Gryphon Guild: The Waves
Dark fell upon the valley, a gentle black curtain drawn with care across the sky. One after the other, stars appeared, shining beacons of untold beauty. The moon waxed full, looming huge upon the speckled expanse. A shape sitting tall on a ledge shifted, moving into full moonlight. The action illuminated the ragged beak, jagged red-violet feathers, cruel talons and twin tails. Behind him, a door swung open, a patter of paws and click of claws on stone.
The speaker strode into the moonlight: a draft-horse sized golden gryphoness with grey eyes and jet black foretalons.
A deep bass chuckle escaped the weregryph. "What are doing out so late, Crystal? Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
The gryphoness sat beside her friend. "I was going to ask the same of you." She wrapped her black-tipped tail about her silver-clawed feet.
Sparhawk looked down on her -- one of the few times anyone save the dragons could. Ythé "Crystal" Shekeira Eagle-Head was her full name, and her true form was that of a 14ft tall golden Phoenix. "I was taking a walk around the Guild when I felt something -- something I can't describe. So I came out here to clear my head."
Crystal's tufted ears swept forward. "Hrrmmm," she rumbled. "I feel it, too. It's . . . dark. Very dark."
Sparhawk started. "How long ago did you battle that dark mage?"
"A few months -- why do you ask?"
"Do you think . . .?"
Crystal cut the air with a heavy foretalon. "No! An'masazi is dead, Spar! I was there and saw it myself. What made you think of that?"
"The atmosphere is the same as before, Crystal. I truly feel that he has returned." Sparhawk leaned forward, his tentacled forearm slithering on its own accord.
The gryphoness' jaw dropped; she grasped for words that eluded her. "I -- I think we need to talk to Tser," was all she said.
Sparhawk nodded. She scrambled to her feet and walked quickly to the Guild entrance. The zerg-infested weregryph followed, glancing over his shoulder as he did.
As the door shut, two heads pulled themselves back inside the window: one a blue, black and white striped gryphon, the other lupine.
"The mage is back?" Tagia the she-wolf asked her companion, her voice trembling.
Orca the gryphoness' face was grim. She had fought the Doomhounds of An'masazi those few months past, and the prospect of his return didn't sit well with her. "I don't know, Tagia. If Crystal and Spar think so, then we got trouble on our hands again, no da."
Orca stretched herself full-length on her couch; she picked up a purple-fledged dart and began toying with it. Tagia curled up on some pillows on the floor, putting her nose back in her book.
"What was it like, Orca?"
The sea-loving gryphoness looked at her, head tilted. "What was it like? It was awful, no da." Idly, she threw the dart across the room, where it made contact with a portrait of a Doomhound. The object hit home in the Hound's flat eye. "I never wanted to see him again -- and now they're saying he's back!?" There was another thud; two darts now sprang from the Doomhound's eye.
"I smelt it, too, Orcie," Tagia said, her amber eyes wide.
Orca leapt off the couch and savagely ripped the Doomhound's picture off the wall. Tagia was stunned: Orca was normally a shy and quiet gryphoness -- this type of behavior was unnatural.
Crystal's golden gryphon head eased around the black and blue's door. She reached her friend and held her, stroking her cat ears and wings. "You guys heard, didn't you?" Tagia nodded, looking away. Orca's face was streaked with tears.
"Why couldn't he just stay dead, Crystal? Why?"
"We don't know, hun. That's what Raena, FeatherStorm, Tser, Sparhawk and I are talking about right now. All we're going on are feelings."
Orca sighed, stepping out of Crystal's arms. She sat on the floor next to the she-wolf. "What are you planning?"
Crystal's eye-ridges sloped down, she turned her head slightly. "We were discussing the possibility of sending out a party --"
"Me!" Orca burst out. "Tell them I want to go!"
"What!?" Tagia swung her head around, ears swept back. "Are you crazy, Orca?"
Crystal held up her hands. "Hold it, Orca, Tagia. We're only discussing. Nothing's set in stone --"
"No!" Orca emphasized. "When you plan something, you usually do it. I know you too well, CP, for you to do that to me. I want to be in the party."
"Me, too," Tagia said, rising from her crouch. "With my nose and tracking skills, I'd be an asset to the team."
Tail twitching, Crystal relented. "I'll let them know, guys. That's all I can do for now." She got up and led Orca to her couch. "Sleep, my friends. You'll need the rest." Without a word of protest, Orca climbed in and buried herself under the whale-print covers.
"Staying, Tagia?" Crystal held up a comforter.
The black and grey she-wolf nodded.
When both were bedded down, Crystal quietly Changed into her natural form and left the room, shutting the door behind her.
In the morning, Tserisa the black dragoness called a Guild meeting. Every Guilder present filed into the common room of the building; more still flew in when mindcalled by resident telepaths. Once again, Sparhawk, Raena, Crystal, FeatherStorm and Tser stood before them.
It was decided that eight would go, consisting of at least one dragon, a skilled hunter, an small gryph for mobility and a mage. As this was announced, there was scrambling to fill the positions. The five leaders had their hands full choosing; they ruled out the spontaneous and the die-hard combatants. In the end, the eight were chosen: Illucian the iridescent dragoness was named protector, Tagia the she-wolf as tracker/hunter, Chitterz the "small one", and Autumn "Skittlegryph" Sharptalon as magess; the others were Neo-Xolaris the cybergryphon, Stormy Pillowgryph the other zerg-infested weregryphoness and Auslander Snow Grygon. And lastly, there was Orca -- chosen to carry the team's teleson device, an implement designed to amplify a person's mindvoice.
Each of the First Wave (as they were dubbed) wore a Phoenixian-style war collar. Crystal had had to get special permission from her race in order for them to have the collars. Each one was implanted with a miniature version of Orca's main teleson, which was set in a half-globe of amber in the center of her collar. Poison added personal touches to each so they didn't look so severe, but reflected the wearer's being.
They sat before the Guild in two rows of four. For one more time, Sparhawk and Tser became generals. Neither dragoness nor weregryph were happy about the positions, but since it was unanimous, they conceded.
There were no pie-fights, no Skittle-throwing, no pranks or roughhousing this day; all the Guild was serious -- even the most rambunctious of them all.
Tser rose upon her hind legs. "Find out what you can and come home safely."
Grim nods met her order.
"GO!" Sparhawk bellowed. Crystal and Raena banged the Guild doors open, throwing them wide. Without a word, the eight broke into a run, galloping through the massive portal and leaping into the air. Those with wings sped along at a fast clip; Tagia hit the ground and bounded into a full lupine lope.
A few miles into the foray, Orca's teleson began to shine. "Someone's calling you," Chitterz told her. The small gryphoness was riding the Orca, sitting on a special saddlepad that provided optimum comfort for the two.
**This is Crystal.** The mindvoice came in loud and clear, as if she was speaking vocally. **How's the teleson working, Orca?**
"Fine --" she began, stopping herself because she forgot to think the words. Chitterz chuckled good-humoredly behind her ear. **It's all good, Crystal.**
**See anything yet?**
**Not really,** Chitterz told her. **Smooth sailing for most of the trip.**
**Not a smell out of place,** Tagia reported. **No altercations that I'm aware of.**
**Ley-lines report no recent tapping,** the silver, rainbow-winged gryphoness answered.
**Lux? How about it?**
**Blue sky, little happy herdbeasts running about. Nothing unusual as far as I'm concerned. Are you sure what you and Spar felt was dark?**
**Definitely. You would've felt it, too, had you been there.** There was a pause; she must have been consulting with someone. **Xolaris? Stormy? Aus?**
A click and a faint whine accompanied the cybergryph's response. **My scanners show no signs of life other than the norm.**
**Sorry.** Came Stormy's and Auslander's comments.
Crystal let loose a mental sigh. **Oh, well, it's still early. I'll be in contact if you need me.** Abruptly, the golden firebird's presence was gone; the amber stopped it's glow.
They turned east, to the mountains beyond that rose like giant dragon teeth. Any number of them could hold caves and caverns -- the perfect hideout for a rogue mage. Coming to a rest in front of the nearest crag, they assessed their situation.
Stormy looked up, passing her many zerg-created hands over the surface. Tucking her wings close to her body, the Pillowgryph began to climb. "There's an opening not far up," she called over her shoulder. "And a ledge, too."
The others looked at Stormy, then at themselves, and back at the zerg-infested weregryphoness.
"Hurry up!" she hissed, her snake-tongue flickering.
"Who ever knew?" Aus breathed in awe, her eyes following Stormy's ascent.
Xolaris shrugged and set his claws into the cracks in the mountainside. As usual, faint clicks accompanied him. Autumn and Aus took spots on either side of the cybergryph, scrabbling to get a purchase on the rock. Orca and Chitterz helped strap Tagia onto Lux's back before climbing themselves.
Stormy had reached the ledge; bracing her extra forearms on nearby protrusions, she stretched out, grasping Xolaris' foretalons. With a grunt, she pulled the cybergryph up; Neo-Xolaris' hind claws scraped stone, sending fragments down onto Autumn and Aus.
"Watch it!" the Skittlegryph growled, her rainbow crest flat, eyes squinting through the dust caused by the falling rocks.
"Sorry," Xolaris said, finally heaving himself up to the ledge.
Aus slipped, sliding down the mountain face, claws gouging deep scars.
"Oh, no!" Stormy cried, hand to her ragged beak.
"Hold on, Aus!" Autumn shouted; anchoring herself with her left fore and both hind, she reached out with her six-taloned hand and grabbed the orange-red grygoness by her scruff. Wings came out reflexively, batting Autumn in the face.
"Don't let go!" Auslander cried fearfully. She grabbed everywhere for a jut in the mountainside.
"Stay still!" Autumn commanded, gritting her beak in pain.
Lux and Tagia came up under the grygoness. The iridescent dragoness stretched out her long white neck, setting her head under Aus' dragon tail. Tagia undid herself from Lux and inched her way up the dragoness' sinuous neck. Placing her hind paws on Lux's shoulders, the grey and black she-wolf put her forepaws on the orange-red grygoness' hind end. Orca and Chitterz maneuvered under Autumn, using their combined strength to brace her should she let go. Inch by inch they moved up the mountain.
"Get my feet, Xolaris," Stormy told him, sliding on her belly to the ledge's end. The gryphon set his own hind limbs into deep pits, extending his claws for maximum grip. Locking his foretalons around Stormy's spiny legs, he signaled his readiness.
"Lower me slowly."
Down went the Pillowgryph, all of her forelimbs extended. "Push higher, Lux," Tagia said.
"Rrrr," her ride rumbled, jaws clenched with effort. Nevertheless, she complied, popping a few vertebrae as she did so. Up went Aus, only a few feet from Stormy's longest arms.
"You can do it, Lux," Stormy called, tongue hanging. "A little more and we got it!" Turning her head, she shouted to Xolaris: "Lower!"
The answer came back interspersed with pants. "Can't -- Stormy! I -- barely -- got it -- as is!"
With one final shove, Lux propelled Auslander up into the weregryphoness' waiting arms.
"Pull!" she commanded.
Xolaris heaved, putting all of his strength into the action. Stormy and Aus flew up the mountainside and onto the ledge. Autumn, Orca, Chitterz and Lux with Tagia in attendance scrambled to the top; there they lay, panting with such a monumental exertion.
"Next time," Chitterz commented, "can we fly?"
* * *
Auslander woke feeling very uncomfortable. Well, you should be, she thought. You were just stretched up a mountain! But her instincts told her otherwise. Opening her blue eyes, Aus noticed that they were no longer in the cave. Fear gripped her and she struggled, only to find herself bound. Something sharp prodded her spine, and she arched away from it.
"Release the bindings and hobble her," a smooth voice said. So silky was it, that Aus couldn't tell if it was male or female. Hands as large as her own grabbed her, clamping one on her beak.
**Aus,** whispered Autumn's mindvoice, so soft that she could barely hear. **No, don't look at me. They've broken Orca's teleson. We have no way of contacting the Guild. Swivel your right ear if you understand.**
Aus did as she was told. **Lux is chained up in the back, Orca's tethered with me and Tagia. They've got Stormy, Xolaris and Chitterz under analysis.**
The hands finished Aus' hobbles and hooked a thick chain around her war collar; they dragged her over to a post and tied the end of the chain to the top. Orca rose to her feet and hopped over, sliding her head under Aus' chin.
Another clocked figure came out, carrying Chitterz. The anthro was bound and muzzled, but she wasn't struggling. The figure hooked a lead to her handcuffs and tied the other end to Aus' post.
"I couldn't see Stormy or Xol," she muttered out the side of her muzzle. "But they're doing something awful in there, I know it!"
A weregryph roar echoed about the cavern. Stormy burst through an opening in the wall, all of her limbs propelling her forward; Neo-Xolaris was hot on her tail. Two huge dragonhounds came right behind them, slobbering and baying.
"Go, you guys!" Chitterz shouted.
Tagia let loose a haunting howl that set everyone's hair on end.
The pair made it as far as the cave's entrance before the dragonhounds caught up. One latched onto Xolaris' hind leg; there was a crunch and a whine of scraping metal. Sparks and bits of fur flew through the air. The cybergryph keened in pain, throwing up his head. Slowly, deliberately, the dragonhound pulled him back.
Stormy threw herself into freedom, her wings wide open. She plummeted down and pulled into a climb. The dragonhound leapt after her, snatching her long tail. Down they both went, to the plains below.
Lux began to cry, great tears rolling down her pale hide. No! she thought. No! Oh, Stormy! "Stormy!" The Ludrakoni pulled at the bindings surrounding her feet and hands, at the huge collar about her neck. Her kind nature evaporated into full dragon rage, eyes turning misty red. Bellowing for all she was worth, Lux snapped one chain and then the other. Guards came rushing in from all sides, spears elevated. All 20ft of the dragoness rose, tail and claws flailing. She dipped her head and gored a few guards with her back-curving horns. A cone of frost blasted from her jaws, freezing the front rank.
Illucian froze, one guard dangling between her jaws. At the entrance was Stormy, hanging from the dragonhound's mouth by her neck. A figure in blue stood by it.
"Cease or the monster dies."
The iridescent Ludrakoni had no choice but to submit; she spat the guard out and backed into her corner. There, she was rechained and muzzled. The figure in blue pointed and gave a command in an uncouth language. The dragonhound proceeded to drag Stormy Pillowgryph back into the cave that she had escaped from.
Autumn heaved a great sigh and curled up into a pitiful ball.
Copyright 2001, Crystal Shekeira. All Guilders are © themselves. The Gryphon's Guild is trademarked to Tserisa Supalla. All other names, places and events are © MH. Do not alter, copy or distribute.