3.25 Enemy at The Gates

Location: Monthaven
Timeline:  Sixth Age, 46th Year, Spring

Emcorae Azop had just done the unthinkable – he’d escaped the clutches of a gargoyle by racing through the woods of Monthaven and eventually making his way to the sanctuary of town’s church. Although the boys was initially surprised (and scared) when he discovered the chapel’s doors locked, once he spied the parish priest looking at him from upstairs window, Emcorae felt assured of his safety.

Yet, to the boy’s horror, Pastor Kastelli did NOT move to help! (1)

Instead the reverend remained looking down at Emcorae from the safety of his haven. Then it was that Emcorae noted the fear in the priest’s eyes – and, as this was an emotion he’d never seen upon the visage of the ever-proud Kastelli, Emcorae’s own mounting dread reached new heights.

He knows about the gargoyle! Emcorae realized. In desperation, the boy pleaded with the pastor. “Father, it’s true. I DO have a demon chasing me! But you’ve got to help me! One gargoyle is no match for Mannah – with his power behind you, surely you can overcome this beast. Please, Father, help me!” 

The boy’s cries had no effect – for Kastelli refused to move.

Frustrated, Emcorae tried pulling again on the door handles – without result. At a loss, he again looked up at second story church window — the portly priest was still there, yet this time his face was different – Kastelli’s lips were set tight, his chin was raised high, his eyes serious, and he then turned from the window, as if preparing for something.

Emcorae rejoiced at the sight, Yes! He’s going to take up the fight!

Unfortunately, Emcorae’s joy was short lived, for Kastelli instead of coming down from the second floor and letting the boy into the church, the priest again turned back to the window, his face bemoaning inner struggles.

And, in reality, this was the case — for I’ll admit that Kastelli was a good man who believed in protecting the ‘flock’ of his parishioners as he shepherded them along the path to Zyon. Emcorae Azop was one of his most beloved sheep and the priest knew the boy was in danger. Kastelli wanted to help – but fear, unlike any he had ever known before, was locking him in place.

What the good pastor was fighting against was in fact the malevolent force of <Fear> that was emanating out from the Gargoyle, a powerful emotion control mechanism that was now cascading over the entire town as the demon made its way towards the church. (2)

Prior to Emcorae’s (and the creature’s) arrival, Curk and the other boys playing tag-ball had arrived back in town screaming with fright. Parents and other adults were not able to make much sense of what the boys were saying, but when one of the boys blurted out ‘gargoyle,’ the mood changed. Many of the adults still scoffed at the story, but whilst Curk was describing the demon in graphic detail, the people began to fear a sense of dread.

It was Pastor Kastelli who had commanded the townsfolk to retreat indoors, “Get thee to your homes, my people. Lock your doors, bar your windows, and don’t come out until this angel of death has passed us by.

All of Monthaven did as their priest commanded, but initially nothing happened – it was during this time that Emcorae was busy zigzagging through the woods, trying to elude the creature before finally making up his mind to race back to town. In the interim, the citizens of Monthaven began peeking out their windows to see if anything was happening – Pastor Kastelli doing so from his bedroom window above the church’s main doors.

When the people’s (and the priest’s) initial fear had begun to wear off, the clergyman was just about to go outside and praise Yahway for keeping the demon at bay – yet when Kastelli took a last glance out his window, he saw Emcorae Azop desperately racing into town – panic written on the boy’s face – the kind of fear the priest knew could only be caused by a demon from Hel.

Seeing Emcorae run for his life, the pastor’s own fear ratcheted up to new heights and his faith was shaken as he wondered why God was cursing him with a fight he was afraid he couldn’t win. Kastelli watched the boy reached the church steps, he heard him pounding on the door trying to get into the sanctuary, and when Emcorae looked up at him and pleaded for help, the pastor’s heart went out to him. Yet still something sinister gripped his heart, paralyzing his movements.

Kastelli fought against the dark forces, making a warding sigil in the air. Finding his voice again, he tried to assure Emcorae, “Fear not, son, Yahway is here to protect us. I’ll open the doors. That demon dare not com—“

The pastor stopped short and Emcorae saw the priest’s face blanche white. Turning around, the boy looked to where Kastelli’s gaze was fixed – to a point at the far edge of town, and there, some two hundred yards away, he saw the gargoyle!

Now out of the woods, the creature was again able to use it’s wings and it was now flying through the streets of Monthaven as it quickly approached Emcorae’s safe haven. It came on so fast, that Emcorae had no time to move – in a flash did the winged terror then alight on the steps of the church and the fires of Hel roiled in the gargoyle’s flaming eyes, as it raged <GGGGGRRRGGLLLLGRRR!>

Backed against the still closed church doors, Emcorae tried to force himself through the wood by sheer force of will, even as the demon locked its gaze upon him and took a step towards him, its talons menacing out.

The creature took another step. 

And another.

The closer the gargoyle came, the more Emcorae could feel the beast emitting its <Fear> as if the force was a blanket of evil all around itself– a vile soul-defeating burden that, very quickly, made the boy feel as if his resolve was being sapped away. 

Cowering in fear, Emcorae was suddenly about to give up – for he had done his best to elude this creature, he had sought protection from the only source of power he knew that was capable of defeating this demon, and in the end, he it appeared to be all for now.

Alone and forsaken, he lamented his final moments, If the church won’t help me, what more can I do? It is finished. I am lost.

By the time the gargoyle reached the final step, Emcorae had squeezed himself into a little ball in the corner of the chapel’s doorway. Knowing he was about to die, yet unable to resist, Emcorae then looked up in mortified curiosity – to see the demon rejoicing!

It was clear that the beast felt certain it had finally secured its prize, and filled with pride, it stretched out its gruesome wings to their full extent in a display superiority over its foe.

From Emcorae’s vantage point it was as if the world itself had turned to Black – for the gargoyle’s wings blocked out the light of the day and Emcorae was left alone in a pool of Night, there upon the church’s final step.

I’m doomed. I’m doomed. Emcorae wailed in hopelessness. Even still, “I will not submit!” He spat at the beast as he tried to stand up in one last act of defiance. 

Looking through the black haze, Emcorae saw the demon give him an expression that was the very essence of loathing – it sight so horrifying that it actually caused the boy physical pain. Wincing, Emcorae then saw the gargoyle smile as the demon stretched it wings out again, showcasing its blood surging through engorged veins as it advanced upon him. Transfixed by the demon’s fiery eyes, the boy felt the creature boring into his soul, and once more Emcorae’s spirits sank – for the gargoyles razor sharp talons were about to sink into his flesh and he knew there was naught he could do to stop it.

Yet then it was that Emcorae witnessed something unexpected — for all at once, the beast’s visage did turn transform! Gone was the face full of victory and in its place was a look of surprise. In the next instant the gargoyle’s eyes showcased a racing cascade of emotions – from validation and victory, to raging regret and finally a recognition of its own grave mistake.

A moment later the towering demon did collapse – falling forwards to land in a heap before the Emcorae – its talons falling harmlessly just fingertips short of the boy.

“What the—?“ gasped a still horrified Emcorae Azop.

With the demon suddenly defeatedly, the Blackness quickly disappointed and that’s when a new truth became evident – as there, standing tall and proud in the bright light of day. with the glorious Sun framing him from behind as if he were truly a Guardian Angel – there stood…Alfranco Azop! (3)

The picture of his divine deliverer lasted only for a moment, yet the image was one that would be forever burned into Emcorae’s mind – for in that brief span, the boy did look upon his grandfather as never before. Gone was the declining old man, replaced instead with a larger-than-life warrior – a Hero who gazed upon his foe with a fire in his own eyes! Yet unlike the red blazes of Hel that epitomized the gargoyle’s gaze, Alfranco’s eyes burned with a Passion for Life. 

During this moment in time, Emcorae’s grandfather remained standing in the sunlight, posturing over his defeated opponent while holding his stone dagger on high in celebration of his victory.

“Al-Corragio!” Emcorae exclaimed breathlessly, in reaction to the amazing sight before him.

However, just as quickly as it came, so too did the moment of truth pass – for the sun seemed to shift in the sky and then Emcorae’s grandfather appeared to <shrink> back to his normal size.

Emcorae also noticed that Alfranco quickly made an effort to sheath his black dagger and instead now held up a small sword – as if to portray that the latter weapon was that with which he felled the demon? Before the boy had time to ponder why his grandfather would switch blades, suddenly a great crowd was upon them.

“Hooray!” The people cried. “Alfranco has saved Monthaven!”

At that, the doors of the church opened – causing Emcorae to fall backwards into his once sought-after haven – whilst a now-confident Kastelli emerged, his presence commanding the scene. (4)

The townsfolk jostled with one another to get a view of the gargoyle, for the beast was truly a legend come to life, yet Emcorae snickered to see that those nearest the creature pushed back just as hard as those behind were pushing forward – for it was clear that nobody wanted to get too close to the evil menace.

“Father, why is that demon in our town?!” Jon Romaine called from the front row.

This started a raging debate.

“It was chasing Emcorae Azop!” Jon’s wife pointed at the boy.

“Yes! I saw that too!” Neil Belzer chimed in.

“Why, the boy’s cursed!” Sally Romaine accused.

“No! He’s a good boy. I know him.” Sandi Frixer defended.

“You’re wrong, Baal wants him!” an unidentified speaker, yet clearly terrified, shouted from the rear of the mob.

“PEOPLE!” Kastelli’s bass boomed. “SILENCE!” And stepping in front of Emcorae – although being careful NOT to actually touch the “marked” boy – the pastor advised, “Nobody here in Monthaven is cursed! This was a freak happening – at worst a sole temptation.” Then, pointing out to the crowd, “And for any of you who have ever doubted my words about the very real dangers of listening to Baal, let this be a lesson to you! But, fear not! For, lo, Mannah has delivered us once again! Surely this is a great day, praise be to Yahway!”

“Praise be to God!” The crowd replied in trained response, with Kastelli holding his hands above them – accepting the glory on Yahway’s behalf.

For his part Alfranco Azop had already melted into the crowd, avoiding the spotlight. In the meantime, Emcorae’s mother and grandmother finally broke through the crowd – with Alboris’s help – and the two Azop women did rush up the church steps to tend to their beloved Emcorae.

“But, Father, what are we going to do with that…Thing?” Ben Wirtz asked.

And with the doctor’s question, all eyes were again drawn to the defeated gargoyle. The vile beast lay crumpled, face down, upon the church stairs, its bulk still covering a good portion of the steps. One of its wings was torn, and neither of them showed any blood coursing through the creature’s veins. 

“Hey, look!” Neil Belzer called out as a chartreuse steam began to slowly rise off the corpse – causing the crowd to take a step back.

The gargoyle’s skin began to bubble and hiss.

“Watch out! Get back!” Came the cries from the crowd, whilst Kastelli himself backed into the safety of the church foyer.

Gurgling, writhing, and then convulsing, the gargoyle’s body seemed to be in torment. It was a gruesome sight to be sure, yet it lasted only a few moments, and then, of a sudden, the gargoyle disappeared! (5)

“It’s been sucked back to Hel!” Pastor Kastelli was quick to proclaim, again stepping into the spotlight, and taking control of the narrative lest his sheep presume to make their own assumptions about the day’s events. “Praise be to Yahway! Our God has delivered us once again! What a glorious day this has turned out to be – for we have defeated a true demon of Hel by our Faith alone!” As the crowd replied with their own praised, the pastor said to himself, “Why, wait till the Prelate hears about this!”

With the crowd giddy with joy, Kastelli encouraged them, “Yes, Sing Out! Sing to the Mountains! Sing to the Seas! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

Everyone there shouted for joy and gave thanks to their God.

Meanwhile, Emcorae, still dazed, was away from the commotion. For his part, he knew not what to make of the ordeal, yet he was happy it was over.

Maybe I’m the one who needs a drink at the Brandonale! The young boy thought as he stumbled back home with his parents. Let’s just hope this is the end of my nightmares.

Unfortunately for the boy, the emergence of the gargoyle into his life, was just the beginning of his trials.

Nektar’s Notes

  1. What’s the matter, Kastelli? Either you believe in the power of your ‘supreme’ god and therefore have no reason to be afraid of a little demon or else you don’t. And if you don’t believe Yahway can help you take out one of Baal’s minion’s then why do you lie about his power to your parishioners?
  2. If we’re being honest I should admit that Kastelli didn’t have much of a chance. For the <Fear> casting ability of the baal was a neat little trick I added to their species a while back.
  3. Who in Baal’s name is this old man?
  4. Read: Kastelli saw an opportunity to steal the credit.
  5. The baal’s ability to clean up it’s own mess was a feature I added to protect other meddling gods from being able to use their remains to experiment with – for I didn’t want anyone discovering the secrets of their creation. As a side note, you might call this self-cleaning mechanism the world’s first Environmentally Friendly product – yet another example of ol’ Azazel looking out for your planet. You’re welcome.
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