Your Current Location is Chaos Keep : Stories : Miscellaneous : Objects: Chapter 8: Friends of a Feather
Chapter 8: Friends of a Feather
By: Fox Cutter
Frances pressed tightly to Surenian back, feeling the cold air whip over his face as the land passed quickly under them. It was a mix of snow and bare ground, creating odd spots of color around the white. Now and then they would fly over a road and even a lone truck, but this far north there wern't many signs of human life.
He was glad for the thick clothing he was wearing, even taking into account how the dragons must have come about them. The boots were a real boon; well made and lined with fur, they were significantly warmer than anything he had worn before.
Even so, after flying so far into the cold northern fall he was hoping to get somewhere soon.
"How much further?" he asked, turning to press his cheek against the back of her neck. The green scales were warm, quickly flushing away the cold from his face.
"Not much longer. They're in the mountains in front of us," she called back.
Leaning up, he looked out at the world before him. In the distance he could just make out the snowy edges of a mountain, hardly visible against the backdrop of the cloudy sky. They seemed to be growing fast enough that 'not much longer' would be a valid measurement of time.
Only snow covered trees lay before them, stretching out as far as he could see. Turing away, he searched for any change. In the distance he could make out a rising column of smoke, smearing over the distant horizon. It seemed out of place with the rest of the world.
"It's beautiful up here," he said, half closing his eyes.
"The whole world is beautiful, if you look at it in the right way."
He smiled slightly and lowered his head, enjoying the warmth of her body. "I suppose so," he said in a soft voice, hoping that she couldn't hear him. In truth the beauty was in part because of her. He would never have seen it if it had not been for her, and she just enhanced it all the more.
Surenian dropped slightly, passing only a dozen feet under a thin cloud, so close the tips of her wings cut through it at the top of each stroke. It left small whirls in the clouds, spinning about behind them to marktheir passage.
Turning back, he watched the cloud as it vanished behind them, and got to see her flicking her tail up to cut through the vapor, creating one last swirl inside of it.
"You're showing off," he said.
The dragoness didn't reply. Instead she banked and started around one of the large mountains.
Frances smiled and pressed back against her. Apparently she was enjoying the flight as much as he was... well, other than the cold. He could have done without the cold.
"We're almost there. It will only be a few more minutes," she said as they moved between two mountains and slid through a high pass. He could see trees jutting through the snow, breaking up the white with streaks of green and brown. They were close enough he could see trails around the trunks.
Banking again, she started to slow, sliding down gently towards the ground. In front of them he could see a white over hang, and under it the hint of some sort of cave. As they grew closer the white on top of the overhang started to move, rising and shaking, a dusting of snow flying out everywhere.
It was a gryphon, an honest-to-goodness gryphon. It looked nothing like he had been expecting. It was all whites and blacks with a few spots of dark yellow around the beak and talons. It stood up and watched them with narrowed eyes as they moved closer.
Surenian circled over the overhang, then moved to a small clearing in front of it. Snow was starting to swirl about them as they neared the surface. It danced in the air and settled over the pair of them as she finally landed on the hard-packed snow.
"Get off, but stay with me until you're told otherwise, understood?"
"I understand," he said, sliding down off her back and onto the crusty snow. His breath swirled about him as he pulled his clothing tight, trying to keep the warmth inside of his body. As he slipped off she fanned out her wings, shaking off the loose snow with a look of distaste.
The gryphon on the overhang looked at them, head cocked to the side before it leapt into the air. The black-speckled wings fanned out slightly, allowing the gryphon to glide down to a gentle landing in front of the dragoness.
Frances took a close took at the gryphon, surprised at the size of it, at least five feet tall at the base of the wings. The hind quarters looked to be a snow leopard, the thick tail sweeping through the freshly drifted snow. The avian parts looked like an eagle, but he couldn't tell what type, just that it was white and black. Strangely, he had feline like ears that twisted back slightly as he looked at the human. The two halves seemed to mix well together, creating a smooth transition between the two species.
"Welcome, we've been expecting you," the gryphon said, his voice strong and clearly male.
She lowered her head and fanned her wings out. "I am Surenian, and this is Frances," she said.
He took a step towards the gryphon. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
The gryphon gave him a wary eye, then nodded his head. "It is my pleasure. I am Dod, the leader of this clan." There was something else in the gryphon's voice, a touch of an accent that colored his words.
"You're Russian?" Frances asked as he finally placed it.
He shrugged. "You have an accent."
Dod clicked his beak in apparent amusement. "Human translation spells always have an accent. It seems to be how your minds process language, but to answer your question, I am speaking Russian. It is the local human language."
The human smiled and glanced up at Surenian. Apparently the dragoness had provided him with the translation spell without telling him. It was a pleasant surprise.
Dod continued on. "Kraydrim said you wished to meet with us, and I am happy to accept. It has been a long time since my clan was graced with a dragon's presence."
"It has been equalily as long since I had the hospitality of a gryphon clan, let alone one was old as your own," the dragoness replied.
He nodded and flicked his tail once to the side. "I would like to introduce you to my clan. Follow me inside the caves, it will be warmer inside."
"Thank you, that would be very nice," Frances said.
Dod turned in placed and started back towards the cave under the overhang. As he approached another gryphon came out and climbed up above, hunkering down into the well worn snow.
The new gryphon gave Frances a cautionary look as they walked past, then fluffed out its wings and looked away.
He ignored the look, instead following Dod under the overhang and into a dim cave. There wasn't much light but he could make out the edges of the rough tunnel. The floor was smooth, and descended slightly downward. Warm air rolled up the passage, carrying with it a mixture of scents. Feathers, meat, and even damp fur. There were other scents mixed in, but they were too unfamiliar to place.
Looking back at the tunnel entrance he was pleased to see that there was just enouch froom for Surenian to make it inside, even if she had to hunker down to do so.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked, stopping to look back at her.
She smiled. "I'm happy to be out of the snow. How are you? Can you see?"
With a shrug he turned back, watching Dod's thick tail vanish around a bend in the tunnel. The colors were dim, but he could still make out the white of the gryphon's fur against the gray stone walls.
Frances picked up speed, following him around the turn in the tunnel. On the other side of the bend the floor took a sharp dip. Wide steps had been worn into the floor, but were still slick with partly melted snow. He had to brace himself to take them. The air was growing warmer and more inviting.
The tunnel turned again at the bottom of the stairs, light starting to show around the bend. Walking quickly down the last dozen feet, he came out into a large cave. At center was a huge fire, smoke rising up and out a hole in the ceiling, maybe a hundred feet above. The walls off the chamber were filled with smaller caves, many of which had gryphons perched at the edge. They were all looking down at the human among them.
He gulped and looked up at all the avian heads looking down at him, then felt something against his back. With a glance over his shoulder he saw that Surenian was behind him, and he was blocking her way.
Taking a few steps aside, he moved closer to Dod, giving the dragoness room to enter the cavern.
More gryphons appeared in the cave mouths. Some had pairs of gryphons, and only a few were empty. They were all white and black, but with different arrangements of markings. The firelight made their dark eyes glow, all unblinking.
It was unnerving, and the silence seemed to press down on them all. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, for someone to take an action. The heat and the attention was starting to get to him and he pulled open his heavy winter jacket.
He swallowed, getting ready to say something to them as a squeal broke through the silence. A pair of white blurs rushed across the floor and skidded to a halt at Frances's feet. It was a pair of gryphon cubs, each one only coming up to his knees and looking up at him with surprise and awe in their young faces.
"Who are you?" the one on the left asked.
"I'm Frances," he said, bending down to be closer to the two young cubs. "Who are you?"
"I'm Talia," the one of the left said. "I'm Jone," the one on the right added, bouncing back and forth on his four legs.
"Talia, Jone, it's a pleasure to meet you," he said, reaching out to touch the two on the head. He hesitated for a moment, looking at Dod, but the big gryphon just nodded.
He brushed his hands over the soft feathers, feeling the down under the tips of his fingers. Small feathers stuck to his fingers, pulling free as he stroked.
Talia lifted her head, tilting it to look him in the eye. "I've never seen someone like you before. What are you?"
With a smile he leaned down until he was nose to nose with the young gryphoness. "I'm not from around here, but I might stay for a while."
"That would be nice," Jone asked, coming to press against the human's legs.
He chuckled and ran a hand down the gryphon's back. He arched slightly, his wings parting under the touch. "I hope so."
Dod clicked his beak and flicked his head at the two cubs. "Don't crowd our guest, there will be plenty of time to talk with him today," he said in a soft tone.
The two young gryphons pulled back, looking a bit disappointed, their heads dropping. "Yes, Father," they said in time.
"Go to your mother. We will be along shortly."
They nodded again and took off back into the cavern at top sped, a small trail of feathers flying out behind them.
Frances smiled as they ran. There were only a few spots on their otherwise white fur, and he thought he could see the hints of more appearing. "They are nice children."
"Thank you," Dod said, the rose his head up high, looking out at the gryphons around the cavern.
"This human is here with my blessing, to visit us and to learn about us. I know that we have a cold relationship with humans, but this one is a friend of the dragons. If the dragons can trust him then so can we. He has given his word to treat us with respect, and we will all do the same in return. You will treat him as if he was a member of another clan, and will give him the full measure of respect." He spoke in a firm tone that carried a great deal of force behind it. As his voice faded, a murmur of agreement ran through the large cave. A few of the gryphons looked unhappy, and some vanished back into their caves, but no one said anything out of turn.
Dod nodded his head then turned his attention to Frances. "I will hold you to the same agreement."
"I will uphold it as well as I am able," he said.
The gryphon's feathers fluffed out slightly. "You may go anywhere inside the caves that you wish, except for the private areas. For those you must seek permission first. Many here will not care for you, but they will not go against my wishes unless you make the first move."
Frances nodded and offered out his hand. "Thank you. Thank you for letting me visit you."
The gryphon lifted up one talon and gently grasped the human's hand. The skin was rough but warm, with small hairs lining the underside. It tickled his palm.
Letting the gryphon's talon go, Frances looked up over the cavern and the eyes of all the gryphons looking down on him. He looked back, not sure exactly what he should do. Some of the gryphons were starting to talk amongst themselves in low voices.
"So, what brings you to us?" Dod asked, motioning with one wing for the human to follow as he started along the cavern floor.
He thought for a moment, then decided that it was best to be completely honest with the clan leader. "I've started seeing auras, and we're trying to find out why."
"And you suspect there is a gryphon in your family tree."
Frances nodded. "That's what I'm hoping for. I should know by the time we get back to DragonHome."
Dod nodded as they moved towards a larger cave near the back of the cavern. He could see the two cubs peeking out of the shadows, watching as they moved closer. "So you wish to understand your family by understanding us?"
"No, it's a bit more personal than that. With gryphon blood I could be turned into a gryphon." He said the words with a bit of trepidation, unsure how it would be taken.
The gryphon at his side seemed unfazed. "So then, will you wish to join our clan?"
"You're not intereted in why?"
He shook his head. "Kraydrim personally asked me to allow you permission to visit. If your reasons for doing so were unreasonable he would never have aided you."
Frances bit his lip and looked back at Surenian. She was still standing by the tunnel, head bent down to talk with another gryphon. "No, not unreasonable."
The gryphon laughed softly and came up to the cave entrance, the two cubs edging slowly outwards. Behind them he could see another gryphon, larger than Dod, but was also thinner and sleeker than the male.
"This is my mate, Eliensia."
"Pleasure to meet you," he said.
The gryphoness came forward, stepping around her children. She looked at the human with a critical eye, beak held tightly together. She fanned her wings slightly as her tail flicked back over the cubs. "Hello," she said.
Frances blinked under her attention and took a slight step back. "I'm not here to do anything but learn about you. I don't want to be a threat."
"You are a disruption," she said.
"I won't be here long, and I'll try not to be very much of a disruption." It sounded a bit lame, even to him.
The gryphoness leaned in a bit closer, her wings laying down against her back. "I will hold you to that. Try not to get the children too excited; they are too young to be flying around the cavern."
He was going to say something, but realized that it was probably a literal statement.
"I can fly!" Talia declared from behind her mother's flank, with prompted a look of exasperation on her mother's face, and a strong look toward Dod.
The clan leader shook his head and looked down to his daughter. "Our guest flies with dragons, there is no need to be showing off your skills at this time."
Even if they weren't human children, the look of disappointment of the cubs face's were perfectly clear. Both of their heads dropped together, wings and tail slumping downward.
Dod looked at them, then back to his mate. "Perhaps later, with your mother's supervision."
While the cubs perked up, the look Eliensia gave her mate could have cut diamond. He actually pulled back slightly and ruffled his feathers. "With my supervision," he amended.
This seemed to satisfy her slightly as she started to relax. With a flick of her tail she turned back and vanished into the cave, leaving Talia and Jone standing at the entrance.
Frances smiled and gave the big gryphon a sideways look. "You just can't say no to them, can you?"
Dod turned back and looked out at the cavern. "I will introduce you to the rest of the clan. Please come with me."
The two cubs took a step forward, and he looked down at them. "And the two of you stay here; we will return later."
Disappointment returned to their faces, but this time their father didn't give in. With a nod of his head he motioned for the human to follow him.
Frances followed, smiling as he did.
* * *
Surenian stood her ground, watching as Frances walked with Dod down into the center of the cavern. He seemed to be happy, enjoying the contact with the gryphons. The smile that had been on his face was as wide as it was genuine.
After all that had happened, she wasn't sure she had seen him smile like that, not even when they were together in the library. He was happy, and there was a part of her that suspected it wasn't an emotion he was overly familiar with.
"You haven't introduced yourself."
Looking down she found a gryphoness standing by her side. She was an adult, but still young, her feathers well tended and her fur clean, her tail was almost pure white, the only spots were at the very tip. She was looking at the dragoness with interest, her wings twitching a bit.
"My name is Surenian."
She tilted her head a bit, the feathers on her necking ruffling out a little. "And why are you here with the human?"
"He's a friend of mine."
"Humans are not friends with anyone but other humans. What makes this one so special?"
Surenian lowered her head to look at the gryphoness. "My reasons are my own, but know this: I would trust him with my life," as she spoke she turned to look down at Frances, a slight flush running through her body.
"Just your life?"
"Yes," she said, the word drawing out slightly. She felt flustered by the question, and not completely sure why.
The gryphoness turned her head slightly, showing a scar over her shoulder that was almost completely hidden by her feathers. "You don't sound sure."
With a click of her beak the gryphoness shook her head. "No, you're not."
Surenian sighed and looked back at Frances. He was walking with Dod along the outer edge of the cavern. A number of gryphons were gathering to speak with him. "He seems very natural with your clan."
"Strangely, he does. He appears nice, as nice as a human could be. Why did he want to meet with us? What makes us so interesting to him?"
"He is interested in many different things. I am helping him learn more about the world."
With a shake of her head the gryphoness tucked her wings to her back. "I find what you're not saying far more interesting than what you do. There is more of a reason for this visit, something he is hoping to learn. I wonder what it is."
Surenian let out a soft sigh. "I don't think he even knows himself, but he is happy, and that is a rare thing indeed."
"You dragons like to hide things, don't you?"
The dragoness smiled at this, turning to look down at the young gryphoness. "You have not introduced yourself."
"Well, Alicol, dragons hoard everything, even secrets."
That just seemed to annoy her. Alicol blew a puff of air from the side of her beak and fanned out her wings. "Typical." With that said she leapt into the air, flapping her wings as she sailed out into the cavern. She made a tight turn and flew back towards Surenian, sailing past her and into the tunnel outside.
Surenian watched her go, then felt a familiar touch in the back of her mind as someone tried to contact her through the lynkxs.
* * *
Frances sat on the stone floor of the cavern, his legs tucked under him and slightly numb from how long he had been in that position. Around him was the majority of the clan, most of them sharing in the evening meal.
Surenian and himself had joined them, with the dragoness fetching a large pair of animals to serve as the main course. He was surprised to find that the gryphons cooked the meat, though not very much.
He watched them eat; the gryphons beaks were sharp and easily cut through the meat, tearing off pieces with ease and gulping them down. It was fascinating at first, but soon he distracted by cutting free his own side of meat.
It wasn't easy to eat. All he had for a plate was a slab of stone used to prepare food for newly hatched cubs. For a knife he had a shed talon that had been cleaned. It wasn't the most elegant way to eat, but it worked out with a bit of practice. The meat was pretty good, even if a bit rare.
Dod's children were cuddled against his left side, sleeping heavily after their meal. They still hadn't had a chance to show off their flying, but there was still some time for that.
Dod was on his other side, taking the time to lick his talons clean.
"I thought raptors ate things raw?" Frances asked between bites.
The gryphon paused and looked down at the human. "We're not raptors, we're gryphons. There are bacteria that we can catch from food. It's best to cook it long enough to kill them."
He was surprised. While reasonable, it wasn't what he had expected. It seemed like it should have been something more magical or special, not so mundane as good health.
Dod flexed out his talons, making sure that there wasn't anything between them. A few other gryphons were doing the same thing. "We might be animals, but so are humans."
"And even non-intelligent animals know to clean their food," Frances replied.
The gryphon cocked his head to the side, his feathers ruffling slightly before clicking his beak in amusement. "Yes, I suppose they do."
Frances popped the last piece of meat into his mouth and started to slowly chew it. Dod watched, his tail flicking slowly, his ears swiveling back slightly. A moment later his head turned as a gryphon came up to them.
"Excuse me," Dod said, standing up and moving to the side to speak with the other gryphon. The two cubs both let out soft grunts as their bed moved away.
They looked up, eyes heavy with sleep, and without a word came over and pressed up against Frances, one on each side of him. Before he could protest they had both fallen back asleep.
He set his stone plate aside and placed a hand on the back of each cub, brushing gently over their backs between the wings.
Surenian moved over and settled down next to the human, smiling as she did so. "You seem very natural with the cubs."
"They're nice," he said.
She nodded, looking down at the two gryphons then back up at the human. "I believe that the clan has accepted you as a guest," she said, her eyes casting behind him for a moment.
"At least they put up with me," he replied.
"More than 'put up' with you. Those two are the children of the clan leader. If they didn't trust you they would not be with you unsupervised."
Frances looked down at the two children, and ran the back of his hands over their ears. "I'm not unsupervised. The whole clan is here."
She shook her head. "The clan is here, but they are still away from you. If they didn't trust you there would always be a gryphon at your side."
"Really?" he asked, looking around. There wasn't an adult gryphon with in fifteen feet of him. In fact he couldn't think of any other time during his visit where that had been case. He felt flattered that they would trust him like that. A smile crept over his face.
Surenian curled up, resting her head on the back of her tail. "I hope you have enough gryphon blood to become one."
He smiled a bit wider. "So do I."
"You would be very happy here, maybe not with this clan, but as a gryphon."
"I'm not that happy," he protested.
The dragoness laughed and shook her head. "The only time I've seen you like this was on our arrival at DragonHome, and that did not last long. You have had a smile on your face for the whole length of this visit."
Frances blushed and looked down, he supposed that was true. He had been enjoying himself and his time with the gryphons. The cubs were just fun to be around, as was the rest of the clan. He liked them, and wouldn't mind spending more time around them.
"If I can't be a dragon, then I think I would like to be a gryphon. To live as a gryphon," he said, his voice soft. He didn't like admitting to it, but it was the truth.
The dragoness smiled and leaned in a bit closer. "I suspect that will be the case. I heard from Dalkin. There is gryphon blood in you, but he's not sure of how much."
His head snapped up to look at her, his face slack in surprised. "I have it? I really have it?" he asked, his voice cracking.
She slowly nodded. "He don't know how much, but there is gryphon blood in your family."
Frances closed his eyes tightly as his back tensed up. He let out a long gasp of air as he started to smile. "So I can be changed?"
"Hopefully; the amount of blood will tell."
He opened his eyes, looking down at the two cubs. They were still sleeping soundly, pressing against his legs. Talia had rolled onto her side, one wing pinned under her back and the other propped into the air. "How much blood?"
"Most creatures only need a little blood. Dalkin, Kraydrim and myself will have enough power to change you unless the amount is too tiny."
"Oh?" he asked, feeling that there was something she wasn't telling him, but didn't quiet understand what she was saying enough to know what she was leaving out.
Surenian nodded her large head. "The more magic we can provide, the less blood you will need to be changed."
"Wonderful," he said with a smile, reaching up to rub over the length of her muzzle.
She leaned in a bit closer. "So, is that worth living for?"
Frances laughed, stiffeling himself when a few gryphons looked his way. "If you can change me, then it's more than enough."
He leaned back and looked up at the dragoness "I would rather be a dragon," he added.
A smile played over her lips. "You're happier with the gryphons, and they will be around longer than my kind."
"But you're a dragon, and I would like to be with you," he said, feeling a bit flushed. "I mean, I... I like you. I want to be around you."
"I could join you, at least for a little while. Dragons don't have to worry about blood to be transformed."
He looked up at her, his eyes flashing. "I would love if you would join me."
The dragoness lowered her head, her wings fanning out slightly over her back. "I would be happy to," she said.
Frances reached up and brushed his fingers over her cheek. "Thank you," he replied.
"You're welcome," she replied, then lifted her head. "Dod is returning."
He nodded and relaxed, looking down at the cubs, still sleep against him. Talia had rolled over onto her back, and Jone had his head tucked under Frances's leg.
"We will be sleeping soon. I have arranged a cavern for you," he said, looking down at the two children.
"Thank you," Surenian said, starting to uncurl.
Dod bend down and nuzzled at Talia. The cub blinked and opened her eyes, looking up at her father. With a soft groan she rolled over onto her feet.
"Take your brother back to the den, your mother is waiting for you," he said.
The young gryphoness nodded and walked around Frances to where her brother slept. She bent down and snapped his tail with her beak. With a yelp he woke up and leapt slightly into the air before landing with a thump. He glared at his sister, his tail flicking in anger.
"To bed, both of you," Dod said.
The two cubs shared a look and huffed at their father. Together they started back to their cave.
"They are nice children. How old are they?"
"Just over a year," Dod replied, sitting down on his haunches next to the human.
"And how old do you live?"
"Sixty, maybe seventy years in good health."
Frances nodded and smiled a bit at this, then looked up at the dragoness. "Not as much as you, but I can accept it."
Dod cocked his head to the side and looked between the two of them. "Accept it? Does this mean there is some good news?"
The human smiled and took in a deep breath as he nodded. "I have gryphon blood. We're not sure how much, but hopefully it's enough."
"If you're seeing auras then it's surely enough," the gryphon replied, his tail flicking, his ears leaning forward slightly. "If you're a snow gryphon, I would be happy to welcome you to my clan."
He blushed a bit and smiled up to the clan leader. "Thank you, I hope that will be the case."
Dod chuckled and snapped his beak slightly. "Come on, I'll take you to your cave. Dawn comes late, but we rise early, so I suggest you get to sleep as soon as you can." He rose up as he spoke and started to walk across the cave floor.
Surenian and Frances followed him, and for the moment they were both happy.
To Be Continued...
This story is copyright 2010 by Fox Cutter, hardcopy reprints limited to one a person, all other rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for a fee except by permission of the author, and this copyright notice may not be removed.
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Page last updated: 02/19/2012
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