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It was a long time before the villagers felt that pressure in the air again, the weight of deadly magic pressing them down. The second Malevolence ripped the air apart with its fury, shrieking through the sky. When it hit the village, the force of its thunder burst houses apart, and the stones of the old cathedral shifted and groaned, scraping against one another through the old mortar.
The townsfolk still remembered how to run. They fled the village in a panicked rush, all but for the parents of the choir children. Instead, these mothers and fathers ran toward the cathedral. Romain stood within, gesturing for them to hurry. But just when they were on the verge of reaching that relative shelter, the terrible Malevolence struck. The wind hit the streets like a falling mountain.
Dead, dead, dead, sang the bells in the tower as the fierce wind rang them. Romain slammed the door shut against the howling storm, tears in his eyes. He took a deep breath, then turned to the children huddled in the center of the grand cathedral. The elder ones were trying not to whimper. They had seen nothing. There would be time enough after the storm was over to tell them what happened, if they all lived. The cathedral had been old as the ages when Romain had come to live here, and it had been ages since. Surely it could survive one more assault.
Hanging low, the storm clouds billowed and tumbled over one another in the sky, vast mountains of grey and black. Raging, they threw lightning from one to the next like vengeful gods. Watching through the window, Romain shuddered as the storm tore apart the town he had worked so many long years rebuilding. Bits of lumber and even stones tumbled through the darkened streets. Cracks opened up in the earth, and the cobblestones tumbled in, a river of stone in the driven rain.
Turning from the window, Romain went to the children, huddled together in the center of the grand cathedral. A few asked for their mothers or fathers, but he hushed them. What little comfort he could offer lay in his presence and soft words.
Above, the cathedral’s motionless guardians watched helplessly as everything was destroyed. As the wind blew through their mouths they howled fiercely, ignoring the wind and rain that battered them. It was the thunder, shaking and shivering through the building, that pained them the most. Under the rumbling force, the earth all around started cracking and breaking apart. The building shook, then began to settle, the softened ground splintering in all directions.
Within, the gargoyles could sense Romain hugging the children, then pushing them up the stone dais in alarm as the cathedral groaned. With a deafening crack, a dark crevasse appeared down the middle of the cathedral, and a boy was lost, screaming into the abyss. Dust billowed into the cathedral, a choking brown fog that stuck to everything and made it hard to breathe.
The floor was breaking up. With nowhere else to go, Romain pushed the children to the walls, pleading with them to climb the masonry. Scrabbling and scrambling, they raised themselves to the rafters and the forest of stone archways that made up the rooftop of the cathedral. As if chasing them, cracks worked their way up the elaborate walls. The storm blew right through, breaking the windows above and whistling in the cracks of the walls, screaming supernatural power into the room. The long arras shook, nearly knocking Romain off of his climb, then ripped loose, tossing about the great cathedral.
Desperate, Romain pushed the choir children upward, and they crawled along the high window sills until they were outside. The air was freer, but the walls were shaking and leaning sickeningly out over the cracked ground.
The children clung to the only bits of stone they could, the shifting statues they’d spent so many hours staring at instead of their lessons.
A tiny girl grasped the statue that had once been Goji by the arm. She wept into his shoulder, instantly soaked by the whirling storm. The rain whipped at them, and she shrieked as her hair was twisted and pulled by the fingers of the wind.
Desperate, Romain spread his arms and crouched over the little ones, trying to shield them. Raw magic like bright lightning burnt his back, and he cried out. As the walls slid downward toward the rain-soaked earth, he shouted into the storm. “Help them! Take me if you want, but leave–”
His voice was drowned as the opposite side of the cathedral sheared away in a torrent of screaming stone. Unheard, Romain begged his old stone guardians, his mascots of the cathedral, to protect the children, caring nothing for himself. His blood poured from the open wounds in his back, and then right out of his pores as the supernatural thunder burst on him.
His blood, spattering in the rain, pooled on in the nooks and crannies of the stones on the ruined roof of his beloved cathedral. Crimson in the lightning flashes, it splashed over Goji’s frozen figure, the little girl still weeping into his stone shoulder.
Stone chips flew as the storm reached its heights, pulling the stones apart on the wall, and still Romain crouched, shielding them all with his last strength. He couldn’t see it, but his blood was vanishing from the gargoyles, not washed away, but sinking in.
Romain’s eyes closed as the life drained from his body, so he never saw Goji move. However, he could hear the clear, high sound that cut through the thunder and the howling rain like a shaft of sunlight. Goji had begun to sing.
One by one, the other statues blinked their stone eyes, opened their mouths, and took up the song. They sang of the things they had seen, the joys and sorrows they had watched for so long. They sang of the horizon they had grown to love so much. They sang the Song of the World, and as they sang they got up from their perches, holding the tiny children close in their arms.
Romain sighed, but did not let his arms drop. As his blood drained from him completely, the man became rain-spattered stone.
Their song, cutting through the thunder, seemed to hold the walls of the cathedral up just long enough for the gargoyles to climb down, each with a child slung about their necks. As they left the ancient building, most of it collapsed into the earth, while the storm howled triumphantly. Only one chunk of masonry remained, topped by a stone man in a protective stance.
They walked on, bearing up under the storm, which was quickly fading. Golden daylight found the Gargoyles still walking, still singing, still carrying the children they had saved.
They found the villagers that had fled. Some of the children were returned to their parents, who had somehow survived; others cried silently, for the storm had taken many lives. Goji finally ceased his song, and turned to the father of the little girl whose life he had saved, and who now hugged her close.
His voice was still clear and musical, but had an edge that spoke of many years watching the comings and goings of his world. “Go back to your village now, friend. Build it up again, sing your daughter to sleep each night.” He turned to go, as the other Gargoyles were eager to move on and into the new light of dawn. But he hesitated, and then added with a smile, “Be sure and set the statue of the man that lies in the ruins of the old cathedral by the door of the new one. He will surely guard it as he always has.”
Bewildered, the father and the other villagers nearby nodded as they watched these strangely familiar creatures hurry on to new lands and new verses of their endless song.
The elder left off the last verse with a sigh of contentment. It was rare that he had such a rapt audience, the younger Gargoyles huddled together, bobbing their heads to the rhythm of his story. “Well, it looks like the worst of the storm is over, young ones. Time to be moving on, soon.” His skin scraped against the bench as he stood and stretched.
The other Gargoyles blinked, surprised, as they realized that the rain had ceased to batter against the old roof, and quiet moonlight was streaming through the windows. Delighted, they rushed to the door and out into the night. The older Gargoyle followed more slowly.
His cracked smile came back to his face as he saw the last, and youngest, Gargoyle pause by the door of the old ruin. His eyes wide, the little one stilled the small harp hung at his side and reached out to a rock that stood by the archway. The old lump of stone was weathered by countless years, scored by the weather and faded by long days. However, it still resembled a man, arms outstretched in a gesture of desperate protection.
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