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Gryphon Guild: Journey Into Darkness
Wing One

Quiet, starry nights are notorious for concealing matters from innocents. At about the same time that the constellation Striker rose above the Gryphon Guild (a giant, hollowed-out mountain), it was already in full view of a city beyond the lands held by the Guild. This city was present on few -- if any -- maps presently circulating the world, not that anyone outside a limited, privileged group of traders knew. These traders were led in under heavy guard, made their sales' pitch, sold goods and were promptly shown the door -- many without even seeing the eyes of their employers. The city had no known name -- that is a name the dwellers called it by. Instead, in order to identify it, the traders nicknamed it the City of Masks. Or, the Masked City.

Like all major metropolises, the City of Masks played host to numerous factions, the two largest being the Government and the Opposition. And like all major urban areas, there was also crime, slight poverty, wealth, and clics. But most of the population lived in euphoric bliss -- totally unaware that political wars raged in their midst.

It was on this starry summer night, with Striker high in the heavens, that the faction war came to a head. For, as the archer arm of the constellation pointed north, a comet entered the atmosphere miles off. Like a fiery coal from the hearth of the gods, it skimmed over the Cetnes and Silvertop, a baleful eye increasing in speed.

A lone Opposition sentry on duty in the rural section of the Masked City spotted it first. He watched as the comet made impact, burying itself in the rich soil. At once, steam jets released coolant, lowering the temperature of the craft, for craft it was: sleek in design, shaped like a teardrop or a spearhead lying on its side. Gentle curves and a seamless metallic structure, it lay cooling in the newly-ploughed field. The guard tipped back his cowl slightly, testing the air; it reeked of foreign smells, confusing his acute senses.

Once sufficient external temperatures were achieved, a door in the side of the spacecraft appeared: light ran from top to bottom, left to right in a door shape. Pressurized hydraulics lowered the ramp until it made contact with the ground, letting loose a slight hiss. Bright white light pulsed from the opening, only to be blocked seconds later by a massive shape, who's hide refracted and reflected the light, blinding the guard. The creature raised a great clawed paw and tapped on the inside wall; the lights dimmed, almost to darkness. Another press and a single searchlight came out from a slot above the hatch.

"Arkhon-12001," it said pointedly, its voice slightly mechanical and straightforward. "To report to Base 34-Az021."

A click and a whir later, the creature was towering over the guard. Looking up, the cowl fell completely off his face, revealing a black, white-streaked wolfish face, with low, rounded ears and wide amber eyes.

"Base 34-Az021," the creature repeated, bending its neck down to see the guard. "I am to report to Commander Argon."

He guard gulped and looked around him. "There is no Base -- 324, 345 -- or whatever number!" he nearly shouted at the creature, regaining some of his nerve.

"Scanning, scanning." The creature's head turned a complete 360, two red beams coming from its eyes. "Correct," it said, head and eyes returning to normal.

The guard fingered his communication device. "I think you'd best come with me."

* * *

The Gryphon Guild had a long-standing reputation for their unquestioning acceptance for any creature that walked, flew or crawled. The mountain stronghold played host to more than 300 members, many of whom lived there; others had aeries or homes of their own, but were always welcome to stay. The Guild was centralized in the mountain, but it also had sweeping turrets, wide courtyards, various landing areas and personality. It wasn't hard to pick out who's window is was by what hung on it or outside it.

Guild lands also boasted several acres of forest, plains and meadowlands. Herdbeast of varying species roamed the grounds: mostly antelope, boar, deer, cattle, and some others. Horses used to be part of the diet, but since the arrival of a unicorn and several horse-loving Guilders, the equines were restricted to private consumption off the Guild lands.

The organization's reputation always preceded it, mainly for being a place where a traveler could expect a meal, a bed and a rousing good time. Guilders were known for their strange -- but harmless -- antics and habits. It wasn't unusual to pass by and see a bemused member in the courtyard hosing down a newbie; nor so, entering and seeing male members walking about in pink togas and bows, while another threw stuffed animals at them.

Very recently, the Guild attained a new status -- that of an organization with budding military forces. This rise in rank came about from conflicts involving mass retaliation against two dark mages. It did not come from the fact that the Guild contained members of the armed forces, nor so that they boasted two members of the immortal Phoenix race. The truth lie in the fact that when provoked, the Guild changed from zany to serious in two seconds flat. Many were warriors, either by profession or by nature; many had strengths beyond the norm; quite a few were accomplished mages or spellcasters, some dabbling in one or more elemental practices; others ran on determination alone. Still, it was as widely known that to harm, cheat or steal from a Guilder was to do so to all members. Thieves and gamblers learned long ago that a group of creatures spouting seeming insanity were targets to avoid, since on more than one occasion, people tended to get singed or thrown across town.

Yet, under all pretext, the Guild was a family, a gathering of peaceful creatures who loved the arts and the realm in which they had built.

* * *

Guilders happened to love expositions: whether in art or in battle techniques. It was on a warm summer afternoon, two weeks past the rising of Striker, that many gathered on the practice grounds for a show involving the Guild's resident Phoenix, Ythé Shekeira Eagle-Head -- called Crystal -- and her sister, Kalaki Moroko, Ambassador to the Elven Nations. The two impressed the crowd with their displays of various offensive and defensive maneuvers, as well as single-hand combat techniques one would think impossible for their body structure and size -- 14 and 14 1/2 feet respectively.

Two Guilders decided to test the sisters by sneaking up on them while they were talking to Tserisa, the Guild Leader. In two swift motions, the Phoenixes grabbed the would-be attackers by the middle with their giant black talons, easily encircling their waists. Then, they pinned them beneath their feet to the ground, deadly scimitar beaks at the jugulars. The crowd gapped along with the two bravados, who were barely breathing -- the tips of the Phoenixes' beaks were actually targeted on the veins.

Crystal and Kalaki stood up, lifting their feet so the two humiliated Guilders could roll free and run off. Rich laughter followed them as they scurried off, tails between their legs.

"You have just witnessed the defensive move we showed you earlier in action," Crystal announced, hardly able to keep herself from smiling too much.

Kalaki nodded. "And with that, we end the demonstration." There were groans and protests at this statement. Kalaki raised her crest and jerked it several times, holding up her wing claws. "Now, now," she said placatingly. "You must understand that Ythe and I are still learning ourselves. What you saw is what we know -- most of it."

A rich brown, winged she-wolf named Jexxin lifted a paw. "Y'mean, yuh dint show us eva- thin'?"

Crystal shook her head. "Some things must be kept state secret, Jexxin."

The she-wolf considered this, and was about to ask another question when heads began to turn towards the main Guild road. Those with the keenest ears heard hoofbeats, those with exceptional sight saw plumes of traildust in the air. In a matter of moments, everyone could hear and see the lean palomino gelding cantering towards them, a hooded and cloaked figure upon his back.

Tser's black ears were canted at an uneasy angle -- she had not known about this messenger. "Who is it, Tserisa?" asked Sparhawk, the zerg-infested weregryphon, his extra limbs twitching.

"Don't know," she replied, moving forward as her position dictated. A slim silver gryphoness with a blue tailflame appeared at her side. "I don't need a bodyguard, Raena," Tser told her as gently as she could.

"No," the gryphoness replied, hardly assuaged. "But an extra pair of ears may be in order."

Tser smiled; Raena was like her Soul Sister Crystal in many ways. The Phoenix once said that nothing short of godly intervention, wounds or extreme situations could keep her away if she thought her presence was needed. A useful Phoenix trait if one considered it in all aspects.

"Of course, Raena. Spar, Crystal?"

As the rider pulled his palomino up, he was genuinely surprised to see a 50ft black dragoness, a 14ft golden bird, a giant red-violet, six-limbed weregryphon and a flametailed silver gryphoness advancing towards him. The gelding would have none of it, though, and started to balk, eyes white and rolling. Crystal reached forth with a wing claw and neatly hooked the bridle under the gelding's chin. He stopped fighting immediately.

The messenger was nonplused. "I bear a message to Guild Leader Tserisa of the Gryphon Guild from my Lord Ducheikshedar." Tser nodded accordingly as she was passed a scroll tied with black and bronze ribbon, sealed with red wax; the seal bore a mark unlike she had ever seen.

While Crystal was occupied with the horse, and Tser and Raena with the message, Sparhawk busied himself trying to peer within the rider's hood. No success; the weregryph imagined some sort of spell prevented even his zerg-enhanced eyes from penatrating the shadows. He began to growl low in his throat, the now-familiar feelings beginning to steal through his veins.

"Shirak," he mutter, borrowing one of Crystal and Kalaki's favorite explicitives/cries.

The rider looked up at Crystal and pointedly asked -- more of a demand -- to release his horse. She did, not caring to watch them gallop full-tilt down the road.

"What does it say, Tser?" asked Xiii excitedly, bouncing up on her hindlegs to see. The contingent of Guilders had moved en masse as soon as the rider had gone.

Tser broke the seal and unrolled the scroll, reading it aloud:

"To Leader Tserisa of the Gryphon Guild," it began. "I regret to inform you that your lands, as of this 14th day of Striker, year 1538, are now forfeit to the Opposition of the City of Masks. Your Guild is requested to turn over all mage artifacts, as well as battle attire. Warriors are on their way from the City of Masks to the Guild to pick up said items. There will be no rebellion of any kind. Refrain from holing up in your Guildhall -- resistance is, of course, no use at this time.

"Yours, Lord Am'salinth Ducheikshedar, Opposition Leader."

Outraged cries and shouts richoceted off Tser's ears, making her throw bck her head and roar. There was quiet, but not for long:

"Are we gonna let these bastards walk all ova us, Tser?" demanded Acyd from beside Orca. "Do they think we're stupid? That they can issue an order an' we'll jump to? Bullshit!"

"'Cyd's right!" bellowed Makaze Darktalon, her wild green hair flaring about her black gryphonic face. "We gonna let this so-called 'lord' take what is ours?"

Tser smacked the parchment to the ground, grinding it with her velvet paw. "NO!" she roared, brown eyes tinged red.

"HEY-YA!" Nearly 300 gryphonic, draconic and other voices cried out in unison, raising whatever appendages they had in the air.

Tser turned to Crystal and Kalaki, who were automatically standing at attention. "I want you two to go and block the path -- don't let them get by!" They nodded, hesitantly only one moment for Kalaki, who was a telekinetic, to bring them their warcollars. Then, off they flew in twin columns of golden flame, streaking high in the sky in blazes of anger.

In their heightened state of rage and living flame, the Phoenixes reached the split paths in record time. They landed, reverting back to their corporeal bodies, for converting to living flame drained energy they couldn't afford to expend. They waited for nearly two hours, one sister on either side of the road that led to the Guild, stoic and barely speaking. Finally, the wait was over in the form of a caravan of warriors -- all on horseback. A large wagon was being pulled by two draft horses, positioned in the middle of the pack. The leader of the band saw them and pulled his horse up a few yards in front of the Phoenixes, chain mail clinking over his voluminous hooded cloak.

"Move aside!" he ordered in a guttural tone. "In the name of Lord Ducheikshedar!"

"I think not," Crystal replied icily. "We have been ordered to make sure no one passes this way, and that means you." To prove her point, the golden Phoenix threw back her head and snapped it forward, a fireball exploding from her beak. It hit inches from the leader's horse's hooves, making it rear and buck.

"Be forewarned," Kalaki said, drawing their attention to the other immortal on the path. "You are in the presence of the immortal race. Guardians of the Universe. Your lives are pittance to the many we have lived."

"PHOENIXES!" a soldier in the back shouted, half in fear, half in awe.

Crystal continued the mind games. "We have defeated armies larger than the likes of yours with no more than a few well-placed fireballs and levinbolts. I suggest you turn tail and tell your master that the Gryphon Guild is under the protection of the Ambassadors Shekeira."

The leader was obviously distraught now. Should he believe these monster birds and return, or lead a suicide mission between them? He chose life.

"You will hear from my Master!" he shouted as they barreled back the way they came.

"I think not," Kalaki muttered under her breath. "You'll be hearing from us!"


When they returned, Tser, Sparhawk, Stormy Pillowgryph and Raena had already put together an attack force of some 30 Guilders and five messengers. They had definitely learned from the Waves.

"Call them 'wings'," Crystal suggested when they told them of the plan. "A 'wave' is reconn, a 'wing' is a fighting squad."

She turned to see the Wing lists on the wall: Wing One consisted of Tserisa as Leader, which surprised the Phoenix, as Tser had sworn off affirmative action since An'masazi. Under her was Nicoga, a brown gryphon who sported a dark brown mane, black wolf ears and yellow wings; Lyosha, an osprey-snow leopard gryphoness with piercing blue eyes; Sirah, a blue gryphoness whose wings were a combination of light blue and purple; Jiari, a bald eagle-sized kookaburra-hyena gryphoness; Xiii; Cutter B, an anthro weasel mercenary; and Kalaki.

Kalaki turned, gaping openly when Crystal read her name. The two turned to look at Tser, astonishment written all over their raptor faces. "We decided that at least one member of each Wing had to have a Phoenix warcollar," Tser answered genially. "I hope you don't mind, Kalaki."

The golden brown female shook her head slowly. "No, no I don't. Thank you, Tserisa, for considering this itinerant Ambassador."

Tser smiled and nodded back, watching Crystal turn back around and finish the lists.

For the Second Wing, Sparhawk was the Leader; another surprise, but a good choice, considering who he had control over: RiverDance the otter; Autumn Sharptalon; Tathramakan, an AuroraGryphoness, black in color, with blue and red-orange pinions; Tyreenya; Ratha Flamewing; Raekkenyia; and Morkarleth, a mysterious figure who spent every public moment cloaked.

Wing Three's Leader was Raena -- no surprise there! Under her was: Diana; Ki, a pale- colored gryphoness with a tiger-striped hind; Epyon XVI, a metallic black dragon with red stripes and metallic blue eyes; Rhan, a copper peregrine falcon-gryphoness, also as large as a bald eagle; Aeris Windchaser; Tagia, in her LupoDracan form; and Eclipse, a black, white-winged scholar.

Crystal stopped once again at the last Wing: her name was on top as Wing Leader. She sputtered something incoherent, a mixture of Phoenix and Guild tongue, feeling amusement pouring from Tser and Spar. She read on: Lux, Alan, Acyd, Makaze, Muse, Aryante and Xolaris. She would be commanding some of her closest friends.

Below, the messengers were announced: Jexxin, Orca, Shongshar (Raena's mate, a tan-pelted gryphon), Calypte, the other tigergryphoness, and Nightsinger. Jexxin and Nightsinger were assigned to Wing One, Calypte to Wing Two, Shongshar to Wing Three, and Orca to Wing Four.

As Crystal was reading, everyone else was milling about, raiding the weapons' chamber and the Mages' Hall, where the Guild mages and spellcasters housed the implements to their craft. Suddenly, she was alone, with the exception of Raena -- and Lux? The seraph ludrakoni shuffled uneasily, obviously wondering why she was still here and not preparing.

Answers came in the form of three gentle beams of Light, which startled them, considering they came from the ceiling.

**The road ahead is longer and more perilous than those previously traveled,** a Voice from the middle beam said -- the booming bass of Solarius. **As such, truths must be revealed and Oaths taken.**

**Daughters you are called,** spoke Raan'lath, the Protector, patron of Raena. **As previously said, however, more truth lies behind such fond words.**

**We have taken an Oath that Binds Us,** the soft whisper of Lux Aeterna, Truelight to Lux, said. **Now, so must you -- the Oath of the Light Triad.**

**The Light Triad can only be forged between scions of deities, deities of Light,** Solarius went on. **I think you can see where this is headed.**

Light Triad, offspring of gods . . . Were they implying that the three of them were . . .?

**Our Children,** Raan'lath said, filing in the unspoken query. **In all truths and aspects, you are Our Daughters!**

**Three Daughters of three gods -- bound by Light and blessed by it,** added Solarius. **As We are blood to you, so must you become blood unto yourselves. Raena and Ythé have walked that path before, but you, Illucian Seraphi, must walk it with them.**

**Are you ready, Daughter? Is all too much?** the Truelight asked with concern, His golden beam wavering.

Lux lifted her head, horn shining, eyes gleaming. "It is all that I wished for, Father," she said, tears like diamond flowing down her iridescent cheek.

**Ythé?**

"I am not a daughter of Calgon?" she asked, voice hoarse. "And Kalaki?"

Black streaks marred the beam of Solarius. **You are too the daughter of Calgon Shekeira!** He shouted. **Was I there for you when you born, your sister born? No,** He added as a mere, hurt-filled whisper. **Calgon is as much your father, by deed more than blood. Your parents wished it so. And Kalaki, too -- yes, she is Mine as well. But remember this -- they are your true parents, your family. As I could never have been.**

Crystal nodded, saddened, yet at the same time, gladdened by the news. Now she had an explanation of her powers as well as Kalaki's, as neither her father nor mother were talented in magic or kinetics.

**Raena Stormcaller,** intoned Raan'lath Protector. **Take up the dagger.**

A dagger materialized in front of them. Raena picked it up and, unblinking, slit her palm, the red blood oozing; she passed it to Lux, who cut her own. Crystal had to Change into her gryphon form, but she, too, cut her hand. Before their Fathers, they clasped hands, power and knowledge of each other flowing between them from the contact.

A glow infused about Raena; Raan'lath's Voice coming to her only: **Shed thy gryphonic shell, Daughter. Show thy true self, as thou was meant to be!**

As the glow subsided, so did the Light Gods, leaving a different Crystal, Lux -- and Raena.

But she was no longer Raena. Before them stood a giant red lioness who bore a striking resemblance to Raan'lath. Black tattoos covered her thighs, shoulders and upper body; a black-tipped white feather was clipped to one ear. From sweeping brown mane to yellow tailflame, she was no more Raena on the outside than she was inside.

"Kaal'tarn," she said huskily. "Raena I am no longer. I am Kaal'tarn Saamyara, sworn to the Protector."

* * *

Tser adjusted the Tsurieth, tucking it more firmly into her harness pouch. Around her, she could see those of her Wing and the other Wings finishing their preparations. Cutter was helping Sirah strap her sword onto her back, then have her do the same for his. Nicoga and Lyosha were filing their talons to razor-sharp points; Xiii, in-between sips from a juice box, was strapping gryphon war claws onto Jiari's small hyena paws. Since she was so small, she needed extra weaponry. The alleycat gryphoness was already wearing a gryphon saddle, since she's be carrying Cutter. Kalaki paced, muttering Phoenix war chants under her breath. Tser strained to hear the last phrase before the Ambassador lapsed into Phoenix: "Strength and courage -- Fear the diamond-eyed warriors!" The velvetwyrm wondered idly if any of those chants could be adapted to Guild use.

"Kalaki!"

The golden brown immortal turned, caught in mid-sentence. "Akai?" she asked. Tser caught herself before asking the Phoenix was she was talking about when she remembered that "akai" meant "yes".

"Kalaki, you think you could personalize one of your chants for us?"

She smiled and nodded, wandering off to the main Guild ramp as she thought. Each of the Wings were taking off from different platforms all around the mountain; each carried with them battlemaps, field dressings and other Healing devices, broach telesons, rations to last a while in case Kalaki -- their only strong telekinetic -- was captured, and a few personal items. In addition, were the messengers. Jexxin and Nightsinger were walking towards First, fixing errant buckles on their red harnesses.

"Yuh think tha' we be gettin' intuh mur trubble than we think?" the she-wolf remarked idly to her comrade as they squared off at the edge of the takeoff formation.

Nightsinger shrugged. "By the Graces, Jexx, war never turns out the way one hopes."

"Quiet," Cutter hissed from atop Xiii. "Tser's communicating with the others."

The velvetwyrm turned off the Tsurieth and put it once again into its pouch. Rotating to face her command, her face was grim. "You all know the dangers and are prepared to fight for what is ours?"

"Aye."

"Will you follow my orders to the letter, never stray from the path set before you?"

"Aye."

Tser allowed a small smile to grace her features as she spoke the last phrase: "Are we going to kick ass?"

"AYE!"

"Forward!"

Whipping about, Tser pushed off the ledge with her powerful hind legs, velvet wings reaching out to grasp the air. In pairs they followed: Kalaki and Nicoga, Xiii, Cutter and Jiari, Lyosha and Sirah, Jexxin and Nightsinger. To either side and behind, they could see the other Wings doing the same. To many, it was odd not seeing Raena, but Kaal'tarn, flying, without the aid of wings.

"Raena is dead," she'd said simply. "It was but a shell that hid my true form."

This time, they flew not North, but East, to the semi-desert where the mages had located the City of Masks.


First Wing made an impromptu camp about ten leagues from the Masked City. So far, not one of the Wings had been detected, but they did encounter several cavalry units, ducking behind cloud cover to avoid being seen. Those units were not headed towards the Guild, but away from it. It was assumed that these were doubling as supply trains, and after spotting one such unit pulling wagons near the camp, Tser made a decision.

"Nightsinger, I want you to go as quickly as you can to Kaal's Wing -- they're the closest. Tell her to notify the others, since I don't want to risk inter-Tsurieth communication now. Jexxin, I want you to stay here and leave immediately if you meet any trouble. The rest of us will try and raid the caravan."

They nodded as did Jexxin and Nightsinger. But the gryph had one question: "And after I relay the message, Tser? Do I return?"

She nodded. "With all due speed."

The messenger needed no other prompting; he flung himself into the cloud-sprinkled sky, angling towards Kaal'tarn's bivouacked Wing. No sooner had he sped out of sight, did Tserisa call First Wing to order. They knew raid procedure, and would follow it to the letter.

They took to wing, in a diamond-shaped pattern, using Jiari to scout ahead. Being as small as she was, she could hide in the trees far in front of the caravan, assessing when the time was right. Swerving from bough to bough, the kookaburra-hyena gryphoness settled a few yards in front, her keen eyes picking up subtleties in the way the caravan acted. These were no soldiers, per se, but mercenaries; that was evident in the way they spoke about their employer.

Jiari readied the spell that would signal First Wing. As they hit the mark, she threw up a single firebolt-- or tried to. The bolt froze in midair, popped and dispersed into a myriad of tiny sparks. Again, the frustrated gryphoness threw up a bolt, only to have this one toot and shoot off in different directions. Highly aware of the wary mercs, she resolved to throw up her head and howl -- a cacophony of kookaburra calls and hyena laughs.

The diamond came swooping down, Tser in the middle. The great velvetwyrm took three mercs off their horses, one in each hand, the other in her tail. Swords came out and several cuts were scored on the dragoness' velvet hide. With a roar, Tser dropped them, beating her wings to rise above their reach. Her tail swung around and neatly broke the neck of one merc, sending him crashing into his comrade. A full leonine roar heralded the arrival of Nicoga, who leapt fallen bodies and broken carts to reach her. The lion-maned gryph hit the remaining merc full-tilt in the chest, snuffing out his life before he could blink.

They turned without a word and galloped back to the fray, where Lyosha and Sirah were circling the carts, bodies littering the ground around them. Cutter was on top of one, three mercs against him. The anthroweasel lunged forward, slipping under the guard of one and dealing a quick thrust to the throat with a concealed dagger. Pulling back, he ducked and rolled beneath their legs, stabbing them through the backs before they could turn.

Horsemen came galloping up, crossbows trained on all three.

"Vahakayah!" Kalaki screamed, tearing in from above and behind, flames streaming from her open beak. A great fireball hit before the lead horse, who threw up his head in terror. More fireballs and magebolts rained down, causing the terrified horses to buck and bolt, throwing their riders or dragging them to death.

Hidden in the shadow of the tall female was Xiii, armed with a shorn-off halberd. Stone-faced as Kalaki passed over each one, Xiii would give a quick thrust to end their pain. Their colors meshed by the dark bandings on the Phoenix's underside and clasped within Kalaki's black talons, it seemed as if all the Phoenix had to do was pass over a merc and they came out dead at the other end.

All of a sudden, smoke not caused by Kalaki started to billow up -- the remaining mercenaries were burning the carts. Lyosha and Sirah charged, leaping up, talons extended. One crossbow marksman loosed a bolt, catching the grey gryphoness in the shoulder; Lyosha went down, the bolt lodged deep. Sirah spun about, dropping to her side. The merc readied another bolt in his crossbow, squinted and fired.

"Eeeee-ahhh!"

Sirah tipped backwards, falling over Lyosha.

"Dulkchektar!"

A bright blue levinbolt struck the archer in the side of the head; he teetered a moment, then fell off the cart. Kalaki zoomed by, dropping Xiii as she turned and rounded back. The alleycat gryphoness landed softly, halberd strapped to her harness. The golden brown Phoenix landed atop the cart, puffed up to full firebird fury. She took one step forward and leaned towards he mercs, beak wide open, crest flat, diamond eyes blazing as only the daughter of a god could. "Skeeeeerrrrrrrreeeee-SHIRAK!"

FOOM!

Up went the mercs in a blazing column of flame.

Tser, Nicoga, Jiari and Cutter ran in, all bearing wounds of varying degrees and sweating. Kalaki turned slowly, eyes flicking in their eerie diamond-shaped sockets as she scanned.

The trail was silent -- not a horse remain, nor did a merc breathe -- they had massacred the whole company.

"Back to camp," Tser said. "Kalaki, Nicoga -- get the carts! Xiii, Cutter, Jiari, load Ly and Sirah onto my back. Lash them with whatever you can find!"


Lyosha and Sirah lay on their sides under a hastily-pitched tent. Two bloodstained bolts lay nearby, snapped in two. Kalaki knelt by them in faerie form, hands equally bloodied. Cutter stood by the main pole, his face twisted as he surveyed the mess.

"Every battle has its casualties, Cutter. You know that as well as I do."

"I shouldn't have been playing swashbuckler," he said in a low voice.

"You did what you could to help them, regardless. Go outside and fetch me more poultice, please."

The weasel merc nodded and left, passing Nicoga and Jiari on his way out. The male gryph's black-tipped white crest rose in concern when he saw the two.

"How are they?"

"Not bad, considering they were at point-blank range."

Jiari fluttered down beside Sirah. "Nightsinger returned a while ago. Kaal sent these with him."

"Oh?" Kalaki raised an eyebrow, reaching for the rubies Jiari cradled in her war claws.

Great Vaha, she thought as she held them. They were mage-born, these two rubies; created from pure will. Kaal'tarn has surely found herself, she mused as she placed a ruby on Lyosha, and then Sirah's wounds.

"What do they do?" Nicoga asked, leaning over the faerie's shoulder.

"Watch."

As she spoke, the rubies turned black and the wounds about them shriveled and disappeared. The gryphonesses' breathing turned deep, and soon they were sleeping. Kalaki gently touched each ruby and they vanished, their purpose fulfilled.

"Wow," the gryphs breathed.

Cutter came back in with the poultices, which Kalaki adhered to the other cuts the two had sustained. Nicoga and Jiari followed the merc outside, leaving the faerie inside with her patients.

"They're sleeping," Jiari announced at Tser's querying glance.

"Good," the velvetwyrm replied, turning the carcasses of two wild boar over the fire. Jexxin and Xiii had gone hunting. Remnants of the caravan carts lay about the field, all usable objects stored away; the rest were burned. "I'm going to contact the other Wings tomorrow -- to see where they are."

The Wing nodded, accepting mugs of cider from Xiii. On the horizon, the moon rose, illuminating the Guilders, keeping a watchful eye on the events.

"We attack in full tomorrow!"

2001 Crystal Shekeira. All Guilders are copyright themselves; the Gryphon's Guild is trademarked to Tserisa Supalla. All other names, places and events are copyright to MH. Do not copy, alter or distribute

Copyright Melissa A. Hartman
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