The rain pounded mercilessly against the stained-glass windows of the ancient cathedral, vying with the droning voice of the minister for the attention of the small gathering within. But the grief-stricken eyes that rose in silent anguish to the heavens heard nothing but his own heartbeat and the sweet child's voice which piped ceaselessly through his mind.
"Push me higher Daddy! I want to fly!"
As the man made his slow way out of the small churchyard, head bowed and lost in his own thoughts, he spared no word for any of the mourners who tried to catch his attention. Indeed, it seemed as though he was unable to even hear their words of solemn sympathy. After a few of them tried and failed, the mourners apparently realised he was beyond their reach and let him be. Instead they gathered together in small groups and murmured to each other about the poor man and the terrible tragedy he was bearing in silence.
Only one mourner did not take part in the graveside gathering. The young man watched his childhood friend walk away, with a manner so markedly changed from what it had been on the last occasion they had met, and his grieving heart whispered to him. He listened.
"No Michelle, I cannot! It is... it is too much! I cannot accept!" The voice that echoed through the door was strained and almost frantic, unlike the calmly intense response that the eavesdropping maid had to press closer to the door to hear.
"Please my friend! Allow me to do this! For her sake." The last was barely whispered and was met with a long moment of silence before...
"Very well my friend. For... for her sake. Thank you."
"No, thank you Pierre."
As the sound of boots on floorboards headed for the door, the maid sprang away and began vigorously dusting everything in sight. She ruthlessly kept herself from turning as the door behind her opened. She refused to allow herself a single glance as the creaking steps followed the man's journey down the stairs. Only as he reached for the door did the maid allow herself to look. She watched in awe as he let himself out onto the street. The moment he was gone, she hurried down the steps to relate the news to the chef.
"Dark hair? Tall? Young? Handsome? Oui, I know him. He is Michelle St Auguste, son to the Marquise de Rune. You've heard of him surely."
"Is he the one who makes those strange statues?"
"Oui, funny notions these Aristos have. A Marquis doing the work of a stonemason! I've heard his son does the same too. He and Monsieur have been friends from the cradle. Their fathers were great friends too. But what of it girl? He's been here before and you've never remarked on it."
"Because I never knew how kind he was before!"
"Oui! He has offered to give Monsieur Valpont marble from his own quarry to make statues for the graves of the children!"
"What? All twelve?"
"Oui! All twelve!"
On All Hallows eve, the twelfth and final statue was set in place. Michelle St Auguste stood beside his friend and fellow artiste as it was lowered onto the square stone base at the head of the small grave. He thought it fitting that he should be standing almost exactly on the place where he had been months earlier when the idea had first come to him, but he did not give voice to his thoughts. The two men stood in silent companionship as the shadows began to lengthen into night. When Pierre Valpont finally stirred, he simply turned to his friend and gifted him with a sad smile before heading out of the churchyard. Before he also left, Michelle turned for one last look at the twelve silent sentinels.
"Watch over them."
Three years later, terror enveloped Paris! In the face of the rising threat against all Aristos, the Marquis de Rune and his son were forced to flee their chateau to preserve their lives. They found sanctuary with Pierre and all three began to make plans to leave for the safety of England. But Pierre could not bring himself to leave without saying one final goodbye. Under cover of night's shadow, he made his journey to the quiet churchyard. Despite the danger, Michelle accompanied him.
As they placed fresh flowers on the grave though, a cry chilled the blood in their veins. They had been discovered! Before they could move, men began to swarm into the churchyard from the surrounding streets. Although hopelessly outnumbered, Michelle and Pierre refused to be taken without a fight!
Within moments, Pierre found himself separated from his old friend and struggling to keep on his feet. Even as he struggled against the grasps of the men who held him, he caught a glimpse of Michelle. Fear for his friend surged within him.
"No!" His agonized cry rose up over the noise of the mob as he strained against his captors.
From somewhere behind them, a curious cracking sound drew the attention of the men holding Pierre. They shot startled glances in the sound's direction and their hold suddenly eased. Pierre tore himself free, but something made him turn to see what had happened.
The men were standing frozen in fear and shock, their gazes locked on the statue which graced the small grave nearby. As Pierre watched, unable to draw his attention away, the cracks in the marble statue continued to widen and the stone began to flake away. In the faint light of the half moon, Pierre could clearly see where the flakes had fallen. He could scarcely miss them, since beneath them was not white marble, but something else. Beneath the men's' gaze, more flakes began to fall. Then the statue moved.
A turn of her head was all it took. With terrified cries, the men began to run out of the churchyard! Pierre turned and watched in shock as the men holding Michelle also began to run towards the streets, fleeing from the three moving statues near them! Pierre stood silent and still as he tried to take in what he was seeing. The statues that stood at the heads of the twelve small graves, the statues he had made three years earlier, were coming to life!
Michelle glanced around in stunned amazement before heading to Pierre's side. He started to say something, but then noticed the tears in his friend's eyes.
"How is this possible? I have heard the legends, but these... these were made by my own hands!" Pierre finally whispered, his eyes never leaving the twelve figures as they slowly moved towards the two men.
"From living stone." As Pierre finally turned to look at him, Michelle admitted what he had done. "There used to be a few places in the world where a special type of stone could be found. Those that knew its secret guarded it closely. It is called Living Stone because, thousands of years ago, what was carved from it, came to life. My father's quarry was the last place it could be found. But the secret of calling life to the stone was lost generations ago. We never dreamed that this would happen!" Michelle looked around in awe at the figures that seemed to be silently listening to him. He looked back at his bewildered friend.
"For the past three hundred years, we've only had a little of the stone left. Without the secret, it's nothing more than stone, but it never felt right to use it for just anything. When I heard about the fire, about your Angelique, I went to my father. He agreed that it was a worthy purpose for the stone." Michelle smiled sadly. "Guardians for the graves of children, taken from this world before their time by a cruel twist of fate. What could be worthier?"
For a long moment, there was silence. But into that silence came a distant sound all too recognizable as an approaching mob far larger than the one that had been chased off! The twelve silent figures turned toward the street and then glanced at each other. Their calm faces revealed no trace of fear, only a sad sort of resignation. Michelle tensed. But it was Pierre who was affected the most. In that moment, the cloak of grief that had hung over him for the past three years melted away. It left behind determination and an odd air of command. Turning to the twelve, he spoke quickly but forcefully, making it clear that he expected them to listen, and obey.
"You must go. Before they get here! It is you they want now and they will not rest until you are all destroyed!"
The smallest of the twelve, the one who had stood watch over his beloved daughter's grave, shook her head and smiled sadly. "We cannot. We were created to watch over the children and to ensure their rest remained undisturbed. You made us for them. You made us with love. From the love that gave us form, we were granted the ability to fulfill our task. We were given a half-life. We could see, hear and feel. Tonight, we saw your danger, we heard your desperation, and it was our love for you that gave us life. But already, our strength fades. Soon, we will be statues once more."
"But there must be some way..."
As the sound of the approaching mob grew steadily louder, the twelve figures began to head back to their positions. As Pierre watched them, something deep within him broke. Tears began to trickle down his cheeks. In that moment the day of his daughter's death came crashing back into his memory. He had the sudden feeling that he was being given a second chance. He had been powerless to save his daughter from the fire that had swept through the school, taking her and eleven others, surely the fates would not be so cruel as to make him powerless this time? Pierre closed his eyes.
"There must be a way!" he whispered fiercely.
Beside him, Michelle suddenly started. Pierre felt his friend grasp his arm. "Hurry Pierre! There isn't much time!"
Pierre began to argue, but fell silent as he realised Michelle was leading him to the nearest of the figures, not out of the churchyard as he had thought.
"I don't know if this will work, but there is one thing that my father used to tell me." He met his friend's eyes. "My father said that they got their strength not only from the stone, but from the mark of their maker! Did you sign them?"
Pierre blinked as hope began to fill his heart. "No!" he gasped. "No, I didn't!" Then his face fell again. "But, I've no tools..."
The figure smiled sadly and prepared to take her place once more. Pierre instinctively held out his hand to help her up. The moment their hands touched though, there was a flash of light and she gasped in surprise! She looked at her hand and slowly turned her palm towards the two men. Where Pierre had touched her, the small mark that was his signature as an artiste had appeared! She stretched her wings and her smile told Pierre all he needed to know. He quickly headed for the others!
By the time the mob arrived at the churchyard, it was deserted. The men who had raised the alarm tried to insist on a search, but the others ridiculed them and refused to listen. As they headed off, none of them noticed that the twelve statues were missing.
As they headed back to Pierre's home, Pierre and Michelle maintained a solemn silence. They were still trying to comprehend everything that had happened that night. It had ended so quickly they were a little stunned. Pierre was amazed that his touch had been the only thing needed to free the statues forever. But it was true. The moment he had touched the last of them, they had spread their wings and soared off into the night, free. As he thought about his last sight of them, Pierre smiled slightly. When the smallest of them had soared into the sky, he had been almost positive that he had heard his daughter's laughing voice.
"Look at me Daddy! I'm flying!"
The twelve small figures flew through the night, their massive white wings carrying their slender forms effortlessly. As they rode the air currents, a mischievous wind wound around them, causing their simple white shifts to flutter, tousling their long golden hair and making their lovely human faces glow with happiness. While they flew on, they tilted their heads, as though listening to something only they could hear. It seemed as though the softest whisper of a voice was carried on the gusts of air.