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Chapter 4: Sound the Bugle

Arion felt sick to his stomach. Before him lay the lifeless body of one of the gryphons he had spoken to in the city just over a year ago. Though Tas had only been a young gryphonling when they met, the Rider still recognized him as an adult. Arion and Cadius had stumbled onto the grizzly scene while investigation a report of suspicious activity in the area. They had already found the mother and the father and now it looked like not even the young gryphons had been spared. Arion knelt by Tas's body.

"Poor gryphon. He was still so young." Arion said.

"I wonder where the other sibling is." he whispered, wondering what had happened to Fletcher.

Agatha and her men had cleaned up any trace that they had ever been there, removing the corpses of their own men and just leaving the bodies of their victims behind.

Cadius was sniffing the ground nearby as if he were tracking something. Suddenly he paused, looking at the ground in front of him. He called out to his Rider.

Arion, come quickly! Hurry! There was great urgency in the dragon's voice as he spoke.
As the elf ran to his dragon, he heard a tiny, terrified squawking sound. There at Cadius's feet lay a little hatchling. She looked up at the Dragon Rider, trembling in fear with a look of sheer terror in her eyes. Mirriana let out another frightened squawk, presumably calling for her mother.

Arion examined the little gryphonling's body and was disgusted by what he saw. One of her front legs appeared to be broken and there was blood running from her mouth and nostrils indicating that she had internal injuries. She was gasping for air, struggling for each breath.

"How could anyone be so cruel?" He said to his dragon.

Arion slowly reached a hand down to the hatchling and she tensed up, attempting to crawl away. The elf spoke softly in the Ancient Language, reassuring the gryphonling that he meant her no harm. One could not lie in the Ancient Language and even those who could not speak it knew when someone was speaking the truth. This seemed to calm her but she still looked terrified. A complex healing spell was required to mend her injuries. Fortunately, Dragon Riders stationed in Danthuania were required to be familiar with gryphon anatomy and to have an understanding of how to treat injured gryphons. Within seconds, the bleeding had stopped and the gryphonling's broken leg and internal injuries were healed as well. With her injuries now treated, Arion gently scooped the gryphonling up in his arms.

"Where is my mama?" the little gryphonling asked weakly.

The elf sighed. He had already found the bodies of her parents. He tried to think how to explain it to the baby gryphon.

"I'm sorry. Your parents are dead, little one." Arion explained, speaking softly. It pained him to put it so bluntly but there was simply no other way to say it.

Mirriana's little beak hung open for a moment as she took in what he said. She let out a tiny whimper and tears began to run from her bright orange eyes. The gryphonling pressed her face against Arion's cheek and he felt her soft feathers on the side of his face. He wrapped his arms around her in a comforting embrace.

"I'm so sorry, little one…" he whispered, holding back tears of his own.

Poor little gryphon. What is going to happen to her now, Arion? Cadius asked, sympathy evident in his voice.

We will look after her, Cadius. Arion replied. He hugged the tiny gryphonling, trying to comfort her.

Arion and Cadius proceeded to bury the bodies of Windstrider, Elees, and Tas together at the foot of the hill, giving them the dignified burial they deserved.
Mirriana stood before the grave, her head hung low and still crying for her dead family.
Finally, Arion gently picked her up, cradling her in his arms. "We will look after you, little one."

As Arion climbed onto Cadius's back, Mir gave one last look at her childhood home before the dragon and Rider whisked her away from there forever. Truth be told, she was lucky to be alive. As the gryphonling clung to Arion's shirt, she wondered what fate had befallen her other sibling, the one she loved most.

Everything seemed like a blurr. It took a while for everything to come into focus. As Fletcher regained consciousness, he became aware that he was lying on his side on a cold, stone floor in a dark room. The gryphon rolled over onto his stomach and attempted to stand but he was still groggy from the sedative Agatha's men had injected him with. He didn't have the strength.

At first Fletcher was so disoriented he couldn't remember anything, not even his own name. However, as he awoke, the fog in his mind cleared away and all the horrible memories came flooding back to him as if he had just been struck by a tsunami. Tears flooded his eyes and the gryphon let out a long, mournful sob as he buried his face between his forefeet. He was so overcome with grief that he did not even notice the bloody rag tied around his left front leg. Fletcher never knew how long he laid there and cried. It could have been just a few minutes or it could have been hours. All he could think about was his family. His mother and father… Tas… sweet little Mirriana… Thinking of her, Fletcher felt a fresh spasm of tears come over him. Poor little Mir, so young and innocent… She would never have a chance to live her life. He couldn't stop thinking about how he had last seen her broken little body lying motionless on the ground. Fletcher just wished he could lie there and die as well. He had nothing to live for now. His loved ones were dead and now he had been deprived of his freedom.

The gryphon looked up at the tiny window near the ceiling where the sun shined through. He could see the blue sky through the gaps in the bars. The sky that he had once taken for granted now seemed so distant now. He laid his head back down and closed his eyes, just wishing he could die. As he laid there, drowning in his own self-pity, Fletcher suddenly remembered his father's speech.

"There will be hardships you face in life. Not everyone you meet will be kind or generous. However, I believe in you and I have confidence that you can face whatever the world has to throw at you." Windstrider had said to him.

His father had believed in him. If he gave up now, he would be a disgrace to his parents.

I will not fail you, father! I will never give in to despair! Fletcher swore to himself, a look of fierce determination in his eyes.

He was born a free gryphon and he would die a free gryphon, no matter what! He would not let these people break his spirit! He was a free gryphon and he bowed down to nobody!

To be continued...

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