tagNonHumanHeart of Stone

Heart of Stone


1. Meeting

Mary told herself that she should look at this as an adventure.

She had lived with her Aunt Patrice since she was born, and since Aunt Patrice was a religious homebody, Mary had been too. When Patrice died unexpectedly she felt completely lost and confused. She had no friends to comfort her, her aunt believed friends were nothing but a bad influence. She graduated from an all girls Catholic high school, but had never worked or did much of anything outside of the home. Going to church was a big event, but not something that one was supposed to be excited about. The lawyer that she went to see about her aunt's Will had been the first person she had spoken to in a week.

"Your aunt made arrangements for you to inherit her house and its contents, and a few financial assets." She wasn't surprised by that. Her aunt didn't have much, but she also didn't have any children of her own. "Then there's the house in England and the associated assets."

"Wait a minute, what house in England?" Mary was shocked.

"Patrice didn't tell you?" He looked over the rim of his glasses, his bushy eyebrows drawn together.

"No. Are you sure there isn't some mistake?" She leaned forward, trying to look at the papers spread out on his wide desk.

"No, there's no mistake. Your great-grandfather Ambrose Beeson left you his estate, your aunt was supposed to tell you that when you turned eighteen. Knowing Patrice's peculiarities though, I'm not surprised that she didn't."

"I didn't know I had a great-grandfather Ambrose." Mary thought back to her eighteenth birthday, nearly two years ago now. It seemed like something had been bothering her Aunt Patrice, but she claimed it was nothing.

"You wouldn't have met him. He was a rather strange sort from what I've been told. He never set foot in this country and from what my colleagues in London tell me he chose you as his heir because of your birth date. The house in an enormous mausoleum of a place, but he made provision for it to be well cared for so it should be in good repair. There are substantial financial assets and investments that go along with it so with a bit of care you should be able to manage quite well for the rest of your life." Mary barely heard him as he continued, telling her that he would make her travel arrangements for her.

The flight to England was terrifying and wonderful. Mary had only been out of her small hometown once, and that was to go to the funeral of a great-uncle she had never met. Aunt Patrice had driven directly there and directly home again, saying there was nothing anywhere that was any different than it was at home. This was most definitely different than anything in Langston.

She was met by a car at the airport and taken to meet with her great-grandfather's attorney (or solicitor, as she learned he was called), Mr. Scott. She spent a mostly sleepless night in a very nice hotel and the next day he took her out to the house. In the car, she told herself that this was an adventure. If she didn't look at it that way she would have been trembling with terror.

They arrived just before three and Mary was awestruck by her first sight of the house. The small bungalow she had shared with her aunt was nothing like the enormous stone edifice that she stood in front of. There were towers and battlements, stone gargoyles glared down at her from several different directions in silent threat.

"Miss Beeson?" An older woman looked at her with motherly concern and Mary realized that she was standing there with her mouth hanging open.

"Yes, I'm sorry." Mary blushed and the older woman smiled at her.

"It's alright, most people react that way when they first see Beeson Hall. It looks like something out of an old movie, or so I've been told. I'm Mrs. March, the housekeeper. Mr. March keeps the gardens and does most of the odd jobs around here. He was supposed to be here to meet you too, but he likely lost track of time." A pinched looking young woman picked up her suitcases and took them inside.

"This is Maggie. She comes in from the village and if you find you want more help there are plenty of girls in the village who would be happy for the work. Mr. March and I live in a cottage on the grounds."

"It's nice to meet both of you." Mary said, following the Mrs. March into the house. She found that the inside was as imposing as outside. It was clean, but dark. Stern-looking people looked down from portraits and Mary was reminded how the statues of the Saints in their church at home always looked like they disapproved. The heavy antiques and dark draperies made the house feel as if it were hiding some deformity that would be revealed in the light. Mrs. March led them into a sitting room.

"If you and Mr. Scott would like to make yourselves at home I'll bring in a pot of tea." Mrs. March left them and Mary started to look around the room.

"Did you know Ambrose Beeson?" She asked.

"Not well. Toward the end he saw very few people, he only saw me long enough to iron out the details of the estate." He finished telling her about her great-grandfather's financial holdings and how they were managed. He gave her a large set of keys and his card, telling her to call him if she had any questions or needed anything.

Mary ate dinner alone and then Mrs. March gave her a tour of the house and was able to tell her a little more about Ambrose. Mostly, she described how Ambrose had an almost obsessive interest in the occult. The house itself was enormous and she knew she would have to wander around on her own to really get to know the place, and she was certain that she would probably get lost at some point. Finally, she was shown her rooms. They had been her great-grandfather's and there was a sitting area and bedroom as well as a spacious balcony and a fireplace large enough for her to stand up in. There were a few lamps, but Mrs. March told her that the electricity was sometimes unreliable. She left her candles and oil lamps and then said goodnight.

Once again she was alone and a little nervous in the cavernous rooms with strange shadows and odd noises. She tried to sleep, but even though the huge, curtained bed was comfortable she found she couldn't relax. Mary got up and wandered to the draped doorway to the balcony. The weather was mild so she walked out in her long white cotton nightgown and bare feet. She stood at the railing and looked out over the dark countryside. There were a few lights on in the village, Badger's Drift she thought Mrs. March said it was called, but that was all. She turned to go back in and nearly screamed when she saw the large stone gargoyle crouching in the shadows.

Mary got hold of herself and laughed softly at how silly she was being. It seemed like all the talk about her great-grandfather's odd interests was playing on her mind more than she liked to admit. She walked over to the statue.

This one wasn't like the others that decorated the exterior of the house, those were very much beasts. This one was more like a man than a beast, though to be fair he would have been a very large man, a man who had arching wings, two sets of horns sprouting from his forehead and talons on his feet. This one was also more finely carved than the other ones too. He sat on a stone block, or at least the way the light was it looked like he was sitting on it. Whoever the sculptor had been he probably took a lot of care to make it seem that way. She moved closer and laid one small hand on one enormous bicep. In a strange way it was comforting to have him there, she didn't feel so alone. She stroked the smooth stone and walked inside.

Mary spent the next two weeks exploring the house. Mrs. March told her that no one had lived there since Ambrose died and it seemed like no one had reorganized anything either. Each of the rooms appeared to be just as he had left it and each told her more about him. She found scribbled notes, bills, correspondence, and scraps of paper filled with thoughts and phrases he seemed to be refining. Each night she spent time on the balcony and eventually she started talking to the gargoyle. It seemed to be the only thing that was always there to listen and most of what Ambrose wrote about was the gargoyle. It all seemed insane anyway, only a stone being would have the patience to listen.

From what she could piece together, Ambrose actually thought that gargoyle was a living thing. He wrote about finding the right spell, speaking it at the right time and in the right order to restore it to life. Aunt Patrice would have been angry with her for even thinking about such ridiculous things, but then, Aunt Patrice wasn't here and it was such a delicious mystery. Of course she didn't really think that what he was raving about was true. It couldn't be. She figured she was just getting to know Ambrose better, even if she was getting to know that he didn't have a firm grip on reality.

Finally, she had only the basement and attic left and Mary found that even her curiosity couldn't keep her from being terribly lonely. Mrs. March kept her distance, telling her that it wasn't right for them to socialize. Maggie treated her like an intruder. Mr. March was friendly enough, but her knowledge of gardening was limited and while she always liked to learn more there was only so long she could listen to him talk about it.

After feeling at loose ends for several days she found herself on the balcony again. She knew she was feeling sorry for herself, but she couldn't stop the tears from falling. She stood between the statue's massive thighs, wrapped her arms around the carved stone bicep and sobbed.

Mary wasn't sure when she felt the change, or if she felt anything at all until a large hand cradled the back of her head. She jumped back, her eyes wide with fear as she looked into the eyes of the formerly stone creature.

"Hush, child." His soft baritone sent shivers down her spine. "You came to me for comfort; allow me to give it to you." He moved toward her slowly and Mary found she felt rooted to the spot. One large arm encircled her waist and he pulled her into his broad lap. Mary was afraid to struggle, but her body was achingly tense, so tense she could barely breathe. Her sobs came in painful gasps. The longer he held her though, the more relaxed she became. He touched her softly. He held her carefully. His body was warm and felt like almost like human flesh. She heard him breathing, and she noticed that there was the soft scent of some exotic spice on his skin. Slowly, she relaxed against him, her arms slipping around his body.

"I did not think you would be so frightened." He said when she had calmed. His voice was soft and was as much a sensation as a sound.

"W-why not?" Mary looked up at him, his eyes were a shade of green she had never seen before, and they looked concerned. At least she thought they did. His features were heavier than those of a human face, but the way they were animated seemed the same.

"You spoke to me of Ambrose." His heavy brows drew together. Mary couldn't tell if he was confused or angry. "You spoke of his studies."

"You heard me?" Mary's head was spinning.

"You doubted him when he said that I would?" He looked as confused as she was. Mary shook her head and tried to grab onto at least one of her racing thoughts. She looked up when the first raindrops started to fall. He wrapped his wings around her, shielding her from the rain. They were made of skin, like a bat's wings and they were surprisingly effective in keeping her dry.

"Come inside." She said, moving to get down. He held her fast and carried her through the doorway. He unwrapped his wings and set her gently on her feet when the door was closed. "If you want to get comfortable by the fire, I need to change." In her surprise Mary had forgotten she was wearing only a light blue nightgown that came to just above her knees. Technically it shouldn't matter, technically he wasn't a man. Something about him seemed so human though. She changed quickly into a dark green skirt that came to just below her knees and a simple white blouse. She found him sitting by the fire, his eyes closed.

"It has changed little." He said softly. Mary had wondered who used the heavy, U-shaped chair with the low, narrow back. It seemed too large for any person, but for him it fit perfectly. She approached nervously.

"Can I get you something to drink, or eat?" She thought it was probably the most ridiculous thing she could have asked. She had a million other questions for him and a number for herself, mostly regarding her own sanity.

"No, child." He smiled benignly at her and she sat in the large wing chair opposite him. "You do not understand any of this, do you?"

"I'm sorry, I don't." His tail brushed lightly against her ankle and Mary jumped. It was something she hadn't noticed on the statue. She hadn't noticed the three heavy steel rings that adorned each pointed ear either. She was thankful that he was still wearing the ample loin cloth she had noticed on the statue. "I'm Mary Beeson." She said finally. He smiled slightly and the firelight caught one sharp canine, something else she hadn't seen before.

"You had to be in his line, that was never in question." He looked at her. "I am called Aiden."

"I'm pleased to meet you." She smiled shyly and she couldn't help but lower her eyes when his gaze lingered on her.

"Your demons are drawn in the form of my kind, but I give you my vow that I mean you no harm." His voice was sincere, so were his eyes when she glanced up at him again.

"I know I sound terribly stupid, but, there are more of you?" He laughed softly and the rumble seemed to vibrate the room.

"We are a race like your own. Why did Ambrose not tell you these things?" He looked at her curiously and Mary noticed how the firelight played over his skin. It wasn't entirely the gray of stone anymore, but she was hard pressed to describe what color it was. There were hints of blue, purple, green and a number of other muted colors that she couldn't name.

"I never met Ambrose." Mary said, feeling herself start to calm down. "Mr. Scott told me that he died when I was six months old. He made me his heir when he found out my birth date."

"But you spoke to me of his work, I did not dream that." He leaned toward her now and Mary didn't pull back.

"Yes, I mean no." She wasn't used to being looked at so intensely. "I mean I DID talk about him, but those were things he had written. I found them when I was looking through the house. It might be easier if I show you." She went into the bedroom and opened the desk, looking for the small packet of things she had found that related to the gargoyle. Why she had bothered to separate it hadn't been clear at the time, now she was glad. She had just opened another drawer when the lights went out. Mary gasped softly and tried to remember where the matches were and where the candles were. As she was feeling around in the dark Aiden came in carrying a lit candle.

"Thank you." She said gratefully. "Mrs. March says the power isn't always reliable." He looked somewhat confused.

"Light without fire." He said after a moment, smiling slightly. "Ambrose told me about it and I thought it was a strange notion at the time. It appears I was right." He set the candle on the desk and watched as she searched through another drawer. She was trying not to think about how close he was to her, or the fact that he was nearly eight feet tall. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the soft light played over his defined muscles.

"Here it is." Her heart was pounding by the time she handed him the packet.

"This is all of it?" He asked, leading her back to the fire.

"Yes. All that I've found so far anyway." She sat down and he began looking at the documents in the firelight. Mary was astounded how delicately his taloned fingers were able to handle the fragile pages.

"He spoke of a library." He said, almost to himself.

"Maybe this is another silly question, but how did you hear him? Or me for that matter." She relaxed.

"Let me begin at the beginning. I told you that mine is a race like yours, we lived alongside you for centuries without incident. It is our nature to become stone during the day and thus we are vulnerable, so your kind protected us when the sun shone and we protected your kind after the sun set. It was a useful arrangement but, as we all know, nothing is eternal." He looked into the dying fire and put two more logs on it before continuing.

"The church was growing in power at the time, and for some reason our very existence offended the priests. Many of my kind were destroyed by the very humans we protected. Others were destroyed by mobs that also killed those who tried to protect us. Your family and a few others managed to give shelter to a few of us and survive. Like all insane despots, the church was not happy with simply destroying the majority of a race; they wanted all of us eliminated. A powerful Warlock convinced the leaders he could turn us to stone for eternity, giving those who wished to destroy us unlimited time to achieve that goal."

"Wait, the church dealt with a Warlock? I thought any kind of magic or witchcraft had always been denounced as the work of Satan." Mary leaned forward more curious than afraid at that moment. He turned to her and smiled softly.

"You are confusing faith with power, child. People have faith, what the hierarchy desired was nothing less than dominion over the world itself. The easiest way to achieve their ends was to eliminate those who clearly would not accept their authority and terrify those who were unsure into falling in line. My kind would not. Those who bowed to no one but nature herself would not. As so often happens, the hunger for power leads those who desire it to break their own rules." He looked away from her and continued the story.

"His spell was cast, and we were frozen in time. Ambrose told me your ancestors began searching for a way to reverse the spell as soon as they realized what had happened. His father, Lawrence, managed to find a way to allow me to hear if the person speaking was touching me. That is how I could hear Ambrose and then you." He raised his eyes to her again. "The last time he spoke to me he told me that he had selected someone to carry on, but I waited so long I was beginning to wonder if his heir had died as well."

"I've lived with an Aunt since I was born. She didn't tell me that this house or Ambrose even existed. I've only been here for two weeks." His eyebrows drew together.

"But I have heard you for seven nights at least." He said, looking at her curiously.

"I was lonely. I know how pathetic that sounds." She looked away. "So many of the things I was finding talked about you anyway. Before I went to sleep I would just go out and lean against the...against you....and talk about what I had read."

"And what of those you are close to?" He reached forward and lifted her chin. Mary was surprised that his reach was so long.

"Anyone I knew is back in America, even then I wasn't really close to anyone. That's how Aunt Patrice always wanted it." She stroked his hand and wrist softly, noticing that even though his skin felt as if it was made up of fine scales it was almost as soft as hers. She found her mind was spinning again, only this time she wasn't entirely sure why. "You said there were others like you." She said softly, forcing herself to take her hand off of his. He pulled back as well, but reluctantly.

"Perhaps a dozen, perhaps less. I am not certain if the incantation you spoke would have broken the spell for all of us, because of the alterations Ambrose made to my imprisonment."

"But I didn't use any incantation." She was looking at him curiously. "All I did was cry on you."

"I will have to study on this myself, but if there was no unbinding spell spoken then the others are as they were, if they still exist."

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