Movement below her woke Eyris from her long sleep, and she turned her great head to focus on its source. Her mechanical eyes flipped back and forth between lenses with tiny whir-click sounds, until she had a clear image.
Two humans in a boat. She checked her internal database to clarify the type of boat. A gondola. But it was floating through the air, just below her perch, rather than on water.
Hadn’t boats been meant to sail on water?
Eyris moved her great head ever so slowly, tracking the boat. The taller human held a staff that seemed to be the vessel’s source of propulsion, while she shorter one kept turning in circles and pointing.
She zoomed in on the pair and learned that the smaller one was a child while the larger was obviously its parent.
“… turning, or you’ll capsize us, Sash,” the larger one said, and the smaller paused in his? No, her. She was definitely female. The smaller one paused in her spinning.
“But Mom, there’s a giant pigeon!”
“Yes, honey, that’s a gargoyle. During the Second Golden Age they were brought into use again, not just as decorations on buildings, but also as part of the security systems. It’s said that some of them gained true intelligence, but no one really believes that.”
Eyris knew she wasn’t supposed to interact with humans, but she was clearly a Falcon and to be mistaken for one of those trashy street-walking birds would literally have ruffled her feathers, were they not made of stone.
She knew she’d be admonished. Maybe even suspended from her job as a gargoyle, but she couldn’t help it. Honor was at stake.
Summoning the strength of long-idle gears and pulleys, she leaned forward, until her shadow moved across the boat, and the occupants looked up at her.
“Mom… are they supposed to do that?”
“Do what, Sasha? Ohhhh!”
“What do we do?”
“There’s a ritual for greeting one of the Grotesque Ones,” the larger human said. “Let me think a moment.” She brought the gondola to a halt, and faced Eyris, bowing. “We apologize for interrupting your sleep,” she said. “We are merely observers and mean neither offense nor harm.”
Eyris’s first instinct was to knock the humans from their boat and watch their tiny forms plummet down, down, down to the ground, relishing in their screams.
The ritual greeting halted that process.
Grudgingly, she responded, her voice raspy from disuse. “I am Eyris, she who Guards. You have not caused harm, small ones, but you have caused offense.”
The taller human took an instinctive step backward, nearly capsizing the craft the way her daughter had not actually come close to doing. “I… apologize, but… I am uncertain how we offended you.”
Eyris sighed. “Humans have always been oblivious. ‘Seen one bird, seen them all,'” she quoted a phrase she’d heard over and over during her life. “Check your ornithology references, small one. You will find that you have misidentified me.”
The taller human was apologetic when she replied. “I am sorry, Eyris. I have no such references. Avian species are largely unknown to us these days. The sky is inhabited by poled gondolas, such as mine.”
“Not in the City, no.”
“Then I will explain, and I will forgive you… this time.” And she opened her beak to display the rows of metal teeth there (an addition that was not based on her organic inspiration). “I am no pigeon, small one.”
“No. I am a Falcon.”