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Gryphon Guild: The Storm

A small red head peered out the window, beak plastered to the glazed piece of glass. Thunder rolled ominously in the background, shaking the framework. Black-tipped ears shot backwards in fright.

"Come away from the window, Fareme," a voice said from behind. "If it gets any worse, we don't want you to be full of glass."

The tiny Vulpegryph cast her gaze once more outside, then obediently hopped down from the seat, large bushy tail swaying gently from side to side as she walked. She readjusted her wings, fluffing the red-brown feathers into place. Crossing the room, Fareme sat beside a golden brown pumagryph who was busy hanging her latest picture on the gallery wall of the Common Room.

"Gorgeous, Nam," commented a large black and grey dragon curled up by the fire. "As usual."

Nambroth's cere turned a rosy pink; she waved a taloned forepaw in the air. "It's nothing, Jooshie."

A banging on the Guild's main double door forstole all protests at Nambroth's modest rejoinder.

"I'll get it!" A large, shire horse-sized gryphoness bounded up to the entrance. Using her humanlike foreclaws, she pulled the latch; the bolt sild out with a faint click. Standing on her grey hindlegs, the gryphoness opened the heavy door. She received assistance from whoever was on the other end.

A golden head, who's unusual grey, diamond-shaped eyes darted from side to side, appeared, feathers plastered to its neck. "Who's bright idea was it to lock the Guild doors?" the newcomer asked genially, a grin pulling at the edges of her beak. "You're lucky my satchel's waterproof!"

"Crystal!" Fareme exclaimed, flying up and landing on the 14ft tall Phoenix's crested head.

"I'm wet, dearheart," she warned.

"Will you please shut the door?" Jooshie rumbled. "The fire's going out."

"Well," Crystal began, shutting the heavy doors with one silver-clawed foot, "this is certainly a storm for the records!"

There was a scuffle of paws, talons and scales as several Guilders in the Common Room got to their feet to greet the Ambassador.

"All right people," a raspy baritone declared. "Let the girl breathe."

The contingent of Guilders paddled backwards. Admin Sparhawk, the zerg-infested weregryph, stood on the edges of the group, his twin tails twitching behind him. To anyone not familiar with those infested by the serg, Sparhawk was a walking monstrosity: ragged yellow beak that concealed a forked tongue, a left arm that sprouted four tentacles, an extra pair of tiny arms below his original set, jagged spines on his legs. His upper body was covered in reddish-purple feathers; his lower half was yellow. He was stern, but also very complying.

"Haven't you all learned --" The weregryph was cut off by a shout from the kitchen.

"Zenith?"

"No! Diana -- not that way!"

Shrum-fwak!

Several objects shot from the kitchen as if they were launched from a catapult.

"Duck!"

Splat!

There were gasps as a huge banana creme pie came flying from down the hallway -- striking Crystal full on the face. It slid down her meathook beak and slithered through her golden neck and breast feathers; oozing through these, it dripped in globbets to the carpet on the stone floor.

A white gryphoness with green pinions and a small red dragoness fought each other for access to the room; both got caught in the archway.

"Who got hit?" the gryphoness asked, eyes darting. "Oh, crap! Crystal -- you ok?"

Shaking herself free of pie crust, Crystal began to pick at the remnants, licking at her feathers with a forked tongue. "Kind of like my newbie day here, though I was pelted with Skittles." She grinned.

As if on cue, hard candies began raining on various Guilders.

"We're all a little loopy today," Zenith said, scooping up some fallen pie and eating it.

Diana chuckled. "Some more than others!"

Sparhawk drew Crystal to one side. "How's the weather? D'you think the storm will last much longer?"

She shrugged, careful not to upset Fareme, who was still on her head. "Weather was good when I left. Hit the storm maybe a few minutes after that. I don't really know, Spar."

Raena, a silver gryphoness, padded up and sat next to Sparhawk. "It's bad, that's all I can say."

"You're a Weather Mage, right?" the weregryph queried.

She nodded, curling her blue flame tail around her feet. "If this was a lesser storm, I might be able to control it and set it on another course, or disperse it completely. However, it seems that this storm has all the scents of mage-conjured."

Crystal looked surprised. "You, too?"

Raena started. "Aye -- you're magess, right?"

The Phoenix nodded. "Aye, but I didn't think anyone would've recognized the taint."

Sparhawk rubbed under his chin with his tentacled hand. "Is this a threat to the Guild?"

Raena nodded. "Mages who like to mess with the weather are usually up to no good. Repercussions from this storm might have major impacts on the rest of the world."

"Do any of you have an idea who?"

Both magesses gave the weregryph a blank look.

"What's going on, Spar?" a Guilder shouted. "We want to know!"

Sparhawk stood and paced the length of the massive Common Room, talking as he did so. "Crystal and Raena believe that this storm isn't ordinary. That it has been created by some rogue mage."

"Just peachy," Poison muttered, casting her gaze out the window.

Tyr smacked her feather-tipped tail on a couch. "Let's go, then!"

"This isn't fun and games!" Guild Leader Tserisa warned, her black bulk rising high. Several Guilders bowed their heads and hunched their wings as she mantled her leathery appendages around her. "How many of you can actually call yourself warriors?"

Paws and talons were raised, the velvetwyrm counted. More than she had previously thought. "And mages? How many can competent control magic?" A few more hands were lifted. Tser looked to the only Phoenix currently among them. "Crystal, you once said your people were warriors. Can you teach us anything?"

"We are militaristic by profession, warriors by birth," the tall golden female replied. "I could teach you a few offensive and defensive moves that are allowed to be taught."

"Would they work with us?" Jaejoria wanted to know. "You're a Phoenix -- we're mostly gryphons, dragons and an earthbound unicorn." She indicated Amethyst; the unicorn mare swung her head low.

Crystal's crest feathers rose, arching over her beak, indicating she wanted their attention; then, they resumed their normal position. "All right, then. I can try, but most of what I know is state secret. We'll need to form a Wing, a huge Wing, and that takes time and for us, it takes the means to impress."

"But we barely number a hundred!" Jalalith burst. "If we're lucky to get that many!"

The golden firebird's crest slicked back; she was in full military mode, as trained from birth. "If the impression can be made, it doesn't matter how many you have. A Phoenix Wing could scare off thousands if they only had ten! Presentation, Jal, that's the key!"

"And you'll train us?" she asked.

"As only I can," she replied. Her grey gaze swept to the dragons occupying the room at the moment: Tser, Jooshie, Diana and Lux. "Tech'mondarh," she whispered. "A dragon Tech'mondarh!"

"What?" those around her asked.

"Tech'mondarh -- the great Phoenixian air-strike. You four will learn it," she jabbed her beak at the dragons.

"What about me?" Aryante asked impertentitly. "Me'sa dragon, too. And I've been in a ton of battles."

"You will stay here, Aryante," Tser and Sparhawk said as one.

The elf's face fell. "What! I have twice the experience, maybe four times, then they have!"

"All the more reason to keep you here," Tser told him. "We need one dragon to hold the Guild should something happen."

Aryante's hood fell back, revealing his sharp elven features. He fingered the pommel stone of one of his broadswords. He began to swear in elven, harsh words for such a musical language. "Fine, then. I'll stay." He pushed his blonde hair out of the way. Then, with a sudden change of expression, he grinned with wicked Ary-humor. "Just don't think to find things in the same place they were when you left!" He chuckled and looked to his smokey-blue gryphon partner.

Muse put a paw on his shoulder. "I'll bring you a trophy, no? Something to hang on your wall?"

The elf looked into the gryphon's red eyes. "Sure!" he said with a grin.

"Let's go!"

* * *

Down in the basement of the Guild, Crystal and FeatherStorm outlined major Phoenix formations. FeatherStorm was one of the Guild's best flyers and was nominated as tactical commander. Raena and Crystal were in charge of the mages.

Those in the assault team listened intently; among them were Jalalith, Jaejoria, Autumn, Nhaar, Zenith, Orca, Muse, Lux, Tser, Jooshie, Diana, Acyd, and Atyikt. Under the tri-mages were Tyr, Poison, Stardust, Cosmo, Kaletav, Amethyst (who would be running below them), and some others.

They left during a lull in the storm, flying (or running as with Amethyst) south as Raena ascertained the source. With the dragons flying guard, that left everyone else to take up coasting positions in the middle. Attack formations would come later, as they entered enemy territory.

"How're we going to pull this off?" Nhaar asked Autumn, who was flying beside her.

"As best we can, hun," the Skittlegryph replied. "The techniques Crystal taught us should suffice. I mean, look how old her race is! It must be good."

"I hope I can remember the formations," the black dracogryphoness continued, looking below.

"Go with the flow," Jalalith told her, her muzzle pulled wide in a grin. She fanned her purple wings in response to a change in the air. "Remember, it's dragons first!"

Nhaar nodded, her confidence restored. "So, does this mage have a name?"

"Neither Raena, FeatherStorm nor Crystal know for sure how it is. Tser and Sparhawk are certain it's an outside mage, cuz they know all the ones in this area. None are -- how do you say it -- proficient in weather magic. Mostly hedge witches and earth mages, whatever they are."

"Oh," Jaejoria exclaimed. "Those are people in tune with nature. Hedge witches predict the weather, and earth mages predict earthquakes and such."

A collective "oh" resounded from the group. Jae blushed, her nares bright red. "Come off it, guys!"

They laughed. Suddenly, Tyr flew above them, her tail fanned to extreme. "Heyla! Reconnaissance reports we're nearly there. Attack formations, now, people!" With a push of her pinions, the tigergryphoness flew on to pass the news.

As they practiced it, the Guilders slipped into formation: a three-dimensional diamond with Diana, Jooshie, Tser and Lux forming the top, bottom and sides of the outer edge.

**Who are you!?** thundered a voice that rang in their minds.

**We are the Gryphon's Guild!** Crystal shot back.

**Who are you?** Raena spat disdainfully.

**An'masazi, Master of Doomhounds.**

" 'Doomhounds'?"

"Doomhounds," Poison affirmed. "Mistress Malystryxx tried to obtain one for her guard, but they weren't to her liking."

"What are they?" Zenith wondered.

"Down there." Poison inclined her electric blue-horned head. "They look like jackals."

Keen eyes swept downwards. Indeed, they had the form of a jackal, but with red and black fur that stood on end like spikes. They wore little but for a uniform breastplate and loincloths. Gargoyle wings jutted from their shoulders, neatly drawn together.

They could see the mage, too. He was seated on a crude stone throne. Why does every maniac have to have a throne? Muse wondered, eyes slowly changing to gold as the tension in the air rose. As he looked closer, An'masazi appeared to be wearing a black, voluminous cloak and a queer silver mask. Just the thing for Aryante! the gryphon thought with a cruel smile.

Raena was shouting mentally at An'masazi, berating him for his tamperings.

**ENOUGH!** he boomed. "Attack!"

The Doomhounds' wings opened with a deafening snap. As one, they began to rise.

"Dragon Tech'mondarh!" FeatherStorm ordered, winging out of the way.

Lux, Jooshie, Tser and Diana all arched up and then dove down, wings nearly folded to their sides. Slipping sideways, claws extended, they breathed deadly fire (or luminbolts in Lux's case) into the Doomhounds' faces. Momentarily blinded, the Doomhounds were unaware of what happened next. They mighty bulk of the dragons crashed into them, driving them earthward; moments before impact, the dragons let go and careened skyward, momentum propelling the Hounds into mountainside or turf. They did not rise again.

FeatherStorm beat the air savagely. "Go! Go!" she shouted, cupping her wings before stooping. Like a shout, she zoomed up behind a Doomhound, setting her talons into its shoulders. Her sheer force drove the beast down. It snapped and clawed at her eyes. Deadly meathook beak found the Hound's spine. With a sickly crunch FeatherStorm snapped the Doomhound's column; hot black blood spurted in her mouth and she revoltingly threw the corpse from her, spitting and hacking.

Not far from the gryphoness was Nhaar, locked in deadly combat with an extremely strong Hound. The creature had her about the waist, crushing her with its massive arms. Repeatedly, Nhaar knocked her head back, breaking its nose and jaw, sending blood streaming down its face and onto her. The color of the blood was lost among her black feathers.

"Shreeaaacckk!" Muse dive-bombed her captor, successfully breaking its back. The Hound screamed and lost control, tumbling head over heels, its wings useless. Muse grabbed for Nhaar's outstretched talons and heaved her from the Hound's grip.

"Muse!" the dracogryphoness exclaimed, shaking violently.

"Hold on, Nhaar. Tyr has something for you!"

The Dark Empress sat with Stardust Nebula and Zenith, bandaging wounds and administering potions provided by Malystryxx.

"She's shaking bad, Tyr. Got something?" Muse deposited his charge gently on the ground beside Tyreenya. "I'd stay, Nhaar, but there's more of those damn dogs!"

"Hey!" Jalalith shouted at him, cruising overhead. "Watch who you're calling 'dog'!"

With a push and a wan grin, Muse thrust himself back into the fray.

"Stardust! Throw me the sagethorn vile!" Tyr leaned over Nhaar, her longish ears hanging with worry. "Will you be ready to go back up?"

The dracogryphoness' eyes narrowed. "Damn straight!"

Tyr laughed. Stardust came over, trailing gold and silver sparks. "Last one, Tyr. We have to ration more."

The tigergryphoness cursed under her breath. "Crystal!" she called. The Phoenix's head turned and she came loping up, having Changed into her golden gryphon form for mobility.

"We're running out of supplies. We gotta act now!"

Crystal's grey eyes -- normal like any other gryph's in this shape -- were hooded. She looked up. Doomhounds were falling, but not fast enough. "You're right. Mages!" she shouted over her shoulder. Eager magic-users leapt up at her voice. "Take it up!" Without another word, she flowed back into her original form and flew away.

Up above, Jaejoria and Jalalith had teamed up and were bashing Hounds between both their bodies. Autumn and Poison cruised by, streaking after two Doomhounds of their own. Fur, scales and feathers flew, black and red blood rained upon the turf -- more black than red. Atyikt and Orca had also teamed up and were flying side by side with Diana, taking out any Hounds that she missed. Both gryphonesses were streaked black, claws dripping the evil stuff. Diana was no worse for wear, her horns liberally streaked with the liquid, flat tailspade dyed black.

Acyd had partnered up with Jooshie, as usual, and the two were creating havoc in the Doomhound ranks. So quick on the wing were they that the Hounds' eyes were spinning.

Through it all, An'masazi remained on his throne, guarded by two enormous dragon-sized hounds with fire for manes and glowing coal eyes. The Guilders were good, he mused, too good. He'd heard of the Gryphon's Guild: a society where creatures of all kinds gathered to share stories, art and other things of interest. They were rumored to be a strange lot -- prone to outlandish traditions and suddenly exploding into conflict. Yet, despite this, the Guild continued to draw members and grow. And right now, they were kicking his ass.

"Magna Dragon Rage!"

An'masazi looked up in time to see a spiraling column of red magic streaking toward him. It bore into the stone a few yard from where he sat, sending up huge chunks of rock everywhere.

The dragonhounds howled and snorted.

"Night Force!"

A great blue shield crashed down, forcing the dark mage and his dogs to leap out of the way. An'masazi rolled for several feet -- nearly off the cliff.

"Hell Tornado!"

Massive winds churned and tore up chunks of stone from the plateau, whirling and swirling at him.

"Stream Spiral!" "Lightning Whip!"

Attacks came fast and furious now, leaving the mage no time to rest. The dragonhounds leapt and snapped, trying to reach the hovering group of Guild mages.

"Tri-Force!" "Fire Arrow!" "Silver Lance!"

A levinbolt caught An'masazi in the shoulder and he fell with a cry. The dragonhounds were quick to reach him. Diana and Jooshie crashed into them, jaws locked on their throats. The hounds kicked futilely at the dragons' armored bellies with their blunt claws. Lux and Tser came to their aid, ripping and slashing. Lux, being iridescent in color, had confused the Doomhounds to no end, constantly seeming to appear and disappear at will. In truth, she had only moved from one light source to the other; now she used that same technique with the dragonhounds.

Regardless of the hounds' fire manes, all four proceeded to finish them off. Throwing the carcasses off the edge, the dragons advanced on the wounded mage. An'masazi wasn't through -- he raised his hands and began to chant.

"No you don't!"

Guilder after Guilder jumped on him, snapping and slashing.

* * *

Nambroth, Fareme and Aryante watched together out the window. Sparhawk soon joined them. All four of them waited with bated breath.

"See anything?" Coal asked, wandering in from the dormitories. The sky-blue-winged gryphoness stretched out on a sofa, black-tipped paws folded under her head.

"Not really," Nam told her. "Keersha's out there right now, looking for signs of movement."

"She's been there for hours," Fareme added. "Nothing." The tiny Vulpegryph shook her head sadly.

"This is definitely something we've never seen before," Coal said in a whisper, batting at the fabric.

Sparhawk rumbled low in his throat. "True."

Coal's tail beat a tattoo on the sofa's arm. "I wish we knew what was going on!"

Aryante pushed his hair behind his ears. "I wish I could have gone!"

Suddenly, Keersha burst into the room, Guild doors banging off the stone walls. "They're back!" she crowed, her black and white wings fanned in excitement. She bounded up and down the Common Room, grabbed Coal by the paws and danced in the middle of the floor. Dropping the confused gryphoness, Keersha ran down the dormitory hallway, shouting into rooms and not caring who she disturbed.

Atyikt and FeatherStorm were the first to land, followed by the rest of the coalition. The former's head was swathed in a bandage and the latter sported a sling about her right arm. The others all had various wounds, but nothing serious. The all coasted in under their own power.

Guilders came rushing in from all directions, creating a huge mound of scales, feathers and flesh.

"Back off!" Sparhawk boomed. They obeyed. The Guild physicians moved in and treated the worst of the wounds and rebandaged the others. Most of the fighters' wrappings were taken off.

Rugs, pads and blankets were brought in and laid out on the Common Room floor. Those who could make it went to the dormitories and to their rooms, escorted by a fellow Guilder. Others collapsed gratefully on the cushions.

Crystal, Acyd, Atyikt and Raena all fell together on the same spot. Heads were pillowed on wings and back, all snug in a circle. Fareme and Nambroth joined them.

Night fell on the Gryphon Guild, and the stars came out to shine on a free plain.

* * *

Through the slitted window of a certain elf, moonlight spilled in a glorious spray across a silver mask.

2000 Melissa Hartman/Crystal Shekeira. The Gryphon's Guild is trademarked to Tserisa Supalla. All Guilders are copyright themselves; all other names, places and events are 2000 MH. Do not copy, alter or distribute in any way.

Copyright Melissa A. Hartman
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