve got to work with the goyles, no matter how much it makes my head spin.”
“That’s where you’re wrong! We can just run away. Now that the goyles aren’t trying to kill us anymore we can just hightail it back to civilization. If we go fast enough we might outrun that thing, maybe get somewhere far enough away that someone else’ll stop it before it gets to us.”
“And how many people will die in the meantime?” Walsh joined in.
“As long as it ain’t us, who cares?”
“Yeah?” Carter asked. “Well, he don’t.” He jerked a thumb at Hawkins. “And don’t you try to tell me you’re doing this out of some kind of do good heroism.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hawkins demanded.
“It means you’re on Haversham and Bloody Black’s payroll,” Carter accused with a sneer. “You boys don’t do anything without the head office’s say so, ain’t it?”
“I think the circumstances are out of the ordinary,” Hawkins said defensively. “Besides, if this thing gets loose it’ll only hurt the company. And you’re only out here because you were willing to take Haversham & Black money as a reward anyway, so I’d watch where you’re throwing accusations.”
“Look, let’s all just calm down a bit,” Walsh tried to inject some reason into the situation. “Carter… if you want to leave, no one’s going to stop you. We can’t make you fight that thing. But just because these goyles don’t want to kill you right now doesn’t mean the others will hold to that if they find you. And, I hate to say it, but once you’re not helping them they might decided you’re fair game again.”
Carter opened his mouth to argue, but closed it again with a vicious frown. Without looking at the other two he sat against the wall and stared at the floor. “I ain’t gonna let that thing eat me,” he muttered.
“Don’t let him get to you,” the deputy added in a soft aside to Hawkins. “I know you care if innocent people die in this. The company didn’t order you out here. Lonesome told me you insisted on coming along.”
“Yeah.” Hawkins drummed up a friendly smile. “Thanks, Aaron.”
The posse met outside the butte the next morning. After spending time in the tunnels they all needed fresh air, sky above their heads, and a lack of goyles looking over their shoulders. Katherine presided over the meeting. She perched on a boulder, more kneeling than sitting, letting the breeze tug at her hair as she held her hat in hand. Lonesome stood beside her, looking tired.
“The goyles think they’ve got themselves a plan,” Katherine told the group. “When the old people planned their transformation into gods they meant for it to be just like Spirits – no messy physical bodies to deal with. I won’t bore you with the details, but it turns out the only way for the one that came back to get out of prison was to put itself back into just such a body. That’s why it needed the bones, why it took Clayton’s arm, and why it… did what it did… to Dorean. This presents us with an opportunity. Lonesome?”
“Right now that thing is more or less a Spirit living in a great big chunk of meat and bone,” the Spirit Talker explained. “Being a Spirit requires it to follow certain rules. One of those, we hope, is that it’ll have to listen to the language of command the old people used. It’s like First Words, but… different. The goyles are willing to teach us certain phrases that might be helpful. Phrases we can use to weaken that thing, maybe even bind it. What it won’t do is let us destroy it, but that’s where the second part of their plan comes in.”
“We can send it back where it came from,” Katherine told them.
“The goyles think the ritual the old people used before could work again. If we can force this thing to make the transition, the Spirits can step in like they did the first time. They can capture it and put it back in the hole they’re keeping all the rest of them in. The ritual isn’t easy, but it’s doable.”
“And, unfortunately, it has a significant drawback,” Katherine said grimly. “The ritual has to take place at a fixed location, and that thing has got to be there when we do it.”
“We’re going to have to lure it in,” Hawkins guessed.
“And keep the not so friendly goyles from screwing it up,” Clem added.
Katherine nodded. “Right on both. If we can get that thing where we want we might be able to bind it in place until the ritual is finished. Gravik and those goyles willing to help us will keep their fellows busy until it’s done. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Now,” she shifted the focus to Clem, “I hear you’ve got something to tell us about Clayton.”
Clem nodded and gave Clayton, who sat next to her, a sympathetic look. “The goyles worked through the night to figure out what was wrong with him. Best they can figure, he’s got something inside him that won’t come out. It’s like…” she grasped for words, one hand waving in the air as if she could fish out or catch an appropriate explanation. “It’s a Spirit, but not,” she settled on. “I think the best way to describe the difference is like comparing a dog to a person. They’re both smart, in their way, and we’re both living things, but you know a dog ain’t a person. The Spirits tried their best to fish it out of him but it sounds like they only drove it to cling harder. It isn’t causing him any purposeful harm, and we know it ain’t the work of the Returned. Best the goyles and Spirits can figure, it’s some low kind of Spirit that lives in the prison and came out alongside the Returned. By accident or purpose they don’t know.”
“So we can’t get it out?” Katherine asked.
Clem shrugged. “We might, but there’s no way to tell how much harm it would do to Clayton, and right now we just don’t have the time.”
“I feel alright,” Clayton spoke up. “I’ve stopped talking in First Words, and all I did was try to wander off. I want to help.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Clem promised.
Katherine considered for a moment, then nodded. “We’re not so flush with manpower I can afford to turn down someone who wants to help,” she said. “Even if he is a little off. You just do me a favor, Clayton. The moment something seems wrong you go to Clem or Lonesome, you hear?”
“I will,” he promised.
“Good. Now let’s all make sure we’re ready to head out. We’ve got a little more planning to do with the goyles, but they think they’ve found us a location. As soon as we’re finished with them we’re heading out.”