Don had nearly covered the entire basement when he heard an unaccustomed string of expletives from his usually reserved comrade. “What now?”
“This… this G.D. thing! I can’t see any reason why we don’t have power. Maybe it was cut from the outside,” Kyber said.
“Doesn’t sound like something the locals would do. It wouldn’t help them. Just look at how they keep this place,” Don said.
“Well, it must be something. All the fuses are good and everything else is here, just no power. Look around for a junction box or something,” Kyber said.
“Kyber, I’ve been looking around for over an hour now. If there was one I would have found it,” Don said.
“Then trace the wires, see where they go,” Kyber said as he shined his light up the panel and onto the ceiling, revealing a thick conduit that ran into the darkness beyond. Don took his cue and brought his own light to bear and the two followed it to various parts of the basement where it spliced off and went into holes that had been drilled into the floor. “I think the electrical system dates back to the thirties in this place,” Kyber noted more to himself than his partner.
“The stuff in here dates back even further than that. And not a rat, cobweb or bit of mold to boot,” Don said.
They continued tracing the various lines and splices until they came to one that ran down a wall behind a large stack of crates. “What about that one?” Don said.
“We’ll have to move the crates to see. It runs down, may be a ground of some sort.” Kyber looked at Don and smiled at the distasteful grimace on his face. “Don’t worry… a little hard work never killed anybody.”
The pair put down their weapons, set their lights on another stack then went to work moving the heavy crates. After several minutes, they had revealed the conduit. Halfway down the wall the conduit was broken, the large grounding wire within savagely ripped from it. Don whistled and got their lights for a closer look.
“Who the hell would have done this? Looks like the thing’s been ripped apart,” Kyber said.
“Crazed Amish?” Don asked.
“They’re a very noble and misunderstood people, Don. Lay off.”
“Sorry. You take this shit way too seriously, man. You need to relax a little, maybe get laid,” Don said. Kyber shot him a look that seemed to dim their lights. “Scratch that. You definitely need to get laid.”
Kyber went back to the control panel and returned with his tools then went to work to reestablish the line. Don watched him for a time but grew bored with the process. Nothing turned Don Moore off like anything having to do with real work. He didn’t see how people could do it. He turned and faced the rest of the floor, idly casting his light around the place.
THIEF… FALSE PROPHET
A sudden hint of motion caught Don’s eye and he turned his light on it as his hand went to the butt of his pistol. He kept the light on the spot for a moment and blinked several times. Obviously, his time in the pitch-black basement had affected his sight. Just as he was about to move the beam away from the spot a man–shaped bulge suddenly appeared in the wall near the floor and slid up to the ceiling from inside the wall.
“What the… Kyber, did you see that?” Don asked.
“See what? I’m doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Kyber said. He stopped and stood up, stretching his back. “What was it?”
“I… I don’t know… it was like the wall kinda’… bulged out. Like something was in it, moving through it,” Don said.
“Hmph, probably just a rat or your eyes or something. I’ll be done in a minute and then we can leave this spooky basement,” Kyber said, emphasizing the word like Count Chocula would as he returned to his work.
“Haven’t seen a rat the whole time we’ve been here, and if that was the size of the rats around here I won’t be staying long,” Don said. He went back to scanning the walls, moving the light slowly and paying close attention for any sign of movement. There; again, but this time in a different wall.
“Goddamnit, Kyber, there’s something in the wall! I just saw it again!” Don said.
“Post–traumatic stress getting at you, or just afraid of the dark?” Kyber chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m finished here. Just need to throw the main switch over on the board and see if we’re hot.”
Don turned back to Kyber and found the wall just above him bulge out in the rough shape of a man. “Fuck! Move!” Don shouted as he drew his pistol and fired. Kyber immediately crouched lower as lead slugs grazed chips off the stone wall.
“You crazy bastard! What the hell are you doing…” Kyber started. A massive stone fist erupted from the wall and connected squarely with Kyber’s chin. He flew back several feet and slid across the smooth floor. Don immediately backpedaled and worked his way to the center of the room near Kyber.
“Kyber! Kyber! You okay?” Don asked. A weak grunt was his only answer. Don whipped the flashlight around aimlessly, panicked and watching. He tried the radio and found nothing but static. “Fuck! Kyber, can you get up? Kyber!”
He passed his light over the other mercenary. Kyber’s jaw was shattered and lay open with several of the teeth missing or broken. Blood rolled freely down his chin and onto his chest. He was still conscious, but just barely. Kyber raised one arm weakly, pointing towards the control panel.
“Light…” With only a cursory glance at Kyber, Don leaped over him and made his way to the board. Something erupted out of the stone floor under him, and only a strong sense of self-preservation and nimble feet kept him from getting tangled up in the bucking floor. He got to the panel and threw the switch upward; nothing. “Fuck! Kyber!” Don threw his light onto his friend in time to see two massive, grey arms emerge from the stone floor and wrap around him.
FALSE PROPHECY… SIN
Don screamed like he’d never screamed before as Kyber’s nearly unconscious body was actually pulled into the floor beneath him as if he were in quicksand, leaving only his shoulders and his feet sticking out. It would almost have been comical for Don if he didn’t think he’d be next. The stone around Kyber’s body seemed to quiver and reflected the light back at Moore in an odd way. Suddenly, the quivering stone returned to its natural form. Kyber was roused from his unconsciousness as the floor solidified, turning the parts of his body submerged in it to stone. Heart and lungs changed to granite in the blink of an eye, and he gasped only once before death came for him.
“What the… oh God… what the hell …what the fuck…” Don grabbed the switch and worked it up and down like a madman while trying to keep his flashlight sweeping across floor at the same time. He spared a look at the control panel and found other switches similar to the main but smaller. Several of them were in the off position. He left the main power switch in position and started to throw the smaller switches. A shriek cut the still air in the basement and his bladder threatened to let go. He shined his light in the direction and found a massive, man–shaped creature bearing down on him from across the room. He screamed again but continued to work the switches as it covered the distance between them in heartbeats. Don hit the last switch and could almost feel the electricity course through the basement.
Ancient light bulbs suddenly came to life with several blowing out from the unaccustomed power but enough held to give him a clear picture of the thing. It was shaped like a man but stood easily seven feet tall. It was bigger than any body builder he had ever seen and had grey, almost scaly skin covered in small horns, with two large ones that curled up and away like a ram’s from its forehead. Large, dead eyes that seemed to lack any real sign of life fixed on him. What worried Don the most was the incredibly large mouth full of jagged stone teeth and claws nearly a foot long that stuck out from each finger and toe. He raised his pistol and fired, knowing it would do no good. Don closed his eyes and continued to fire, emptying the weapon in seconds. He remained there for several moments, clinging to one of the electrical mounting poles before he realized that he was still alive.
Don opened his eyes ever so slowly and regarded the stone gargoyle before him. A taloned hand extended towards him, the tips of the claws mere inches from his face. The thing was nothing more than a stone statue now. He exhaled then gently let go of the pole and backed away. The electric light in the basement wasn’t bright by any means, but bright enough for him to make out its details. He could even see where his bullets had chipped tiny slivers of stone away from it. Don took a minute to breathe and make sure his heart was still in its proper place before daring to step closer.
He took his flashlight and gingerly tapped the outstretched claws. The sharp rapping sound of metal on stone made him jump, but the gargoyle reacted as all good gargoyles should and didn’t move. Don moved a little closer and dared to tap first the hand, then further up the arm. He chuckled nervously and backed away from it, moving around it slowly. Once he cleared it he made a dead run for the stairs and didn’t look back. There was no hope for Kyber. He only hoped it wouldn’t be the same for the rest of them.
Several soft footlights along the altar platform came to life just as Warrant, Kevin and Manny with Moe’s lifeless body in tow came into the sanctuary. Jack immediately rushed to his downed friend and roughly pushed Kevin away. Manny and Jack laid Moe’s body down while Warrant flew through the room barking orders to the twins.
“Get those big fucking guns up, god damnit! I want one to the front and one to the rear. If anything moves that isn’t one of us, rip it apart!” Warrant said. The brothers stepped–to and hoisted their cannons, waiting for the next thing to move in their sights.
“What the hell did this?” Jack asked as he examined the wound in his friend’s chest. “My God, it goes clear through! Manny, what the hell happened up there?”
“Somebody hit him.” Manny said. His eyes were glassy, like a man looking at something far away. “You remember when we all went to Tijuana last spring… Moe took up with that hoochie and her old man came in…”
“Yeah I remember, Manny. That was a good time,” Jack said.
Warrant overheard them and came back. Jack looked up and nodded slightly. “Get it together, Manny. He’s dead. Let it go. You got one minute to get his head on straight, Jack.” Warrant cautioned. “We can’t take this right now.” He stalked away from them and went to the base of the altar. “DeSade, Gina, report!” Warrant barked into the microphone. The radio had gone dead, not even giving him the satisfaction of static. Only a small hum came from his earbob. “Kyber! Moore! Report!” Again, nothing.“God Damnit! What the hell is going on around here?”
The sudden sounding of a “hup!” from Jim Browning caused all to move as one, turning in his line of sight with weapons brought to bear. The big gun opened up with a deafening chatter accompanied by the metallic singing of spent shell casings as they cascaded to the floor. A body screamed out and sailed in a dive across the main entryway to the sanctuary and slid across the glassy marble floor.
“Fuck! Stop shooting at me!” Don screamed from behind a pew that had just started to be eaten away by the heavy slugs. “Damn it! Knock it off!” he screamed again. Warrant ordered the guns to quiet and called out across the sanctuary.
“Moore! Is that you?” Warrant asked.
“For the present, if you can keep the trigger–twins off the damn juice!” he spat back and crawled to his feet.
“Power’s up, at least that’s something,” Warrant growled. “Where’s Kyber?”
“Dead. Something got him in the basement,” Don said.
“Something? What do you mean something?” Warrant asked.
“I think you’d better come and see. I wouldn’t believe me, either. Besides, I’m not going back down there alone,” Don said.
Warrant stood for a moment and wondered when the exact moment occurred that he lost any control over this situation. “Jim, Bob… you two stay up here and watch the room. Nothing in or out unless it’s us, and watch what you’re opening up on. Manny? Manny!” The shocked merc’ looked up at him only slightly more lucid than he had been before. “Look alive, soldier. You stay here and coordinate fire if these two have to chatter. Don’t fuck up, soldier. Jack, you’re with Kevin, Moore and me. First, the basement, then outside to see what the hell is going on. Moore, you better be straight with me or so help me…”
“I might lie about women and money, Henry, but never my life,” Don said. His use of the familiar gave the commander pause. The two had been working together for years, and if there was one thing the sneaky little bastard that was Don Moore loved more than money was his own skin. Warrant nodded at him and walked past, the rest in tow.
The place looked different in the artificial light. Though there were noticeable gaps where the ancient appliances or bulbs couldn’t handle the years, enough had come back up to lend an almost solemn light to the place. In short, it had started to look like an actual church. Some of the glory lights had come back and showed several paintings and other artwork in a more pleasing light. The electricity would make cataloging easier. If they could figure out who was trying to kill them, at least.
They threaded through several hallways until they came to a cramped service corridor and followed it to the basement stairs. Warrant looked to Moore at the end of the line and nodded. Don swallowed hard and nodded back, his pistol clutched in his hand like a security blanket.
“Should have brought one of the Brownings with us…” Don muttered as they started to descend. Warrant took a few steps then leaped for the bottom. He hit the floor as gently as he could and rolled, coming up in a crouch that allowed him to keep the stairs at his back and still make a grand sweep of the room. After several moments, he gave the “all clear” signal and the rest stormed down the steps and took up defensive positions around them to keep their escape route open.
“Clear front!” Warrant barked.
“Clear flanks!” Moore and Jack chimed in.
“Steps secured!” Kevin answered, though not as strong as the rest. The fear was plain in his voice as he kept his eyes on the stairwell. Not being able to turn and see the room bred a small terror in him.
Warrant almost laughed when he saw Kyber’s body sticking out of the floor. It was the last sight he thought he would see down here. He instantly wished he’d debriefed Don more thoroughly. The gargoyle statue sat several feet behind Kyber, its back to them. “Moore! What the hell happened down here?”
Don went into a quick explanation of the events, punctuated by several “I know you’re not going to believe this's” and “I swear to Christ’s”.
“Bullshit,” Warrant said when Don stopped talking.
“Didn’t I make it clear that I was not fuckin’ lyin’ about this? Goddamnit! Look at Kyber! That kind of shit doesn’t happen when you’re just walking down the street! Look at the floor around him! It’s solid! It’s not broken up or anything. How do you think he got that way?” Don asked.
Warrant gave the signal and the group moved as one. Kevin stepped off the stairs but remained where he could look up the well. The group kept their interval and moved across the floor. They broke only to pass over Kyber’s partially–entombed body and reformed within a few feet of the statue.
“You say this thing was coming at you until the lights came up?” Warrant asked.
“Sir–yes–fucking–sir!” Don said.
“Watch your tone, soldier,” Warrant said through clenched teeth. The last thing he needed now was a smart-ass.
“It was in the walls first, punched him right from inside the wall, I swear to Christ,” Moore said, not caring if anyone was really listening to him or not. “Almost blasted his jaw off. I ran for the lights and it came up through the floor and sucked Kyber down in. It came for me, but as soon as the lights came up it turned into, well… that.”
“Fan out!” Warrant ordered. “Until I figure out what kind of bullshit this is keep an eye on the walls and floor for any movement, no matter how minor. Moore, take Kevin’s position. Kid, get your ass over here.” Don gratefully exchanged places with the young soldier while Kevin joined Warrant near the statue. “All right, kid. Use that big chess–club brain of yours. What the hell is going on here?”
Kevin and Warrant stepped slowly around the statue and studied the front for several moments. “For fear of stating the obvious, sir, it’s a gargoyle,” Kevin said.
“You don’t say?” The sarcasm literally dripped from Warrant’s tongue. “Pray tell, then, what the fuck is it doing down here? How could it do this… if it even did?”
Kevin kept studying the statue, seemingly oblivious to the warnings from Moore. “It’s the same type of stone used for most of the walls and floors of the church. Most likely, it came from the roof outside,” Kevin said.
“Not possible, soldier. Come up with something a little less Star Trek, would you?” Warrant said.
“With all due respect, sir, if you believe that this thing wasn’t sitting right here when Moore and Kyber came down then it doesn’t really leave room for any other possibilities,” Kevin said. He didn’t think that Warrant would catch his Vulcan–like delivery stemming from Warrant’s Trek reference. With his private joke safely tucked away, Kevin dared put a hand on the statue then shoved at it. The gargoyle wouldn’t budge. “There’s no way that the two of them could have moved this thing anywhere.”
Warrant looked back at Kyber’s body and spared a hand to rub his eyes in frustration. “So I’m supposed to believe that a gargoyle is responsible for killing Kyber and Moe, as well as all the rest that have come through here? Unacceptable,” Warrant said. He toed several of the empty shell casings left from Don’s ineffectual attack. “Moore! These your leavings?”
“I hope so. If not, that means they’ve got pistols, too, and that just wouldn’t be fair on a cosmic scale,” Don said.
“Cut the wise cracks and shape up,” Warrant warned him. The story was completely unbelievable, but the current condition of Kyber’s body was enough to make even him admit that there was something completely contrary to rational thought happening in the god–forsaken church. “Fuck; alright. Let’s suppose, just suppose, that we’re dealing with something not entirely… human. Now what?”
“Sir?” Kevin spoke up. “If you’re willing to allow that what is going on may not be entirely… human,” Kevin waited for the commander’s answer. Warrant’s moods could be volatile, and whether the old mercenary realized it or not the stress was starting to play out in his voice.
“I’m open to suggestions,” Warrant finally relented.
“According to folklore, gargoyles served as more than just downspouts and decorations, especially in the middle–European and Slavic cultures. They were also guardians that were supposed to ward off evil spirits and protect the place they’d had been made part of. When Christianity spread, the Church found it easier to get their converts to patronize the church by giving in to some of their local customs. The gargoyles were an easy one, and they quickly became part of grand architecture. You know, letting the designer hide a lot of the functions of a building like gutters and conduits for pulley chains, that sort of thing. But they all look evil, or at least malicious, by design. The custom would try to, well, out-evil evil, by making faces and bodies that would scare off real evil spirits.” Kevin paused for several moments to allow his monologue to sink in.
“And this means what exactly to us? If this thing is actually alive, does it consider us evil spirits? And if it does, why the hell isn’t it trying to make us part of the church like it did to Kyber? More importantly, why the hell am I even considering this shit?” Warrant said.
“Maybe it does consider us evil,” Kevin said. He hoped Warrant’s last question was more rhetorical in nature.
“Or maybe,” Jack added quietly, “maybe it’s protecting something. Like you said, a guardian.”
“Like whatever may be in the missing vault,” Warrant finished for him. “Would have to be something pretty valuable to have guards like that, wouldn’t you think?” The question wasn’t to anyone in particular but to the group at large. If his unit thought they were dealing with something that could come out of the walls after them, he would have to lay it on heavy and appeal to their greed to keep them in line and on course. Warrant still couldn’t believe that they were facing something other–worldly. There had to be a reasonable explanation, he just hadn’t thought of it yet. He’d been around the world several times over and had seen things that almost defied explanation. Almost. When Warrant found such a thing he made it his personal mission to first find out what it truly was and then how to exploit it to his own means. He would treat the Corduva Church no differently. “That still leaves the question of why this thing isn’t trying to tear us new assholes at this very minute.”
“Gargoyles are made of stone, and legends say in the light of day they will be just that; stone. Maybe once the lights came up they were a workable substitute for daylight. The thing would’ve only been dealing with their flashlights before the house lights came up, maybe the flashlights weren’t enough light to affect them? Allowing, of course, that they are real gargoyles,” Kevin said.
The group was quiet for several moments before Warrant relaxed his posture slightly. “Kevin, go back to the stairs. Moore, go up and get one of the twins down here, I don’t care which one. Just make sure he brings a .50 with him.”
“You want me to go back to the sanctuary alone?” Don asked.
“Yes, soldier. Go,” Warrant said.
Don glared at him for a moment then broke and went up the stairs two at a time.
Warrant looked around him. Virtually every wall and floor in the church was made of stone; slabs, cut pieces, even cobble and mortar in some areas. Nearly everything but the doors and windows were made of stone. Even most of the furniture was hewn and carved. That much stone over, under and around them would certainly play hell with the radios and would also explain why he hadn’t heard the sporadic episodes of gunfire that had happened in various parts of the church throughout the evening. Along with that, if the living gargoyle could move through stone, it would only make sense to have as much of the building made of the stuff as possible.
“What the hell am I thinking?” Warrant admonished himself. Living things didn’t move through stone. But, they could move through tunnels cut in the stone, within the walls and floors. “Scooby–doo strikes again,” he whispered to himself. He could only think that the excitement and the condition of Kyber’s body had distracted him from the obvious explanation from the start. The stone around his body was a minor irritant to his logic, nothing more. Warrant took a deep breath and felt much more in control.
“Reporting as ordered, Boss.” Jim Browning announced as he came down the stairs. He had to turn sideways so that he and his weapon could make it.
“I want you to reduce this statue to tiny, tiny bits,” Warrant ordered.
Jim shrugged and leveled the barrel at the statue. The rest covered their ears as the big gun started up, spewing huge chunks of lead through the air to crash against the gargoyle. The gunner started at the head and concentrated his fire on the very top then methodically worked his way down until large chunks of it fell to the floor. Most of the unit had to hit the floor and cover their heads for fear of ricochet or flying stone chips. Gun smoke like fog soon filled the room. Browning kept his rate of fire for as long as he could before quieting the big gun before the barrel got too hot.
When the smoke cleared a bit, Warrant approached the statue to check out the gunner’s handiwork. The head and shoulders of the statue had been torn away bit by bit until they lay in hundreds of small chunks and slivers dusting the floor. The left arm was missing from the elbow down and the right had been sheared off by concentrated fire at the shoulder. The remaining torso and legs of the statue were complete save for several large chunks that had been blasted from it. The body of the thing was far too thick to be destroyed with the tools at hand.
Warrant stood on his toes and peered at the stump where the neck should have been; nothing but stone. He shook his head and turned back to Moore. “Well, I don’t think it’ll be moving around anymore. You? No? Good. Manny, you and Moore head back to the sanctuary. Jack, Jim, you’re with me. We need to check on DeSade and Gina. Move!” The unit hit the stairs and split up into their groups as soon as they got out of the service corridor.
Warrant hadn’t realized just how cool the air in the church was until he stepped out into the humid night. They crept out the door and down the stairs to the courtyard, watching for any movement that might draw their fire. The three fanned out slightly and went around the eastern side of the church. No one used a light and instead relied on the weak streetlamps. They’d been in darker climes before and Jack and Jim were seasoned professionals, men Warrant was proud to have at his back. A little darkness wouldn’t faze them.
They moved soundlessly around the perimeter of the eastern side and turned to cover the northern face. Warrant halted them with an upraised fist and crouched down as soon as he saw a sliver of dim light at the bottom of the stairs. He moved forward slowly and low to the ground, the other two falling in behind in single file. Warrant trusted his men to keep an eye behind and to their unguarded flank and kept his ahead, zeroing in not on what he knew could only be a discarded flashlight but into the void around it. This side of the building was noticeably darker than the front or eastern faces, a fact he kept first and foremost in his mind. Warrant shut out Don’s voice reminding him that the thing kept coming and seemed to stop only when the light was strong enough to turn it to stone.
Warrant put himself against the exterior of the stair box and used it as cover while the rest of the men caught up. He made a series of motions to them then slipped up and over the edge and onto the top step. A foot turned at an unnatural angle lay near the step. Warrant leaned down and pulled a small LED flashlight, hoping that its neutral, soft glow wouldn’t attract as much attention as a normal white light would. The blue–tinted glow cast DeSade’s remaining eye in a flat and most unflattering light as it stared past Warrant into nothingness. If he hadn’t been his commander for more than two years, Warrant might not have even been able to recognize him. DeSade’s face had been almost completely destroyed with what could only be claw marks in what was left of his head. The smooth stone floor beneath the body had allowed the blood to run out and spread in a pattern far wider than he would have expected, the life’s blood reflecting almost black in the blue light. He switched off his light and slid back down a few steps, the other two men in defensive positions facing away from him and watching his back.
“DeSade’s dead,” Warrant whispered as quietly as he could. “Keep your eyes open. Gina’s still unaccounted for.”
They continued on without a sound but didn’t get far before Warrant stopped them at the base of one of the gargoyles set into the courtyard. He risked standing and used his LED to examine the face. It was identical to the one that he had seen demolished in the church basement; nearly identical, anyway. The expression on the face was different though no more handsome. “Got you, you little bastard,” he mumbled. “Let’s see what else you little beaners can do.”
The trio moved on across the courtyard like a snake in an uneven style to avoid patterns. Warrant reached the western corner and cast an uneasy glance around the side. Though still dim, the light was considerably greater on this face of the building from the town lights off to the west. Warrant had always followed the old adage, though, and knew that whatever helped you see your enemy often helped them see you.
They moved around the corner and went a few feet before an odd wind tousled their hair and beat against their backs. A moment later a very human scream pierced the night and made Warrant and Jack spin on their heels with weapons ready. They found nothing but night behind them. Night… where Jim Browning should have been. Warrant left Jack facing rearward and pivoted back in the direction they had been heading, then back again in a sweeping motion. Something warm hit his forehead and ran down his face. There wasn’t a mercenary alive that didn’t know the salty smell and rolling viscosity of blood on their faces. In a burst of inspiration he shoved Jack violently, sending him stumbling several feet as Jim’s massive rifle hit the ground right where he had been crouching just a moment ago.
Warrant fell onto his back and turned his muzzle skyward in time to see a dim but huge winged figure nearly fifteen feet above them. A large lump hung limp from one of the thing’s arms, raining blood and gore down onto the brick courtyard below. The winged thing let out a shriek that made Browning’s death knell pale in comparison and buried its short muzzle into the dead mercenary’s chest, ripping out chunks of flesh and muscle
and feasting on the remains as it beat its great wings to stay aloft.
“Open fire!” Warrant screamed as he pulled the trigger on his weapon. Jack followed suit and the night was broken by the sulphorous, dazzling glare of their dual muzzle flashes. Tracer rounds lit up the night as the gargoyle was raked by dozens of slugs. It pitched and veered for a moment before going into a dive towards the mercenaries. “Break!” Warrant called out, rolling back towards the church wall. Jack threw himself farther back and rolled around the corner of the building, using the massive stone structure as cover. By the time the pair got their bearings, the beast had disappeared again.
“The fuckin’ thing’s airborne! It could have gone anywhere!” Jack called out.
Warrant flattened himself against the wall and kept an eye on the sky. The light worked against him now and was throwing a soft glare in his eyes, taking away his night vision. He held his machine gun tight against his chest with the muzzle pointing up, waiting for any sign of the creature.
“I’m going for the .50! Cover me!” Jack called out from the corner.
“No! You don’t know where the damn thing is…” Warrant said. Jack burst from the shelter of the corner and threw himself at the big gun. Warrant stepped out and scanned the sky intently, waiting for the monster to appear above them. Jack got to the rifle and grabbed it, but it refused to move. He tugged at it for a moment before he realized that a large, stone hand has holding the barrel flush with the ground. There was no creature, only a hand that seemed to sprout from the stone courtyard.
“What the…” Jack muttered.
“Jack! It’s a trap!” Warrant’s warning came too late as the beast’s other hand flew up from the bricks, the razor–sharp claws impaling the mercenary from the abdomen up into his chest cavity. Jack made to scream but only produced a gout of thick crimson that rolled down his chin and bathed his chest. The monstrous hand suddenly twisted, and even Warrant had to flinch as he imagined the absolute destruction the claws were doing inside Jack’s body.
The creature continued to rise up from the bricks until it stood at its full height, easily dwarfing Warrant. It shook Jack’s corpse off its claws and hissed as the body slid onto the bricks, the blood seeping between them.
It dropped the Browning and glared at Warrant displaying its gore–stained, stone fangs. Warrant kept the wall to his right and started to fire at the thing as he backed along the wall. The bullets slammed into it and sent slivers of stone flying, but still the gargoyle kept coming.
Warrant continued to fire bursts at the gargoyle as it advanced. He knew it was toying with him. With its long legs and reach, not to mention its wings and its obvious ability to move through rock itself, it could be on him in a heartbeat. This wasn’t an animal or even a human they were dealing with. He accepted, at least temporarily, that it was just that; an it. A deadly it.
The gargoyle leaned forward and shrieked, the sound so powerful and cutting that he could almost feel its ferocity wash across his face. It was close enough now that he could smell the blood on its breath. Warrant’s machine gun was of no use so he let it hang on its sling and increased his pace. One broken brick or misstep and the thing would be on top of him. If he could make it to the corner, he could buy a second of free movement, maybe even make it to the door. Warrant gave up hope that the men inside would have heard their battle. If the stone was too thick to hear such sounds inside, he doubted they would carry from the outside. He kept backpedaling, waiting for either the thing to pounce or the corner of the building to materialize behind him.
The gargoyle was intelligent, even if it wasn’t much one for conversation. It sensed its victim’s apprehension, could smell the adrenaline pumping through its tiny heart.
Nothing living, dead or otherwise knew the church as well as it did, and it knew exactly where the corner was and what the human intended to do. It had killed dozens of humans over the course of the years, and it was always the same. Humans were so predictable, so absolutely soft. If not for the Pact, it knew the mortal world would fall easy prey. The gargoyle leaned forward slightly and tensed its powerful legs, ready to pounce just when the human thought it would gain salvation.
Warrant could almost sense the corner coming up behind him. He blinked and realized that the gargoyle was ready to strike. It crouched, and Warrant knew that in less than a second it would have him on the ground beneath its crushing weight. Suddenly, thunder sounded in the night. The beast was backlit in staccato fashion as the big .50 caliber opened up from behind. The gargoyle spun and roared at the gunner, attempting to swat away the slugs like they were mosquitoes even as it started moving towards the shooter.
“Down!” a voice screamed over the roaring of the heavy machine gun. The word was the single best Warrant had heard in a long time. He dropped to his chest instantly as Bob Browning’s rifle opened up from behind him opposite the other gunner. Battered front and rear by .50 slugs, the gargoyle roared and pitched back and forth between them, finally taking to the air with a massive down draft from its stone wings. Both guns quieted as Warrant got to his feet and rushed back towards Jack. He couldn’t see how the man had lived through the attack, let alone had the energy to pick up the heavy machine gun. But he didn’t find the gun in Jack’s hands. His body was where the thing had left it.
Gina stood over him, the big smoking rifle in her hands and blood caked to her face. She swayed slightly under the weight of the weapon and her injuries but was at least coherent enough to tell friend from foe. Warrant pried the weapon away from her fingers and shined a flashlight over the rest of her body to check for injuries, taking care not to hit her eyes and rob her of her night sight.
“You’re going to be okay. Let’s get back inside. Can you walk?” Warrant asked.
She nodded weakly and stumbled forward, too proud to ask for help from her commander. Warrant readied the big gun and trotted along behind her, constantly scanning the surroundings for the gargoyle. They regrouped and moved to the front of the church quickly until Gina stopped them and pointed up to the upper reaches of the church’s wall. “More… than one…” Gina gasped.
“We know. One’s in the basement. We took care of it,” Warrant said.
“Four…” Gina whispered, causing a fresh trickle of blood to roll down her shattered lip. Warrant’s eyes went wide as he followed her trembling hand and looked up at the wall. He took his light and shined it up into the night, then passed it along the uppermost floor. Each corner had a small alcove that was obviously built to house something large; something that wasn’t there now.
“Nobody’s home… fuck!” Warrant said. They ran past the mute gargoyle guardians at the foot of the front stairs and burst through the front doors. Don waited inside for them then barred the door with a heavy, oaken beam once they passed.
“Sanctuary, now!” Warrant ordered. “Bob, help Gina get in there. See what you can do for her.”
“Boss… Jim?” the big man asked, nodding to the gun in his hands. Warrant gave him a look that answered all questions.
“He went down fighting like hell.” Warrant said.
Bob nodded solemnly and leaned down so that Gina could brace her battered body against his. In the electric light of the foyer, Warrant could only guess at what strength was keeping Gina alive, let alone conscious. Her face was covered in caked and drying blood, but he could see enough to know that it would never be the same.
The rest of the unit filed past him and into the sanctuary. Warrant glanced back at the door and almost expected them to burst apart and spew gargoyles into the church. But then, they wouldn’t have to, would they? They could just come out of the walls after them.
Warrant charged into the sanctuary, rejoined his unit took a headcount. Five were dead, and Gina could still be before the night was through. Manny could easily turn into a liability at any time. What was he left with? A cowardly thief and a kid that only needed to shave once a week. If it wasn’t for Bob Browning, the Scooby–Doo bunch really would be better equipped for this mystery.
“We have to get out of here,” Don said in a low voice.
“That’s enough, soldier.” Warrant said without looking at him.
“Soldier? If you haven’t noticed, commander,” Don said, letting the rank drip from his tongue like poison, “we’re just a little bit fucked here. We’re hiding. Don’t give me bullshit that we’re ‘regrouping’. We’re fuckin’ hiding! But those things can just come out of the fuckin’ walls and floors whenever they want. So we’re holed up in a place that they can just pop the fuck in any time they want!”
“I said that was enough!” Warrant barked, his hand straying to his sidearm.
“Oh! What are you going to do, Henry? You gonna’ shoot me? If you ain’t noticed it yet, Sparky, we’re all gonna’ die anyway! I’d rather be shot than get crushed or chewed up by one of those god–damn things!” Don said.
“Keep talking and you may just get what you want.” Warrant’s voice washed through the room like ice water. The rest sensed the tension and gripped their weapons or looked around at anything but either of them.
“Fuck you. I’m out of here. Shoot me in the back then,” Don said.
“You walk out that door, Don, and I’ll be the last of your worries. Just ask Gina,” Warrant said.
Don chanced a look at the woman and sighed heavily. “Okay, then. So what’s the fuckin’ plan, oh great and fearless leader?” Don asked.
Warrant made a mental note to have a long discussion about discipline and unit cohesion with Moore in the morning. Provided they were all still around in the morning, of course. “I just need to think for a minute.” Warrant walked across the front of the room and went to one of the large stained–glass windows set into the masonry. He lit a cigarette and was quiet for several moments, the sound of his fingers rapping against the butt of his pistol the only sound to be heard in the sanctuary.
Manny sat and stared around the room then stood up in a panic. “Where’s Jack?”
“He’s dead,” Don offered. “Just like Kyber and DeSade and Moe and Jim. Anybody else see a pattern developing, here?”
“No. Jack was just here,” Manny said.
“And now he’s fucking gone, okay? Gone. Deal.” Moore lit a cigarette and leaned back against one of the pews with his eyes closed. “And G.I. -ucking-Joe over there is going to tell us how it is that we won’t be joining him. Right, generalissimo?”
“I’ve had about enough of this shit,” Warrant growled. He spun and drew his pistol on Moore.
The thief’s eyes went wide as his hand strayed to the butt of his own pistol jammed in his waistband. Warrant was a lot of things in Don’s eyes, but if nothing else he was predictable; predictable enough for Don to know that if he so much as flinched in the next few moments Warrant would think nothing of gunning him down where he sat.
“Wait!” Kevin spoke up. He was shaking slightly, but his voice seemed stronger than it had since the start of all the excitement. “Everybody, please, just hold on a minute. Commander, we’re going to need every body we have. Don, we’ve got one badly injured and another one that has about two fingernails left to hold on to reality. You’re really not helping,” Kevin said. He waited for a moment, half–expecting either one of them or perhaps both to turn their pistols on him. Surprisingly enough, Warrant nodded slightly at Don and slowly lowered his weapon. Moore returned the favor and let his hand fall away from his own. Warrant holstered his pistol and took a long drag from his cigarette. On one hand, he needed to backhand him for getting in the way of discipline. But on the other, he was glad to see the kid develop some backbone.
“The kid’s right,” Bob Browning spoke up, a rare occurrence from the usually quiet man. He’d picked up his brother’s weapon from where Warrant had dropped it and held one of the guns in each arm. “Question is, what do we do about it?”
Warrant stared at Kevin with an expectant look. “Okay brainiac, you got our attention. What’re you going to bring to the table?”
Kevin swallowed hard. Everyone capable of looking was doing so and in his direction. “Well, what do we know about the gargoyles already?” Kevin saw Warrant roll his eyes and stare back out the window at the mention of the legendary beasts. “Or whatever they are.”
“They can fly, they can come out of the walls and floors, they slice, they dice and they make thousands of fuckin’ Julienne fries. Christ! Can we just go, please?” Don said.
“We don’t have anything that can kill them. We put maybe a hundred rounds of .50 into the one outside and it just flew out of range,” Bob countered.
“Seemed to do a pretty good job on the one downstairs, though,” Warrant mused. “So, what’s different?”
The room went quiet for a few moments. A soft pattering of rain had developed on the stained glass window as Warrant looked on.
“Light,” Don suddenly said, breaking the quiet and making more than one man jump. “The light; don’t you get it? Downstairs, the thing came after me until the lights went up.”
“What the hell does light have to do…” Warrant started.
“Wait a minute, er, sorry commander,” Kevin corrected himself. “But Don may have a point.”
Kevin got up from the pew and paced around the front of the room. “We saw it downstairs. We can only believe that what Don said happened down there did, in fact, happen. The one outside proves that. But why is the one downstairs not coming after us? Why was Jim able to break it up with the .50? Why aren’t they just coming in here right now and killing us?”
“What about the rest that have been through here over the years, then?” Warrant asked.
“That one I know,” Don added. “We found the problem with the electric downstairs. One of the main lines had been severed. Ripped apart, actually, and hid behind a bunch of crates. I’d bet your life that those things ripped the line out to make sure that the lights couldn’t come up.”
“You just now thought to bring this up?” Warrant growled.
“Hadn’t come up in conversation before, general. Been a little busy trying to save my ass. Sorry,” Don said.
“Okay… let’s say that all this bullshit is real. Let’s say we’re facing… gargoyles. All things being equal, they won’t be able to come into a lit–up room or they’ll turn to stone, right? Is that why we aren’t squaring off in here right now?” Warrant asked.
“Allowing for all that, it seems the only explanation,” Kevin answered. “But I’m no scholar on this stuff. I’m only guessing,” he cautioned.
“Then our objective is to keep the power on and stay in the lit areas until morning. Then, we take a sledgehammer to every gargoyle we find in the light of day. Simple.” Warrant beamed a genuine smile. Finally, some control. “Bob, you and Don go downstairs and post on the electrical panel. Make sure that nothing happens to it. Kevin and I will relieve you in a few hours.”
“Downstairs? Oh, hell no! I’m not going back down there for love or money!” Don said.
“Don, would you do it for your life?” Warrant countered. The steel in his eyes matched his voice as he stared him down. “We’re down too many for you to get squeamish. Besides, I can’t vouch for your safety if I’m left in a room with you for any length of time right now.”
“Oh, fuck me. Gargoyles outside, lunatic inside. What the hell did I do to deserve this?” Don gathered up his gear and nodded to Bob. “Let’s go before Commander Cody over there gets an itchy finger,” Don said. Bob simply nodded and stood. The pain of his brother’s death was evident in his eyes. But like Warrant, he was a professional. There would be time to grieve when the sun came up.
“Bob, we’ll look for him tomorrow. You can even have the privilege of chunkin’ up the first one we pull down,” Warrant said. It was the only real solace he could offer. Bob nodded again and followed Don out of the room then Warrant turned his attention to Manny. The merc’ just sat on the floor, staring at his friend’s body. Someone had pulled down a small tapestry from one of the walls and had covered Moe’s body. “Manny? Manny! You in there?”
“Huh? Yeah Boss. Me and Moe were just talkin’ about what we were gonna’ do with the money from this gig. Nothing personal Boss, but we’ve been thinkin’, well, Jack too, that we would retire. You know, maybe get a little ranch or something. Gentleman ranchers… yeah, that would be a nice way to live. Don’t you think, Boss?” Manny said.
“Yeah Manny. I might even join you on that deal. Why don’t you get… why don’t you two get some rest now, might need you to pull a turn at sentry later,” Warrant said. Kevin stood by, witnessing the exchange. He’d known Warrant the better part of a year, and he didn’t think the man was capable of compassion. Kevin shook his head a few times to clear the image and went to check on Gina.
“You’re right Boss. I am pretty tired. I was trying to wait for Jack, though,” Manny said.
“Jack’s on sentry right now, Manny,” Warrant said.
“Okay.” The mercenary stretched out beside Moe’s body and threw an arm over his eyes. “Think we could turn down the lights a little, Boss?”
“No. Sorry,” Warrant said.
“s’okay,” Manny said sleepily. “I won’t be awake much longer, anyway. That Moe, though, he can sleep through anything.” Manny lay flat for a moment, then curled up into a fetal position and used his forearm for a pillow. Warrant sighed and walked away, the weight of a commander squarely on his shoulders. Kevin met him halfway across the room.
“Gina’s still conscious. I don’t know how she’s doing it, though,” Kevin said.
“Probably because she knows she’s either in shock or isn’t far from it. Falling asleep now would be the same thing as slitting her throat. She’s a pro. Not likely that she’s going to go down without a fight.” Warrant pushed past Kevin and kneeled down beside her. “How you doing?” Gina opened her mouth to speak and grimaced through a fresh pang of agony. “Ssshhh. Don’t worry about it. I’d offer you some reds, but I don’t think you could swallow them,” Warrant said.
Gina looked up at him and smiled through her eyes. She flexed her fingers several times, giving Warrant a glimpse of the meat of her palms. She’d been digging her fingernails into her hands, letting the fresh pain keep her from sinking into death’s sleep.
“Just hang on till morning, girl. There’s got to be a medicine man in this town somewhere. We’ll find him and get you patched up. I’ll personally pay for whatever work you may need after that. Can’t be seen running around with a lady that looks like a gargoyle hit her, now can I?” Warrant said. Gina brought her hand up and weakly slapped his knee. “Now that’s the Gina I know. You cold? A blanket or something?” Warrant asked. She shook her head and adjusted her body slightly to a more comfortable posture. Then, she pointed to her empty holster and looked at him expectantly. Warrant put a hand on the butt of his pistol and paused, reluctant to give up his personal sidearm.
“Here.” Kevin offered his own pistol to her butt–first. “It’s not like I’m going to be using it much, anyway.” She nodded her thanks and pulled the slide back just enough to make sure there was a round in the chamber. The two men stood up and walked away to the far corner of the room.
“That was your only weapon, soldier,” Warrant said.
“I’m not a soldier. Neither is anybody else here. Hit me, shoot me, whatever, but it’s the truth,” Kevin said. He waited a moment for the fist that should come for his chin. After a few moments, he realized the assault wasn’t coming after all. “This military shit works fine for your everyday bit. But we’re not dealing with that here. Nobody’s used to shooting things that don’t fall down and die. Everybody will work together a lot better if you can just ease off on the structure a bit and recognize that this isn’t your standard job.”
“That structure is what has kept all your asses alive so far, kid. Discipline is needed in this situation more than a lot of others I’ve seen. We do it my way, we do it by the numbers, we all live,” Warrant said as he started walking away, then stopped. He leaned close to Kevin’s ear and said in barely a whisper, “I can understand that you’re young, and scared. And I respect the fact you had the guts to say what you did. Now, you’ll have to respect the fact that if I even so much as think you’re going to speak to me again in that manner or will disobey my harsh discipline and structure, I will be forced to rip off your fucking head and shit down your neck. Are we clear, soldier?” Warrant waited for a moment then placed an open hand to the left side of Kevin’s face. “A response in the affirmative is not an option, son.” Warrant said. Kevin nodded his head weakly and looked away from Warrant’s piercing gaze. “Good. I’ll make a man out of you yet.” He slapped Kevin’s face lightly, though there was no trace of playfulness in the gesture. It was a solid connection, one that told Kevin that he was on as thin ice with Warrant as the rest of them were with the gargoyles.
Don paced back and forth where the steps met the basement floor. He wasn’t budging anywhere that he couldn’t stick out his foot and feel the stairs underneath. Bob sat on a crate nearby and stared past the demolished gargoyle, past the electrical panel and back in time, remembering his brother.
Don pulled out a cigarette and lit it slowly, carefully and totally contrary to his near frenetic pacing. “Bob, I’m real sorry about Jim. He was a really nice guy. You don’t find that much in this business,” Don said.
Bob nodded absently and continued playing his own home movies. But in the back of his mind, in the darkest spaces, he was harboring something even darker; vengeance. Pure, sweet, simple vengeance. Bob almost wished one of them would burst through the wall now. He was ready for it. He would show it what a Browning boy could really do.
“Bob? You in there?” Don asked. Again, Bob nodded. Don Moore had not gotten this far in life by aggravating large men with even larger guns, so he let it go at that. He continued pacing and smoking, doing both with equal fervor. “So what do you think of all this, huh? This is some fucked–up shit here. ‘Become a mercenary, see the world, make lots of money, get bitch–slapped by a gargoyle’; wasn’t in my fuckin’ brochure, let me tell you. I think after this gig I’m gonna’ go live in south Florida and be a gigolo or something. Screwin’ rich, 80–year–old women has got to be more conducive to a long and healthy life than this shit.” He paused for a moment and watched for Bob’s reaction. Nothing, not even a nod. “Right. I’ll shut up now,” Don said.
Don sat down dejectedly and crushed his cigarette out on the wooden step. Good old wood. At least you could trust it not to spit gargoyles at you. At least he hoped he could. If nothing else, he could say that he had a real reason now to never set foot in a church again.
They sat in silence for awhile, broken only by the light, incessant tapping of Moore’s left foot. Bob didn’t seem to notice, but after a time Don even started to annoy himself. He pulled off his small pack, rummaged around for a moment and came up with a personal compact disc player and headphones. He put them on and touched the power button. Nothing. He tapped it a few times and waited expectantly for the light to come on. Still nothing. He sighed and pulled the headphones off. Just his luck. He could be killed at any moment by crazed stone gargoyles and he couldn’t even listen to a little Garth Brooks. Don looked around and spied an electrical outlet on a nearby wall. “Well, there. What do we have here?” Don said. Bob shot him a look and started to bring his weapon to bear. “Whoa there, easy tiger. Nothing important,” Don said. Bob went back to staring at the past.
Don got up and went across the room, giving a wide berth to both Kyber and the gargoyle’s remains scattered across the floor. He picked up Kyber’s discarded toolkit and returned to his perch on the steps. Don was no Kyber, but he was an American, by God. A little American ingenuity could go a long way. He found a length of tightly–bound electrical cord in the bag and played with several different adapters until he found one to fit his player. He spliced them together and plugged it in to his music machine. The other end of the cord he stripped to expose the bare wires and looked around the bag for a plug. After a few minutes of looking, he put the bag down on the steps and stared at the bare wire ends. Don brightened after a moment and got up, spooling the wire behind him and went to the wall socket.
“No reason why this shouldn’t work,” Don mumbled to himself, careful not to spike Bob’s attention. He kneeled down and spread the two wires apart, then gently shoved them into the outlet until they stopped. He looked back on the steps and saw the green power indicator alive and staring back at him. “At least something’s going right,” Don mumbled and went back to the stairs. He sat down and put on his headphones just as a thin, airy buzzing noise filled the room and echoed off the stone walls and floor. Sparks leaped out from the wall outlet, the elderly fixture unable to handle Don’s MacGyver–like skill. The lights in the basement flickered for a moment then died. “Oh, fuck me…” Don pulled off the headphones again and put everything down on the steps.
“What did you do, Don?” Bob asked quietly, a flashlight beam already emitting from his seat.
“Okay, so I’m not Bob Villa, all right? Probably just a fuse. I’ll check. We found extras.” Don pulled out his flashlight and walked towards the electrical panel. “You’ve got my back, right?”
“Yes,” Bob answered.
“Right.” Don went around the gargoyle once again and shined his light on the electrical panel. It was all Greek to him. “Think maybe you could give me a hand over here?” He saw Bob’s flashlight move around for a moment and heard the belted cartridges clink against the receiver of his machine gun as he walked across the room. Bob leaned his weapon against the panel support and added his light to Don’s while they opened various panels and boxes looking for the culprit fuse. After more than a minute of looking, Don spied one of the old glass fuses with a blackened copper element leering at him. “There you are. Found it, Bob. Hand me one of those fuses there.” Fresh fuse in hand, Don put his fingers on the blown fuse to remove it and yanked them back with a yelp. He dropped the fresh fuse in the momentary shock and sucked on his fingers.
“Hot?” Bob asked.
“Oh, no, not at all. Everybody knows that glass is a piss–poor conductor of heat,” Don said. He grabbed his flashlight and started scanning the floor for the dropped fuse. He only hoped the glass casing around it hadn’t broken in the fall. Don scanned the floor closely and caught a glint of light reflected back at him. The fuse had rolled up against a large chunk of the demolished gargoyle’s head. He went to it and hesitated a moment as the sightless eye stared up at him. As Don reached for it, he paused for a moment with fingers extended. Did the eye just blink? No, couldn’t have. A sound like tires on a gravel road suddenly started around the room. “Oh shit… this can’t be good. Bob!”
The two mercenaries trained their beams on the remains of the stone killer. The pieces were moving, their rough edges scraping across the stone floor. Large chunks and small slivers slid across the floor at various speeds and directions. As pieces were drug nearer the rest by unseen forces, small slivers and large bits grafted together in their original order and way, rapidly reforming the beast in the sculptor’s intended image. The pair backed away from the regenerating gargoyle and put the electrical panel to their backs. Neither did so much as draw a weapon as they watched the spectacle of their impending deaths form on the floor before them.
“ohfuckohfuckohfuck…” Don babbled softly. The assembled pieces rose off the floor and attached to the torso in their proper places until finally the head spun up from the floor and sat itself back on the thing’s stumpy neck. The large eyes blinked several times as the creature’s skin took on a lighter grey color. It flexed its fingers and arms a few times, then glared at the mercenaries and let out a long, low hiss.
“Bob,” Don whispered, “get the .50…” The gargoyle was obviously possessed of the same perfect sight as his kin. It had already been cut to pieces by the weapon before, and it certainly wouldn’t permit the same thing to happen twice. It half–shrieked, half–roared and shot out a hand to catch the big man’s arm in a fist nearly as large as his head. It squeezed its fingers and hissed as muscle and bone crushed together in its grip. Bob’s scream galvanized Don to action. He darted to his right and went in a dead run for the stairs as the thing tried to grab him in its other hand. Don could feel the claws as they grazed his shoulder though he didn’t let the pain stop his feet. There was nothing he could do for Bob now except die with him, and he didn’t like anyone that much. He wasn’t about to sacrifice his life for the sake of unit cohesion. Don crossed the room and made the top of the stairs without feeling a single tread along the way.
Warrant had just finished taking stock of their remaining weapons and ammunition when the lights overhead suddenly surged then died in a bright flash. Several of the old bulbs couldn’t handle the surge of power and burst apart, showering the sanctuary with tiny slivers of glass.
“This can’t be a good sign,” Kevin muttered from somewhere in the darkened sanctuary. Only a soft glow made it through the heavy, colored windows. They both turned their flashlights on as Warrant went to wake up Manny and Kevin went to sit with Gina.
“Kevin, you with her?” Warrant asked.
“Yeah,” his voice quavered slightly as he avoided shining the light directly into Gina’s face. Kevin felt her neck and found a surprisingly strong pulse. Her hand shot up and closed around his wrist. “Sorry, just checking,” Kevin whispered.
“Stay there, we’re coming,” Warrant called out from the darkness. Kevin watched his flashlight play over Manny and the tapestry that covered Moe.
“Just where the hell would we go?” Kevin mumbled. He heard Manny and Warrant arguing about bringing Moe with them. Warrant finally told Manny that Moe was going to take point and keep watch over a nearby side door. Mollified, Manny and Warrant slipped over to Kevin and Gina. They heard Moore calling out and brought their lights to bear on the main entryway into the sanctuary.
“Don’t shoot!” Don called out as he slid through the entryway. He followed their lights and threw himself down breathlessly beside them.
“What happened down there?” Warrant asked.
“I don’t know, the power just cut out. Kyber said that could happen with the building being so old and all,” he lied. No point in making the situation worse by playing the blame game.
“Hell of a time. We still have hours before dawn,” Warrant said.
“Now do we get the hell out of here?” Don asked. “We can come back in the morning with sledgehammers… hell, a jackhammer if you want, and turn ‘em to dust. Besides, I don’t think I’m the only one here that could use a drink.”
“Guess you left Bob to die down there, huh?” Warrant asked.
“He was dead before I left,” Don lied again. “I am a human being too, you know?”
“No. I don’t know that. Okay, we need to travel before these things realize the lights aren’t on and somebody is home,” Warrant said.
“Let me go get Moe,” Manny said.
“Moe’s rear guard, Manny. He’ll be okay. Trust me. He knows what he’s doing,” Warrant said, ignoring the dark look Kevin threw his way.
“Too late…” Gina croaked. The beam of her light caught a large lump moving just underneath the surface of the stone floor, like muscles under skin.
“Does it know where we are?” Don whispered.
“Does it matter?” Warrant said.
The lump moved towards Moe’s body. As it neared, it started to rise like a submarine breaking the surface. The gargoyle paid no attention to their flashlights and lifted Moe’s lifeless body by both ankles. Manny issued a stark battle cry and burst up from the floor at a dead run, his machine gun chattering all the way. The others could see the bullets strike the gargoyle but the slugs did little more than leave angry, red welts and an even angrier gargoyle.
The gargoyle turned its head and roared. After a few more steps Manny’s weapon went dry. He dropped the empty gun as he ran and threw himself into the air, meaning to ram the gargoyle with his own body. But as Manny went airborne the thing swung Moe’s body around in a wide arc and intercepted the flying mercenary. The sound of bones snapping echoed across the sanctuary as Manny went down hard. He didn’t get back up.
The gargoyle stared into the flashlight beams for a moment then turned its head away. From out in the hall they could hear a heavy, steady tread coming for them. “That would be the one from downstairs. I’m outta’ here,” Don said. He pulled his pistol and plastered himself against the wall at the edge of the entryway, hoping that he would escape the gargoyle’s notice for a few precious moments after it walked into the room.
Warrant cursed under his breath at Moore and leveled his weapon at the traitorous thief. In the tension, no one had noticed the footsteps had stopped. Just as Warrant was ready to kill his own man the wall behind him bulged inward, pushing Moore away from it. The gargoyle slipped out of the wall as if he were walking through rice paper. The stone behind him rippled for a moment after his passing then returned to its smooth, unmarred state.
“Move!” Warrant screamed and waved his light in the direction of the stained glass windows on the other side of the room. Kevin and Warrant helped Gina to her feet and lagged back with her to keep her from falling. A third gargoyle dropped from the ceiling and came to earth where the group had been standing a scant few seconds before. As the group made the wall the three gargoyles slowly advanced from their points in the room. They didn’t need to hurry; their prey wasn’t going anywhere.
Warrant reached up to the shoulder–height sill of the nearest window and pounded it with his fist. The glass barely shook in its lead moorings. He raised his machine gun awkwardly over his head and pointed the muzzle at the glass then pulled the trigger, barely able to keep it down as the gun bucked and jumped in his unsteady grip. He could hear the glass crackle and break, but when he looked up at it there were few true holes through it. Gina and Don gauged their distance from the gargoyles, then followed Warrant’s example with their handguns, aiming for the areas that were pocked and cracked from Warrant’s attack. Several large pieces of the glass broke away, but not nearly enough to allow a body to pass.
“It’s weak now,” Warrant yelled.
“Not weak enough,” Don returned as he slammed a fresh magazine home. Gina grabbed the thief and rummaged around in his pack as the gargoyles neared and pulled out two grenades.
“Gina! No! They’re too close!” Warrant screamed. “You’ll get us, too!”**
The woman paid him no heed and pulled both pins then reached up over her head and placed the grenades on the deep window sill before dropping to the stone floor with her arms laced over her head.
“Oh fuck me,” Don cried out and threw himself down as Kevin and Warrant figured out her intent. The four crowded as close to the stone wall as they could just as the gargoyles came within arms reach. Suddenly, the world went to hell.
Both grenades went off at the same time. The sheltering stone kept the worst of the fallout from the four mercenaries while completely destroying the two–story–tall window. Thick, sharp shards of glass and chunks of stone blew out in all directions. The explosion caught the three gargoyles off–guard, the intense flash of light causing them to shrink away and throw their arms up over their faces.
Even before the smoke cleared, Warrant was rousing his people. He sent Kevin onto the sill and handed Gina up to him then reached down to Moore and discovered a long, jagged shard of blue–tinted glass had pierced the back of his skull to exit where his nose should have been. Warrant accepted Kevin’s hand–up just as the gargoyles regained their senses and had started for them again. The claws of the lead gargoyle sank almost up to their length in the stone beneath the window just as Warrant’s legs cleared the sill. The mercenaries jumped from the window ledge to land on the debris in the courtyard below.
NO ESCAPE… NO…
The trio wasted no time and didn’t bother to look back as they helped each other run across the courtyard towards town. Just ahead, they could see the fourth gargoyle in the dim light. It lay on the ground, shaking its head and trying to get to its knees. Warrant assumed that it had been in the air when the blast hit, and the resulting shockwave and flying debris had given it something to think about.
Had it not been for the blast, Warrant figured the gargoyle would’ve crashed through the window and been on top of them while the rest closed in for the kill. As a group they skirted around the gargoyle just as it got to its feet and kept running. They could hear the thing behind them, and it was gaining ground fast. If it would have flown, it could have easily caught up with them and rained death on them from above. Warrant only hoped it was still too stunned to think clearly enough for that.
The mercenaries hit the edge of the courtyard and stumbled over a knee–high decorative stone wall made nearly invisible in the darkness and landed in tangles of arms and legs, sliding on the rain–slicked grass beyond the courtyard. Warrant drew his pistol and aimed it back towards the church, expecting to see their pursuer standing over him. Instead, the gargoyle stood on the opposite side of the low stone wall and hissed at them. He could hear the others flying in on their wings of stone. These, too, alit on the opposite side of the wall. The four creatures regarded the mercenaries almost indifferently and alternated between hissing and low growling.
Warrant risked a look to the side and saw Gina in his same posture. Kevin had already got up on his haunches and had pulled a small disposable camera from his pack. He touched off the shutter and the resulting flash caused the creatures to take a step back and hiss.
“They can’t go past the wall,” Kevin said. Warrant holstered his pistol slowly and regarded the quartet of monsters just a few yards away then reached down to help Gina to her feet. She swayed slightly and stared intently at the gargoyles. It was like looking into a different world. Gina raised her weapon and fired several rounds into one of the things. It rocked back a few inches and hissed at her but wouldn’t budge past the wall. After a few moments the gargoyles spread their wings and vaulted into the air, pitch silhouettes in the ebon night sky.
“Drink,” Warrant said. It wasn’t a question or a request. They turned their backs on the Corduva Church and walked away, knowing without speaking that they would return. Next time, they would know their own weaknesses as well as those of the gargoyles. Next time, they would find the vault.
THIEVES… MOLESTORS… KILLERS
IT IS SAFE
SOFT… AFRAID… FEAST
The gargoyles flew straight into the western wall of the Corduva Church and emerged within the sanctuary. They regarded the damage to their charge for a moment then separated. They entered the walls and coursed through their sheltering stone. Everywhere they passed, stone and mortar were returned to their previous condition. Chips and slivers from the humans’ weapons were instantly healed and the shattered stone sill was repaired in moments. The glass had been made by the hand of man, nothing to be done for it. The pews of wood that had been damaged by the humans’ fearful fire were removed and taken to the basement. The bodies of the humans that remained provided a blood feast for the creatures and left each corpse drained of the stuff. They had no real need to eat, but that made it no less sweet.
They left the broken and battered dead in a neat row before the altar and entered the walls as one. They slipped through the stone as easily as they cut through the air and emerged in the hallway of the fourth floor. Reverently, gently, the largest of them brushed a stone finger against the corner of the tapestry that the weak human had dared to touch, correcting the nap of the felt so that it returned to its perfect state. The four stood and regarded the tapestry for several moments, their thoughts and words communicated through the very stone under their feet for all to share.
SACRILEDGE… TOUCH OF MAN ON THE GATE
OTHERS COME… DIE… GO… NOT RETURN
EYES… EYES OF STEEL… NO… WILL RETURN… WILL RETURN WITH THE LIGHT
The gargoyles each placed a hand on the tapestry before melding with the stone at their feet and coursing through the walls of the church to the roof. Two of them grabbed a large slab of loose stone that sat there and brought it back through the walls to the sanctuary. They lifted it into place and melded with the stone. The slab stretched and changed, filling the space of the shattered window and grafting with the stone window box. When they emerged, it appeared that there had never been a window in the spot, only smooth stone. The rest of the cleanup would be accomplished by the faithful in the morning. They would come. The wood had been removed from the door. They would come. They would provide life to the church again. They would make sure that any that came in search of the gate would be hard pressed to enter so easily. But the one with the eyes of steel… that one would return if no other.
YES… STEEL… RETURN
They melded with the stone once more and slipped up through the levels of the church, each emerging in their respective alcoves at the four corners on the fourth floor. They took up their eternal positions and made ready to rest just as the light of the new day touched the spires of the Corduva Church.
Thanks again for spending some time with me, and I hope you enjoyed "The Vault" parts I and II. I appreciate your readership, and I hope you stop back again for more free fiction from my twisty little mind. So, until next time, just write damn it. - Author