An old turtle laid along the banks of the river, huddled in some weeds, miserable even within his shell for the day was rainy and cold. It was not a good day or turtles, or for men, or for any other poor beast that crawled or flew. It was a good day to find a place to sleep, to hide, to wait for the night and for calm. For the turtle, though, waiting was not a good thing. Waiting was a bad thing, for waiting allowed him to think. He was thinking thoughts that turtles ought not think, and he thought that perhaps these thoughts he was thinking were memories and not thoughts at all, which frightened him something terrible. He was having memories of sleeping in beds and wearing clothes and drinking ale and walking on two legs and riding a horse and all other sorts of things that a turtle could not do, and it confused him greatly, for he was a humble turtle and had never dreamed above his place before. Not far from the river, perched indelicately on the side of a cathedral, icy rain poured through the gaping mouths of ornately carved gargoyles. Inside, the building dedicated to purity and light lay shrouded in corruption and shadow, reeking of cheap drink and cheaper flesh. A man of the cloth stumbled outside and fell drunken, face-first into the mud. No one so much as batted an eyelash at his listless presence and walked on past, called by the lure of sin that bared its ugly head openly in this place. High overhead, one of the gargoyles rolled her sad stone eyes, and sighed softly through a mouthful of rain, which seemed far more pure and holy than the wine or water within the church itself. She was perhaps the most pious thing on or in the building, soaked through with the magic of the sky as she was. It was a sad fact, even the gargoyle herself realized that, but she reveled in the newfound insights as to the nature of her duty as a proper cathedral gargoyle, and those duties did not include diverting the cleansing rain from the filth of sin. Slowly, her sigh changed into a soft song, and she began to twitch and wriggle and worry herself free of the contaminated structure. A few minutes later she sprang to the ground beside the passed-out priest, snorted disdainfully in his general direction, and galloped, ungainly as ever, into the rain. There was something or someone out there who needed her more than the cathedral, and she would just have to see what it was, who he was. The call was insistent on her speedy arrival. Back at the river, more memories were rushing into the poor turtle, who no longer wanted a damned one of them. There were painful memories now, memories of the kind of man he had been. Memories of battles and wars fought, all for the sake of his Mother, who he was finding he did not much like anymore. Memories of the pain suffered for his beliefs, memories of sacrifice and horror and punishment. Burning, flaying, hanging, beheading. Bleeding, screaming, pleading, dying. Again, and again, and again, and again. And, worst of all, watching the woman he loved suffer the same fate as him many of those times for her loyalty. She was always there for him, in a different body, a little changed by the past for she was mortal. And there he was, same as ever, immortal only in that he could change seamlessly from one form to the next. The old turtle closed his eyes and shed a tear. A woman stepped out from within the river bank, her body woven of weeds and mud and stones, a presence to raise the hairs on the back of one's neck. She gathered her power around her and pointed a finger at the old turtle. He exploded in a flash of gore. In his bed, in a house not far from the cathedral, Patriarch Markus Latham woke from his sleep in a cold sweat. He did not remember the nightmare that had woken him, but he sensed that a terrible danger was approaching. Ignoring the sleeping form of his wife, he stumbled out of bed and grabbed the duodecimial, the string of twelve prayer beads that represented the twelve stars of the constellation of the Father. He ran them through his fingers, recounting the name of each star and the twelve immortal truths that went with. He was a devout man, a pious man, who found strength in his religion and armored himself with faith against the evils of the world. As he started the second count with the duodecimial, he opened his eyes for just a second and saw the gargoyle run past his window. A shriek tore from his lips and he fell backwards in shock, his pale eyes wide in horror, before he closed his eyes again and sent a fervent prayer that he could survive the dark night to come. "Wife! Wake up, woman!" He snapped, gently shaking her shoulder. "We must get to the cathedral. Evil walks these streets tonight!" In a great hurry he threw on his robes, white trimmed with silver, and put the duodecimial around his neck as he grabbed the symbolic star-tipped staff of the Father, his symbol of office as Patriarch. He was a young man to be patriarch, still six years shy of forty, with a full head of sandy hair barely touched by white or grey. He was also thin, often fasting to prove his faith, though on his tall frame it only served to make him look more severe. "Come," he ordered, his fingers playing with the beads still as he hurried her out the front door and down the narrow cobblestone streets of the city. "I hope you remember your prayers..." Where the turtle had stood, a man now squatted in the reeds and clay. He was of indeterminate age, perhaps only a few years past twenty or perhaps nearly forty. It was hard to say by looking at him, for he was clearly a man grown, yet he did not yet look aged. He was tanned, and strong without being overtly muscular, and beautiful in the honest manner of a freshly plowed field or a stately oak tree. He stood with dignity tempered by reluctance, facing the goddess of stone and soil with a steely gaze and closed hands. "Mother," he acknowledged her as though reluctant to do so, his pleasant tone biting. "How nice of you to pay me a visit." THAT IS ENOUGH OF YOUR FOOLERY her voice rumbled, a sound like the breaking of a mountain. She was a goddess through and through, and ever unamused with her half-human son. THERE IS MORE FOR YOU TO DO "And here I thought you might have remembered my birthday..." He muttered under his breath, insolent as a child in the face of her concern. DO NOT MOCK ME "Or what? You'll kill me? That's a fine jest!" THE WORLD NEEDS YOU, MY SON. YOU MUST GO "Must is a rather strong word..." IT IS WHAT YOU ARE "What I am is a man who cannot die and is never allowed to live." TELL ME YOUR NAME "Matthias," He challenged her, defiant. YOUR REAL NAME "Mathias." NOT THE NAME YOUR FATHER GAVE YOU, NOT THAT MORTAL NAME, YOU INSOLENT CUR. YOUR NAME "I Am That Is," He sighed, shaking his head. "I still know not what it means." BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT YET ALL THAT IS. NOW GO FORTH. THE CHURCH OF THE FATHER, AGAIN, FINDS ITSELF A CESSPOOL "They never learn their lesson, do they?" THEY WORSHIP THE FATHER "That isn't a real answer." YOU DO NOT YET COMPREHEND THE ANSWER "I don't know what dad ever saw in you," Matthias muttered, and glanced around. "It's been a while. Where am I going?" SHE WILL LEAD YOU the Earth Mother rumbled, motioning behind him. There stood the gargoyle, looking unperturbed by the sight of the naked man or the goddess, but when Matthias turned around there was just a pile of mud and flora where his mother had stood. With a sigh he waved his hand and a length of white linen appeared, which he wrapped around his hips to cover what passed for his dignity these days. With hair like brass and copper hanging down to his shoulders and no shoes on his feet he cut an odd figure- with a gargoyle at his side he doubted he would have blended in anyways. "After you, my dear," he intoned to the strange stone beast, who nodded in a dignified manner and started her ungainly walk back to her home, back to the cathedral.