Installment No. 10
The Chimera secreted his full self from view, maintaining just the Gargoyle part for Angelia to see. He seemed innocently unaware of his physique, like he had no inkling to the irresistible draw of it.
Angelia remembered to close her gawping, fly-catching mouth lest she embarrass herself. She was on a very serious, life-threatening mission. Any minute now, she was going to be passing through the Gates of Hell, nothing proverbial about it.
Turning her attention elsewhere, she noticed the bones scattered and half-concealed in the trampled and tufting grass. Like they were the stripped shells of cars at an abandoned junkyard. Ookaay. So, he wasn’t the Guardian in the sense that he took your ticket and let you in. The thrill from her flight drained south, abandoning her like rats from a sinking ship. What she needed was a life raft named ADOS, as in Attention Deficit-Ooh, Shiny!
Look at something else, idiot. Like that cheery sign etched into the keystone of the Archway.
Huh. It didn’t exactly say what she thought it was supposed to. “Why doesn’t the inscription read Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate?” Abandon all faith, ye who enter here.
Merrick pulled the leather of his pants up over his hips before turning to answer her. “Because Dante got it wrong, and the world accepted it as truth,” he spit out, his anger over the mistake evident, and apparently too fresh, despite the centuries that had passed.
She felt an inkling of it herself. “So, there is hope after all? Why hasn’t anyone amended this?” Angelia knew she sounded a bit shrill, but she couldn’t help it. Dante’s error was colossal, and she couldn’t slow the wild threading of her pulse, the hammering of her heart as realization dawned. “There are people down there who can repent.” Not a question.
“Angelia,” Merrick warned, his tone a mere octave above a growl.
She gripped her pack, like maybe it could defend her. “Yeah?”
Merrick softened. A little. If she hadn’t been sucking up every gorgeous detail of him, she’d have never noticed. “Turn back.”
Quick as a spark, regret flashed in his granite eyes, then disappeared.
Well, well, well. Merrick wasn’t all stone. Her father had seen it, too, or he wouldn’t have agreed with the Triumvirate to let her go. Anton trusted Merrick, and so would she.
“I appreciate your concern—I do. But, I’ve got to do this. The Scriptum holds too many secrets to fall into the wrong hands.” She didn’t say she needed the boost to her self- esteem.
Merrick’s thick muscles stiffened as a growl boiled from the bottom of his lungs.
She would have been a block of wood not to feel the charge crackling through the air, or that growl rubbing across her flesh. Merrick thought she didn’t trust him with the Scriptum.
His anger was justified. The Scriptum was about the Kynd, after all. About him. But, Angelia didn’t trust anyone with such an important relic, not even the members of the Literati. The book had revealed its secrets to her, even if she was fuzzy about the details.
She felt wholly responsible for it because it had entrusted her with its encrypted knowledge, and it had been stolen during her whole damsel-in-distress routine. If she hadn’t fainted, it wouldn’t have been taken.
He needed to understand how responsible she felt about that, how compelled she was to right her wrong. “What I—”
Merrick spun around so all she could see was the length of his broad back tapering to his narrow hips. Which, sigh, were hugged in rich, brown leather. A nice view, but she’d been trying to explain something a little important.
“Hey, I was trying—”
Merrick glared over his shoulder. “Shut it, chickie. We’ve got company.”
Angelia clapped her jaw shut for the umpteenth time already that day.
Another Gargoyle maybe? Or something more dangerous?
She would not look at the bleached out bones scattered around her. Heck, no. Like squirrels gunning it for the nearest tree, her feet scurried her closer to her guide and protector. Feeling safer, she peered around Merrick’s side, and tried to catch a glimpse of who, or what, he was waiting for.
The woman’s touch to Merrick’s back went straight to his groin.
What in God’s name is she to rile me like this?
Without turning around, he curled his fingers around her hand to remove its temptation. He didn’t need the distraction, or the pain, of his thickening flesh in his pants. Not when he was going to be greeting an old friend.
He almost leapt the entire distance from where he stood with the woman, to the Archway, where their visitor scratched his way to the top of the keystone and curled his muscled haunches to sit. Merrick left Angelia to stand on the ground with her excuses on the tip of her tongue, and her electric hands empty.
“Darken, my old friend. I was afraid you hadn’t heard my call.” He pulled the other Gargoyle close for a hard hug.
Darken’s strong arms enveloped more than just Merrick’s body. They were a balm to his raging heart, and savoring it, he held his friend for several long moments, enjoying the rare touch of another Kynd.
“Anything for a change of scene, Merrick, you know that.” Darken pulled back to reveal a smile loaded with a beastly row of sharp teeth. Yet his gray eyes glowed warm. An uncommon sight, given the Gargoyle had little to be happy for. Darken lifted his chin. “Who’s the human?”
Merrick turned, as if surprised to find such an anomaly standing on the ground below them. “She’s my charge. She’s going in with me.”
Darken whistled appreciatively. “No! Such a wisp of a thing, too. What’s she done to deserve her turn in the Circles?”
“Nothing. She’s the Vampyre Anton’s daughter. Under direction of the Literati, we’re going in together, and coming out the same way. I’m her guide.” Darken’s rare affability ran contagious, and Merrick harkened to it, his mood growing light—a welcomed respite.
Darken choked, incredulous. “Her guide?” He looked around Merrick to call down to the human. “You do know there are lovely vacation destinations right here on the surface, don’t you?”
Angelia nodded, and pointed two fingers to her brow, acknowledging the Gargoyle’s playfulness with a salute.
“She’s a little daft, Darken, pay her no mind.” Merrick grinned, and a rusted laugh scraped up his throat, sounding more like an angry crow than any effortless bubbling.
Thank God it was Darken he shared it with, his dearest friend. As Kynd himself, Darken knew all too well the weariness borne by those of their station. He understood, too, Merrick’s particular hardship, that he never observed joy, or love, nor any of the finer emotions that made creatures beautiful.
At one time, the Kynd were unabashedly open in their affections for each other. But since the Great Schism when they’d been cast from Heaven, too many didn’t have the opportunity to indulge their natural geniality.
God had seen fit to scatter them to the winds, where it was impossible for them to share in each other’s company for longer than a few stolen moments. As a result of this forced isolation, they were turning into the Grotesques the humans thought them to be.
“Aye, well, Merrick,” Darken’s good humor faded as he slipped an arm around his comrade’s shoulders. “If they can bring a spark of happiness, it’s worth the gamble, eh?”
“You’re a bloody philosopher, brother.” Merrick clasped the Gargoyle’s hand. “You’ll watch for me, won’t you? They’ve given us seven days. If we’re not out—”
“Aye. I’ll not let you surrender so easily, you nancy. It’s only been two thousand years and some change, you can’t quit on us already.”
His gratitude swamping him, Merrick clutched Darken to his breast.
After a couple of claps to his back, the other Gargoyle nodded, indicating the woman on the ground. “Besides, you’ve got company this trip. And by the looks of her, you’ll be too preoccupied to dwell on your inner demons.”
Merrick gazed down on Angelia, who had perched on a boulder to better watch the reunion. She was braiding her long, blonde hair into a golden plait.
“She’ll keep me on my toes, for sure.” He grinned for Darken one last time, but knew shadows prevented any merriment from reaching his eyes.
But the specter that bothered him most was the same uneasy feeling he’d had back in the gallery with the Triumvirate, when Merrick had first seen the human woman consoling the Vampyre.
Kynd didn’t do jealous. Or any other base emotion they associated with humans. At least, they hadn’t before they’d been cast to Middle Ground.
Merrick shrugged to settle his wings even though they were tucked and hidden. The jealousy thing was but one more torment he would have to quell as he navigated the Circles of Hell.
Maybe he should be the one to turn back, let the Triumvirate find someone else to guide the human in her search for the Scriptum. Because now as he prepared to set foot beyond the Archway, his doubts walked in on cold fingers, gripping his heart with a chilling fist.
He hadn’t been kidding about reminding Darken to come looking for them after seven days.
Two thousand years of observing the torment of millions of tainted souls, of destroying creatures trying to sneak through the gate to raise…hell, and Merrick wasn’t far from pitching his own lot in with the former Angel’s.
At least then he would no longer be Witness and Guardian, would no longer have to endure the endless burden of his Kynd.
In Hell, the Chimera could let his rage have its due. He could give in to the violence steeping like a fetid brine in his soul. Better that than to poise on a building’s ledge, his fury still shackled to him. He would be unable to vent its poison as he perched helpless, entirely consumed in stone.
Merrick stole another glance down below. The woman was standing now, moving toward their packs. “I guess it’s time to go.” He winked at Darken, masking the fear that crept in with his doubts.
“I’d say. She looks like she’d go without you. Who’s guiding who, anyway?”
Merrick shoved his fist against the thick muscle of Darken’s shoulder. “Funny. You’re a regular comedian. I’ll come back just to catch your show.”
The other Gargoyle nodded, his smile slipping as he grew serious. “No, but you will come back. See you soon, old friend.” Clapping a rough palm to Merrick’s back, he pushed the Chimera down the wall. “Now get going, you’re wasting my time.”
Merrick landed easily on his feet, and didn’t look back as he left Darken atop the Archway. Still, though, his thoughts remained behind on his brotherkynd.
They had been cast from Heaven together, along with all the other Gargoyles and Chimera. And Merrick might have plucked the short straw when he’d been assigned to watch over the Gates of Hell, but Darken’s lot wasn’t any better. The Gargoyle was shackled to Death, and it didn’t take much imagination to figure out how that particular duty ate away at a Kynd’s soul.
Darken knew full well the agony of too many centuries lurking within the rim of shadows, when such a fate ran counter to the true hearts of the Kynd.
Not that anyone bothered to know. Gargoyles and Chimera had been vilified, and there they would remain, eternally maligned.
Merrick shrugged his shoulders again, this time to slough off his gloom, and walked toward Angelia, who held his pack out for him.
For a brief moment, he thought she’d pay him back for his ill manners back with the Triumvirate, and he tensed, ready to snag his supplies before she could drop them on the ground as he reached for them.
~Installment No. 11 coming Tuesday, March 3, 2015.