…Or, how I met a talking gargoyle.
Still with me? Excellent.
The Split Worlds are full of fascinating things – and some very fascinating people. If you’ve experienced them yourself, no doubt you will know what I mean. If you haven’t … Well. If you haven’t, then might I suggest you listen carefully to the story I’m about to tell you. It was not easy to find the facts, but these facts came straight from the mouth of an Arbiter, known as Max. They are as reliable as can be, though they’re somewhat frustratingly light on details – he was reluctant to tell me too much …
I suspect now that what I’ve found is far from the end of the affair, as it were, but will the reward be worth the risk? I feel that it will, but read on, and let us see if you agree …
* * *
Max is sitting in a deserted café, dressed in an old-fashioned suit. A rain coat is draped over the chair next to him and a trilby is resting on the table in front of him. He doesn’t smile, wave or give a flash of his eyebrows when the door opens. He just stares at me as I sit opposite him.
“I received a note from a trusted source,” he says in a flat voice. “It said you were in the know and that I should answer your questions.”
“Hello, Max – and thank you for coming,” I begin. “First of all, could you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“You know my name. You probably know I’m an Arbiter and judging by the source of your interview request, I take it you know more about the worlds than the average mundane.” When I nod he takes a sip of coffee. “It’s my job to make sure that the Fae and their puppets leave people like you alone. You shouldn’t know about me, or any of this, but things have been… interesting lately.”
That’s one way of putting it. “How did you come into this line of work?”
“We don’t tend to talk about that. But if you really want to know, I got involved when I was child. I saw things I shouldn’t and was taken in by my Chapter. When I was old enough I put myself forward for trials to see if I was Arbiter material.” He pauses and looks into the coffee for a moment. “I was.”
“If it was voluntary, what compelled you to go into it?”
“I take it you haven’t met one of the Fae, otherwise you wouldn’t need to ask that question.”
…Oh. (Dear.) I clear my throat a little and press on, speaking more carefully now. “You have a rather unusual connection with a gargoyle … How did this come about?”
There’s a crash of pottery in the back room of the café. While I’m trying not to twitch about it, Max twists in his chair and shouts, “She knows. You can come out.”
The gargoyle’s ears are first to come into view, poking up from behind the counter. Then as it rises up on its haunches, a fearsome beast-like face appears and two large stone paws reach up and plant themselves on the counter-top. Its stone body resembles that of a stylised panther as it leans over to sniff at me. A set of leather bracers, not unlike those worn by archers, are laced to its forelegs and are covered in strange markings. A chain with thick, ugly links hangs from around its neck.
“Morning,” it says with a voice like gravel beneath car tyres. I stare; I can’t help it.
“There was an accident while I was making a deep connection with my Chapter.”
“He was shot,” the gargoyle adds. “And-“
“And that’s all you need to know about it,” Max finishes.
“I… see. It’s very curious, though. So, it isn’t… a job requirement?”
“It’s because of-” the gargoyle starts, a claw plucking at the chain around its neck, before Max holds up a hand.
“It’s sorcerous magic,” he says. “Only they can understand it fully. And it’s definitely not a requirement to have one’s soul trapped in a gargoyle.”
The gargoyle’s muzzle wrinkles and then it grins, though the teeth make that a rather fearsome thing to witness. “That’s his way of saying we’re special.”
Clearly. “Don’t you find it strange to be able to have conversations – and arguments – with a part of yourself?”
“Don’t you do that all the time?” the gargoyle asks. “I’ve heard people talking to themselves so many times. At least I can answer back.”
“That isn’t necessarily a good thing,” Max says.
He’s got a fair point, though …
“You’ve crossed paths with Sam, a rather unfortunate mortal,” I continue. “What are your thoughts on full-mortals mixing with people from the Nether?”
“The puppets who live in the Nether are mortal,” Max replies. “They just don’t age there.”
“That’s not what she’s asking,” the gargoyle says. “I feel sorry for him, the poor bugger.”
“Sam is an excellent example of why my job exists,” Max says. “It’s a shame we haven’t been able to help him in the manner we would normally.”
“What he means is,” the gargoyle interrupts, “that it’s a pain in the arse that we can’t just ship him off to a Chapter, now he knows too much.”
Er … Indeed. “Finally, let’s talk a little more about your investigation. There’s been a murder among the Chapters … What are your thoughts on the investigation in general?”
“We’re pursuing all leads,” Max says, folding his arms.
“Or we would be,” the gargoyle says, “If it wasn’t for that batshit crazy sorcerer who-“
“We’re getting all the help we need to-“
“Bollocks!” The gargoyle says but a stare from Max seems to make it settle down. Its stone shoulders shrug impressively. “There are frustrations,” it mutters.
Interesting… “Do you think the truth might eventually come out, and how far will you go to see that it does?”
“The truth always comes out,” Max says with certainty.
“We just have to hope it’s soon enough,” the gargoyle adds. “And that we don’t have to go too far to make that happen.”
Max nods and stands, before I can comment. “And we’re not going to get anywhere if we spend all our time in coffee shops having conversations with people who shouldn’t know all this. My advice to you is to keep away from the Fae and their puppets, otherwise you’ll become another case for me to investigate.”
The gargoyle groans at Max. “And nice meeting you, Lisa,” it says with a grin.
* * *
So, there it is.
So far I haven’t been able to uncover more information. Most frustrating, to be sure, but you can also be sure I’ll persevere. Danger or no danger, this tale is just too intriguing to let go of!I’ll just have to keep an ear to the ground for now …
If, like me, you’re still intrigued and want to know more, Emma Newman’s first tale of the Split Worlds, Between Two Thorns, is available now. The second, Any Other Name, will be available in print in the US from May 28th (along with ebook formats), and in print in the UK on June 6th.