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The old stones of the ruin seemed to crack and change shape in the shifting, orange light of sunset, as if crumbling in the wind. Angry clouds, bent on destruction, gathered above the tumbled walls and hanging archways. However, they had stood this way for many years. If the ruin survived the storm, it would be many years more before the last stone was buried in grass.
The stark shape was the only shelter the roaming band of Gargoyles could see on the wide, rolling plain. Holding their possessions close as the first rumbling rolled over the hissing grasses of the plain, they ran to the old building, broken colonnades dark against the orange sky.
They burst through the creaking door of the old building eagerly, shaking droplets from their slate skin. Some went to explore the darker corners of the ruin as the shadows lengthened, while others kindled a fire for the evening meal, humming as they blew the flames to life. A white, shuddering flash of lightning brought them together. They huddled against the roar of thunder, so loud it seemed to crack stone.
One of the elder Gargoyles raised his head. Looking at the younger folk, gathering close as the thunder shattered the air around them, he smiled. A myriad of tiny cracks appeared on his face, like a map of the surrounding countryside. “Settle down now, or the evening’s tale will never be told.”
The younger folk glanced at one another in the flickering firelight, droplets running down their faces like glittering gems. One by one, they produced instruments from beneath their robes and began to strike up a warm rhythm, cutting through the hush of rain hitting the tattered roof.
The elderly Gargoyle cleared his throat. “I sing it now, beneath the clouds…I sing the song of the watchers, while thunder crashes loud…I sing of those who are no more, a song of seekers, wayward wanderers, I sing of those who came before.”
On a wide plain crisscrossed by great ravines, a few villages had sprung up, making their living by farming and husbandry. One of their greatest resources was the plentiful stone, good for building and carving, which could be found and quarried all around. These folk were known for their grand buildings, great spired constructions dedicated to the glory of their gods.
One of their cathedrals, mightier than the rest, rose tall above the largest village. Many-tiered towers draped in stone curlicues stood like a grand gesture to the sky. Rows of windows across the front of the building seemed to call a welcome with their cornices like fine embroidery.
In this village there was born a child called Goji. On Goji’s fifth birthday, his mother presented him with a tiny lute. Goji treasured the thing, and didn’t break it, as his father dourly predicted. He plucked the strings with his clumsy fingers, and became fascinated. Coming back from the market, his mother was astounded to hear him playing the lullaby she used to sing him to sleep with at night, plinking from the kitchen window. Goji had climbed up on the table and was frowning his tiny face over the notes. She closed the window against the rain and picked him up to lovingly crush him in her arms.
It became Goji’s obsession. In the shadow of this great cathedral, just under the decorative stone shelf that ran around the edge of the roof, Goji practiced his music. Day in and day out, whenever he wasn’t needed somewhere else, he could be found there, singing to the reverberating walls.
Goji grew into a tall, very handsome boy, with long brown locks and a honey voice that could melt the coldest hearts. Goji took his harmonies very seriously, and even as a young child, he practiced night and day, seeking to master all the instruments and songs that he could.
His parents doted on Goji, and provided him with all the materials and instruments he could need. They hired the best music teachers from the villages round about, and Goji’s skills increased to match his love of harmony. He felt music in his bones, and loved becoming better and better.
A few young, aspiring musicians came to Goji’s side as he practiced long hours in the shadow of the cathedral, forming a group of eager young minstrels. Though they were children, they grew to respect Goji’s seriousness about music, and loved him for his commitment to the rhythm and the sound.
With so many wanting to practice with him, Goji could choose the best and most dedicated to stay. As his talent and fame grew, so did his pride. He began to believe that he was special, destined for greater things than anyone who could not match him in musical skill. Music and song became more important to him and his cadre than anything else in the world. They formed a group of their own and excluded the other children, refusing to join their games. Stone-hearted to their entreaties, Goji and his picked comrades continued to play their music in the shadow of the cathedral, letting none of the others play or even sit nearby.
Eventually, they devised cruel jokes in the form of rhymes or songs that they would chant when children outside their group came near. It worked, for as the limericks caught on about the village, the others found it much better to stay away and avoid the hurtful jibes that the young musicians came up with. Goji and his compatriots got their wish; they were able to practice on their own, and increase their musical skill like the prodigies they were.
The storms first came in Goji’s fourteenth year. That was when the Veil was Pierced, and the First Breaking of the world came upon the world. The sky rained fire, scorching the earth to its bones, and the land of ravines cracked and shattered as upheavals tore it apart. Many villages perished whole, swallowed by the tortured earth.
In the largest village, the young musicians continued to play their music, refusing to acknowledge the end of the world. Their compatriots tried to pull them away, but Goji refused. “Nothing will make me leave this place!” he cried haughtily in his melodic voice, “I have been playing music here my whole life. This will pass, but my music will live on.”
Spurred on by him, his friends stayed as well, even as the first terrible Veilstorms rolled in.
Goji clung to the masonry of the cathedral walls, while the rest stuck close by. The storm raged all around them, magic ripping and lashing with wind and rain. There was something different about this storm, something that made it worse than the previous Veilstorms. There was a terrible intelligence in this storm, something that bore the world a deep ill will.
They did not know it, but this magic storm, marked by an incredible pressure in the air, would come to be called a Malevolence. This was one of the first, or perhaps the very first, to strike this unlucky world. Succumbing to its power, most of the villagers who hadn’t fled were killed, or became howling abominations that ran off into the ashy night.
But a stranger fate awaited Goji and his closest companions. As they clung to the walls of the cathedral, the magic and the rain lashed at them in unnatural fury. Something shifted under the beating of the storm and the stone walls began to soften beneath the children’s’ fingers. Goji gasped, the thick air painful in his lungs, as the stone began to ooze from the wall, flowing like mud down his hands and arms. He tried to pull away, but the wind and the weight of the others only pressed him forward, and he wasn’t strong enough. The young folk screamed as they felt the bubbling stone cover them over, shaping them in ways they couldn’t understand.
The young musicians were covered by the liquid stone, their fearful shouts muffled as the flowing stone dripped over their mouths. Goji felt the terrible weight pressing on him from all sides, covering him in a new skin. He struggled in pain and fear, but it was far too late. As if focused on a single purpose, the stone wrapped him round, fusing with his body. The magic caused him excruciating torture, forming a new skin. As the wind and rain fell over the children in sheets, the stone grew denser, hardening into the new visage of their change.
None of them were themselves any more. They only barely resembled humans. Horns, wide eyes, gaping mouths, pointed wings, and many other strange additions had been made as the storm changed them. They had become twisted, comical mockeries of their former selves, monsters in silent stone. Somehow, their appearance seemed carefully planned, as if each feature had become a detail drawn by a mad artist, revealing the way they had become inside. Staring at one another out of the stone prisons they had fused with, the children would have screamed if they could have moved.
The storm slowly lost its terrific force as the night progressed. The sun rose, bringing steam from the splinters of broken houses and the dead bodies that had been washed away in the unstoppable flood of rainwater and magic. The villagers tried to gather together. Much of their town had been destroyed, or simply carried away. Nearly half of the townsfolk were dead…or worse, changed into the abominations that had run off howling and shrieking.
Among the dead were Goji’s parents, lying broken by the fallen timbers of their ruined home. No one could find Goji or the other children at first. Then one old woman noticed the twisted mockeries in stone that had appeared next to the cathedral.
Though she had been stoic through all the horrors up to this point, she finally broke down in tears as she pointed out the features of the changed children to everyone. The eerie and unmoving statues made silent, painful howls with their open mouths, and only seemed to mock the townsfolk and their frailty in the face of the storms. No one knew what could possibly be done about it. So far as they knew, there was no magic that could bring back the town’s lost children, though their loss was keenly felt. Eventually, as they struggled to rebuild the town, some workers dragged the statues inside the cathedral and left them there.
Many years passed, rolling into decades and then brushing against centuries. The nature of the statues was forgotten as the world turned, and the storms raged on. The cathedral survived, though it started to look battered and run-down, with cracks in the stones and timbers worn by the weather.
Among the survivors of the other scattered villages was one Romain, a boy who grew up and came to the largest village. He was a kind man, and a good leader, endlessly patient with rebuilding and reorganizing the village after every storm tore most of it down. When the work crews finally got around to repairing the cathedral, Romain had them place the ancient statues upon the roof, as guardians of the hall. He turned it into a school, teaching the children of the town the knowledge that had been threatened by the Breaking of the World.
The children’s choir would come every week and practice, their voices soaring high among the arches, a forest of stone rising to the sky. Silent and still over the door, the statues listened.
More storms came, and the children were often rushed home before disaster could overtake them, for the world was still in great turmoil after the Piercing. The rain and wind ran over the statues, and they would gurgle or whistle as the storm went through their open mouths.
Romain heard them as he took shelter in his cathedral late into the night, and he began to call them “gurglers.” The children, delighted at the imposing yet humorous appearance of the statues, took up the name. Over the years, as they grew up and other children learned the tradition, it became “gargoyles”. Stumbling as they ran and played, singing snatches of the songs they were practicing, just as Goji and his friends used to do, only more carefree.
The world grew and changed, even as these children grew up and new children came to learn from Romain.
The stones baked in the heat of summer, or froze in the white winters, and still the sky spun over Goji, while he watched with wide eyes and gaping mouth. He learned, frozen in time but not in mind.
The gargoyles watched, perched eternally on their walls. They watched the horizon, the travelers who came and went, trading and rebuilding in the ruined world. They watched as the children grew up and built their own homes in the regrowing town, or braved the storms and went off over the horizon themselves. The gargoyles watched as the ravines filled in or burst farther apart, the land still feeling the endless aftereffects of the Piercing. They watched as Romain helped his village grow, and as more townsfolk came to fill out the town. More and more houses spread out from the cathedral under the watchful eyes of its guardians, and Goji saw their lives play out. He began to learn life’s tides and winds, as innumerable songs were sung to their end below him, endless poems of the everyday played out in the streets of the town.
A story came to be told among Romain’s students, passed from one child to another until it was legend. They believed that the appearance of the gargoyles was slowly changing. At first, it was only a small thing, like changed fingers or a mouth opening wider, but then their horns or wings shifted or disappeared entirely. They were becoming new creatures. Goji wondered if it were true, but he could not turn to look. He could only listen to what the children said of him.
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