Authors: William Massa
Rhianna couldn’t stop looking at the stone.
It's beautiful. Can I touch it?”
Her dad nodded with a smile. He loved seeing his own passion for archeology mirrored in his daughter.
Rhianna picked up one half of the
Eye of Balor
, mesmerized. The gem was smooth on one side, jagged on the other.
“Sure makes you wonder where myth ends and history begins,” Dr. Sharpe said.
Rhianna continued to trace the gem with her fingers. Hypnotized by its shape and color, the play of light weaving a spell and...
She suddenly flinched and whipped her hand back. A drop of blood oozed from her finger. Shit, she must have cut herself on the sharp edge of the broken gem.
“Damn, it's razor sharp!”
Rhianna pulled out a pocket-handkerchief and wrapped the bleeding cut.
“Just great! The Irish will be thrilled to find out I got blood on their priceless artifact.”
“I should have some Band-Aids and disinfectant in my medicine cabinet. I’ll be right back.”
While Dr. Sharpe entered the small bathroom of his office, Rhianna returned the shattered ruby to the case. Unbeknownst to her, a few drops of her blood ran down the gem fragment that had sliced her finger, hit the lining of the display box and landed on...
The other half of the
Eye of Balor
The gems gave off a faint glint and snapped together like reunited magnets. Somehow the archeology student’s blood had mended the broken ruby, erasing all signs that it was ever shattered.
Rhianna looked up at her father, who had returned to the office with a box of Band-Aids. She never saw the
Eye of Balor
lighting up with a preternatural force.
The instant the ruby fused into one, a winged shadow erupted to violent life inside the Celtic exhibit. A guttural growl echoed. Had the exhibit been open to the public, the bestial roar would have drawn people’s attention and triggered a panic, but the wing was deserted. Neither the guards who listlessly patrolled the museum floor nor Rhianna and her father bore witness to the one-eyed gargoyle returning to life after being trapped in stone for fifteen endless centuries. A long-forgotten evil was awake again, and soon an ancient darkness would descend over New York City. Before long, the city that never sleeps would experience the wrath of the gargoyles.
CENTRAL PARK WAS ablaze with the colors of late fall. In a few short weeks the trees would be stripped bare of their leaves in anticipation of the long winter months ahead. But on this day before Halloween, the American elms were vibrant yellow, the pin oaks scarlet and many a visitor thought they had stepped into a painting come to life. The sun was out and shined brightly, light refracting off Conservatory Water in a dazzling display of sparkling light.
The snap in the air put a bounce in everyone’s step. Joggers and bikers cranked up their pace, couples huddled closer, and tourists gawked at the emerald island in the heart of the metropolis while taking pictures with their cellphones.
In a more secluded area of the park, two teens clad in torn jeans, ragged black T-shirts and Converse sneakers were making their own artistic contribution to the city. The young artists believed that the park needed a little more color than nature could provide on its own. Their spray canisters hissed. Blue and green streaks bled across sculptures and call signs were tattooed across bronze and stone fairy-tale characters. The dense shrubbery added cover from prying passers-by and gave the two wannabe Picassos the privacy they needed to achieve their artistic ambitions.
One of the punks finished giving
Alice in Wonderland
a punk rock makeover and looked around for his next canvas. He zeroed in on a majestic stone statue of a humanoid gargoyle. Monstrous but also imbued with a fierce nobility. The punk’s lips twisted in an enthusiastic grin – his muse had just kicked into overdrive.
The artist brought up the can of spray paint when...
The gargoyle's slitted eyes lit up with a dark fire.
Wings flared open.
Lungs bellowed out a bestial roar.
The creature awoke from its long slumber.
The graffiti artists backed away, freaked. One kid started running, tripped over a branch and went flying. He hit his head on a rock and the can of spray paint rolled across the grass. The second kid hightailed it out of there. Gargoyle statues coming to life could rattle the most hardened badasses.
An eerie silence descended over the park, followed by a weak moan. This time it wasn’t the guttural utterance of a beast but a sound produced by human vocal cords. Where the gargoyle statue had stood there was now a naked man, his body a mass of scarred muscles.
The downed graffiti artist stared wide-eyed. What the hell was happening here? How could this be possible? Had his painter’s mask failed and allowed toxic fumes to penetrate his lungs and brain?
The naked man stirred and staggered to his feet. The sun hit his features, revealing him to be none other than Artan. The ancient king wearily absorbed his surroundings, taking in the lush vegetation around him. Artan tilted his head, spellbound by the magnificent steel towers of Manhattan's soaring skyline. His face flooded with an expression of breathless wonder that turned to unbridled joy. The sights were wondrous but could not compare to the sensation of the sun and wind against his naked skin. He was alive. A man again, flesh and blood, heart beating with the fury of someone granted a new lease on life.
Artan turned toward the downed graffiti artist, who let out an audible gasp. The kid’s arm flailed out but Artan snatched his wrist in mid-attack and brought it up and around his back, twisting tendons and bending bone.
The kid gasped and Artan eased his grip, his instincts still dulled from his fifteen-hundred-year slumber. Artan had no interest in harming the young man.
There was something else he needed from the kid.
Artan emerged from the foliage, now clad in the graffiti artist’s jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, and approached a large body of water surrounded by hanging trees. Sunlight dappled the pond's tranquil surface.
Artan stepped up to the water and peered down at his reflection in the calm surface. For a moment he was transfixed. With his long hair and Celtic warrior tattoos, Artan could have been an escapee from a rock band.
He kneeled down, his hand touching the water. A smile curled his lips as the cool sensation filled him with delight. He felt reborn and every experience was like a moment he was living for the first time. The magic that had turned him to stone had not been able to extinguish Artan’s ability to process his surroundings. He had remained aware during his long slumber, a maddening fever dream from which he could not wake no matter how hard he tried. His consciousness was trapped in a fog where the external world only filtered through in bits and pieces. He retained half-remembered impressions and fragments of sound — weird, disjointed pieces of a puzzle with no solution.
It was Artan’s personal hell, a limbo he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemies. It had been a sacrifice he was willing to make to save Kirkfall. There were flashes of clarity over the centuries during which his sanity hung by a delicate thread. He’d gotten through those darkest of moments by reminding himself that he had saved the people of Kirkfall and defeated a terrible enemy. But as the years went by and the veil of time obscured Artan’s great sacrifice, the former king drew less and less comfort from the memories of his heroic deed. His people were replaced by new tribes and nations, his world eroded by the passage of time until only the ruins and statues remained, buried in the dust of ages.
As the decades turned into centuries, Artan had seen kingdoms rise and fall, nations appear and disappear. A tortuous cycle of death and rebirth, repeating over and over again. He felt trapped in an eternal prison, doomed to bear witness to events without being able to influence them.
Artan appealed to the Gods during his more lucid moments, hoping they might show mercy on him and put an end to his suffering. He prayed for his own death and release from this terrible fate. Maybe his prayers were heard, but no deity ever deigned to answer them. He was denied extinction and remained a man frozen in time while the world rippled along, a furious river with no end.
The former king of Kirkfall felt elated to be given this moment, but his joy was tempered by a terrible knowledge and a growing unease. The curse of their stone imprisonment had been broken. If he had returned to the world, so must his enemy. And even though Artan was human at the moment, he could feel the dark blood of the gargoyle pumping through his veins. The knowledge of what he’d become clung to him like a dark shadow, a grim certainty he could not shake off. Once the sun vanished, the change would overtake him and he would transform into a monster. He had received another chance to walk among men, but it would be temporary...
He gave himself an internal push, found his center and pushed these negative thoughts aside. Ruminating about the future was a waste of time. He had to live in the here and now, experience the moment, regain his bearings and go from there.
Artan cupped the water in his hands and drank greedily, quenching a powerful thirst. Cold water still trickled down his lips and chin when he heard a sound behind him. A low growl that rose in intensity.
Artan whirled and came face to face with a German Shepherd. The dog crouched about twenty feet away, haunches poised, paws rooted, eyes fixed on the Celtic warrior.
Artan smiled at the animal and held out his hand, welcoming the contact. His outstretched hand was met with a warning – the canine bared its teeth and the growl grew more insistent.
The animal must have caught a whiff of the ancient darkness that had infected Artan – it knew what he had become. A dismayed look crept across Artan's features and the dog's growl degenerated into a pitiful, scared whimper. The canine backed away from Artan and sat cowering near his owner, who had just emerged from the nearby bushes. The dog’s owner took in Artan before eyeing his pet with concern.
”What's the matter, boy? What's gotten into you?”
The owner traded a suspicious look with Artan. Warily, Artan touched the dark scar on his arm where the gargoyle’s fangs had punctured soft tissue fifteen centuries earlier. And for one brief moment, a somber realization descended on him like a dark cloud. He was cut off from anything and anyone he had ever known and loved. A monster outside of time and nature. Not man, not beast.
Artan had grown up in a society both savage and warm. There was kinship, there was family, and there was love. His thoughts turned to Samara and his family, but the memories were bereft of any joy. There was only the pain of loss. The people who Artan had cared for the most had paid the ultimate price while he and Cael were spared. Reality pressed down on him, a burden that threatened to tear him apart. His home and everything he once held dear was gone, swept away by the tides of time.
As the full crushing weight of his situation bore down on him, the former king of Kirkfall felt like the loneliest man on earth.
Artan emerged from the thick underbrush and stepped onto Sheep's Meadow, a wide expanse of green. During the summer months one would find sunbathers and picnickers crowding the 15-acre field. Over its tumultuous history, the area had been home to a variety of concerts, political movements and demonstrations. At the moment, the meadow was deserted except for a couple kids flying kites and the occasional tourist enjoying the beautiful spot while taking a break from their sightseeing. The grass made Artan think of the lush plains of Kirkfall and the thought was accompanied by a sharp sense of loss.
Before he could succumb to melancholy, the all-too familiar clip-clop of a horse’s hooves drew his attention. It was followed by a whinny. Artan turned, finding a cop on horseback trotting down a stone path that ran along Sheep’s Meadow. Artan’s eyes grew distant as the horse filled his field of vision. Watching its nostrils flaring and flanks quivering, for a split second he was transported back in time...
Artan sat astride his mount, face covered in blue-green war paint, and surveyed his fallen city. Kirkfall had been transformed into a hellish battlefield, a burned wasteland of gutted houses and smoldering ruins. Flames painted the night crimson while an armada of shrieking gargoyles devoured the sky...
Artan blinked and was hurled back into present-day reality. His face had turned the color of chalk and his hands were clenched. He wisely leaned against a tree for support. The memories threatened to overwhelm him, every new impression creating an internal chain reaction.
It was all too much, too soon.
Artan saw the cop approaching. He must have noticed the sorry state Artan was in. The reawakened warrior heard the crackle of a mic and even though his knowledge of this world was limited, he recognized that this uniformed man wielded authority and must be a knight of some kind.
Artan decided the wise course of action was to leave before a confrontation became inevitable. He’d rather save his anger for Cael instead of squandering it on an honorable man who was just carrying out his duty.
The former king of Kirkfall darted into a forested area and made his way through the trees and underbrush. He followed a sound he couldn’t quite identify but which seemed familiar. It must have penetrated his stone slumber over the years, but its origin remained a mystery to him.