In The Night
Chapter 10 - Gargoyles
Written 2004-2007, this being the first chapter after a three year gap
“It shouldn’t be too hard to find the gargoyles,” Carl supplied helpfully, wincing as the horse shifted uneasily – thusly chafing his already bruised backside.
Van Helsing glanced over at him and said dryly, “The screams did not clue me in. So glad to have you here with me.”
Torn between laughing and swiping his blade across his companion’s throat, Carl settled for the former and nicked his heels on the sides of his horse, taking him off on a small trot through the crowded street. He didn’t want Van Helsing to guess – perhaps he already suspected – how his heart started hammering at the shrill sounds piercing the bustling marketplace. Hoping it was adrenalin and not the fear he so often felt, Carl avoided gazing at the disinterested faces of those passing by the flanks of his steed.
A hand slapped his shoulder and he turned to see all joking evaporate from his companion’s face. Carl shrugged once in an attempt to reassure Van Helsing as much as himself, but the seasoned hunter wasn’t fooled. Carl flashed a grateful grimace before continuing down past the spills of chamber pots being tossed from windows above their heads.
The moment passed and once again he was speaking calmly. “I hope we’re not going anywhere near Margitsziget. The monks there would waste no time sending a message to the Vatican.”
“I’ve yet to hunt a gargoyle to an island without a bridge, Faramir,” Van Helsing commented easily, a hand resting on the holster of one of his pistols. “Just be glad it isn’t raining anymore.”
Carl’s feet still protested from their prison in soggy socks. Perhaps Jem could cast some spell on their clothing in the future to stop this sort of humiliation. It would just be his luck for Van Helsing to have perfectly dry feet and wearing a smirk if he was caught willingly consorting with the fairy.
Oh stop complaining, the inner voice snapped.
Let me guess, you’ve had worse.
Images of battle flashed past his eyes and he choked on the stinging scent of blood sweeping down his throat. His mind was getting too crowded with this sort of thing, honestly. Faramir pointed out icily, We’ve had worse.
“Don’t know why you didn’t let me cover my face,” Van Helsing complained after a few minutes of tracking the now faded screams.
Carl snorted. “One look at you with that hat and your face hidden and the people would have gone running for the churches. Not that the sight of your whole face doesn’t do that to some…”
“I’m going to ignore that comment.”
“Well I hope you do, Jack, otherwise I’d have to beat you in a duel.”
“Let’s not get hasty. I’ve won fair and square every time.”
“A sore winner cannot do well in God’s graces,” Carl fired back airily, deserving of the scowl he received in response.
The hooves of Van Helsing’s horse clattered to a halt and the hunter raised one hand cautiously, motioning for Carl to stop. Dutifully, the former friar obeyed and cocked an ear, trying to hear anything. It seemed that not even Faramir had much chance discerning the noises assaulting him, for he certainly didn’t hear whatever signal it was that set off Van Helsing in a mad dash through the street, scattering customers and prostitutes without apology.
“Oh, Hell, I’m going to regret this,” Carl mumbled. “But maybe I’ll think about that later.”
He followed frantically.
A few minutes later, Carl almost slammed into his companion’s horse as Van Helsing prowled the water’s edge, casting his eyes over the horizons before resting his gaze on the bridge stretching across the river. Several passing patrons of the hotels spanning the promenade hurled insults and demands for them to move from the pathway.
“Gargoyles make a…squealing sound,” Van Helsing explained shortly.
This was a reminder to Carl’s heart, already beating fast with anticipation, but now deflating with his spirits. For some reason, the books had never mentioned that tidbit of information. He’d only carried the knowledge of sword fighting for a handful of months, and knew even less about firing a gun. The few years at the Vatican had been somewhat exciting, sending off Van Helsing to another mad bounty (except that sort of bounty was only paid with false promises of divine forgiveness), but Carl hadn’t been along to many missions. Only two in fact…he couldn’t really count the fumbling about he’d managed at Chanhassen’s manor.
Van Helsing snapped his fingers in front of Carl’s face. “With me so far? As long as you keep your eyes on the gargoyles, they can’t disappear. It’s only when you look away that those particular powers activate. Nasty trick, for them to appear behind you and stab you in the back.”
“Oh. Right. Eye contact, got it. Are you sure you want me with you?”
“Are you a field man or a silver addict?” demanded Van Helsing.
Carl pressed his sweaty palms to his cloak, trying to discreetly wipe away the evidence of his anxiety. Mentally begging his inner Faramir voice to make a dig at him, he cleared his throat and slid out the mirror from his rucksack, passing it over to the hunter. “We’ll need these, you know. When they see their reflection – ”
“They freeze eternally. I think I would know this after enough missions.”
“No need to sprinkle the salt on my wounds,” Carl groused. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of just asking them nicely to join our Order.”
“Not a chance. They don’t have the thinking capacity to see right from wrong. It would be best for us to deal with them and help these people.”
They cantered side by side towards the public square that opened into the bridge. It was strangely deserted and a fell silence descended upon the birds pecking nervously along the cobblestones living the square. Carl gazed across at the bridge, noting, “Linking Buda and Pest. East meets West…it’s a geographical nexus, no wonder the gargoyles came to this place.”
“Can you hear them now?” asked Van Helsing tersely.
Carl strained his ears, waiting, and a gust of sharp wind battered against him, bringing the faint sound of a horrid wailing down from higher on the bridge. He tilted back his head to scan one of the supports that anchored itself into the bed of the river. An amused snort to his side snapped his attention back to his companion, who was smiling at him. Carl wrinkled his nose. “This is more than enough excitement for a humble friar.”
“Good thing I don’t know any such fool. Hobble the horses – we’re going up.”
Wanting to protest at being given a hardly exhilarating job, Carl bit his tongue and looped the reigns together over a post struck into the stone of the square. He supposed there would be thieves in the area so opted to use a certain type of knot, tricky enough to befuddle would-be vagrants, but easy enough for anyone who previously worked for the Holy Order to loosen. Van Helsing busily checked his weapons and strapped practically everything to his person. Once he’d finished, he started on Carl, much to the shorter man’s protests.
“What would this look like, you touching me all over the place,” Carl grumbled.
His companion guffawed in response, continuing to slide weapons into places Carl didn’t even know existed on his belt or in his boots. Van Helsing stepped back and nodded in apparent satisfaction, finishing off by equipping Carl with a second mirror. Walking briskly off to make his way across the bridge, he gave no indication of his plans to reach the top of the support column.
“I don’t see any stairs we could use,” panted Carl as he hurried along after his friend. “And my feet are still too cold to do any climbing. You could at least tell me how to keep my feet dry.”
“Only you could think about your feet at a time like this. Glad to see our pal Faramir hasn’t changed that.”
“Oh, well, he thinks about his feet too, I can tell you that!”
See, we are not all that different.
Shut up. I was just making a point to Van Helsing. He can be so…insufferable sometimes.
I am in your head, remember. I know this stuff.
“Who needs stairs anyway,” Van Helsing was remarking, oblivious to the conversation, as always.
Unhooking a device from his belt and sliding his arm around Carl’s waist, he swung his free arm almost lazily. A hook exploded towards the sky, shooting higher and higher until it clasped the top of the support. Carl winced, imagining the scraping the metal would be making on the brick. He was about to make some other comment about their position when the words died on his lips. Or, rather, the words were left stranded with his breath on the ground as he was launched into the sky.
The wind whistling past his ears seemed to disappeared and his stomach felt oddly absent from his body. Too soon he was keeled over on top of the main bridge of Budapest, gasping, “VAN HELSING! Did the thought of giving me any sort of warning cross your mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know, but can we talk about this later? I’m a little – ” a pistol cocked itself next to Carl’s ear “ – busy right now.”
Immediately, sense rushed back into his limbs and Carl shot to his feet, sword hilt jumping into his hand as though drawn to him. Two Gargoyles slouched towards them across the narrow landing, eyeing them beadily with blank grey eye sockets. Their wings, dully glinting like steel in the glary sun, squealed past each other as they fluttered in the creatures’ territorial unease. Van Helsing raised the pistol with one hand while the other fell to the mirror sticking out from his belt.
The Gargoyles seemed to shrink back, growling menacingly.
“Keep your eyes on the one on the right,” Van Helsing muttered out of one corner of his mouth. “And I mean keep your eyes on him. They know we’ve got mirrors.”
Without a further word, he shifted his feet and moved off to the left, returning the gaze of his quarry, efficiently approaching without a single scuffle of his boots. It was easy to see why he was the most feared man in Europe – the fire in his eyes could have sent even the most sinful man on a pilgrimage, if only to escape him. Carl shook the thought away and kept his eyes to his own Gargoyle.
Movement flashed in the corner of his eye as Van Helsing darted forward, firing steadily and raising the mirror high in his fist. Clearly, Gargoyles were not stupid as it seemed to keep lurching about, wings screeching down to rattle Carl’s ear drums. He winced and realised his mistake all too quickly. His quarry had vanished. Wheeling around to survey the area, he only just had enough time to duck to the side as the Gargoyle swooped low at him, talons extended.
“I – know!” wheezed Carl in response, slamming hard onto his stomach to avoid being sliced to pieces on the Gargoyle’s next pass.
Splinters of stone whizzed past his face as a tell tale whirring signalled the appearance of one of Van Helsing’s Tojo blades. The hunter must have dropped the gun, he realised with panic and rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding being stabbed through the heart.
Are you a warrior or not? demanded his Faramir voice.
“Just – a – friar – ” Carl hissed back, scrambling on his hands and knees as the creature swooped again.
Alright, listen to me you big coward. You are NOT a friar, stop denying the man you are and do what you know you can. Van Helsing is depending on you!
Carl’s shoulder blades ached as he was thrown a few minutes onto his back, searing pain raking across his stomach. Shouting in surprise, he threw up his hand and grated his sword through one of the approaching talons, snapping it clean off. The Gargoyle howled in rage, swooping off briefly, allowing Carl to spring to his feet again, free hand sliding for the mirror on his own belt. It slipped from his grasp and shattered on the stone.
Carl stared numbly. “Seven years bad luck.”
“Trust me, you won’t have that long!”
Snapped from his daze by the hard edge in his friend’s voice, Carl dropped to his knees and seized the biggest shard in his fingers, ignoring how it drew blood along his palm. He wasn’t sure how it happened, but suddenly he was holding the shard high as though it were a crucifix and screaming in response to the fast approaching Gargoyle as it cawed angrily. A dazzling light shot from between his fingers and suddenly he was lying sprawled on the ground, grasping his leg with both hands as the immobile creature fell across it.
There was some part of him that wanted to dance in triumph – he had faced the creature and won, but now he was trapped and unable to help Van Helsing. Oh well he could probably handle himself. This wasn’t the first Gargoyle the hunter had the misfortune to be sent after. Blinking through a haze of pain, Carl realised his friend was backed against the ledge, mirror lost from his reach. Frantically tugging at his leg, he knew it was no hope. The crash of his own quarry had sent stone chips flying into Van Helsing’s vision, blinding him momentarily.
Why was this always his fault?!
Short of breaking his leg, if it wasn’t already, Carl couldn’t see how he could…he jerked in shock as a spray of icy water shot past him, splattering the Gargoyle. Haha, that’s funny, he thought tiredly, who in God’s Earth would put water on something like that?
But it seemed to work. Spitting in fear, it roared off into the clouds. A trail of golden hair brushed past his face and Carl swiped a hand to hold it, but missed. His heart leaped, but he couldn’t explain why it did, or why his whole being filled with familiar but mysterious warmth. He tried to focus on the scene in front of him as a woman grabbed one of Van Helsing’s forearms with both hands and tugged him back to safety.
“It’s coming back!” she cried.
This time, nothing could stop Van Helsing spinning and hurling his mirror at the oncoming beast. It tumbled into the river below, disappearing with a splash and one last baleful eyeless stare to the sky above. A gasp escaped Carl before he understand it’s meaning –
“It has been too long, my love.”
Next moment, he was once against flattened against the stone landing, but with a much more pleasant warm weight pressing against him and lips warring with his in a passionate kiss. His surprise didn’t quite overwhelm the incomprehensible desire to keep kissing her back and wrapping his arms around her slim frame.
“Someone you know?” Van Helsing asked, sounding merely bored, perhaps as though nothing new could surprise him.
Carl turned his head to break away from the inviting embrace in which he found himself. He wrenched his sore shoulders into a helpless shrug, offering, “I think…this is Faramir’s wife.”
His companion snorted and seized the back of the woman’s travelling cloak, pulling her easily off the ground. Drawing herself up to her full height, a good deal taller than Carl, Van Helsing noted with amusement, she spoke with a steely voice, tipped with English tones. “I have been searching for you for some time. It would seem that I found you just in the right time. I am Emma Wyndon.”
“He’s glad to meet you,” Van Helsing grunted in reply as he shifted the heavy weight off Carl’s leg.
Carl winced and rubbed his ankle. The euphoria of the kiss was fading, replaced with a throbbing ache from his leg. With a little help from being supported on Van Helsing’s shoulders, he was able to stand up to better regard a woman who had flitted in and out of dreams, unremembered fully until that moment. Hesitantly, he probed, “Why did the water make it retreat?”
“They fear water,” Emma answered smoothly. “Because sometimes it can show their reflection.”
Van Helsing cleared his throat. “I’d hate to interrupt the scholarly chat, but we need to disappear. Perhaps we can continue this another time – another year, perhaps.”
She shook her head vehemently, eyes boring into both of theirs with determination. After spearing them with a sharp silence, Emma said urgently, “No, you must hear me out. Something terrible is coming, and I don’t know how much longer we can let it come unhindered.”
“If I had a quid for every time someone said something like that…” growled Van Helsing, but trailed off with a demanding glance from Carl. “Alright, I could use some help getting him home.”
It was surely a blow to his dignity, Carl supposed as he clung to the back of a ghost from his past, trying not to be dislodged from a powerful horse as Emma sent it racing after Van Helsing’s steed. Apart from the bobbing of the ride jolting more fiery pain into his ankle, there was a greater pain as he found himself once again useless.
He drew in a deep shuddering breath, inhaling her scent desperately, as though afraid she would vanish into thin air. His heart skipped a beat, causing him to tighten his grip about her waist. Soon enough he slipped away in the realm of dark unconsciousness, engulfed by dreams of the fair lady, clearer than ever before.