Heart of Stone Ch. 19bypsyche_b_mused©
Author's Note: Thank you all for your patience and your wonderful and kind comments. They truly make my day. A special thank you to the anonymous e-mail commenter who took the time to explain the biology of hybridization to me. I admit, I'm not a science person and that gave me a good way to think about it.
I hope you all continue to enjoy!
19. Questions, Answers and Questions
Mary sat on a dusty chair and stared out the attic window. She didn't need the telescope to look at the crowd anymore. They filled the spaces between the trees, standing there, silently threatening. Many as there were, the police still had limited success in removing them.
Every few days they came out at Mary's request. Occasionally they would catch someone, but once removed from the property, the person seemed as confused as anyone else about what they were actually doing there. The assessment that most of them were mentally ill was accurate, at least with the small sample that they had. None of that sample were local, either. The means of getting there was as missing as the reason it seemed so important in the first place.
The crowd wasn't the reason she was sitting in the attic though. She knew that having so many people in the house would change her routines, but she hadn't been prepared for how difficult it would be to get a moment alone.
She could go down to the magic library, the room itself kept everyone but Aiden out with magical protections. That didn't keep people from yelling down to her, asking if she wanted to do something or other, or asking if everything was alright. The same thing happened when she was in her room. Dusty as it was, the attic had become her private sanctuary, mostly because the entrance was concealed behind a tapestry. Someone would have to know where it was to find it.
She glanced out the window again. The light was fading and she knew that her few minutes of solitude were ending for another day. The baby was starting to move inside her. She stroked the outside of her stomach, attempting to soothe him.
The idea that there was something wrong with the whole situation ate away at her. It had been over a week since she had started to feel the presence of the crowd, and in that time it hadn't gotten appreciably stronger. At this rate, it would be years before their presence could make a difference. At least, that would be the case if everyone in her enemy's group was as strong as hers. If he was significantly stronger, he wouldn't need to go through these extreme channels. Her stomach growled and the baby started doing somersaults.
Mary groaned a little from the force of the movement. "Alright, alright. We're going."
She made her way through the empty upstairs down to the dining room.
"Wait a minute." Veronica grasped Mary's elbow and tugged her into the library.
"What?" Mary suddenly felt like she had been caught doing something naughty.
"You have a bit of cobweb on the back her head." The older woman smiled a little.
Mary blushed and ran her fingers through her hair. "Thanks. Did I get it?"
"Yes." Veronica said. "The attic?"
"How did you know?"
"Every summer my children, their spouses and all of my grandchildren descend upon me for two weeks. I love them all, but they're overwhelming when they're all together and the only place I can hear myself think is my attic. I think they're afraid I'll put them to work cleaning it if they come looking for me up there." Veronica laughed. So did Mary.
"Please don't tell anyone." Mary said.
Veronica smiled. "Of course I won't tell anyone. If you don't have somewhere to hide you'll lose your sanity. It's none of anyone's business anyway."
The baby kicked hard again. Mary grasped her tummy and groaned.
"Sorry, he's hungry."
"We should go in then, I'm sure he's not the only one." The older woman grasped Mary's elbow and they walked toward the dining room together.
"What were you doing out here anyway?" Mary asked.
"I told the rest of them I wanted to fix my hair, but I thought you might be hiding somewhere." She smiled a little.
"There they are." Quentin said.
"Sorry we kept everyone waiting." Mary offered her arm to Veronica while the older woman sat and then took her own seat the head of the table.
"You didn't." Robbie assured her. "We all arrived a bit early."
Dinner conversation was a pleasant drone that surrounded Mary. Occasionally, she would answer a question, but for the most part she simply sat back and let the others entertain themselves while her mind wandered back to the idea of there being something off about the crowd.
Robbie leaned over. "You're a million miles away."
"Am I?" She smiled a little. "I didn't mean to be."
"You know, no one would be upset if you wanted to eat alone from time to time." Robbie said.
Mary felt a blush color her cheeks. "Am I that obvious?"
"Yes." He chuckled. "And it must be very different from how you were raised."
"Aunt Patrice wasn't a complete recluse or anything, but she really wasn't big on entertaining." Mary smiled a little. "She would have the Church Ladies League over once a month, but that was more of a meeting than a social event."
"More like one of our regular meetings then." Robbie said.
She laughed softly. "No, not nearly as lively."
"For the whole week before we would scrub and polish every inch of the house. They would arrive at two on Saturday afternoon. They would trade recipes, and gossip and usually plan a bake sale or some other fund raiser and then be gone by four."
"She enjoyed that?"
Mary shrugged a little. "She never seemed interested in doing much else outside the church, so I assume she did."
"Not really. It seemed like a great deal of work for very little reward, but I didn't have anything else to compare it to either." It felt strange to Mary to talk about Patrice to anyone other than Aiden. Though, if anyone could tell her more about how her family became so separated from Ambrose, Robbie probably was the one to ask. "Was Patrice related to Ambrose?"
"No, from what I know, she was your mother's only living relative who was considered stable enough to raise a child. Even though Ambrose had let go of his grudge, he knew he was far too old to care for you. You were the last remaining member of the Beeson family in America, so it fell to your mother's family to make some sort of arrangements."
"I always thought Patrice was a Beeson relative."
He looked surprised. "She never told you?"
"She never told me much of anything. If I asked questions she would tell me to be thankful for what I have and stop worrying about things that don't matter."
He smiled a little. "Sounds devilishly frustrating."
"It was. But it made me good at finding information on my own. There are some things that you just can't find in a library though. You know that it took Patrice's death for me to find out about this place. What was the grudge Ambrose had?" Mary barely noticed when Connie traded her salad plate for a dinner plate.
"It's a very common story really. Ambrose's wife died giving birth to his son, Daniel, and he never remarried. He felt that the child was all he had left of her and he was terrified of losing him too. Like most parents in that situation he held on too tightly and drove Daniel further and further away with each passing year, only he was too blind to see it." Robbie paused for a sip of wine.
"So did Daniel just leave?" Mary asked.
He smiled a little. "I don't think he had it in him to just go off somewhere on his own. Daniel wanted to be out from under his father's thumb, but since that's where he'd been his whole life, he didn't know how to live any other way. Daniel started working in London and met an American woman called Marion who was touring Europe. She was profoundly unacceptable to Ambrose in just about every way. She was divorced, not just once but twice, she was older than Daniel, she had a reputation as a 'loose woman'. Daniel was completely taken with her. Ambrose forbade the match, telling Daniel that if he went through with his plans to be with this woman that he would be disowned. Daniel left anyway, probably at Marion's urging. They were married in Boston."
"And Ambrose was sorry for driving Daniel away?" Mary prompted. She picked at the chicken that had been placed in front of her.
"Well, not that he would admit." Robbie said. "From what my father said about the whole thing I think Daniel thought that Ambrose would soften as soon as he learned that he and Marion were married and happy. Of course any kind of communication was absolutely refused by Ambrose."
"Wasn't there anyone to tell Ambrose that he was behaving like a jackass?" Mary asked. At least four heads turned in her direction and the entire party fell silent. Mary looked away. "Sorry." She murmured to no one in particular. The hum of conversation started again.
"No need for apologies." Robbie chuckled. "That's an accurate description of how he was acting, thought it might be an insult to a perfectly respectable beast. To answer your question though, people tried. I know my father tried to tell him that he was being ridiculous, but Ambrose was a stubborn man. He ignored any mention of Daniel. Meanwhile, Daniel and Marion had two children, Marshall and Joy, and from all accounts a reasonably happy life."
"So I have an Aunt Joy out there somewhere?" Mary asked.
Robbie shook his head. "You did, but she was killed in a traffic accident with a drunk driver only weeks before your birth. Prior to that Marion died of breast cancer, and Daniel had a heart attack soon after. Immediately after Marion died, Daniel tried again to contact Ambrose again and again Ambrose rejected the effort."
Mary was feeling completely confused. "Well eventually he had to relent, didn't he? I mean, otherwise he never would have known I existed."
"My father kept track of Daniel because he felt sorry for him, and because we knew there would come a time when Ambrose would die, leaving an opening in the group that would need to be filled." Robbie explained. "It took Daniel's death for Ambrose to really realize how foolish he'd been. He looked for Marshall and Joy, but couldn't find either of them. My father had never had contact with either one, so Ambrose hired a private investigator."
"How long did it take to find them?"
Connie appeared again and removed Mary's dinner plate. Somewhere in the conversation, she'd finished the meal.
"Fruit or cake, Miss?" She asked.
"Neither, just some of Aiden's tea. Thank you." Mary answered.
"What kind of cake?" Robbie asked.
"Lemon cream." Connie answered.
"I'll have that."
She took his plate as well.
"To answer your question, it didn't take long at all to find them." Robbie continued. "The trouble was, Marshall and Joy had spent their whole lives hearing how Ambrose had rejected their father, and so they rejected his overtures. Ambrose's detective provided updates though. That's how he knew that Joy had died and that Marshall had taken up with....well....what did your aunt tell you about your mother?"
"Nothing, just that she was dead." Mary said.
"I don't quite know how to tell you this. The information that Ambrose got, and I don't vouch for the accuracy of any of it, says that your mother was an exotic dancer." Robbie spoke quietly. Mary's eyes widened in disbelief.
"You mean she was a-"
"I don't know anything for certain." Robbie said quickly. "I do know that when Daniel left he had no money of his own. Marion had a small settlement from her divorce, but neither of them had ever learned to be frugal. Even though their marriage was strong, their social position took a downward spiral. Joy was working to make something better of herself, but Marshall was content to live the wild life. That in no way reflects on you, you understand." He gripped her hand.
"I know, it's just a little surprising to hear." Mary said. She accepted the teacup Connie brought her.
"I'm sure it is. Anyway, you parents were killed and Ambrose died so soon after that my father felt it was up to him to reach out to your Aunt."
"She wouldn't have anything to do with him, would she?" Mary asked.
"No." Robbie admitted. "He never understood why and I didn't either frankly. Ambrose's estate provided a generous fund for you upbringing and education, but she never touched that money. She certainly didn't want any of us to have any contact with you. While you were a child we had to respect that. Ambrose made the provisions of his will known to my father, so we waited for you to come here and learn enough on your own to find us."
"Aunt Patrice was funny like that. I think she was afraid of losing me somehow." Mary said.
"Losing you? In what way?" Robbie asked.
"She never married and never had children, but sometimes she would call me her 'gift from God'. Not often, but as I got older I could see that she didn't have anyone else. Her sisters were both dead, she had one brother she hadn't spoken to in years because of some dispute over their mother's estate. She had another brother that I found out by accident had been in and out of jail for years. She had no close friends either really. I'm not sure she knew how to really connect to people."
"She sounds a lot like Ambrose in some ways." He smiled a little.
"I guess she does." Mary took another sip of the tea. She looked down at the dark liquid in the cup trying to formulate the next question. "Robbie, how is this going to end?"
His eyebrows were drew together. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"I mean are we going to sit in here indefinitely? Is there going to be some sort of battle on the front lawn? I can't find anything in the magic library that talks about anything like this beyond using the energy of others."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I don't know. Our abilities really don't run to the offensive, so a battle of fireballs and magical lightning bolts is out of the question. We can shield and influence objects and people, but that's all."
"That's why the spell used against the gargoyles feels like a modified shield." Mary said, feeling as though she realized it for the first time.
"Yes, it's a shield that prevents the transition from stone to flesh. Of course influence can extend to moving objects, but that's more of a display. It requires so much energy that even with an army of willing energy donors to draw on, it simply isn't sustainable as a battle tactic for either side. To my knowledge, this is the first time anything resembling a confrontation has happened. I wish I had a better answer for you."
"Me too." Mary admitted.
After dinner, Mary cleared the uncertainty out of her mind and the group woke a male called Dara without incident.
Since their first conversation, Mary had begun to notice a change in Meris. He'd learned English faster than the others, but he had also learned customs much more easily than even Aiden had. He embraced the new world he found himself in, wanting to become a part of it in every way. He read everything he could put his hands on, fiction, news, history, anything that would tell him more about this new time and how it differed from the one that he remembered.
Mary was happy to help him in any way she could. On nights when she was sleepless, she would go down to the library and sit with Meris while he read. Often, he would ask questions. Some she could answer, some she couldn't, but she enjoyed the discussions. After Dara was awakened, Mary noticed that Aiden began to rely on Meris in a new way. Meris became the main instructor for the others. He had a title, but Mary wasn't able to pronounce it. She knew that it was a point of pride for Meris to be given such an important role within the clan.
The night before she was going to attempt the next waking, Mary wandered downstairs for a cup of Aiden's tea, hoping that would calm her enough to sleep. She'd just put the water on to boil when she heard a soft sound in the kitchen doorway. She turned quickly, Meris smiled a little.
"I hope you will excuse me Z'tavick, I heard something in here and I wanted to be certain everything was alright."
"It's fine. Would you like some of Aiden's tea? I'm not sure what herbs are in it, but he finds it appealing."
"No, thank you." He took a step into the room. "I have not developed a taste for hot liquids yet."
"It took him awhile too." Mary sat down to wait for the water.
"Was there a newspaper today?" He asked, sitting in Aiden's chair.
"No." Mary wasn't sure if she should tell him the reason or not, she decided one of the others was likely to tell one of the other gargoyles anyway. "The crowd's gotten so thick that deliveries aren't getting through."
"Then we are cut off from the rest of the world?" His eyes widened, he leaned forward in the chair.
"Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by cut off." Mary had been telling herself to stay calm since she found out earlier in the day. "We still have the Internet, so there's e-mail. You could always go online to read the news. I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for your eyes, though."
"Is it difficult?" He asked, curiosity gleaming in his eyes.
"No." Mary laughed. "Let me get my tea and I'll show you if you like."
"I would like that very much." He smiled broadly. In the moments of silence that followed, his smile faded to a look of worry. "Does Z'avi know about the crowd?"
"Not that it's gotten so large that no one is able to get in, no." Mary admitted.
"Keeping it from him will serve no purpose." He said quietly.
Mary looked away. "I'm not exactly keeping it from him, I just don't want to upset him."
"What do you fear he will do?" Meris asked.
Mary shrugged. "I don't know really. I just have these visions of Aiden and Calvus attacking people as they stand there."
"If he sees their presence as a threat to you and the others, then it would make sense to eliminate that threat." Meris said.
"But I don't think they're even there voluntarily. They're pawns in this whole thing, and I think if Aiden attacks them, it'll make it more difficult for the rest of the world to accept all of you as cultured and civilized." The water started to boil. Mary got up and prepared the mug and then added the hot liquid. She grabbed a spoon and started toward the library. Meris followed.
"Perhaps you are right about that, but he still must be told the truth of the matter." Meris said. His voice was perfectly rational.
Mary sighed. "I know. Whenever I think of telling him though, it sounds terrible in my head."
"Tell him what you told me. That you do not believe the individuals in the crowd are truly responsible for what they are doing."
"Alright. I'll see if I can find him tonight before I go to sleep." She set the tea down on a side table. "Could you bring a chair that fits you behind the desk? You'll be much more comfortable sitting down."
"Of course." Meris said. She stepped out of his way while he moved the furniture around. When the room was suitably rearranged, she created a profile for him on her computer.
The size of his hands and talons made the laptop's touchpad doubly challenging, and they worked on moving the pointer, clicking and double-clicking for quite some time before he was comfortable with it. Typing presented a different challenge. Meris could read English, and he knew the order of the letters in the alphabet. The order of keys on the keyboard was a different matter. Mary felt certain that he would learn, so she was patient while he practiced.
While he watched, she created a list of favorites for him that included a number of different reliable News sites as well as sites that focused on history and science. She included some gaming and leisure sites as well, though she wasn't sure if he would use those or not. By the time Mary was tired enough to go to sleep, Meris was comfortable navigating those websites and had learned to use Google to search for topics he was interested in.