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Chapter 1: Young Hearts

Hundreds of years had passed since the fall of the Empire and the death of Galbatorix at the hands of Eragon Bromson. The Dragon Riders flourished once again and peace had spread across the world. But all this meant little to those who lived beyond Alagaesia's borders. In the land of Danthuania, far to the south of Alagaesia, gryphons roamed the continent from coast to coast. Half eagle and half lion, these mysterious beasts were proud and noble but less fearsome and savage than the dragons of Alagaesia. Though they shared the land with many other magical races including humans and the occasional dragon, gryphons were the dominant race here.

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. 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 mother 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 yet old enough to talk, nor could they communicate telepathically yet. Unlike many other creatures such as dragons, gryphons possessed the ability to speak the language of the two-leggeds. Though they rarely spoke to humans or other two-leggeds, the gryphons preferred using their language because it was more complex than their own simple, primitive language. 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 in about him too. The coloration of his fur and feathers was similar to his mate's only darker. His eyes were a piercing shade of golden orange.

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.

As time went on, the hatchlings grew into adolescents. Gone was their fluffy grey downy feathers and black cub spots. They now had dark brown feathers and tawny fur like their parents. Like their parents, they had long feathers on the tips of their lion-like tails that aided them in flight. They were proud and noble creatures but they were still young and playful. Fletcher was the dominant of the two brothers, always taking Tas on adventures with him and getting them into trouble. The two brothers were almost inseparable, spending every hour together. One day the two gryphons were soaring through the sky together, exploring new places they had never been before. It was a warm sunny day with blue skies and puffy white cumulus clouds as far as they eye could see.

Fletcher flew with his front legs tucked against his chest and his hind legs trailing behind him as he flew along. His pointy feline-like ears suddenly perked up as he heard music being played somewhere.

Do you hear that, Tas? He said telepathically to his brother.

I sure do! I wonder where it's coming from. his brother answered.

Let's find out! Fletcher said with a mischievous gleam in his golden-amber eyes.

The young gryphon banked sharply to the left, flying toward the north. His brother followed him as they followed the sound along a winding river. Fletcher landed on a ridge and his beak fell open in awe at what he saw below. There stood a great city right next to the ocean. Though they had heard stories about them, neither of the gryphons had ever seen a human settlement before, nor had they ever seen the ocean. The city seemed to span for miles and included high towers, smoking chimneys, and a busy sea port.

"The sound is coming from down there!" Tas declared, watching what appeared to be a festival in the streets below.

"Let's go see what they're doing!" Fletcher exclaimed excitedly, spreading his wings and launching himself into the air. Always the adventurer, Fletcher was curious about these strange people. He had heard of the strange, two-legged beings called humans but he had never seen any before. His parents had warned him that the creatures were dangerous but like any child, the young gryphon let his curiosity get the better of him.

"I'm not sure we should go there, Fletcher." Tas said worriedly.

"Surely you are not afraid!" Fletcher chirped tauntingly.

"Of course not, but mother and father will be angry! They told us to stay away from the humans!"

"We're just having a look around, Tas. It's not like we are going to let them see us or anything." Fletcher replied.

He flew low over the city streets, taking in all the strange sights, sounds, and smells around him. He flared his wings and landed silently on a rooftop overlooking the festival. Tas landed beside him, gazing at the people with curiosity.

In the street below, hundreds of people had gathers for some sort of festival. There were stands, shops, musicians, and all manner of strange scents. Neither of the young gryphons had ever seen anything like it before.

"Fletcher, look at that!" Tas whispered excitedly.

Fletcher looked in the direction his brother indicated and saw a massive, four-legged reptilian creature with long wings, glittering green scales, and a long, snake-like tail. The young gryphons knew exactly what it was. Everyone had heard the tales of the great dragons from across the sea, and the mighty warriors who rode on their backs. Sure enough, this dragon wore a saddle.

Tas looked at his brother, the corners of his beak drawing up into an unmistakable grin. "I told you they were real!"

"I never said they weren't real!" retorted Fletcher indignantly.

"Let's go talk to it!" Tas exclaimed excitedly.

"Now, did you not just bicker at me for wanting to come down here? And now you want us to reveal ourselves?" Fletcher scolded his brother.

"But the Dragon Riders are different! Father says they are our friends!"

Without even waiting for his brother, Tas leaped off the roof and spread his wings, gliding toward the street below. Fletcher rolled his eyes and flew down after him.

"Fool..." he muttered. The two gryphons landed on the cobblestone street, amidst a crowd of festival goers, drawing a gasp from the crowd at the sudden appearance of the strange creatures.

These are the creatures that our parents said are so dangerous? Fletcher thought to himself as he looked around at the nervous humans. They had no claws, beaks, or other weapons on their bodies and they actually seemed scared of the gryphons. It puzzled him because Fletcher never considered himself to be very scary. Being an adolescent gryphonling, he was no bigger than a large dog, as opposed to a fully grown gryphon which could grow to be larger than a horse. Tas began walking toward the dragon, the onlookers scrambling out of his way. His brother followed. As they approached the dragon, a man who was standing next to the dragon turned and looked at them. This man was different than the others. He was shorter than the humans around him and had pale skin, raven black hair, sharp facial features, and long pointy ears. He eyes that were as blue as the sky overhead. On his belt was a great sword which matched the green scales of the dragon next to him. The man smiled and walked up to the gryphonlings.

"Hello there, young ones." He said kindly, looking down at them.

Fletcher spoke first, dipping his head respectfully. "Hello, sir. My name is Fletcher and this is my brother, Tas. We just wanted to get a closer look at your dragon."

The elf nodded. "My name is Arion and my dragon is called Cadius. We hail from across the sea from a land called Alagaesia."

Both gryphonlings looked up at the Rider in awe. "Our parents told us the stories about your kind but we have never seen a real Dragon before!" Tas exclaimed.

The dragon lowered his head to the gryphons' level so that his big green eyes were level with theirs. We have heard many things about your kind too, young gryphon. You are of a great and noble race.

It made Fletcher proud to know that the mighty Dragon Riders respected his race. He sat down on his haunches in front of the Rider.

"Arion?" he asked the Dragon Rider. "Why do the humans fear us?"

Arion knelt down and replied, "Well, humans have this odd tendency to fear that which they do not understand. Some of them think that you are not a person unless you look like them and think like them. Gryphons are a great mystery to many people. There are no gryphons in Alagaesia and most people there do not even know you exist. The only reason we Riders know of your kind is because we have explored all over the world."

The gryphons sat and listened intently as Arion told them tales of the Dragon Riders of the old order before The Fall. Finally, as the sun hung low in the sky, the elf stood up and said, "Your parents are probably going to start wondering where you are."

Fletcher and Tas did not want to leave but they knew he was right.

"Cadius and I could give you a ride home if you wish." Arion offered.

It is an awful long way back home, Fletcher. Tas said to his brother telepathically.

Fletcher nodded. He knew their father would be angry if they were out past dark so he accepted Arion's offer. Cadius knelt down and the two young gryphons climbed onto his back, seating themselves right behind the saddle. Arion took his seat in the saddle and the great dragon spread his wings.

I suggest you hold on to something, younglings. Cadius warned.

Fletcher and Tas wrapped their talons around one of the dragon's back spikes and held on for dear life. The dragon propelled himself into the air and flew away from the city with breathtaking speed. Fletcher instructed Cadius where to fly. They soared over the snowcapped mountains and high above the thick forests of their valley home. Finally, when they were almost close enough to see where their cave was, Fletcher said to the Rider, "Thank you, sir. It was nice meeting you."

He jumped from the dragon's back, spreading his wings and feeling the wind passing over his feathers as he glided toward home. Tas was right behind them.

"May the stars watch over you, young ones!" Arion shouted after them.

Their cave was located high up the side of a rocky hill. Fletcher landed on the rocky ledge outside the cave first, immediately followed by Tas. The instant they stepped into the cave, their mother confronted him.

"Where have you two been?" she demanded. She sniffed their feathers. "I smell the scent of a dragon on you!"

"Well, we met a Dragon Rider today." Tas explained, conveniently leaving off the part about them venturing into a human city.

"Yes, he told us about the Dragon Riders and gave us a ride home." Fletcher added.

"I see." Their mother said in a tone that said she knew exactly what they had been up to.

Both gryphonlings hung their heads shamefully, knowing they could not fool their mother.

The stern look on Elees's face vanished and was replace by a warm smile.

"Come here, Fletcher." She chuckled, grabbing her son in her talons. She sat down on her haunches and began to preen his feathers and fur despite the gryphonling's protests, removing the dragon scent from his body.

Tas didn't understand why she was preening his brother's feathers. Both he and Fletcher had been grooming themselves for a while now. He found it funny the way Fletcher struggled and squirmed against his mother's attempt to bathe him. As soon as she was done with Fletcher though, she gave Tas the same treatment, cleaning his feathers and fur until no scent remained.

"Now if you two promise to behave yourselves, I might not tell your father what you two were up to."

"Yes, mother." Both siblings said at the same time.

"I saw you riding on that dragon from in here. Now, I do not want either of you going near that city again. You were safe because there was a Dragon Rider there but that will not always be the case. Remember, humans cannot be trusted!"

"Yes, mother." The two brothers said again.

The mother gryphon suddenly winced in pain, placing one of her front paws against her stomach.

Fletcher cocked his head and asked worriedly, "Is something wrong, Mother?"

"I'm fine, son." She said with barely a whisper.

The three gryphons turned and looked back at the entrance of the cave when they heard the sound of flapping wings approaching. Windstrider had returned with a deer for his family. He looked down at his children as if he knew they had been into mischief but he didn't say a word. He looked at his mate.

What did they do this time, Elees? he asked suspiciously.

They just behaved like young gryphons normally do, flying about getting into mischief. Nothing serious. She replied innocently.

Windstrider laid the deer down and beckoned for Fletcher and Tas to eat.

As the two gryphonlings ate their meal, Elees stood up and nuzzled her mate's shoulder.

The egg will be coming soon. I think there is only one egg. The pain is not as strong as it was last time I was pregnant. She said to her mate with a ragged breath.

Windstrider nuzzled her behind the ear and said comfortingly, Do not worry, my love. It will be just like last time.

Elees hummed happily as her mate comforted her. As soon as Fletcher and Tas had eaten their fill, their parents finished off what was left. The sun had gone down and the sounds of the night could be heard outside. Elees curled up on the floor of the cave with her two sons tucked under one wing. Windstrider laid down beside her and laid his head across her neck.

Sleep well, my angel. He said to Elees. Soon all was quiet.

To be continued…

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