September Short Story - Ghost's Birth
Three hundred years. So far as Garon and the other gargoyles of his herd knew, the world had gone three hundred years without the birth of a gargoyle.
He knew this because he and his mate, Verall, were the leaders of the last surviving herd of gargoyles. As they were doing now, he and Verall had sat on many a clutch in those years, hoping against all hope that the Goddess would see fit to bless them with a hatchling.
So far, those hopes had been dashed.
Verall wrapped a wing around Garon and pulled him closer, speaking in his low rumbling tenor. “The herd needs us to be calm today.”
Garon grinned, noticing that Verall was as tense as he was if the set of his shoulders and the grinding of his jaw stones was any indication.
They would both have to get it together before the ceremony began.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head to rest against Verall’s, taking a long slow breath. Tonight was too important to let their nerves get the better of them. How many times had they done this over the years?
Not as many times as he would have liked, and yet more than he wanted given the results.
Gargoyles were unlike any other mythical creature in that the females of the herd laid eggs and the mated alpha pair of the herd sat on the clutch to hatch it. The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” was never truer. Any young born from the clutch was raised by the entire herd.
Over the centuries, though, the number of eggs laid had dwindled until now they considered themselves blessed to have one or two eggs to sit on in fifty years.
No one knew why this was happening to the species, though Garon believed the theories about decreasing habitats were true. Gargoyles didn’t have a human form as some myths did and as fewer and fewer buildings had stone gargoyles adorning them, hiding in the world of humans had become more and more difficult.
Myths might have been outed to humans on the Day of the Dawning, but the damage was done.
Garon shifted his weight, peering down at the egg beneath them with its deep black stone outer shell.
In less than an hour, he and the rest of the herd would take turns flying the egg high into the sky where they would pray for a successful hatching. Pray to the Goddess to grant them a new life to continue their line. Pray for the blessing of a child to love.
Verall’s wing tightened around him again and Garon let out a slow deep breath. He was ready. In an hour, his heart might be crushed as it had been so many times over the years, but he would face this night’s ceremony with hope and love in his heart.
When the eleventh hour came, Garon and Verall stood from their roost together for the first time in two years. In all that time, one of them had always staying on the egg, as the other took a turn stretching their wings in the night sky.
It had taken the collective magic of the other five herd members to glamour them so no humans or other myths discovered them at the top of the abandoned building they’d been using as a nursery roost.
Those same five members – Zola, Odetta, Maiya, Fortunatus, and Andre – surrounded them now, still using their magic to ward the space.
Garon worked to project nothing but serene confidence as he began the ritual, reciting the blessings of the ancestors over the egg.
When he had finished, he looked to each of his herd members in turn. “Tonight, we welcome a new fledgling to our numbers. We will surround the infant with love and peace. We will teach the child of our ways, protect the child against all threats, and surround the child in the love and warmth of our tribe.”
Zola looked back, hope warring with anxiety in her gaze. Odetta’s gaze held the firm belief he was hoping to project. Belief that this egg held a live fledgling.
Maiya’s expression was utterly blank. Shut down as she held back all emotion.
Fortunatus and Andre were similarly guarded, as though they didn’t dare hope.
The entire herd had been traumatized by the events of the last few centuries. No one was unscathed. No one had been spared.
Verall took Garon’s hand in his and squeezed. No matter what, they would project nothing but calm, steady confidence tonight.
“Zola,” Verall said, “Will you begin the ceremonial flight for us?”
Zola nodded solemnly. They all knew the order they would fly in during the birthing flight. Zola would take the egg up into the sky before turning it over to Fortunatus, then Odetta, and so on. When they had brought the egg to a height of fifteen thousand feet, Garon and Verall would take the egg, together, and bring it another thousand feet before letting it go.
Gargoyle infants were born on the twenty-fifth day of the twenty-forth month of gestation. They had to be dropped from the sky to allow them to be born into the wind.
If egg was viable, the infant would spread its wings and the herd would be there to help it through its first flight.
If the egg was not… Garon wouldn’t think about that right now. There was no point in dwelling on the past.
He almost laughed at his attempt to convince himself.
Zola gave a firm nod and stepped forward, taking the egg from the roost where Garon and Verall flanked it.
She grasped the egg in her arms and pushed off, spreading her wings wide as she carried the egg into the night.
Fortunatus waited a beat before taking off after her, and the rest of the herd fell into place behind them.
The night sky was silent, save for the beat of wings and the catch of breath in the gargoyles’ chests as they tried to remain hopeful. Hopeful for a different outcome.
Up and up and up, they flew, ever higher. Their natural ability to gauge height and distance told each when to switch the egg to the next herd member.
The egg was passed from hand to hand.
Garon narrowed his eyes on the stone shell. Was that a subtle glow emanating from the crevices of its surface? Or was he imagining that as he’d imagined small movements or sounds coming from the egg over the last few weeks?
He glanced to Verall, but found his mate’s face locked to the egg, his face a mask that revealed nothing.
Garon flapped his wings. It was almost time. Twelve thousand feet.
His chest felt tight as he watched the final ascent praying to the Goddess that the egg would hatch.
As Maiya took the egg from Andre, Verall reached out to grasp Garon’s hand and they flew together that way, watching the last of their herd mates carry the egg forth.
A lump formed in Garon’s throat and tears pricked at the back of his eyes. He wanted this so much. Wanted to experience the feel of a young one in his arms again, something he’d only ever experiences as an uncle.
He wanted to see their baby take its first steps. To watch it grow and learn to speak. To see it smile or laugh. To be there when it was hurt and needed hugs or a healing chant from its elders.
He wanted all of that and more with a passion and strength that stole his breath.
Fifteen thousand feet.
Verall squeezed his hand before releasing it as they came alongside Maiya and, together, took hold of the egg.
He met his mate’s eyes as their wings took them higher. Only another thousand feet.
His breath seemed frozen in his lungs. The hardest part was yet to come. That moment of sheer and utter trust in the magic of their species. The moment when they had to give their egg to the wind and pray.
Verall never looked away from him and neither did Garon. They had walked this path so many times before together, but they would do it again. As many times as it took.
With one last plea to the Goddess, Garon let go of the egg at the same time Verall did.
They watched their herd mates as they all dove after the egg, remaining a safe distance but there to catch the egg at the last moment if it didn’t hatch.
He wouldn’t think about the ceremonial rites and burial that would come if the egg didn’t hatch. Now was the time for hope, not despair.
The egg fell, plummeting through the sky.
Garon watched for any sign of life. Was that a crack? Was something happening?
He tucked his wings in tight to his side to make up speed and catch up to the egg and the others.
When he came alongside it, he unfurled his wings, slowing his descent and searching. Always searching for a sign.
Goddess bless us…Goddess please, here my prayer…
He offered promises. Promises to be a good father. To love the child. To raise it in strength and love and peace. To keep it safe.
He offered a bargain. That they wouldn’t ask for another if they were given this one. That he would never ask anything else of the Goddess if they could only have a child.
His heart hurt in his chest as they came closer to the ground. There wasn’t much time left. It was now or never.
If their child would be born, it would need to be now.
Spread your wings little one. Please, please, please. Spread your wings.
The ground sped toward them, only three hundred feet away.
It was too close. It wasn’t going to happen.
Garon closed his eyes, tears coming.
Please…please…please. He couldn’t offer anything more than that at this point. It was all he had in him. He could only chant the word again and again in his mind as his heart fractured again, into a million pieces.
He wasn’t sure his heart could be put back together this time. He didn’t think he could go through this again.
Garon opened his eyes to see the ground flying at him, but that wasn’t what captured his gaze.
The egg glowed, a soft barely discernable light coming from it.
A soft choked sob escaped his chest as he watched.
“Praise the Goddess,” uttered Zola.
“And She will praise you,” answered Maiya, both of them speaking so lowly the words were almost undiscernible, as though they didn’t dare speak too loudly for fear of bringing a curse on what they were seeing.
They were so close now to the ground that Garon himself didn’t dare trust in what he was seeing.
The ground flew at them, forcing his heart into his throat.
And then he saw it. With a flash of bright light, black stone wings unfurled and the optimism that had been losing ground in Garon’s chest burst forth. Joy and light and thanks filled him as he saw the small stone head and ears of their infant.
The young one beat his wings, tipping to the left unsteadily before Zola righted him with a gentle touch of her wing beneath his.
Garon looked to Verall and found his mate watching him with tears in his eyes.
Garon and Verall moved in, swooping beneath the infant to catch him in their arms as they took flight again. They held the baby boy between them, their arms wrapped around him and each other as their wings brought them back to the sky.
As their herd mates surrounded them, Verall raised his voice to the sky and announced the name of their new family member.
“Mathieu,” he called out, pronouncing the name like Mathew but with a ch in place of the th.
“Gift from the divinity,” Garon added, translating the name for all and letting the tiny being between them know how important he was to them all.
Lori Collier is the pen name of the writing team behind the Roxie Andrews Series.
This duo is made up of USA Today bestselling author, Lori Ryan and Eli Collier, a double black belt! Read more here!