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The Blood of a Gryphon

F-14 Ace

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This is a fanfic based on an Inheritance Cycle RPG I used to be a part of on another site.  Sadly the site is no longer active which is a  shame because it was one of the best fantasy theme RPs I've ever seen due to how open ended it was the the freedom it gave the players.  It didn't really follow the events of the books and included more mythical races and lands beyond just Alagaesia, which made for some epic stories.  One of my favorite characters to role play as was a gryphon character named Fletcher.  He grew and evolved a lot over the course of several adventures remains one of my best characters and I'm writing this as a tribute to the RP adventures I used to love.  Anyway, here it is.  If you read the other story I posted called "The Light of My Life",
"The Light of My Life",, some of the names here may be familiar.

Seventy years had passed since the downfall of the Dragon Riders. The Riders and the dragons themselves were all but extinct, with only a few survivors scattered in hiding across the world. Alagaesia was on the brink of total darkness. The people were oppressed under the brutal rule of Galbatorix. However, for the people of Danthuania, these problems seemed to be a world away. Located in the world's southern hemisphere directly below Alagaesia, the continent of Danthuania still prospered and enjoyed an era of peace. Though many humans lived in Danthuania, the land was truly ruled by the mighty gryphons. Revered for their wisdom and intelligence, the half-eagle and half lion creatures were adored by the humans who called this exotic land their home. For the gryphons who called the mountains and woodlands their home, however, life was simple and primitive.

Chapter 1: Father and Son

The pudgy gryphon hatchlings bounded toward the entrance of the cave, trilling excitedly as they stepped into the sunlight for the first time in their lives. Elees, their watchful mother, accompanied them. The little hatchlings were almost identical to one another, covered in grey downy feathers and short tawny fur with black spots. The little hatchlings had spent the first few weeks of their lives confined to the small cave that their family called home. Now they were ready to see the outside world for the first time.

One of the hatchlings scurried around his mother's feet twittering with excitement. "Careful now, Fletcher." Elees chided the rambunctious gryphonling. Like all gryphons, her head, front legs, and wings were like those of a mighty eagle while her back end, hind legs, and tail were like those of a great lion. However, instead of having a tuft of hair on the end of her tail, she had an elegant fan of feathers. Her feathers were a light brown color while her fur was a dark shade of tan. Her eyes were a warm shade of amber. She was a very beautiful and majestic creature. Elees led her hatchlings out of the cave and onto a ledge overlooking a lush green valley surrounded by lofty mountains.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" the gryphoness whispered to her sons, nuzzling them both gently with her curved beak. The chick called Fletcher curled up by his mother's feet while his twin brother, Tas, moved closer to the edge, spreading his wings as if he were ready to fly.

"Not so fast, little one!" Elees scolded firmly, picking him up by the nape of the neck and carrying him away from the edge of the cliff, placing him down beside Fletcher.

Tas let out a disappointed squawk as his mother set him down.

The hatchlings were not old enough to talk yet. Unlike many other creatures such as dragons, gryphons possessed the ability to speak the language of the two-leggeds. The gryphons had long abandoned their own primitive language in favor of more complex language of the two-leggeds. It was also not uncommon for gryphons to bestow human names upon their offspring as was the case of these two hatchlings.

Presently the mother gryphon looked up into the sky at the sound of flapping wings overhead. A male gryphon carrying a dead goat in his talons circled once overhead before landing gently on the ledge next to the mother and hatchlings. He was a handsome creature who stood proud and tall, but there was a gently warmth about him. His fur and feathers were a dark shade of reddish-brown. His eyes were a warm shade of golden orange and reflected a wise, gentle soul.

The male gryphon laid the goat down tore off two strips of meat, holding them in his beak for the hatchlings. The two hatchlings eagerly scampered over to their father and devoured the meat hungrily.

"It is hard to believe that someday they will be grown like us, eh Windstrider?" Elees said to her mate, nuzzling his shoulder.

Windstrider nodded his head. "Yes, and then they'll set out on their own and we'll never hear from them again. We had best enjoy it while we can." There was sadness in his voice as he spoke those words.




Five years later…

The young gryphon awoke to something nuzzling him. As he lifted his head and opened his eyes, he looked around the inside of the cave that he called home. It was still dark but he could see the first rays of morning peeking above the horizon in the distance.

"Fletcher, it's time to get up." he heard a voice nearby say.

Turning his head, the young gryphon was met with the golden-orange eyes of his father. Fletcher was now a teenage gryphon, five years of age with golden brown feathers, tawny fur and golden-amber eyes.

"Father? It's still dark." protested the young gryphon with a tired yawn, clearly unaccustomed to rising this early in the morning.

"I know, but I have a special treat for you today." Windstrider said with a smile.

Instantly Fletcher jumped to his feet wide awake with a look of pure excitement on his face.

"Are you gonna teach me how to hunt today?" exclaimed the young gryphon excitedly.

"Yes. It's time you learned to hunt large game." His father answered. "That means no more squirrels and rabbits."

"Up already, Windstrider?" Elees called from nearby. Fletcher and his father looked in the direction her voice came from. Elees rested on a nest made from tree branches.

"I'm gonna take Fletcher hunting with me, dear. We could use another hunter in the family." Windstrider replied, walking over to her side.

"What about me?" protested another voice nearby. "I'm a hunter!"

Everyone turned to the teenage gryphon who was identical to Fletcher.

"Well Tas, seeing as how the last deer you hunted nearly put your eye out, I'd say you're still a long way from calling yourself a hunter!" Fletcher taunted his twin brother.

"Now Fletcher, Tas only had to try five times to catch a deer." Windstrider said with a slight smile. "And like you say, that stag nearly took his eye out. Let's see if you can do better." He added in a teasing tone.

Tas just huffed at the remark.

"Stay here and keep an eye on your mother, Tas." Windstrider instructed.

"Yes father." Tas said, and he made his way over to his mother.

Windstrider rubbed his beak against the tip of his mate's beak. "Stay here and rest, Elees. Fletcher and I will be back soon".

Elees smiled. "You two have fun."

"Oh I'm sure we will. Alright, let's go." Windstrider said, making his way to the mouth of the cave and spreading his wings. Fletcher waited for Windstrider to take off before he followed, flapping his wings to gain altitude. The teenage gryphon's wings had yet to fully mature and he found it difficult to keep up with his father. Windstrider reduced his speed and allowed Fletcher to catch up. The gryphons were now flying over a lush valley filled with evergreen trees. Windstrider led the way toward a river flowing through the valley.

"Now pay attention, Fletcher. Dawn and dusk are when deer and other prey are most active, so those are the best times to hunt. The first thing you need to do is to find your prey."

Fletcher scanned the ground below, looking for any sign of deer. The forest below made it hard to see.

"Try looking in clearings." Windstrider advised. "I see several deer down there already."

Fletcher looked around and soon enough he spotted a small group of deer down below.

"There they are!" he said excitedly.

"Good." Said Windstrider. "Now, the next thing you need to do is take note of the wind direction. You must always approach your prey from down wind."

Windstrider paused for a moment, gauging the wind direction.

"This way."

"Father, don't you usually just pounce on them from the air?" Fletcher asked, puzzled.

Windstrider chuckled. "That takes a great deal of time and practice, Fletcher. Besides, it's not always possible to tackle a deer from the air when they're in the forest, lest you end up crashing into a tree. You must learn to pursue them on the ground."

Fletcher nodded understandingly.  "I see".

Windstrider banked sharply and positioned himself so that he would be down wind of the deer. He descended into a narrow clearing and flapped his wings a couple times to slow himself down, gracefully touching down on the ground. Fletcher came in to land and tried to slow himself down as well, but he waited too long and stumbled awkwardly when he hit the ground. The young gryphon lost his footing and tumbled head over tail until he came to a stop several feet away.

Windstrider shook his head. "You see, Fletcher? You need to master proper landings before you worry about hunting from the air."

"Yes, Father." Fletcher said, turning his head away with embarrassment.

Windstrider hummed and nuzzled the side of his son's face with his beak. "You're still young and these things take time. You'll get it eventually. Now then, I'll let you observe how I hunt this time. The next deer is all yours."

Windstrider crouched down and slowly began to creep forward. Despite his large size, he barely made a sound as his talons and paws moved slowly across the ground.

"Now from here on out we must be silent." he whispered.

The young gryphon mimicked his father's movement, crouching low to the ground. Before long, the clearing came into view. Five deer were grazing in the clearing, unaware of the two gryphons nearby. Windstrider's muscles tensed as he approached the edge of the clearing, stalking his prey like a great cat. Suddenly all the deer became alert and they all looked in his direction. Then they all bolted off in different directions.

Oh blast it! Windstrider thought to himself. The gryphon immediately lunged from the underbrush, singling out one of the deer. He bounded across the clearing and into the tree line on the opposite end of the clearing. The deer zigged and zagged as it darted through the trees with Windstrider in hot pursuit. Fletcher ran after them. As Windstrider pursued the stag, the animal suddenly changed direction in an attempt to throw the gryphon off. Windstrider reacted quickly, sliding sideways and propelling himself off of a tree to match the deer's change in momentum. He continued the pursuit. Up ahead, a fallen tree leaned across the path. The stag managed to squeeze through a gap under the log while Windstrider leaped into the air. The gryphon dug his talons into the tree, pulling himself on top of it and then leaped from it, launching himself straight at the deer. Talons dug into the deer's flanks and Windstrider quickly bit down on the stag's neck. The deer was dead before it hit the ground. The entire chase had only lasted about half a minute. Windstrider stood over his kill, panting from the chase.

"Wow! That… that was amazing!" panted Fletcher as he caught up.

Windstrider just smiled at his son.

"With practice you'll be able to do it too. Actually, you mother was the one who taught me that trick."

Windstrider looked down at his prize. "Speaking of which, we should get this back to your mother and Tas. They'll be getting hungry. Then I'll let you hunt your own deer."

Windstrider grabbed the deer with his talons and the two gryphons returned home. Elees was bathing herself in small stream near the cave. When she saw her mate and her son returning, she climbed out of the stream and shook the water from her feathers. She smiled as they landed.

Windstrider laid the deer down at Elees's feet. "It's good to see you up and about."

"Well, certainly you don't think I plan to stay in that cave until I lay the eggs do you?"

"Of course not." Windstrider said.

Elees examined the deer. "Well, this looks more like your handiwork than Fletcher's."

"Fletcher hasn't hunted his deer yet. I wanted to make sure you and Tas were fed first."

Elees nuzzled her mate and nipped playfully at his ears. Suddenly the female gryphon winced in pain, placing a forepaw against her belly.

Fletcher cocked his head when he witnessed this. What's wrong with her? he thought.

"It's just like last time." Elees said to her mate.

"It's going to be alright." Windstrider said, reassuringly. "Everything turned out alright last time."

"You should get going. I'll be fine." Elees said reassuringly.

Windstrider nodded and turned to Fletcher. "Alright. Come on, Fletcher. Let's go."

Fletcher took off into the sky after his father. By now the sun had risen and the warm, golden rays of light were warming the land. The sky overhead was clear with not a cloud to be seen.

"Father, what's wrong with Mother?" inquired the young gryphon?

Windstrider sighed. "Your mother is pregnant. You and Tas will be getting another sibling."

Fletcher was surprised by this news. He had never considered the possibility of having a younger sibling.

"It'll be a while though." Windstrider added. "We only just recently realized she was pregnant. Anyway, let's focus on hunting. This one's all yours."

Fletcher flew low over the trees just like he had before. He spotted a pair of deer in a clearing not far away. He banked sharply, following the wind until he came to an area downwind of the clearing where he had seen the deer.

Windstrider glided up alongside the young gryphon. "This time, when you're coming in to land, try flaring your wings earlier and using your tail to steer. That will give you more control."

Fletcher nodded and began his descent. Heeding his father's advice, he maneuvered himself toward the clearing, using the feathered fan on the end of his tail like a rudder while flaring his wings to slow himself down. Just before Fletcher touched down, he flapped his wings twice and touched down gently on the forest floor. He glanced up at his father who was circling overhead and watching from above. Carefully and quietly, Fletcher crept toward the clearing where the deer were grazing. He singled out a doe, figuring a doe would put up less of a fight than a stag. Fletcher made his way to a good attack position and sprang from the shadows. Immediately, the two deer took off toward the trees. Fletcher bounded after the doe he had selected. The deer was fast and nimble and it was all Fletcher could do to keep up. He pushed himself as hard as he could, gradually closing the distance between the deer and himself.

It looks like all those games of "tag" I played with Tas are paying off. he thought to himself.

Fletcher leaped into the air and dug his talons into the deer's hide causing the doe to stumble and fall. Fletcher tried to lunge for the deer's throat but the doe got back to its feet and took off again. Undaunted, Fletcher gave chase once again. He caught up to the doe a second time and latched on with his talons, dragging the deer to the ground. He tried bite the deer's neck again when suddenly he saw a hoof flying toward his face right before everything went black.

"Fletcher!" he heard a distant voice calling through the darkness. Then the young gryphon became aware that someone was shaking him. He opened his eyes and let his head clear for a moment. His head throbbed with pain and he could feel a knot forming above his right eye.

"Fletcher!" he heard his father call.

Turning his head and looking up, Fletcher saw Windstrider standing over him, a worried look on the elder gryphon's face.

"Oh thank the stars you're alright!" Windstrider said in a relieved tone.

"Wha… what happened?" Fletcher stammered, rolling onto his belly and slowly getting to his feet.

"The deer knocked you out and got away." Windstrider said flatly.

Fletcher hung his head with shame. He had failed his first hunt.

"I'm sorry, father. I tried." He said, sitting beside his father.

Windstrider sat down beside his son and draped a wing over him. "It's alright, son. I've never known a gryphon yet who brought down a deer on their first try. We'll try again tomorrow."

"So you're not mad?"

"Why would I be?" asked Windstrider. "It was a simple mistake. Although from now on, I would advise you to be quicker about killing your prey. You should always try to kill your prey as quickly as possible. Not only does it prevent needless suffering, but it also reduces the risk of being injured by a flailing animal."

Windstrider smiled at his son. "Now come on, Fletcher. Let's go home."

To be continued…

F-14 Ace

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Warning: This chapter contains blood and violence!

Chapter 2: Blood in the Night

Fletcher panted from exhaustion as he stared down at the deer that lay before him. A smile crossed the young gryphon's face as he marveled at his accomplishment. He looked up when he heard the sound of flapping wings overhead and saw his father coming down to land next to him. Windstrider surveyed the deer. It was an old doe apparently, but taking it down was still a commendable feat for such a young gryphon. Windstrider smiled at Fletcher and nodded in approval.

"Well done, Fletcher." he said warmly.

They returned home with Fletcher's kill. Arriving back at the cave, they found Elees lying on top of a rock basking in the morning sunlight while Tas rested nearby. Windstrider landed and laid the deer on the ground, smiling warmly to his mate. Elees climbed down from her perch and surveyed the kill.

"Fletcher is now a true hunter." Windstrider said, proudly.

Elees looked at Fletcher and nodded in approval.

"I'm proud of you, my son." she said softly, nuzzling Fletcher's forehead with her beak.

"Of course," Windstrider said, "That means that you and Tas must help me hunt from now on. Your mother will need more food than the rest of us."

Elees sat down on her haunches next to the deer. "Seeing as how this is Fletcher's first deer, I think he should be give the first choice of meat."

Everyone nodded in agreement and Elees beckoned her son forward. Fletcher couldn't believe it. He had caught a deer on only his second try and now he was being given first choice of meat. The young gryphon eagerly dug in. Once he had eaten his fill, he moved aside and everyone else ate their share. Once the deer had been picked clean of anything edible, Windstrider carried the bones away to dispose of.

Elees smiled to Fletcher and Tas. "I'd like to take you two hunting sometime. Of course your father won't stand for it. Not until the egg comes, at least."

Fletcher exchanged excited glances with Tas. Windstrider frequently bragged of their mother's hunting prowess.

"I'll take you hunting when I can." Elees said reassuringly.

Windstrider returned from disposing of the deer carcass and sat down beside his mate, sunning himself in the warm morning sun.

"Good morning, everyone!" called a cheerful female voice from the woods nearby.

"Ah, Lylia! How are you today?" Windstrider inquired, looking toward the trees nearby.

A human woman carrying a basket filled with fresh fruit approached the gryphons.

"I'm doing well today, mighty Windstrider." The woman called Lylia replied cheerfully. Lylia was a  small woman with a petit build and sharp facial features and pewter grey eyes. She always wore a rag tied over her black hair. Fletcher watched the woman approach. Lylia had been around for as long as Fletcher could remember and was a close friend of the gryphon family. He watched as Lylia stopped in front of Windstrider and bowed. Then she offered him the basket she carried.

"I brought you more fresh apples today." Lylia said in a soft tone. "I know Elees is fond of them."

Fletcher saw his mother eying the apples that Lylia held hungrily. While gryphons mostly lived off of meat, there were certain fruits that were also important to their diets. Lylia offered one of the apples to Elees who gently took the red fruit in her beak and crushed it in a flash, practically swallowing it in one gulp.

"Are you feeling well today, Elees?" the woman asked, glancing at Elees's slightly swollen belly.

"I'm doing fine. There has been some pain but not much."

Lylia nodded. "I'm glad to hear that." Removing two apples from the basket, Lylia turned to the two young gryphons.

"Tas, Fletcher, these are for you." she said, offering them the apples.

Tas took his apple first. Fletcher then took his apple and downed it quickly. Lylia smiled and gently ruffled the feathers in top of his head with her hand.

Fletcher always enjoyed Lylia's visits. She always brought them fresh fruit and herbs and she also acted as a healer for the gryphon family.

"Will you tell us more stories of the lands across the sea?" Fletcher asked Lylia.

She smiled and sat down by a tree. "Very well. What would you like to know about?"

"Tell us more about the Dragons and the Riders!" Tas exclaimed, joining his brother.

"This ought to be good." Windstrider chuckled, sitting down with them, followed by Elees.

"Where did I leave off last time?" Lylia said with a smile.

"You were telling us about the dragon that flew through a hurricane." Fletcher said.

"Ah, Vervada, the mighty Stormcleaver." Lylia said with a smile. "She was most famous for that feat, but people forget that she contributed so much more. She was an explorer and a diplomat. Not to mention she was the queen of the Wild Dragons after she overthrew her father, Eridor. And she was a lifelong friend to the Dragon Riders. Her mate was even a member of the high council."

Fletcher took in what Lylia said. His gaze was distant as he dreamed of what it must have been like to live in that magical time.

"It must have been wonderful to live back then!" he exclaimed. "I wish I could meet a dragon."

Lylia chuckled. "I bet you do."

Her expression changed to one of sadness. "I'm afraid there's little chance of that though."

Tas, sitting next to Fletcher, tilted his head curiously and asked, "Why is that?"

"Because the Dragon Riders, and the dragons themselves, have been destroyed." Lylia said sadly.

"But how?" asked Fletcher. "I thought the Dragon Riders were supposed to be unstoppable!"

"I'm afraid they weren't as invincible as they thought they were." Lylia explained. "One of their own betrayed them. A young Rider named Galbatorix convinced several other riders to join his cause, and they rose up and destroyed the Dragon Riders. Then they hunted down the wild dragons as well."

The young gryphon was saddened by this news.

"There may be some survivors out there though." Lylia said with a slight smile. "And perhaps someday, the Dragon Riders may rise again."

"Let's not forget the Dragon Rider who liberated Danthuania from the rule of King Roland." Windstrider chimed in.

"If you're referring to Morzan, he was no hero." Lylia scowled.

"It depends on how you look at it." replied the gryphon. "Morzan may have done some unsavory things, but because of him, we don't have to hide in the mountains or scavenge for food anymore. We can live among the humans now without fear of persecution."

"One good deed is not enough to change all the terrible things that he did though." Lylia argued.

"Who is Morzan?" Tas asked.

"He was a traitor and a killer, nothing more!" Lylia said sharply.

Elees shook her head. Then she said to her sons, "You see, long ago we gryphons didn't always live in peace with the humans. A cruel man from across the sea named Roland invaded and declared himself king. Under his rule, gryphons were murdered, hunted, and persecuted. But then one day, a Rider named Morzan on a crimson dragon arrived. He overthrew Roland and replaced him with King Akron, the just and noble ruler of both the gryphons and the humans."

"I've never met Akron." Lylia said. "But I'm sure Morzan had an ulterior motive to what he did."

"Be that as it may," Windstrider stated. "He gave us our freedom, and we owe him for that much at least."

"I think I've had enough for one day." Lylia said, apparently uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. "I'll call on you tomorrow. And I'll bring some fresh apples."

"Good day, Lylia." Windstrider said, bidding his friend goodbye.

Once Lylia had left, Tas asked, "So who was Morzan really?"

"Well, he was one of the Dragon Riders who joined Galbatorix. However, the story goes that he didn't join Galbatorix willingly." Elees explained. "When he came to Danthuania, the gryphons were kind to him and he couldn't stand the way Roland treated them."

"But we don't know for sure. All we know is that he overthrew Roland and gave us our freedom." Windstrider said. "Regardless of what misdeeds he may have done, we must at least be thankful for what he gave us."




Fletcher lay awake in the cave one evening, looking at the stars overhead. Nearby, Windstrider and Elees lay sleeping. The sun had only just gone down and the forest was calm and peaceful. Rays of bright moonlight shown between the tree branches and lit the forest floor as fireflies danced among the shadows. Little did Fletcher know that this night would change his life forever.

"Look at all the fireflies." Tas whispered, sitting down next to Fletcher.

Down below, Fletcher thought he saw something moving about.

"What's that? There's something down there." he asked, pointing a talon toward the dark shape moving below.

"I don't know." Tas replied.

"Hello up there!" a female voice called from below. It wasn't a voice that Fletcher recognized.

Tas craned his neck over the ledge and whispered to Fletcher, "It's a human!"

Fletcher walked to the ledge and looked down. A woman stood alone at the base of the cliff outside the cave. At first Fletcher thought it was Lylia but as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that this was someone they didn't know.

"I wonder what she wants." Tas said. "Let's go see."

Before Fletcher could say anything else, Tas leaped downward and spread his wings, gliding down to where the woman stood. Fletcher decided to follow. Fletcher and Tas landed in front of the woman. The teenage gryphons were almost as tall as she was. The woman wore a black cloak and a hood, but black hair was visible, and she had blue eyes. She held a hooked cane on her right hand.

"Hello." Fletcher said. "Are you lost?"

"No." said the woman flatly. "I actually need your help with something."

"Help with what?" Tas asked.

"My name is Agatha and I've been stricken with an unfortunate curse."

The woman held out her left hand and Fletcher and Tas both gasped. Agatha's left hand was almost completely black, as were the veins running up her left arm.

"Well we… we can't lift curses!" Fletcher exclaimed, disturbed by the sight.

"Ah but you can." said the woman with a sly grin. "You see, the remedy for the curse requires the blood of a gryphon to be taken once every three months."

Fletcher heard twigs snapping in the forest all around them and he realized that they were no longer alone. He had seen enough. Backing away with his feathered ears pressed against his skull, Fletcher said, "Perhaps you can speak to our parents about that then. Come on, Tas."

"Leaving? I think not!" shouted the woman in a hostile manner.

A group of men emerged from the shadows, surrounding the young gryphons. The men wore bright red tunics. Some carried swords while a few were armed with crossbows or maces. Before either of the gryphons could react, a net was thrown over them, pinning them to the ground.

"What are you doing? Let us go!" Tas shouted.

"One of you is coming with me!" Agatha hissed.

Two men moved toward the young gryphons when suddenly there was a whooshing sound followed by a thud. The two men turned around and were both cut down in a flash of talons.

"Get away from my children!" roared Windstrider, glaring at Agatha venomously.

Agatha scowled. One of the archers raised a bow but Agatha held a hand up to stop the archer.

"Leave this to me." she sneered, grabbing the lower part of the cane. Agatha pulled the cane apart, revealing a concealed sword within.

Windstrider crouched low, tail lashing as he glared at Agatha. "I don't know who you are, but you made a big mistake threatening my sons!"

His ordinarily gentle voice was filled with an anger the likes of which Fletcher had never heard before.

"You don't frighten me!" Agatha shouted, holding her sword in a defensive manner.

Windstrider lunged, slashing at Agatha with his talons. Agatha ducked and rolled to the side, avoiding the attack. Windstrider charged forward, wings flared threateningly as he moved in to attack again. Agatha leaped aside with surprising speed and swung the sword. Windstrider winced as the blade jabbed into his right shoulder.  Blood trickled from the stab wound.

"You're never leaving here alive!" Windstrider bellowed, charging forward again.

Off to the left, one of Agatha's men suddenly screamed as something grabbed him from the shadows.

Windstrider and Agatha both glanced in that direction to see Elees grab the man's head in her beak and crush it like a nut. Fast as lightning, the mother gryphon struck down another of Agatha's men with her talons before lunging toward the third man. Windstrider took advantage of the distraction and lunged at Agatha with a downward slash. Agatha tried to avoid the attack but it was too late. She screamed as Windstrider's talons dug into the right side of her face, leaving three deep, bloody gashes. She was thrown off balance and stumbled sideways, clasping her left hand over the wounds as blood ran between her fingers. A look of pure hatred filled her blue eyes.

"That was a mistake!" she snarled.

Fletcher and Tas tried to free themselves as their parents distracted Agatha's men.

Agatha nodded to the archer who stood watching the fight and before Windstrider could react, an arrow embedded itself in his side. The gryphon cried out as he felt a deep, burning pain in his side.

Seeing that her mate was wounded, Elees charged the archer before he could reload. She slashed him with her talons and took his head on her beak, swinging him around and flinging him into two of his comrades. From out of the shadows, an arrow struck Elees in the side, causing the female gryphon to scream in agony. Before she could get her bearings, another arrow struck her in the side.

Elees gasped for air and staggered. Then she fell.

"Mother! No" Fletcher called out as he watched Elees lay motionless on the ground.

"Elees!" Windstrider shouted, seeing his mate fall.

The distraction proved costly. Without warning, Agatha slashed Windstrider across the shoulder, causing him to fall to the ground with a thud. As the gryphon lay on the ground, Agatha walked around beside him.

"I was going to end your life quickly but now that you've pissed me off, you can just lay there and suffer!" she hissed with blood still running from the gashes in on her face.

Agatha raised her sword and brought it down on Windstrider's back, slicing his spine.

Windstrider let out an ear piercing scream as suddenly the entire back part of his body became numb and limp and he lost all feeling. As Windstrider lay helpless on the ground, one of Agatha's men approached the gryphon with a mace. Windstrider glared defiantly at the man. The man raised the mace and swung, striking the gryphon in the side of the head and everything went black as the gyphon fell limply to the ground.

With both gryphons removed as a threat, Agatha turned her attention to Fletcher and Tas.

"We only need one of them." She said to her men. She seemed to ponder the two young gryphons for a moment before pointing at Fletcher.

"This one will do."

One of Agatha's men pulled out a blowpipe and shot a dart into Fletcher's neck. He winced at the stinging sensation and began to feel dizzy.

"What about the other one." said one henchman, gesturing toward Tas.

"Kill him. We don't need him." Agatha ordered.

Tas's eyes widened with terror as the man approached him brandishing a mace.

""N… no! Please!" Tas begged, trying to rip through the net.

The man swung the mace and struck him in the head, knocking Tas to the ground.

Fletcher screeched as he saw his brother fall. As Tas reeled from the first attack, the man struck him in the head again and the gryphon moved no more. The man dropped his mace, pulled a knife from his belt, and grabbed Tas's beak. He tilted the gryphon's head back and ran the knife along his throat. Blood ran from the cut and stained the brown feathers on Tas's neck.

"Tas… Fletcher moaned as the sedative overwhelmed him. His vision swirled and he descended into blackness.

"Bring him along." Agatha ordered. Her men cut the unconscious Fletcher free of the net and dragged him to a nearby wagon before riding off into the night with their captive, leaving behind a scene of carnage.

To be continued…

F-14 Ace

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Chapter 3: Seeking Answers

He let out a moan as his head swirled with pain. His eyes opened and he tried to get a bearing on his surroundings, but his vision was still foggy. Suddenly a jolt of pain shot through his body as he tried to stand. Windstrider let out a cry of pain as he collapsed back to the ground. Turning his head, he saw an arrow sticking out of his flank. For a moment, the gryphon just laid there, trying to let his mind clear. Blood ran from his various wounds and stained his reddish brown feathers and dark brown fur. Then he saw Elees, his beloved mate, lying motionless on the ground nearby, two arrows protruding from her side, her wings splayed out beside her.

"Elees…" he gasped.

Windstrider tried to stand again, but found that his hind legs just wouldn't budge. He was desperate to reach his mate. Digging his front talons into the dirt, Windstrider pulled himself toward Elees's motionless form. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally reached her side. Windstrider could see her sides slowly rising and falling. She was alive, but just barely. Her normally tan feathers and fur were stained crimson. Her ragged breaths were short and labored.

"Elees?" the gryphon said feebly. There was no answer.

Windstrider reached our and placed a paw on her shoulder. Her body was still warm.

"Elees…" Windstrider croaked again. "Elees, please answer me!"

"Windstrider?" Elees groaned weakly, her amber eyes opening slightly.

"It's going to be alright, Elees." Windstrider said reassuringly. Truthfully though, he had a horrible feeling that her injuries were fatal.

Elees gagged and coughed and Windstrider was horrified to see blood running from her beak. One of the arrows had punctured a lung.

"Windstrider… I don't think I'm gonna make it." Elees said weakly, her voice barely a whisper.

"No, don't say things like that, Elees. You're gonna be alright!" Windstrider said, tears clouding his vision. Windstrider placed his other front paw under Elees's beak, propping her head up.

"Where… Where are Tas and Fletcher?" Elees gasped, coughing slightly between words.

"I don't know." Windstrider said, a tear running from his golden orange eyes.

"Find them for me, my love." Elees said softly. "I love you, Windstrider."

"Stay with me!" pleaded Windstrider. "Please don't leave me, Elees!"

"I'm sorry… m…my love. I'm… I'm not that… strong." Elees panted. Another coughing fit ensued and more blood ran from her mouth and her ragged breaths were coming faster and shorter. She barely held her eyes open now.

Windstrider cradled his dying mate in his talons, watching as her life slipped away before his eyes.

"Please, Elees… I can't do this without you! I need you!" Windstrider sobbed. "You were the light of my life!"

Before the conversation could go any further, Windstrider's ears perked up as he heard a twig snap nearby. He looked up and spotted Lylia standing there, one hand propped against a tree and the other placed over her chest, a look of horror on her face as she stared at the two wounded gryphons.

"Lylia!" cried Windstrider. "Please, help Elees! She's dying!"

Moments later, Lylia knelt by Elees's side, examining her injuries. Elees's life was fading fast. With little time to act, Lylia grabbed one of the arrows and pulled it from the wound, causing Elees to let out a cry of pain. Lylia then pulled the second arrow out, again making Elees cry out. She hated to be so rough and blunt, but there was simply no time left.

Lylia placed her right palm over the wounds in Elees's side and began to quickly chant a series in incantations. A silver mark on her palm began to glow as life giving energy flowed into Elees's body. The wounds began to close and slowly, Elees's ragged, shallow breaths stabilized. Elees drifted into unconsciousness as her wounds healed.

"She'll be alright now. Let her rest." Lylia said reassuringly to Windstrider.

Lylia then examined Windstrider's injuries next.

"This is going to be difficult." The woman said as she pulled the arrow from Windstrider's side. He barely responded to the hot jab of pain that shot through his body. Lylia healed the arrow wound as well as the cuts on his shoulder. Then she moved on to his spinal injury.

"I can't move my legs." Windstrider panted.

"I think I can fix this." Lylia said reassuringly.

She placed her hand over the gash on Windstrider's back and carefully began to utter a string of spells. The magic needed to heal a spinal injury was quite complex and Lylia had to take her time. Windstrider felt a tingling sensation as feeling returned to his legs. Once Lylia was done, Windstrider tried to stand but to his horror, he found that his legs still didn't work.

Seeing the look of fear in the gryphon's eyes, Lylia said softly, "Give it some time. You'll regain the use of your legs soon."

"Where are Tas and Fletcher?" Windstrider asked. Then he spotted Tas lying on the ground not far away.

"Tas!" he shrieked.

Now that Windstrider and Elees were healed, Lylia ran to where Tas lay. Lylia ran to his side and her heart sank. As she knelt beside the young gryphon, it became clear there was nothing she could do for him. He was gone. Fletcher was nowhere to be seen. Lylia stood up and walked back to where Windstrider and Elees still lay.

"Lylia…?" Windstrider stammered, desperation in his voice.

There was no need to say anything. He understood by the look in her eyes. Tears flowed from the father gryphon's eyes and he let out a cry of anguish that echoed across the valley. Lylia placed a hand on his head and gently stroked the side of Windstrider's face as he grieved for his son.

Lylia gazed into Windstrider's golden-amber eyes and she saw a familiar pain there.

"I'm so sorry…" she whispered, stroking the gryphon as he wept for his dead son.




It didn't end there.  Though Elees and Windstrider had been healed, their troubles were far from over.  Not only had Windstrider and Elees lost Tas, but the stress of her near death coupled with the loss of her son caused Elees to go into labor prematurely.  For two days, Elees watched over the egg but it soon became clear that the egg would never hatch. The mother gryphon was inconsolable. She sat on her haunches, staring at the freshly dug grave before her where Tas and the unborn chick were buried. Beside her, Windstrider sat somberly with one wing draped over Elees's shoulder. Elees sobbed and buried her face in the feathers on her mate's neck. There was nothing he could say to comfort her. All he could do was be there for her.

"My babies…" Elees sobbed. "They killed my babies!"

Lylia carved a stone bearing Tas's name and placed it at the head of the grave. They had buried Tas and the unborn chick in a quiet glade not far from the cave next to a babbling brook.

"It's a beautiful place to rest." Lylia said quietly. Again, she reached over and placed a hand on the back of Windstrider's neck, stroking his soft feathers. Windstrider, who had been there for her when she needed a friend the most…





The black dragon struggled to stay in the air as he flew toward the coast. The bloody bites and claw marks on his neck were draining his life fast.

"Just a little further. Hold on, Seroc!" Lylia cried from the saddle on the black dragon's back.

After the long flight across the sea, bleeding heavily the entire way, the dragon could simply go no further. He glided down to the beach, landing in the surf. Lylia leaped from the saddle and tried to summon the energy to heal his wounds, but she had none left. She had expended it all keeping the Forsworn at bay.

Lylia… Don't. You'll kill yourself. rumbled the black dragon's voice in her head.

"I can't let you die, Seroc! I… I need you!" the young woman replied, tears running down her face.

No, Lylia.. You must go on… without me.

Seroc laid his head down and closed his eyes and the last of the life left his body.

The next thing Lylia remembered, she was wandering aimlessly through the forest, unsure of where to go. A part of her soul had been torn away when she lost Seroc. Then suddenly a gryphon stood before her. He saw her pain. He looked at her with sympathy and offered her comfort when she needed it most. Lylia remembered when Windstrider brought her to his cave. She remembered seeing Elees with her newborn nestlings. Young Fletcher had been gravely ill when he was first born. Lylia saw the fear that both parents felt for their newborn nestling. She remembered how she had healed him and made him well again. And from that day on, she knew she had the goodness of a home among the gryphons.




Lylia knew they had to find Fletcher.  She owed Windstrider and Elees more than they could possibly imagine.  She stood up and without another word she made her way over to the nearby stream, scooping up some water in her hands. She focused all her energy on the water in her hands and an image began to appear. She saw Fletcher lying on his side. She saw his chest rise and fall as he breathed. He was either asleep or unconscious, but most importantly, he was alive and apparently unharmed.

"He lives!" Lylia exclaimed.

"What?" asked Windstrider.

"Fletcher is alive!" Lylia exclaimed.

"Where is he?" demanded Elees.

"I'm not sure, but I'm going to find out."

Lylia made her way over to the bodies of Agatha's henchmen who were killed during the attack. She had not yet gotten around to burying them and hoped that perhaps she could find a clue as to where they may have taken Fletcher. Windstrider and Elees watched as Lylia sifted through pockets until she found a strange medallion. The medallion was made of gold and bore an image of a silver dragon head.

"The Swalson Merchant Army." Lylia said aloud as she examined the medallion.

"Who?" asked Windstrider.

"They're a army of mercenaries." Lylia explained. "All I know is that they're from Alagaesia. Sometimes Galbatorix hires them to do his dirty work."

"Galbatorix? Do you think he was the one responsible for this?" Elees asked, eager for answers.

"I don't think so." said Lylia. "Galbatorix would have no use for a young gryphon like Fletcher. Whoever did this was obviously after him for some other purpose."

"Do you think they're taking Fletcher to Alagaesia?" asked Windstrider.

"Most likely." Lylia replied.

"Then we're going after them!" Elees declared, a new determination in her amber eyes. "We're going to find my son!"

"I'll take you there then. I know my way around Alagaesia." Lylia replied. "And we will find Fletcher. That I promise you!"

"We'd best get some rest then." Windstrider said. "We leave at first light!"

To be continued...

So Windstrider and Elees didn't die after all. :)

F-14 Ace

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So here's chapter 4.  Feedback is always welcome.

Chapter 4: Journey to Alagaesia

Fletcher awoke inside a tiny cell. As the sedative wore off, he began to take in his surroundings. The walls around him were made of wood. Sunlight shined in through a tiny window covered by iron bars. The room seemed to be rocking back and forth and Fletcher's ears could detect the sound of water. An occasional creaking and groaning sound also reached his ears.

I must be on a ship! He thought to himself.

Slowly the gryphon got to his feet, his legs still wobbly. He staggered forward, almost falling as the deck moved beneath his feet. The gryphon stood on his back legs and wrapped his talons around the iron bars on the window, pulling himself up. His hunch was correct. A seemingly endless expanse of water stretched as far as his eyes could see. Fletcher let himself back down to the floor and sat on his haunches, curling his feathered tail around his feet. It was then that he noticed a bloody rag tied around his right leg which covered a deep cut. The young gryphon scowled. The woman called Agatha had taken some of his blood. Images came flooding into his mind. Fletcher saw his mother lying on the ground with arrows protruding from her side. He saw his father lying motionless not far away. He could still hear Tas pleading for his life before one of Agatha's goons killed him.

A tear ran down the gryphon's face and he dug his talons into the floor. He heard the sound of footsteps approaching and a man entered the room carrying a metal plate with a cut of salted meat.

"Oi, looks like the bird's finally awake!" crowed the man, grinning at Fletcher with rotten teeth.

The gryphon snorted and turned away, staring at the window.

"The boss has big plans for you, she does!" said the man in an accent that Fletcher found downright obnoxious.

Fletcher glared at the man. The newcomer was a thoroughly disgusting individual, with dirty, matted hair, rotten teeth, and a horrid odor like he hadn't bathed in months. His skin was covered in filth and grime.

"Eat up, birdy!" the disgusting man said, holding the plate out toward the gryphon.

As Fletcher reached his talons for the piece of meat, the man grinned and pulled the plate away.

"Too slow! Try again."

Fletcher was not in the mood to be toyed with. The man shoved the plate toward him again, only to pull it away like the first time. Fletcher sat quietly on his haunches and made no attempt to grab the meat from the plate. The obnoxious man pushed the plate toward him and pulled it away several more times, clearly trying to goad the gryphon into trying to grab the food. Fletcher just stared blankly at the man, which seemed to annoy the man. After several seconds, Fletcher unexpectedly reached his talons through the barred door, grabbed the slice of meat, and pulled it back inside before the man could pull it away again. It was a pathetically tiny cut of meat and Fletcher downed it in one bite. This seemed to earn a scowl from his unwanted visitor.

"Oh, think you're clever now, do ya, birdy?" the man growled.

"Get lost!" Fletcher demanded, lying down facing away from the man.

The man grinned smugly. "Say, you wanna know the difference between me and you?"

"What? That I bathe and groom myself regularly?" the gryphon taunted, flattening his ears and lashing his tail in annoyance. "Perhaps you should try it some time. Then maybe you wouldn't smell so bad!"

The man's mouth hung open as he tried to think of a comeback.

A female voice joined in. "Now Meigs, it's not that difficult to get under the skin of simple minded beasts."

A chill ran down Fletcher's spine and the gryphon turned his head to see Agatha standing beside the man. The three claw marks that Windstrider had left on her face had been stitched up but it was clear there would be scaring.

"It's a shame I left your father to die back in Danthuania, gryphon." Agatha said smoothly. "Now that I think about it, his head would have made a fine wall decoration for my parlor."

Fletcher scowled, clenching his talons as his anger rose.

"How dare you insult my father! He was a far better person than you could ever hope to be!" he shouted, punctuating it with an angry gryphon screech.

"And your mother… I could have used some of those lovely feathers to stuff some pillows. Yes, it's a shame I left your family lying there. They're no doubt food for the maggots by now." Agatha taunted.

Before Fletcher knew what he was doing, he was standing on his hand legs and rattling the bars on the door with his talons, flaring his wings and screeching at Agatha in anger.

"You see, Meigs? So predictable." Agatha said in a smooth voice.

"I'll kill you!" Fletcher roared.

"I'm sure you'd like to try, but you won't be successful." Agatha said calmly, completely unphased. "Gryphons aren't exactly welcome where we're going. Even if you were to escape, you'd be an outcast, hunted and alone no matter where you went. Tell me, gryphon, what's your name?"

Fletcher seethed with anger. "My name is none of your concern!"

"Very well. I can see you want to be difficult. I can make your life very miserable, gryphon." taunted Agatha.

"Meigs, give him half a portion of meat until we reach Alagaesia."

"Yes, m'lady!" Meigs said with a sinister grin.

As the ship traveled north, the weather became bitterly cold. Unlike Danthuania, located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons in Alagaesia were just the opposite. What was summer in his homeland was winter in Alagaesia. The days passed agonizingly slow. Fletcher was given just enough food and water to keep him alive, but he was too weak to do much. He spent most of his time just lying on the cold floor of his cell. Finally, after many long days at sea, the ship arrived in a port city. Now so weak he could barely move, Fletcher put up no resistance as Agatha's men loaded him into a large cage which was carried from the ship to a waiting wagon. The chilly wind blew through the bars of the cage which offered no protection from the elements. Over head, the sky was a shade of pewter grey, and snow had begun to fall.

The wagon drove through the streets of the city as part of a convoy. For Fletcher, this was his first time ever seeing a human settlement. It was nothing like what he expected a city to look like. His father had always told him of the cities in Danthuania. The humans there were polite and friendly, greeting one another both human and gryphon alike. Here, the humans wore ragged clothing. No one smiled or greeted one another. They just milled about the streets with a look of hopelessness.

So this is Alagaesia. Fletcher thought to himself. The homeland of the mighty Dragon Riders. Except there aren't any…

Fletcher sighed sadly. The trip by wagon was every bit as miserable as the trip by sea, if not more so. On the ship, Fletcher had at least been protected from the wind.

Day after day was spend confined to a tiny cage in the back of a wagon while snow, freezing rain, and sleet fell all around him. As usual, he was only given enough food to keep him alive. At last, the wagon arrived at another city, a miserably looking place called Gil'ead. By now, Fletcher had lost a significant portion of his body weight. Agatha had the gryphon unloaded from the wagon. His legs were bound and his beak was tied shut. He was then dragged into a building be several men. They dragged the bound gryphon down a flight of steps and into a filthy dungeon. Meigs, Agatha's lackey, opened a barred metal door and Fletcher was shoved inside the cramped cell. One of the men quickly cut his legs and beak free before retreating from the cell, and the door was slammed shut behind him. Agatha glared one last time at the gryphon before turning and walking away, leaving Fletcher hungry and alone in the dark cold dungeon.




Windstrider awoke early in the morning just as the sun was beginning to rise. Elees was curled up asleep beside him. Windstrider smiled slightly as he stared at the beautiful gryphoness resting beside him. Over the past two days, Elees had bathed in the stream and groomed her feathers and fur, removing the blood that had stained it. Thanks to Lylia's healing skills, only two small scars remained where Elees had been struck by the arrows that nearly killed her. The scars were covered by her fur and were virtually invisible, but the emotional scars still remained. Elees had not been herself since the attack. Still, Windstrider was grateful just to have her.

My beautiful Elees. What would I have done if I had lost you? the gryphon thought to himself. I know that a daunting journey lies ahead, but as long as you're by my side I have nothing to fear. I love you more than you could ever know, and I hate to see you suffer so much.

Windstrider's memories took him back to a time long past. He thought of when he had first met Elees back when they were barely older than nestlings. He thought of how they grew up together and how their childhood friendship had blossomed into romance. It was a fact that gryphons bonded closely to their mates and Windstrider and Elees were no exception. They had grown and played together as nestlings, gone on adventurers together as adolescents, and now, as adults, they had started a family together.

You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Elees. You brought me love and happiness. You bore our offspring. Elees, whatever lies ahead, let us face it together!

He hated to wake her, but Windstrider knew they needed to embark on their quest to find their son. He gently nuzzled the side of Elees's face with his beak, causing one of her ears to twitch slightly. Her amber eyes opened and she turned her head to look at her mate.

"Morning already?" she asked.

"Yes. We should get going, my angel." Windstrider said.

Elees stood up and stretched before walking outside the cave. "We should eat before we leave."

The two gryphons flew low over the forest in search of prey. Spotting a deer below, Elees rolled over into a steep dive. Windstrider watched as his mate tackled the unsuspecting animal from the air, killing it efficiently with a bite to the throat before the deer even had time to comprehend what has happening. Windstrider banked and circled around, flaring his wings right above the ground and touching down gently beside Elees.

"You're still the finest hunter around." he complemented.

A slight smile crossed Elees's face. The two gryphons ate their fill and returned to their den site. They were almost surprised by the sight that greeted them when they returned. There stood Lylia, but she was not the humble woman they had come to know. She no longer wore the ragged clothing that the gryphons had grown accustomed to. Instead, she was wearing a a Dragon Rider's robe, a black robe with green trim. The same robe she wore when Windstrider found her in the woods. She had cleaned and mended them and kept them all those years. By her side hung a black Rider's sword matching the color of her fallen dragon. A bow and a quiver full of arrows hung across Lylia's back. Her black hair was tied up in a tight bun. Tied around her waist was a belt with many pouches. She looked like a warrior prepared for battle.

"Well isn't that something." Windstrider said warmly.

Lylia smiled and bowed slightly. "Good morning. Are we ready to travel?"

"Ready as we'll ever be." Elees replied. "I suppose you'll have to ride with one of us."

"You can ride on my back." Windstrider said to Lylia.

Elees was still recovering and Windstrider didn't want her to have to carry the extra weight across the sea. Lylia seemed surprised by the offer. In all the years she had known Windstrider, he had never offered to let her fly with him. Then again, she had never asked. Winstrider knelt down and spread his wings and Lylia took a seat on his back, sitting just behind his wings.

"Alright, hold onto my feathers!" commanded the gryphon. "Just don't pull any out."

Lylia leaned forward and grabbed two handfuls of Windstrider's reddish-brown feathers on the back of his neck. Windstrider crouched down and then leaped upward into the air, flapping his powerful wings as he climbed above the trees. He hardly noticed Lylia's weight at all. Elees joined him and the two gryphons and their human companion climbed high into the sky. Windstrider leveled out just below the clouds. Up ahead, the dark waters of the ocean were visible. Windstrider turned his head around and looked at his passenger. His golden-orange eyes met Lylia's grey eyes and he could see that she was holding on for dear life. The thought occurred to him that she had no saddle. Her knuckles were white as she gripped tightly to the handfuls of gryphon feathers.

"So, I take it that this is nothing like riding a dragon." He stated.

"Not exactly." Lylia replied. "Dragons are far heavier in the air. You seem almost weightless."

Windstrider hummed lightly. "You needn't hold on to tight or you'll start pulling feathers out. I'm not gonna let you fall, Lylia."

Slowly Lylia loosened her grip. "I'm sorry. I'm out of practice."

The gryphons crossed the coastline and flew out over the open ocean.

"Just keep going straight. We should reach Alagaesia by nightfall." Lylia said. There was a hint of worry in her voice.

"Is something wrong?" inquired Windstrider.

"I was hunted as a fugitive in Alagaesia. I'm a bit apprehensive about going back." Lylia replied.

"You'll be fine. We will protect you." Windstrider reassured.

"Gryphons aren't exactly welcome there either, Windstrider." Lylia said. "We had best keep a low profile."

Off to the east, Windstrider saw dark storm clouds gathering.

"It's moving away from us." Lylia said.

"Still, we should keep an eye on the weather." Windstrider replied.

The Straights of Danthuania, the narrow strip of sea that separated Alagaesia from Danthuania, was notorious for its rough, shallow waters and frequent violent weather. The shallow sea was rough year round and the warm waters of Danthuania's northern coast were a breeding ground for hurricanes and other violent storms.

"I'm not really concerned about myself." Windstrider stated. "It's Elees I'm worried about."

Elees huffed as she flew alongside her mate. She flew up to his left side, climbed slightly, rolled over upside down as she passed over Windstrider, leveled off, and flew alongside him on the right side now.

"I'm stronger than you think I am, Windstrider."

"I know. It's just… I came so close to losing you. I don't know what I would have done if that had happened."

"Well, I'm still here. We're going to be alright."

The hours dragged on as the trio made their way north. Fortunately the weather remained calm. As they flew further north, the air became noticeably cooler.

"It's winter in Alagaesia right now." Lylia stated. "Danthuania is in the southern hemisphere. The seasons are different down there."

Windstrider nodded, his eyes focused on something in the distance.

"Lylia, are those mountains up ahead?"

"The Boers! Yes. They're enormous. You can see them long before you see the coastline."

Elees flew close alongside Windstrider and Lylia. "Well at least we know we're going the right way." she said wearily.

Whether Elees wanted to admit it or not, her body was still weak from her near death and her wings were growing tired.

The day continued to drag on as the distant mountains grew closer and closer. Finally as the sun was setting a rugged coastline came into view.

"There!" Elees shouted wearily, pointing her right front paw at the shoreline.

The air was clear but bitterly cold as they reached the coast. Windstrider stared at the foreign shore ahead and felt a sense of foreboding. This was the land that the Dragon Riders once called home. This was the land where the Dragon Riders were now hunted as criminals and fugitives.

"Land up ahead and we can rest for the night." Instructed Lylia.

Windstrider descended, surveying the land below. The terrain was rocky and barren with a few scrub bushes here and there. Snow clung to the ground. The towering peaks of the Boer Mountains loomed to the east. The gryphon flapped his wings to slow his descent and he touched down gently on the rocky ground. Elees joined them shortly.

Looking around, Elees said, "So this is Alagaesia."

Lylia nodded. "Stay alert. The humans here aren't going to be your friends like they were back in your homeland."

Elees nodded. She was clearly exhausted from the journey and in need of a good rest.

"Let's find a sheltered place to bed down for the night."

Windstrider and Lylia followed as Elees walked over to a nearby rock formation.

"This will do nicely. It's sheltered from the wind and will keep us out of sight." Elees said, climbing into a crevice. She curled up and waited for Windstrider to join her.

Windstrider allowed Lylia to enter first and then he laid down beside his mate with Lylia nestled between tow two gryphons for warmth.

"Rest well, my love." Elees said. "We begin our search in the morning."

To be continued…

F-14 Ace

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Chapter 5: A Visit from a Shade

Fletcher wasn't sure how long he lied there on the dungeon floor. Everything was a blur. The exhausting journey, exposure to the elements, and malnutrition had made him ill. Fletcher felt hot and feverish as he lay on the stone floor in the dark dungeon. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity alone, he heard a door open and voices approaching. Fletcher groaned as he propped himself up. His body was so weak he barely had the strength to lift himself.

"I trust you can get what I need out of him." It was Agatha who spoke.

"Of course." Said a calm, smooth male voice. "Have I ever failed to deliver what I promised?"

"Of course not." Agatha said.

The voices were getting closer.

"He's feisty and he's got an attitude." Agatha said to the stranger as they came into view of Fletcher's cell.

The man accompanying Agatha wore a black cloak and his head and face were obscured by a hood.

"We'll see how feisty he is when I'm finished with him." Fletcher heard the strange man say.

There was a chilling tone in the stranger's voice as he spoke.

"I'll leave you to it then." Agatha said, turning to walk away.

"Have my money ready." The stranger said.

Fletcher felt a chill run down his spine and he felt a dark presence about the stranger. His ears flattened against his skull as he watched a pair of white, bony hands reach up and remove the hood from the man's head. The stranger's face was just as pale and white as his hands but it was his other features that startled the young gryphon. The man has maroon colored hair and matching maroon eyes. As he opened the barred cell door, he grinned at Fletcher, revealing sharp, pointed teeth. Fletcher felt his heart race and his feathers seemed to stand on end as the "thing" approached him.

"Hello, little bird-cat." The strange man said, kneeling beside Fletcher.

An involuntary whimper escape the young gryphon's beak as the man reached out a bony hand and toward him. He man ran his ringers through the feathers on the side of Fletcher's face.

"Do you fear me, little bird-cat?" said the man with a sinister grin. "Good. You should. Agatha tells me you've been most uncooperative, so I'm going to have to teach you a lesson. Now, what is your name?"

Fletcher stared at the man, his eyes wide with fear. He couldn't speak.

A scowl formed on the man's face. "I said tell me your name!" roared the man, shoving the gryphon to the floor with surprising strength.

In his weakened state, it didn't take much to push the sick gryphon to the floor. The man placed a bony hand on the side of Fletcher's face and began uttering strange words, and Fletcher suddenly felt a sharp burning pain as if a red hot spike had just been driven into his skull. The gryphon let out an involuntary screech of agony, flapping his wings and writhing on the ground as a strange presence entered his mind. Moments later, the strange man withdrew from his mind.

Fletcher laid there panting on the ground. The strange man smirked.

"Now tell me, Fletcher, is all this trouble really worth it?"

He can read my mind! Fletcher thought to himself.

"Now then, I'm going to dig deep into your mind. I doubt you'll enjoy it as much as I will. When I'm finished with you, I'll know every intimate detail about you, from the time you were born to the last time you took a piss! Don't try to hide anything from me, because if you do, you'll suffer twice as much! Now, let's begin shall we?"

"N… no! Stay away from me!" Fletcher managed to stutter as he made a futile attempt to crawl away from the strange man.

The red haired man just smirked. He raised his right foot and pressed his boot against the side of Fletcher's head in a display of dominance. He then placed a long, black fingernail against Fletcher's face just above one of his eyes.

"It would be so easy for me to kill you right now, gryphon." The man said smoothly. "One little word is all it would take and the tiny flame of your meaningless life would be snuffed out forever. But that's not what I'm here for."

The stranger pried into Fletcher's mind again and the gryphon tensed up, screeching in pain as the sensation of burning spikes being driven into his head overwhelmed him. He felt the man enter his mind and invade his thoughts. He saw the memories of his life passing before his eyes.

He was a nestling playing with Tas down by the stream outside their cave. Then he heard the man chuckle at the sight.

He was a fledgling learning to fly for the first time. His father stood beside him, encouraging him. The strange man appeared in his memory again, scoffing.

Next, Fletcher saw himself hunting a deer for the first time. He saw his father beaming down at him with pride. The strange man appeared once again, laughing in a mocking manner.

"My, what a mundane existence you've had!" taunted the stranger.

"Get… out of… my head!" Fletcher screamed as he writhed on the stone floor.

Fletcher's anger was rising and he began to push back. Very briefly, the mental assault let up and Fletcher saw an opportunity to attack. He pushed back with all his might and the strange man was caught off guard. Fletcher was briefly able to enter the man's mind before being driven out again. He found the man's name. Durza. The agony of the mental assault returned, this time even greater than before.

"That's cute! You actually thought you could attack my mind!" crowed the stranger. "I am Durza, the most powerful Shade who ever lived! Did you honestly think you stood a chance against me?"

Fletcher screamed as the man, or "shade" as he referred to himself as" continued to pry into his mind.

Durza smirked and gently stroked the feathers on the side of Fletcher's face.

"You know, Fletcher, the more you struggle, the longer this is going to take. Resisting will only prolong your suffering.", Durza whispered into the gryphon's ear.

Hearing the man speak his name after forcibly retrieving it from his own mind was chilling. In Fletcher's weakened state, he couldn't keep up the struggle any longer. He collapsed limply on the floor, tears streaming from his eyes as Durza continued to peel back the layers of his mind. He didn't even know what the Shade was looking for or why he wanted it.

"Shhhhhhhhhh. There, there." Durzan cooed in a taunting tone, once again stroking the side of Fletcher's face. "Just behave yourself and this will all be over soon. Now what would your parents say if they saw you whining like this? I'm sure your father would be ashamed."

The expression on the Shade's face suggested that he was deriving some sort of sadistic pleasure from all this.

Fletcher said nothing. At the mention of his father, he felt his anger well up again, but he just didn't have the strength to fight anymore. All he could do was to lay there and take it. Finally, Durza seemed to find what he was searching for in the deepest recesses of the gryphon's mind. Fletcher felt the Shade withdraw from his mind, leaving his head pounding and throbbing. Durza just chuckled.

"Your kind really are pathetic, you know that? You're nothing!" Taunted the Shade before exiting the cell.

Fletcher just laid there crying. His mind had been forcibly invaded and he felt violated. Agatha returned and began speaking to Durza.

"I found what you need." The Shade said. He whispered something to Agatha that Fletcher couldn't hear. Agatha then produced a sack of gold coins and handed it to Durza.

"Oh, before I go, I would advise you to increase the gryphon's rations. Not that I particularly care what happens to him, but you clearly went through a lot of trouble to acquire him. If you intend for him to be of any use to you, you need to nurse him back to health."

Taking his money, the Shade departed. Agatha turned to Fletcher and approached him, standing just on the other side of the barred door to his cell. She spoke some strange words he didn't understand.

"Get up, gryphon!" she hissed.

Before Fletcher even realized what he was doing, he forced himself to his feet, his weary and exhausted body aching in protest as he did so.

"How did you do that?" Fletcher gasped in surprise.

"Durza discovered your True Name. You're mine now." Agatha replied, smugly.

"What more could you possibly want from me?" Fletcher demanded.

"I still need your wretched blood to fend off my curse, but I won't be needing it again for at least six months. In the mean time, I have other tasks around here that I will need you to complete."

Fletcher's gaze shifted to Agatha's cursed hand. He was surprised to see that the blackness had almost completely faded away.

"How did that curse happen?" he asked with genuine curiosity.

"Urgals." Agatha replied. "I made a deal with them and they double crossed me. They refused to pay me. I ordered my men to destroy their village and a shaman placed this wretched curse upon me."

Agatha was scarce on details and Fletcher didn't see any need to question further.

Agatha turned to depart. Exiting the dungeon, Agatha sought out Meigs.

"Meigs, I want you to increase the gryphon's rations. I need him to be healthy enough to fly."

"Of course, m'lady." Meigs replied with a grin.

"Give him fresh meat and clean water. I'm sure that will brighten his day."

"Yes, m'lady."

Days passed slowly. Fletcher's rations were increased and he thankfully began to recover. Finally, when he had regained enough strength, Agatha came to him in his cell.

"What do you want?" Fletcher demanded

"As it turns out, I have nothing for you to do at the moment." Agatha replied. "And since I grow tired of having to feed you, I'm going to turn you loose until I need you again."

"What?" Fletcher gasped, flabbergasted.

"You heard me. I'm sending you away until I need your blood again." Agatha replied.

Fletcher's ears perked up and he sat up on the floor of his cell.

"However," Agatha said, her eyes narrowing. "Don't get any dumb ideas about running away. Before I turn you loose, you will have to swear a few oaths to me."

Fletcher scowled at the idea of having to swear oaths to Agatha.

"Of course, if you refuse then I suggest you get used to that stone cell. You'll be in there for a very long time." Agatha added.

"Fine!" Fletcher snapped.

"Very well." Agatha said.

She spoke a few words in the Anceint Language that Fletcher didn't understand, but he was sue she was using his true name.

"Firstly, you are forbidden to leave Alagaesia. I can't have you running off, after all." Agatha stated. "Secondly, you are confined to the borders of the Empire. You are forbidden from venturing into the Boer Mountains or the great forests to the north. You are not to meddle in the Empire's affair and most importantly, you are forbidden from providing any aid to the Varden. Is that understood?"

Fletcher sighed. "Yes."

"That'll do. Now get out!" Agatha hissed.

One of Agatha's men opened the cell door and Fletcher slowly made his way out of the dungeon. It took every fiber of his being of to sink his talons into Agatha, but he knew he'd never succeed with so many of her henchmen around. Fletcher exited the compound and found himself in a courtyard. The towers and turrets of Gil'ead surrounded him.

I need to leave this place! The young gryphon thought to himself.

Spreading his wings, Fletcher took off into the gray winter sky. Snow clouds were rolling in and the gryphon wanted to leave the city before the blizzard hit. His brown feathers caught the wind and Fletcher soared over the snowy landscape of Alagaesia, flying toward the mountain range to the west. He didn't even know where to go. This land was completely unfamiliar to him. It took several hours and by the time Fletcher reached the mountains, darkness was falling and the snowstorm was right at his tail The wind picked up and snow flurries blew past him as he flew.

"I need to find someplace to spend the night." Fletcher told himself, flapping his wins hard and fighting against the wind which was growing stronger by the minute. He flew over the towering peaks of The Spine, looking for a suitable shelter. Finally he spotted a crevice on the side of a mountain.

"That'll do." he told himself.

No sooner had the gryphon landed, the storm unleashed its full fury. The wind howled and snow pelted Fletcher's body as he crawled into the crevice. Once inside though, he was sheltered from the worst of the storm. Insulated by his thick feathers and fur, the gryphon didn't notice the cold. Fletcher explored the inside of the small cave, his talons making a distinctive clicking sound on the stone floor as he walked. He was just about to bed down for the night when something caught his eye. In the corner of the cave he saw a pile of rocks that seemed oddly out of place. Making his way over to them, Fletcher studied the rock pile. They were stacked too neatly to have ended up there naturally. The gryphon's curiosity got the better of him and he began to dig. Then finally he found something odd. Buried in the center of the rock pile was what appeared to be a round gemstone, amethyst in color and glowing slightly.

"What's this?" Fletcher mused out loud.

He grasped the stone in his talons and picked it up, studying the strange glowing rock. Suddenly it glowed brightly, startling the young gryphon. Before Fletcher could do anything else, however, he felt a strange consciousness invade his mind.

"Not again!" he shouted.

It wasn't quite the same as when Durza had done it, but this consciousness was overwhelming and foreign to him. Fletcher tried to resist but the strange mind smashed through his mental defenses like they were nothing at all. Searing pain shot through Fletcher's head and the gryphon screeched in pain before collapsing on the floor of the cave. He laid there panting for several seconds and then everything went black.

To be continued…

F-14 Ace

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Not even sure why I bother to continue posting this here since no one is reading it.   :bang

Chapter 6: Ancient Creatures

Windstrider and Elees soared high above the clouds as they flew inland away from the sea. Lylia rode on Windstrider's back as she had when they first left Danthuania.

"I'll need to get some supplies in the next town we come to." Lylia said. "I may see about getting a saddle."

Windstrider chuckled at her comment. "Do you intend to saddle me like a horse?" the gryphon inquired.

"There's a reason why humans put saddles on horses, Windstrider." Lylia replied, rubbing her backside uncomfortably. "Riding bareback is not exactly fun."

"Very well. But just remember that I'm not a beast of burden. I may be cultured and educated, but I'm not domesticated." Windstrider said.

Lylia chuckled. "I would never treat you like that. You know I have nothing but the utmost respect for you."

"I know." Windstrider said with a smile.

Elees flew alongside her mate, smiling warmly.

"How are you doing, Elees?" Windstrider asked.

"I'm doing alright, I guess." Elees replied, flapping her wings twice and gliding on the wind.

"We can stop and rest if you need to."

"Honestly, Windstrider, stop worrying about me. I'm a lot stronger than you think I am." Elees protested.

"I know. It just that…" Windstrider paused briefly, gazing at her. "I nearly watched you die."

Elees flew closer to Windstrider until their wings were almost touching.

"You don't have to worry about me though, my love." Elees reassured her mate. "I'll be fine."

Windstrider nodded.

"Elees is a strong gryphoness." Lylia reassured Windstrider, stroking the feathers on the back of his neck. "She must be in order to have survived as long as she did with the injuries she sustained. I know you worry for her, but there is no need."

"I suppose you're right. I'm sorry." Windstrider said softly.

"Don't be." Elees said with a smile.




As darkness fell, the gryphons landed just outside a small village.

"I'm going to see about getting some supplies." Lylia said. "Maybe I can find out some information as well."

"Be careful." Windstrider said, kneeling down so Lylia could climb down.

Lylia pulled the hood of her travel cloak over her head and made her way toward the village. The snow crunched under her feet as she walked. Overhead, the night sky was cold and clear, with thousands of stars and a glowing white moon. All was silent as Lylia entered the town. In fact it was too quiet. Nearby, Lylia could swear she saw something move quickly through the shadows. With one hand on her sword, the Rider reached out with her mind. She was surprised to find the village completely empty. She could detect no human presence in the village at all. The stench of decaying flesh filled the air.

As Lylia made her way past a house, she saw the half eaten corps of a man lying in the snow. Crouching over the body were a pair of thin creatures with beetle-like eyes and long curved beaks. Lylia gasped at the horrid sight before her. Invisible to the minds of magicians, ra'zac were among the most foul creatures to stalk the land.

Lylia drew her sword as the two ra'zac stood and faced her.

"Human!" hissed one of the creatures, drawing a short sword.

"I thought we destroyed your wretched kind!" Lylia scowled, assuming a defensive stance.

"Ssssssso you thought!" hissed the other ra'zac. Both of the creatures bolted toward the Rider with stunning speed. Lylia was faster. She side stepped the first attack and delivered a downward slash that fell the first ra'zac. He blade clashed with the second ra'zac's short sword. The black blade of her sword, made of indestructible brightsteel, almost cut clean through the narrow blade of the ra'zac's sword. Lylia kicked the ra'zac in the knee, throwing him off balance, and delivered an upward slash across the creature's chest. As the ra'zac fell, Lylia became aware of more movement around her. She knew that two ra'zac couldn't possibly have killed an entire village by themselves. Lylia pointed her right hand into the sky.

"Garjzla!" she shouted, shooting a beam of bright white light into the sky. An explosion of light spread across the sky over the village, seemingly turning night into day. Lylia saw at least a dozen ra'zac surrounding her. The bright light caused the dark creatures to hiss and cower. A great anger overtook the Rider. These creatures had innocent blood on their hands and they would pay.

Lylia shouted a battle cry and lunged forward, taking advantage of the distraction the light spell created. She immediately struck down two of the ra'zac, causing the rest to swarm her all at once.

A loud, piercing screech filled the air. It was the unmistakable sound of an angry gryphon screech. From out of nowhere, Windstrider soared over Lylia's head, landing on front of her and plowing into the crowd of ra'zac that swarmed her. The gryphon immediately slashed one of the ra'zac with his talons. He then clamped his beak around the head of a second ra'zac, crushing it's head. Caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the gryphon, the ra'zac scattered. Elees appeared and pounced on one of the fleeing creatures, crushing it's head with her beak. Another one lunged at her with a dagger but the female gryphon was too fast. She reared up on her hind legs and stepped back, avoiding the attack. Then she lounged forward, slashing her attacker with her talons. Six ra'zac remained.

"What are these things?" Windstrider called to Lylia, dodging an attack.

"They're called ra'zac! They eat human flesh!" Lylia replied.

A disgusted look appeared on Windstrider's face.

"Barbarians!" Elees hissed from nearby.

Lylia knew that gryphons considered it a mortal sin to eat the flesh of any sentient being.

By now the remaining ra'zac seemed to give up and attempted to flee.

"There is no escape!" Elees bellowed, pouncing on two of the fleeing creatures.

With two downward swipes of her talons, the female gryphon cut them both down.

Lylia sheathed her sword and removed her bow from her shoulder, nocking an arrow. A ra'zac fell with an arrow in its back as Windstrider pursued the remaining three. Rounding a street corner, he caught one of them, delivering a killing blow with his talons. Elees blocked the path of the remaining two.

"Do you want to finish them off or should I do it?" Elees asked her mate.

Windstrider was about to reply when Lylia ran up beside him.

The Rider pointed her finger at the remaining ra'zac and shouted, "Deyja!"

Both ra'zac fell dead where they stood.

"Are you two alright?"Lylia asked.

"I'm fine." Windstrider answered.

"As am I." Elees said.

There was no time to rest, however.  A dark shape passed overhead and the sound of whooshing wings filled the air. Windstrider, Elees, and Lylia all looked around trying to find the source of the sound. Seconds later, a large black creature landed with a heavy thud in the street, shaking the ground as it landed. The creature let loose a terrifying, ear-splitting screech. It was three times the size of a gryphon, with the same beetle-like eyes of the ra'zac. It had bat-like wings and a long pointy beak. At first, Windstrider thought the creature was a dragon.

"What is that thing?" Elees cried.

"Lethrblaka!" Lylia shouted.

WIndstrider crouched low, flattening his ears against his skull and lashing his tail as he and the lethrblaka stared each other down. The strange creature's eyes were cold and insect-like. From out of nowhere, Elees leaped onto the creature's back and tore into the base of its neck with her beak, causing the lethrblaka to let out an ear-splitting screech. It bucked and thrashed wildly, trying to dislodge Elees from its back. Elees held on with her talons and claws but the creature finally managed to shake her loose, hurdling her against the side of a nearby house. The gryphoness smacked into the side of the building and landed in a heap on the ground. Enraged, the lethrblaka turned toward her and lunged. Windstrider sprang at the beast and latched onto its side, throwing it off balance. Elees used the distraction to scramble out of the way. She then spread her wings and took off into the night sky. Seeing that his mate was safe, Windstrider leaped clear of the lethrblaka and took off after her into the night sky. Behind him, he heard the beast flapping its wings as it gave chase.

Windstrider flapped his wings to gain altitude. The beating of the lethrblaka's wings were getting closer and closer behind him.

"That just made him angry!" he bellowed to Elees as he caught up to her.

"He was already angry!" Elees shot back.

Windstrider glanced back and saw the enraged lethrblaka right on their tails.

"Split up!" he shouted.

Windstrider veered one way while Elees took off in the opposite direction. The creature banked sharply and turned after Elees. Seeing this, Windstrider let out a war screech and wheeled around in the air, folding his wings back, flattening his ears, and diving after the creature that pursued his mate. Elees realized she was being pursued and weaved back and forth in the air, trying confuse the lethrblaka, which was rapidly closing in on her. Finally, Elees pulled up sharply, using her feathered tail to steer. She performed a quick loop and leveled off, flying in the opposite direction of her pursuer and temporarily throwing the letherblaka off. As the beast turned to chase her again, a blur of brown feathers and fur sped past Elees and tackled the lethrblaka. As Windstrider grabbed hold of the lethrblaka's side, the creature snapped its serrated beak at him, forcing the gryphon to dodge.

"Somehow I didn't see myself doing this when I woke up this morning!" Windstrider muttered.

His talons couldn't seem to puncture the creature's tough leathery hide. Windstrider dug his beak into the flesh as the base of the lethrblaka's wing, causing it to shriek in pain and anger. It rolled in the air, dislodging Windstrider. The gryphon quickly flapped his wings to put distance between himself and the lethrblaka.

Windstrider dived downward, spiraling toward the ground with the lethrblaka in hot pursuit.  He leveled off just above the tree tops, the black trees and shadows of the forest speeding past at incredible speed.  The lethrblaka dived at him from above.

"Hey ugly, over here!" Elees taunted, swooping down and grabbed hold of the lethrblaka. Elees tore into the base of the lethrblaka's left wing just as Windstrider had done before the creature threw her off.

Elees joined Windstrider as the two prepared for their next attack.

"Look! I think it's working!" Windstrider said.

The lethrblaka's wings were injured and it was having a tougher time keeping up with them.

"Let's finish it off then!" Elees hissed. "You take it from the right! I'll go in from the left!"

Elees flared her wings and wheeled around, using her feathered tail to steer. The cold night air rushed over her wings as she dived toward the lethrblaka. Elees latched onto the side of the creature's face. It snapped it's beak at her as she tore her talons into its thick hide. The creature shook its head and Elees was forced to let go. Windstrider join the fray, tackling the lethrblaka from the right. The gryphon glanced at its obsidian black eye and with a swipe of his talons, he slashed the creature's eye. The lethrblaka howled and bucked wildly in the air, shaking both gryphons loose. It snapped at Windstrider's tail as he winged away, only narrowly missing. The lethrblaka lashed out with its claws and Windstrider winced as a claw tore into his flank. Elees circled around and grabbed onto the creature, tearing her beak into its wing again. Windstrider turned his head and looked at the gash in his side.

Only a flesh wound. Good. He thought to himself.

Banking sharply, Windstrider turned around and joined his mate, tearing into the lethrblaka's right wing. As he tore into the muscle, the lethrblaka seemed to lose the use of its right wing. The creature began to tumble from the air, shrieking the whole way down. Windstrider and Elees flew clear and watched as the lethrblaka plummeted to the ground. It crashed with a resonating thud and rolled a few times, sending up a cloud of snow before sliding to a stop, leaving a trail in the snow. The two gryphons landed and cautiously approached the lethrblaka, which lay sprawled out and motionless on the ground. The only sounds were their own exhausted breaths.

"Is it dead?" Elees inquired in almost a whisper, panting to catch her breath.

"Windstrider carefully stepped forward and observed the dark beast. "Yes. I think so."

Both gryphons perked their ears when they heard footsteps approaching. Lylia joined them moments later. A look fo disbelief appeared on the Rider's face as she glanced from the two gryphons to the dead lethrblaka that lay beside them.

"You… you killed it?" she stammered.

Elees nodded proudly.

"That was quite a feat." Lylia said, almost at a loss for words.

"What now?" Windstrider asked.

"Let's go back to the village. I'll see if I can salvage anything and then we'll burn the rest."

"Burn it?" Elees gasped.

"We don't have time to bury the dead. We need to leave before any more of those things show up."

"It just doesn't seem right, stealing from the dead." Elees argued.

"I doubt the dead are going to care about their material possessions." Lylia replied.

"Lylia is right." Windstrider said. "I wouldn't normally condone this but we're desperate. Let's go."

There wasn't much worth taking in the village. Lylia found several pieces of leather that could be used for making a saddle, as well as some money. Once she had finished her search, she joined the gryphons outside the town. Lylia pointed her finger at the closest wooden building.

"Brisingr." She said in almost a whisper. The building instantly caught fire. The Rider repeated the process until every building in the village was in flames.

Windstrider had many questions but now was not the time to ask them.

"We should go now. I'll build the saddle once we've found a safe place to rest." Lylia said, climbing onto Windstrider's back with the pieces of leather she had retrieved.

With that, they took off into the dark sky and continued their journey.




Fletcher's head pounded as he regained consciousness. He felt the familiar and unpleasant feeling of a foreign mind prying into his own.

Ah, awake I see. said a female voice in his mind.

"Who are you? What do you want?" demanded the young gryphon.

The voice didn't answer. Instead, it continued to invade his thoughts.

"Look… I didn't mean any harm! I swear! Just… please stop! I'll do whatever you ask! Please…" Fletcher begged, almost in tears at this point.

To his surprise, the other consciousness immediately stopped its search.

I apologize for being so blunt, but I had to ensure that you were trustworthy. I went to great lengths to hide that eldunari where no one would find it, after all.

"Trustworthy?" Fletcher growled. "All I wanted to do was to seek shelter from a storm! I just found that stupid rock by accident! I've already had my mind violated once!"

His grief had turned to anger.

I didn't mean to hurt you, young gryphon, but I couldn't afford to take any chances. said the disembodied female voice. If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing so far from home?

"You should know! You were snooping around in my head!" Fletcher spat.

I didn't look at your memories. Only your thoughts. I had to ensure that you didn't have malicious intentions. the female vice said.

"I didn't come here by choice." Fletcher said.

The gryphon lifted his head and saw the glowing amethyst stone lying just a few inches from his talons. He didn't dare touch it again.

"What do you want from me?"

I can see there is great anger and pain in your heart, young gryphon. But I can also see that underneath all that lies a kind and gentle soul. I think you could use a friend.

Before Fletcher could inquire any further, an image of a mountain peak appeared in his mind, causing the gryphon to jump and let out a surprised squawk. He saw a forest at the base of the mountain and then a clearing among the trees.

Come here when you are ready. And bring the eldunari with you. said the voice.

Without another, the strange consciousness withdrew from his mind altogether.

"What have I gotten myself into?" Fletcher muttered as he wearily got to his feet.

He padded over to the entrance of the cave and gazed out. The storm had moved on and the moon shown through broken clouds overhead. In the distance Fletcher could see the mountain peak from the vision he had just seen. His first thought was to flee but he turned and glanced back at the glowing stone. He wasn't sure why, but he felt compelled to listened to what the voice had said. Despite the fact that it had invaded his mind, it claimed it was only defending itself and had offered him friendship. Part of him wanted to believe it.

"I must be a complete idiot!" he said aloud as he padded over and picked up the stone.

"If you attack my mind again, I swear I'll drop you!" he hissed. Fletcher returned to the cave entrance, spread his wings, and took off into the dark sky.

Snow flurries blew past Fletcher as the cold air rushed over his wings. The gryphon flapped his wings, soaring over the dark forests and valleys below. Though his feathers and fur kept him warm, he missed the temperate climate of Danthuania.

Fletcher almost dreaded what awaited him. His eyes scanned the land below searching for the clearing he had seen in the vision. At last he saw it. The gryphon circled once before landing awkwardly in the deep snow.  He gazed into the black shadows of the trees that surrounded the clearing.  The feathers on his back almost stood on end as he thought about what creatures could be lurking in the darkness.  A wolf howled off in the distance and Fletcher's ears perked.

"Alright. I'm here." Fletcher said, looking around.

A whooshing sound overhead caught his attention and the young gryphon almost jumped as a massive creature landed gracefully in the clearing. It walked on four legs, had two long, bat-like wings, a long tail, and a long neck with a snake-like head. Two short horns stuck up from the creature's head and it had many spikes running down its back. The creature was covered in shimmering amethyst scales that were the same color as the amethyst stone that Fletcher held in his talons. The gryphon's beak fell open and he panted, stepping back a few steps as he stared trembling at the creature that stood before him. He flattened his ears back and crouched low.

A dragon! he thought to himself.

Correct. said the female voice in his head.

Fletcher glanced down at the rock, or "eldunari" as it had called itself, and then back to the dragon again. He honestly didn't know what to expect.

"You can talk through that rock?" the gryphon inquired.

That's far more than just a rock. said the female voice in his mind.

Then it dawned on Fletcher that Lylia had once told him that dragons could speak telepathically.

"You…?" he gasped, looking up at the amethyst dragon.

Yes. said the dragon.

The dragon cocked her head curiously. What is your name, young gryphon?

"My name is Fletcher." The gryphon answered, still not sure whether he should run or not.

The dragon hummed softly. You needn't be frightened, Fletcher. I mean you no harm.

"Who are you?" Fletcher asked.

My name is Voxin. said the dragon.

Fletcher glanced around before taking a step forward, twitching his tail nervously. "Are there any more of you?"

No. Just me. said the dragon, a hint of sadness in her voice. Tell me, Fletcher, how is it that you came to be here?

A cold wind ruffled Fletcher's feathers as he stood there.

"I was taken from my home by a woman called Agatha."

Agatha is a servant of Galbatorix! Voxin hissed.

"She murdered my family so she could use my blood to lift a curse. She discovered my True Name and forced me to swear oaths to her before she cast me aside like trash!"

Voxin looked down at the gryphon sympathetically. You have my condolences, Fletcher. I too know the pain of loss. Perhaps I can help you.

Fletcher's ears perked up. "Can.. can you make her release me?"

I'm afraid it's not that simple. Voxin replied. If the Empire discovered me, they'd kill me for sure. A dear friend of mine sacrificed himself so that I could live and I vowed that I wouldn't let him die in vain.

A feeling of disappointment fell over Fletcher and he hung his head. For one brief moment he thought there was a chance he could be free.

Fletcher, I'll help you be free again. I'll figure something out. I promise. Voxin vowed. For now you should get some rest. Come with me.

The amethyst dragon spread her wings and launched herself into the sky. Fletcher watched the dragon for a few moments before he took off after her, uncertain of what lay ahead now.

To be continued…

F-14 Ace

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Another chapter that no one will bother to read but whatever... :bang

Chapter 6: The Valley

An old Dragon Rider outpost, carved from the stone high up the side of a cliff and accessible only from the air, was the place Voxin called home. It was a lonely and forlorn place, located deep within the heart of The Spine.  Located deep within the remote mountain range, it was a place where few people ever dared to venture. It was the perfect place for a dragon to hide. Since the downfall of the Dragon Riders, no one ever bothered to venture to this part of the world. There was no reason to.

Fletcher looked around the old run-down outpost. Each room had a fireplace but they had not been lit in many a year. The old wooden furniture was rotten and unusable, and the place had clearly seen better days. A layer of dust seemed to cover everything. Despite its faults, the place was spacious and kept the wind out.

It's not much but I call it home now. the amethyst dragoness said to Fletcher with a hint of sorrow.

"It's not that different from the cave I lived in back in Danthuania." Fletcher said.

You should get some rest, young one. We can talk more in the morning. Voxin said.

Fletcher curled up on the stone floor and ruffled his feathers a bit. He was exhausted and the idea of rest was very welcoming.

Morning came and Fletcher awoke to find golden sunlight streaming into the dragon keep. The air was still bitterly cold and Fletcher didn't feel like getting up. He shivered a bit and painful memories came rushing back to him. Cold winter nights spent nestled beneath his mother's warm wings, his father taking him stargazing, he thought of himself and Tas rolling about in the snow.

Fletcher became aware of a steady stream of hot tears pouring from his eyes and soaking the feathers on his face. His ears perked up as he heard the sudden flapping of winds and moments later Voxen entered the dragon keep carrying a deer in her mouth.

I figured you could use something to eat. said the amethyst dragoness, laying the deer down in front of Fletcher.

The young gryphon tried to avert his gaze hoping that she wouldn't notice his tears, but he knew she had noticed. Voxin sat down beside Fletcher and draped an amethyst wing over him.

It's alright, young one.

"I miss my family…" Fletcher sobbed in almost a whisper.

Voxin sighed and looked him in the eye. The young gryphon saw his own pain reflected in her eyes and then it dawned on him. Voxin was one of the last of her kind. She had probably lost her family as well and she knew his pain.

Fletcher nuzzled his beak against the dragon's side, letting the warmth of her body comfort him.

"My brother's name was Tas." He said softly. "He was my best friend. We were always getting into mischief." Fletcher felt more tears rushing to his eyes and try though he might, he just couldn't hold back. Voxin didn't try to stop him. He had not had a chance to properly grieve yet.

"Tas never hurt anyone." Fletcher sobbed. "And my mother and my father were kind to everyone. I don't understand it. Why did this happen to us?"

It wasn't your fault Fletcher. The dragoness said. Agatha and her men are a cruel bunch. They don't care who they hurt.

Voxin paused briefly, gathering her thoughts.

I had a twin sister once. Voxin stated, her voice soft and somber. She looked just like me, though she hatched long after I did and was far smaller than I.

Voxin entered Fletcher's mind and he saw an image of a young dragon. Indeed, the young dragon looked like a smaller version of Voxin with similar curved horns and cheek spikes.

Her name was Jarnunvˆsk and she was bound to a Rider. They would always go off on wild adventures together. I warned her that it was too dangerous but she wouldn't listen to me. Jarnunvˆsk thought herself invincible, as so many young dragons did...

Voxin bowed her head. But one day she and her Rider went off on one of their adventures and she never came back.

The dragoness sighed and it was clear she was holding back her grief, but Fletcher could see it in her eyes.

Her Rider was found wandering through the mountains alone. They had been ambushed by urgals and Jarnunvˆsk was killed. She died in these very mountains. Afterwards, her Rider went mad with grief. You must understand, Fletcher, that the bond between a Rider and dragon is very strong. When one dies, they take a piece of the other's soul with them. The young Rider blamed his fellow Riders for the death of his dragon, and he led an uprising, destroying the Riders…

"Galbatorix…" Fletcher muttered, recalling the story Lylia had told him. "Galbatorix was your sister's Rider, wasn't he?"

For a moment Voxin stared at the young gryphon, astonished that he knew of Galbatorix, but then she nodded. Yes.

Lylia had never told him of Galbatorix's origins but he could piece it together from what Voxin had told him. Fletcher could see another, deeper pain in Voxin's eyes. One that went beyond the loss of a sibling, but he didn't dare ask any more questions. It had been a painful conversation for both of them. For a moment the gryphon and the dragon sat beside one another, finding comfort in each other's company. Finally Voxin pushed the fresh deer kill in front of Fletcher.

You should fill your stomach. That will help you feel better. Voxin said softly. The best way we can honor our loved ones is to live each day to its fullest. Now, once you have some food in your belly, I'd like to take you for a flight around the valley.

Fletcher nodded. "That sounds good."

He ate his fill of meat, leaving the rest for later. Fletcher followed Voxin as she made her way to the entrance of the dragon keep. The amethyst dragon spread her wings and launched herself into the cold morning air. Fletcher spread his wings and leaped from the ledge, letting his wings catch the wind. Cold air rushed over his wings and Fletcher flapped to gain altitude. He flew alongside Voxin as the flew over the winter landscape below. The valley was filled with dense lush evergreen trees which were blanketed with snow and icicles. A frozen river meandered through the valley. The golden light of the early morning sun felt warm on Fletcher's body and he closed his eyes for just a moment to appreciate its warmth. Though the air was cold, his feathers and fur were adequate to keep him warm.

This way! Voxin instructed, angling her wings back and entering into a vertical dive.

Fletcher watched as the dragoness dived rapidly toward the frozen landscape below. Cautiously the young gryphon followed suit. He entered into a vertical dive and followed Voxin down. The icy air rushed past him and Fletcher had to squint in order to see. Voxin leveled out just above the tree tops. Fletcher spread his wings and felt them catch the air as he pulled out of his dive. The gryphon and dragon flew low over the forest.

"Aren't you afraid you'll be seen by someone?" Fletcher bellowed over the wind rushing past him.

No one ever ventures into this valley. We're far from any settlements. Voxin replied. I'll not live my life scurrying about in the dark like a rodent!

Voxin touched down in a snowy field by the river and Fletcher joined her, landing softly on the ground and feeling the snow crunch beneath his feet.

The dragoness looked at the adolescent gryphon. Did your parents ever teach you to fight?

"No. Not really." Fletcher replied.

His father had taught him a few basic fighting moves but nothing fancy. Voxin hummed and scooped up a clump of snow in her front paw, forming it into a rough sphere and plopping it onto the ground in front of Fletcher. The gryphon flared his wings and stood back. Voxin added a second smaller ball on top of the first, creating a sort of crude snowman.

Imagine that this is one of Agatha's minions. How would you deal with him?

Fletcher immediately pounced on the snowman, slashing into it with his talons and sending chunks of snow flying in all directions. He was so busy destroying the snowman that he didn't notice Voxin creating a second snowball.

Wonderful! Your snowman-slaying skills are top notch! Voxin said dryly. However, most enemies aren't just going to stand there and let you attack them.

Without warning she tossed the large snowball at Fletcher. He was knocked off his feet and left half buried beneath the mound of snow.

"What was that all about?" demanded the gryphon, flattening his ears and flicking stubborn snowflakes from his feathers.

Imagine that the snowball was an enemy with a spear. They'd have run you through. So, my fine feathered friend, what would you do if you were faced with a number of enemies with spears?

"I'd… fly away… Or something…" Fletcher said, still trying to dislodge snowflakes from his wing feathers.

Voxin raised an eye ridge. Not a bad idea, but suppose they have archers.

Fletcher suddenly remembered seeing his mother being shot by Agatha's archers.

It only takes a single well-placed arrow…

Voxin's voice trailed off and Fletcher saw a brief flash of pain in her amethyst eyes.

Jarnunvˆsk was shot through the heart with an arrow as she and Galbatorix tried to flee the urgals. She was young and inexperienced in battle. Sometimes it's better to stay on the ground and fight.

Fletcher nodded.

The amethyst dragoness fixed her eyes on him again. Now, Fletcher, I'm going to teach you how to deal with enemies on the ground.

Voxin proceeded to prepare another snowman. She picked up a fallen tree branch and jabbed it into the snowman.

Imagine that this is another man with a spear. He's trying to kill you and you can't risk flying away. What do you do?

Fletcher pondered the situation.

Oh, and one more thing. Voxin said with a sly toothy grin. Some may say that you should always fight with honor, but that's complete nonsense. Fighting fairly against an opponent who won't do the same is the quickest way to get yourself killed. The only real goal on a battlefield is to survive. Think about that before you confront that man with a spear head on. Don't be afraid to fight dirty. It could mean the difference between life and death.[/i]

"Alright." Fletcher said, lashing his tail back and forth as he pondered the situation. "I think I'm ready."

Alright then. Let's see what you've got. Voxin said, sitting down on her haunches and watching.

Fletcher quickly scooped up a bunch of snow in his talons and flung it at where the man's face would be. Then, with surprising speed, he lunged for the snowman, batting the makeshift spear aside with one paw while slashing at the snowman's neck with the other. The snowman's head fell off and rolled to a stop in front of Voxin, causing the dragoness to raise an eye ridge.

Ahh, you blinded him and took off his head! Excellent!

"What do I do if they surrender?" Fletcher inquired.

That's entirely up to you. If you feel that the person is no longer a threat then leave them be, but you must be weary of traps and tricks. You must be ruthless in a fight. Protect the innocent and show mercy to the defeated, but so long as someone is trying to kill you, you must be willing to accept the fact that you may have to kill them first.

Fletcher bowed his head. He didn't like the idea much. Voxin hummed softly and lowered her head until her amethyst eyes were level with his amber eyes.

You value life and that's a good thing. Always avoid a fight if you can. It's best to resolve thins peacefully. Unfortunately there are just some times where that's not possible. Your survival should be your highest priority.

Voxin looked up at the mid-morning sky and then turned back to the young gryphon.

I'll teach you more later. For now we should this opportunity to fly and enjoy ourselves.

Fletcher smiled at the idea. Once Voxin had turned away, he scooped up some snow in his talons, launched himself into the air, and threw the snowball at Voxin, striking her in the side of the head.

Voxin snapped her head in his direction, her eyes narrowing with mischief.

Oh, so that's how it's going to be then?

She scooped up more snow, packed it into a ball, and flung it at Fletcher. The gryphon rolled to the side and laughed as the snowball flew straight past him. Fletcher flapped his wings, climbing vertically into the sky. Voxin followed. The gryphon and the dragon spent much of the day flying around the valley practicing aerial maneuvers and tricks. In the late afternoon, clouds began gathering in the western sky blocking out the sun. A fast moving snowstorm was moving over western edge of the valley.

Voxin flew alongside Fletcher.

Blizzard. Looks bad. We should head home. The amethyst dragoness said worry in her voice.

Fletcher watched as Voxin banked sharply and began heading back to the old outpost. He followed suit. Though the wind was still calm, Fletcher didn't want to get caught in another snowstorm. They arrived back at the old outpost and made their way inside.

This way. We'll be protected from the wind in here. Voxin instructed, leading Fletcher into one of the far rooms of the cavern and away from the large opening.

Outside the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Voxin crawled onto what appeared to be a massive nest made of tree branches in the corner of the room and curled up. She raised a wing.

Come on, Fletcher. I'll keep you warm.

Fletcher nodded, padding over to Voxin. He climbed into the nest beside her and curled up next to her, allowing the dragoness to lower her wing over him protectively, the way his mother used to do. Outside, the wind was howling and blowing snow all about but Fletcher didn't feel the cold.

I have a friend. He thought to himself and he couldn't help but smile.

Sleep well, Fletcher. We might be cooped up in here for a while. Voxin said, closing her eyes.

Fletcher crossed his front legs and rested his head on them, closing his eyes as well. Soon he was asleep, dreaming of pleasant things.

To be continued…