Chapter 3: In Cold Blood
Fletcher awoke at dawn the next morning, a little apprehensive about heading out on his own. As he stood up and stretched out, his brother awoke.
"Fletcher?" Tas said, still lying on the ground.
"Tas, ummm, there is something I have to tell you." Fletcher said with a sigh. "I'm leaving today."
Tas stared at his brother in disbelief. He just couldn't believe that his brother was ready to head out into the world.
Tas opened his mouth to speak but before either of them could say any more, a female voice from outside called, "Hello up there!"
It was not a voice that either of them recognized. Fletcher and Tas walked to the mouth of the cave and peered down. There stood a human woman with raven black hair. She had very pale skin and dull grey eyes. She wore a red cloak and held an elegant cane in her hand.
Windstrider and Elees were awakened by the woman calling out. Windstrider glared down at the human woman who was calling up to them. She was alone and walking with a cane, and therefore did not appear to be much of a threat. Still, Windstrider did not like the situation.
"What is it that you want, human?" he called down to her in a tired and grumpy tone.
"I need to speak to you!" she called back.
Windstrider snorted. "Stay here." he said to his mate.
The gryphon jumped from the ledge and flew down to meet the woman. He flapped his wings a couple of times to slow his descent and landed in front of her, folding his wings.
"What do you want, human?" Windstrider demanded.
"Allow me to introduce myself." the woman said in a smooth tone. "My name is Agatha and I am in need of your help."
"What kind of help?" Windstrider asked, his tail lashing from side to side in an agitated manner. He clearly did not rust her.
"I suffer from a terrible illness. It may not look like it but this illness is killing me. However, you can help me cure it." she explained.
"Sorry human." Windstrider said. "I am not a healer."
A sinister grin appeared on the woman's face and she raised her right hand, snapping her fingers. Men wearing red tunics suddenly emerged from hiding, surrounding the gryphon armed with bows and arrows.
"What is the meaning of this!" Windstrider demanded, his eyes narrowing.
"You see, the illness I suffer from requires gryphon blood. The cure must be taken every few months so I will need a steady supply of blood, which you are going to supply me with. Now, gryphon, do as you are told and no harm will come to you. I advise you not to try anything stupid!" Agatha demanded. "As you can see, I am a very powerful person and I have a lot of allies!"
Windstrider let out a fierce screech. "I knew you couldn't be trusted!" he roared. The gryphon sprang upon the woman and knocked her to the ground, clamping his talons around her throat.
"Lower your weapons, now!" he demanded to her henchmen. "Or I shall break her neck!"
The men lowered their weapons. Unfortunately, Windstrider had just made a fatal mistake. Agatha's hands were still free and she reached into her robes and withdrew a miniature crossbow, pressing it against the gryphon's chest and squeezing the trigger. Windstrider shrieked in pain as an arrow pierced deep into his chest. It went straight through his heart, fatally wounding the gryphon. Windstrider reared up and staggered backwards, releasing Agatha. Gasping for breath, he spread his wings and took off into the air, flying back toward his cave. He gasped for air as he flew back to the cave, just barely managing to stay in the air. His vision started to grow dim. The gryphon barely made it back to the cave, stumbling awkwardly and collapsing the instant he touched the ground, his wings spread out beside him where he lay. Elees gasped in shock and horror when she saw the arrow protruding from her mate's chest.
"Father!" Fletcher cried, running to his father's side, horrified by what he saw.
"Elees…" Windstrider gasp in barely a whisper.
"Father!"Fletcher called out again, feeling hot tears in his eyes. He didn't want to believe what he was seeing. This couldn't really be happening! It had to be some kind of bad dream! Why would anyone want to do this to his family?
"It's alright. I'm here, Windstrider!" Elees whispered, tears in her eyes as she nuzzled her mate gently with her beak.
"I'm so sorry." Windstrider gasped, his sides heaving with each breath. "I love you, Elees…"
The mortally wounded gryphon let out a horrible gagging sound and laid his head down.
"Don't leave me, Windstrider! Please don't leave me!" Elees tearfully pleaded to her mate.
He closed his eyes and let out one last breath and then his body became limp and still.
Fletcher pinched his eyes shut and hung his head, trying to fight back the tears but he couldn't control himself. A pitiful whimper escaped from his beak and he felt the hot tears streaming from his eyes, wetting the feathers around his face. Tas buried his face in his brother's shoulder as he too mourned his father.
Elees stood over her mate's body. The sorrowful sob that she made as she gently nuzzled his body was heartbreaking. Her brave and loving mate was gone forever.
Suddenly there was a metallic pinging sound as a grappling hook latched onto the ledge outside the cave. Moments later, another grappling hook appeared and then another.
Elees bolted to the edge and looked down. Agatha's men were scaling the cliff. An unstoppable rage came over the mother gryphon. She tore one of the grappling hooks loose and released it, sending the men climbing it falling to their deaths. One of the men on the ground fired a crossbow at her and Elees shrieked as an arrow struck her in the shoulder. Undaunted, the gryphon continued to attack. There were simply too many for her to stop though.
Turning to her sons, the mother gryphon ordered them telepathically, Fletcher, Tas, take Mirriana and go out the back of the cave! Get as far away as you can!
"We're not leaving you, mother!" Tas protested. Fletcher was about to protest as well but the look that his mother gave him stopped him. Her eyes narrowed and she hissed, "NOW!"
Both brothers knew better than to argue with their mother when she gave them that look.
Fletcher ran to the far end of the cave where Mirriana lay still sleeping and unaware of what had just happened. He gently nudged her awake.
"What's happening Fletch?" she asked looking at her brother curiously.
"We have to go, Mir." Fletcher replied, trying not to look frightened. He picked Mirriana up by with his beak, holding her by the nape of the neck.
"This way!" Tas called to him and ran off toward the back of the cave. The two gryphons came to what appeared to be a dead end but there was an opening at the top of the cave just large enough for them to squeeze through. They climbed up the rocky wall and reached the opening in seconds. Fletcher crawled out first followed by Tas. Before they even had a chance to try and fly away, a net had been thrown over them. Fletcher struggled under the net, still holding Mirriana in his beak. Agatha's men had been waiting for them.
Back in the cave, Elees was fighting to stop Agatha's men from reaching the cave but there were just too many. She tore another grappling hook loose but two of Agatha's men had reached the top and climbed into the cave, removing their crossbows. Elees turned to face the intruders. They fired their arrows at her but the gryphon leaped to the side, dodging the projectiles. Before the men could reload, Elees pounced upon them, slashing one man and sending his body tumbling from the cave. She grabbed the other man's head in her beak and crushed it like a nut in a nutcracker. She turned to face two more of Agatha's men who reached the cave but it was too late. The female gryphon screeched in agony as two arrows struck her in the right side, piercing deep into her body. A third attacker shot her in her left side.
Elees winced in pain and collapsed on the ground next to her mate, gasping for breath. She knew that death was not far away. Ignoring the humans who were now standing over her, Elees dug her talons into the ground, crawling and pulling herself over to where her beloved mate lay dead. Tears ran from her eyes as she lifted her left front leg and placed it over Windstrider's back. She buried her face in his feathers.
"Windstrider…" Elees whispered, closing her eyes. "I'm coming, my love…" and with that, the female gryphon let out one last ragged breath and her body became still, never to move again.
Agatha climbed up the into the cave accompanied by the rest of her men. Her cane was strapped to her back as she climbed the rope. She glanced at the two gryphons who now lay dead inside the cave.
"Hmm, a pity. You both could have lived but instead you just had to do things the hard way."
Agatha made her way to the back of the cave where her men lowered a rope through the hole in the ceiling. She climbed up and was greeted by the sight of the three gryphons trapped under the net.
Turning to her men, Agatha said, "We only need one of them."
Tas screeched angrily at the sight of the woman who killed his father. The gryphon tore through the net and lunged at Agatha, trying to slash her with his talons. In a flash, she pulled her cane apart, revealing a fifteen inch sword concealed inside. Agatha ducked as Tas swung at her and then she drove the sword all the way into his chest and twisted it. Tas let out a surprised gasp as the woman pulled the sword from his chest. He stood there for a couple seconds, a look of disbelief in his eyes until he finally collapsed on the ground, blood staining the feathers around his chest.
Fletcher shrieked in horror as he watched his brother, his lifelong companion, die before his eyes. Agatha ran the sword through Tas's feathers wiping the blood from the blade before sticking it back into her cane. One of Agatha's men, a magician, quickly cast a stunning spell on Fletcher to prevent another escape attempt. Another man reached under the net and grabbed Mirriana, pulling her from Fletcher's grasp and holding her in the air by the back of the neck.
"What should we do with this one?" the man asked as the terrified hatchling struggled in his grasp.
"No! Please don't hurt her!" Fletcher cried. "You monsters!"
"Leave it. We don't need it. We already have what we came for." Agatha ordered, glaring at Fletcher.
Mirriana suddenly twisted her head around and clamped her beak shut on the man's knuckles.
"Ouch! The little bitch bit me!" the man shouted, flinging Mirriana onto the ground. He then kicked the hatchling in the side, sending her flying through the air with a loud squawk. She hit the ground and bounced a couple of times before sliding to a stop about twenty feet away. The gryphonling lay there completely motionless.
"Mirriana!" Fletcher screamed, bawling uncontrollably at this point.
He called out to his sister mentally. Mirriana, please wake up! Please don't be dead!
There was no answer. Agatha turned and looked at the gryphon who lay entangled in the net bawling at the top of his lungs.
"Stupid gryphons. How many of you have to die before you'll figure out that fighting back will get you killed?" She turned to her men. "Would someone please shut him up?" Agatha demanded, tired of the gryphon's hysterical sobbing.
One of her men stuck a syringe into the gryphon's neck and injected some kind of drug into him. Fletcher's vision grew fuzzy and dim and before he knew it he was unconscious.
In the blink of an eye, Fletcher's entire world came crashing down...
To be continued…