The Tragic Gargoyle
Flight was something that he’d never get used to. He’d ridden in airships that flew high above the clouds as a human, but flying by one’s own accord was an entirely different engagement. He was similarly not yet accustomed to the district that surrounded the Tower of Darkness, and found the eternal cloud cover to be tiresome and altogether too dreary for his tastes, truly that was the most tragic part of his curse. Being exiled to Gloom would have been something he may have enjoyed, the sharp, vibrant architecture of the district had nearly brought a tear to his eye when he first saw it.
All of Gloom’s citizens were equally as sharp and perfectly respectable. They were gaunt and pale in the face, but snappily dressed in finely tailored suits. They carried themselves with a dignity that someone other than himself simply wouldn’t understand. They carried themselves as though their wit were more deadly than their sword, and in a district such as this, they were often correct. Yes, Gloom might have been a paradise of sorts, were it not completely devoid of sunlight.
Ergon beat his wings, climbing higher into the ever darkening night sky of Gloom, following after a raven of all things. When he had sent a missive to Hoenna, requesting an audience, he did not expect that the Conjurer Supreme would send her familiar to be the one to bring him to her.
“I tire of this flight, bird, where is it that you are taking me?” Ergon scowled at his guide. There was no response, of course. Magical or not it was just a bird. A raven, nothing more. Ergon, however, was beginning to question whether the raven even had a sense of direction at this point. He’d been dragged all around Gloom, hardly taking the most direct path to his desired destination. He detested the wasting of time, regardless of the form that he took. Every second wasted was money slipping through his fingers, doubly so while he was trapped in this accursed form! Damn that witch, Gillian! He’d see to it that she was properly repaid for her ‘gift’ to him.
Just as he was beginning to yell at the bird once more, a flash of lightning rippled through the sky, lighting up the Tower of Darkness in all of its majesty. He’d never been this close to it before. Ah, but of course Hoenna would be in the Tower, where else could she have possibly been? A smile crept its way onto his face, adrenaline thrumming through his veins once more. His guide led him to a window just a few floors beneath the Tower’s peak, placing it nearly within Ergon’s grasp, only to divert in the last breath and begin to dive back down towards the district below.
That was the final straw.
“How is it that, between the two of us, I am the one cursed into this abominable form, yet you appear to be the truer monster?” He yelled, bringing the raven to a halt. “Had I known you were ordered to fly me in literal circles for the day, I would have possibly decided that looking like such a miserable wretch weren’t so bad! Where is it that you are taking me?” He demanded, angrily. Of course there would be no response, as usual, but-
“Nowhere.” the raven cawed back, its voice carrying a dissonant harmony of tones.
Ergon blinked, “You can speak?”
“Then why have you left me in silence this whole time?” Anger returning to Ergon’s voice.
“I have left you in silence because I do not enjoy your company, beast.”
“You’ve continually referred to me as bird, so too shall I refer to you for what you are as well.”
Ergon’s blood boiled, pushing him to the tipping point. He dove for the bird, hands outstretched, ready to kill. No… not hands, claws. His claws were outstretched. Feral and hideous. Beastly… He slowed to a stop, his shoulders slumping once as the reality of his situation dawned upon him once more. This would get him nowhere, and he needed to see this conjurer. Surely one so experienced at creating monsters would be able to unmake one as well.
“Please, take me to Hoenna.” He requested softly. “What name might I call you?”
The raven nodded, “Daylon.” then returned to his dive from before. Ergon quietly followed behind him.
Hoenna’s demesne was an oddity among even the most unnatural places in Gloom. The grounds and manor itself were kept in pristine condition, a strangeness in and of itself, but they were kept by the walking monstrosities that she spent her time creating. Amalgamations of human flesh wandered around the grounds carrying clippers, rakes, and shovels, carrying out basic tasks as commanded by their maternal master. Ergon and Daylon flew past them all, heading directly for the manor instead.
Daylon had taken Ergon directly here this time, as opposed to taking the grand tour of Gloom. He was appreciative, but still conjured dark thoughts in his mind of what he’d like to do to the raven once he arrived safely at his destination. Once plucked, could ravens actually be eaten? Would his shardlight add a sweet, or sour taste to the meat? He’d only learn if he tried, and it had been some time since his last meal.
Before he had an opportunity to act upon his desires, they had rounded the corner of the mansion and come upon a courtyard where an imposing figure stood, waiting for their arrival. Ergon descended to the ground, taking the last few steps by foot rather than flight. Before he could speak, the woman in the courtyard took the initiative.
“And where is it that you’ve been all this time?” She asked, sternly.
“I have done what you asked, I have brought the gargoyle.” Daylon replied.
“Yes, and I sent you to him at dawn! It is well past dusk at this point.” She snapped.
“He needed to be taught a lesson.”
“He should have eaten you, you lousy, ignorant bird!” She dismissed him with a swipe of her hand, causing the raven to burst into a thick cloud of inky black smoke. The smoke quickly coalesced into her hand before disappearing from existence altogether. She then turned to her new guest,
“My deepest apologies, Daylon has a bit of a simple mind and doesn’t often think of the larger picture.”
Ergon, moderately stunned by her outburst towards her servant, stumbled through a reply, “Pay it no mind, what matters is that we are now here together.” Hoenna raised an eyebrow, assessing the beast that stood before her.
“Does exile also have the stipulation that you must wear actual garbage?” She asked.
“Few are eager to barter with a man that carries no coin.” He responded, more confidently. His attire was quite atrocious, all things considered. His clothes were in tatters, having all been torn to shreds by his transformation. He’d had to wrap pieces together in order to fashion something as simple as a loincloth, held up by a strap across his chest.
“And never did it cross your mind to steal some?” She continued.
“Unfortunately there are also no tailors that cater to such an eccentric form as my own here in Gloom. The wings have proven a particular difficulty.” He answered, trying to keep up the appearance of pleasantries. Each of her questions thus far had dug deeper and deeper under his skin, serving as perfect reminders of the body he was presently cursed to live in. Of course he’d thought of stealing clothes. Did she think that he enjoyed prancing about half naked in the streets?
“I see. And why is it that you thought to come to me?”
“I believe I mentioned that in my letter-”
“I do not trust words that are given but not spoken.” She snapped.
Ergon nodded, his frustration brewing already, “A guideline that many in this world should take the time to learn. However, I was quite honest in my letter. I have been cursed to take this undignified form by powerful magics, so I sought out the only expert that I would think to entrust the transmutation of my body to.” He answered, honestly. “You have made a life of creating monsters, certainly you’d be able to help unmake one as well.”
Hoenna turned away from him and began walking inside, “You think it wise to refer to my children as monsters?” Ergon attempted to follow after but found himself meeting a deep purple veil headfirst, causing him to fumble backwards onto the ground.
“Forgive me,” he responded quickly, standing up and dusting himself off, “ where I come from they write stories of creatures like your children. For many of them it takes their deepest imaginations to fathom them up. But what they don’t realize is that we are all monsters here. People are treacherous in their words and actions. They slaughter and brazenly kill with no mind paid to the families of those affected. You take the children of these very people, and turn them into something more, something with purpose. Yet, purpose does not unmake the fact that they are born of monsters themselves. Would you not agree?” He spun his words together on the fly, not fully believing them himself. Thankfully he did not have to believe his words in order to convince others they were true. The purple veil dissipated, welcoming Ergon inside once more.
“Come, there are questions I would ask you.”
From around the corner, a dark figure watched as Ergon followed after Hoenna and stepped inside.
“What a delicious turn of events” She said aloud to no one in particular. She turned to leave the courtyard, pleased to know that Hoenna had survived the bombing at the Argent Tower, and even more delighted to know that she’d just taken on a charity case. What ruination could this bring upon her dear sister, the figure wondered as she waltzed happily into the night.
Seeds of Doubt
The days bled into weeks as Ergon diligently traveled to Hoenna’s hidden laboratory daily. Each day was filled with various experiments, transmutation circles, and pitiful pleas into the veil of darkness that fell solely upon deaf ears. It was not a painless process either. He couldn’t count the number of times his limbs had been disfigured, broken, remade, or even removed in some cases. Not to mention the lightning that scored his gray skin each time Hoenna tried something new. Despite all of her apparent efforts, the Witch Queen’s magic held fast, leaving him a monstrous gargoyle.
Ergon cried out in pain once more as black lightning coursed through his veins, “I can’t take anymore!” He forced out. “Cease!”
Hoenna ignored his pleas, if for no other reason than she had heard them daily for weeks straight. She was close, of that she was certain. It just required a little more… dedication. Hoenna’s eyes flushed with shardlight as the storm intensified. Ergon’s cries similarly grew, it becoming apparent that she had no intention of stopping the process. As the hair on the back of Hoenna’s neck began to stand on its ends, she had a sudden epiphany.
The deluge of electric energy stopped, leaving Ergon groveling in pain, but still ravenously angry.
“Are you intent on slowly killing me? Is that it? Have I offended you somehow, witch? I thought we had an agreement, my information for your magic-”
Ergon’s voice trailed off into the back of Hoenna’s mind, drowned out by the oncoming darkness that was wrapping around her consciousness. Her heartbeat slowed as serenity poured over her, as the void consumed her every thought. Though she claimed to be the mother of so many children, she herself now felt like a babe wrapped warmly in a blanket. Shh, my child, I will care for you. The words from the void fell upon her ears like sweet kisses. She desperately wanted to cling to it, to never release this feeling of being made whole by the Lady of the Tower, but she knew she couldn’t. She knew she had to let go.
Hoenna’s eyes bolted open once more. Where there was shardlight before, now stood nothing but the endless and eternal void. Tendrils of inky black smoke streamed from her eyes like tears, giving Ergon quite the stir.
“Hoenna? What’s going on? Hoenna!” Ergon cried, raising his hand from the table. In a breath, Hoenna reconjured the lightning, this time entirely focused on one central point, Ergon’s outstretched hand. The lightning immediately seared the flesh from his body, leaving only bone in its wake. Ergon was frozen in place, forced to sit and wait for this torment to end. He looked at what remained of his appendage, second guessing himself on what he’d done to push Hoenna over the line of assistance into murder, but that was when it started. Flesh began to regrow over the bone. First it was muscle, then the skin… the bronzed skin that he wore when he was a man!
Hoenna finished her spell then slumped to her knees, bracing herself with a nearby table. Ergon admired her finished handiwork, turning his hand over again and again, clenching it into a fist to prove that it was real and not some soon to be forgotten dream. But no, it was the hand that wore rings of gold and silver, that carried gemstones larger than his own eyes.
“You did it! Hoenna! You-” his excitement trailed off as the mottled grey flesh that covered the rest of his body began to creep across his hand once more. “No, no, no!” He cried as his nails turned once more to talons. Tears welled in his eyes for only the briefest of moments, the rage followed too quickly after. He burst from the table he was bound to, ripping the bindings from their very bolts and leapt to the ground. He unfurled his wings and screamed with anger. Anger at Hoenna for failing him, anger at the Witch Queen for cursing him. Fierce. Burning. Anger. He tore into the table with his regrown talons and ripped it from the floor, tossing it across the room with a roar.
“We- we were there.” Hoenna said breathlessly, still recovering from her dysphoria. Ergon turned his anger to her.
“What does it matter, it still failed! I came to you for results, but all you’ve managed to deliver in weeks is failure upon failure!” He yelled.
Hoenna, with great effort, stood and brushed the dust from her skirt, “If you see this as failure, then perhaps I cannot help you after all.” She mused. “I will need to get a new table before we can try again.”
“Try again?! How much longer must I endure this torture? How much longer are you intending to sling lightning fruitlessly into my veins? Perhaps next we’ll try drowning, maybe that will work!” He spat sarcastically.
“I am more than happy to scorn your body with lightning until the day you die.” She replied, calmly and more confidently as her strength returned. “You came to me for help and I took you in, despite many reservations. However I’m afraid that I cannot abide fools in my presence, a moniker the Witch Queen so aptly gave to you it seems. Now leave.” She commanded, turning sharply and exiting the underground chamber. “Return when you have decided you want to be a man again, rather than a beast.”
Hoenna’s words bit at Ergon’s ego but otherwise did nothing to soothe his rage. The fleshy golem guards in the room shambled towards Ergon to escort him out. He elected to take to flight and evacuate the premises himself. With a beat of his wings he was airborne, but he froze as the two golems exploded in a mass of flesh and bone. White light twinkled from the dark corner of the room where Ergon could just make out the form of a slender woman.
“Well that was exciting.” The woman announced, her words laced with biting sarcasm.
“What are you doing here, Catrina?” Ergon demanded. “I’ve had about enough of your family today.
Catrina emerged from the shadows, “Oh, I just wanted to see if you’d heeded my word or not. Apparently you hadn’t, so you came to suffer yet again.” She teased. Ergon hadn’t forgotten her words. Hoenna is deceiving you. That was what she’d said. At first it was difficult to believe such nonsense, but over time Ergon wasn’t entirely certain anymore. There’d been a monumental breakthrough today. He’d seen his own flesh and blood for the first time in months. Could it all really have been a ruse? Why?
“You saw for yourself, she gave me my arm back today.” He replied.
“No, she dangled a treat before your eyes then hid it away again.” She snipped playfully. It did seem odd that Hoenna hadn’t reached this point before. It’d been weeks since they’d started these daily practices and still there seemed to be no end in sight. Again, how much longer would he have to suffer before she found the cure he desired? Could she even supply it?
“Why? What reason does she have to lie to me?” Ergon asked, his rage slowly falling to despair.
“Don’t you see?” She asked, striding towards the gargoyle. “My sister enjoys it. She lives for the sensation of torture. Her pets are made from children that she kills herself! You are just another of her many playthings, Ergon.” Ergon touched down on the ground once more, allowing Catrina to move in more closely. “It’s as plain as ink.” She whispered delicately in his ear.
Plaything? Whether he was a gargoyle or a human, Ergon never allowed somebody to toy with him. Her words stoked the fires of his rage once more, causing his heart to thrum wildly. “I do not take kindly to being misled.” He stated.
“Then why do you sit idly by and let her bring you nothing but pain,” she slid her finger along the side of his face down to his chest, where she firmly placed her hand upon his heart, “and misery? Surely you’re not prepared to endure even more, are you?”
Ergon’s mind was conflicted. Hoenna needed the information that he had about the Witch Queen, why would she actively betray him for no reason? It didn’t make sense. Even though he was angry with her, did that really mean that she wasn’t trying to find the cure for him still?
“I-” he started, but trailed off weakly. Catrina frowned.
“You’re still looking for an excuse to stay?” She asked. “I still don’t understand why you’re trying to become a boring old human again.”
“Of course I am! Why would I want to stay like this?” He exclaimed.
“But why?” She asked. “Why would you give up such grace, such beauty… such power.”
Ergon thought for a moment that she was taunting him, but there was a rare trace of honesty in her words.
“What do you mean by power?”
Catrina grinned, “You haven’t noticed? Or did you forget that you just ripped this solid oak table from the ground and flung it about like a piece of paper?”
That was true, he did have significantly more physical strength in this form. Was that truly enough though? “I can pay for the strongest men in the world if I desired, what need do I have of this strength?” He asked, pulling himself away from her.
“No, I suppose you don’t have much need for that. But I see more power deeper within you. I see the power of Shardlight, Ergon.”
Shardlight? “What do you mean?” He asked, earnestly.
“Take another look at the table.”
Ergon looked at her quizzically before wandering over to the table. He turned it over to look at it again. At the point where he’d grabbed the table, there was a small creature made of oak that appeared to be trying to rip itself free of the table. It wriggled and struggled from the waist up, like it couldn’t breathe. Ergon couldn’t look away,
“What is this?” He asked softly. Had he created this?
“My sister is not the only one who can create life from lifelessness.” She said, coyly. “Now, are you interested in what I see within you?” A wicked grin crept across her face as she felt him curl nicely around her finger