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Chapter 5: Fireclaw

Fletcher's ears pricked up as he heard the sound of a door opening and the sound of footsteps approaching. He turned his head toward the barred door of the cell he was in as Agatha and three guards stood in front of it. The gryphon felt a great anger rising inside of him as he glared at the person responsible for the murder of his loved ones. Fletcher got to his feet, flattening his ears against his skull threateningly, not that it would do any good.

"Hello, gryphon." Agatha said in an obnoxiously smooth tone.

"I have nothing to say to you!" Fletcher hissed, turning around so that his back end was facing her.

"Well I am afraid you don't have much of a choice. Come with me."

One of the guards unlocked the door to the dungeon and opened it. In an instant Fletcher would have pounced on Agatha and proceeded to rip her limb from limb but before he had the chance, one of the mages hit him with another stunning spell. Fletcher felt his legs buckle and collapse from under him. As he lay there on the floor, stunned and unable to move, Agatha stood over him.

"You fools always have to make things so complicated. Now, I do not need to collect your wretched blood for another three months so I am sending you away until then."

Fletcher glared up at her with a venomous hatred in his eyes. If only looks could kill...

"Send me away?" he roared. "You think I am just a mere piece of property you can store somewhere when you don't need me?"

Undeterred, Agatha said to her men, "When the spell wears off, bring him upstairs."

With that, she turned and left the room, walking back up the flight of stairs that lead to the dungeon. Fletcher lay there for a few more minutes until he could finally move again. The guards escorted him up the stairs and into a large room with a high ceiling. There were four long corridors going off in different directions.

To Fletcher's surprise, Agatha was standing by the corridor on the opposite side of the room and next to her stood a female gryphon. The gryphon was about his size, with dark grey feathers with black tips and ashy grey fur. She had the same characteristic fan of feathers on the tip of her tail that Fletcher did. Her eyes were an icy blue. Her front legs were covered in numerous scars that looked like they had been caused by a knife rather than fighting.

The female gryphon approached Fletcher, a look of pure disdain in her eyes.

"Do you think Fireclaw will have any use for him?" Agatha asked the grey female.

She snorted in reply. "Perhaps he will find something. Personally I don't see any use for this peasant gryphon though. Still, I will let Fireclaw make the final decision." The female gryphon said.

Fletcher felt his anger building. The female looked him over and he could tell she was judging him.

"Just make sure to bring him back in three months. I can not afford to miss my treatment." Agatha said.

"Fireclaw keeps his word, Agatha. You will have this peasant gryphon back as promised." The female said.

"Just who might I ask is Fireclaw?" Fletcher demanded, no longer able to stand quietly as these two talked about him as if he were nothing more than property.

The female hissed. "Fireclaw is my future mate and your new master, peasant!" she snapped.

"I have no master! I am a free gryphon and I will bow to no one!" Fletcher hissed.

The next moment, the female had hooked her talons around Fletcher's neck and shoulder and flipped him onto his side, slamming him into the floor. Then she clamped her talons around his throat, choking him.

"You had best learn some respect, peasant!" she growled.

The female gryphon released Fletcher and he lay there for a moment, gasping for air before getting to his feet.

"My name is not "peasant"! My name is Fletcher!" he spat.

"Your name is not important to me! As far as I am concerned you are nothing more than a lowly cave gryphon! Now come, I do not wish to keep Fireclaw waiting!"

Reluctantly, Fletcher followed after the grey female.

"My name is Tamura. From now on you will answer either to Fireclaw or myself. And don't get any foolish ideas about running away! I am a trained assassin and I will find you no matter where you hide!"

Fletcher simply snorted at the threat and Tamura rolled her eyes.

The two gryphons arrived at a set of double doors and the guards at the doors opened them.

Once outside, Tamura spread her wings and ordered, "Now keep up!"

She took off into the air. Fletcher wanting nothing more than to take off in the opposite direction but having already been put on the ground once by this female, he decided it would be best to go along for now. He took off after her, flapping his wings and gaining altitude. As they flew, Fletcher looked at the land around him. He didn't recognize anything. This land was all strange to him. Agatha's compound was situated on a hilltop. The place was a fortress, complete with towers, battlements, and defensive ballistae. The land around here was different from anything that Fletcher had seen before. Instead of high mountains and tall trees, the land was covered with lush tropical jungles and low, rolling hills. The air was hot and humid, though the temperature really didn't bother Fletcher.

Fletcher did not speak to Tamura as they flew along. It did not take long for them to finally reach their destination. The two gryphons flew over what appeared to be a set of abandoned ruins. The buildings were made of stone and appeared to be in good condition. Still, they were overgrown in weeds and trees. It appeared to be an old settlement of some sort. Tamura circled back, descending and landing gracefully on the ground outside a building in the center of the settlement. Fletcher followed suit, landing beside her. He immediately looked around him at several other gryphons as well as a few humans who were going about their daily routines. Everyone seemed to ignore Fletcher and Tamura as they made their way over to the stone building in front of them. Tamura entered first with Fletcher following close behind her.

The room that they entered was full of all sorts of human objects and gadgets the likes of which Fletcher had never seen. Sitting in the middle of it all was the biggest gryphon Fletcher had ever seen. His feathers were jet black like crow feathers and his fur was a very dark shade of brown. His eyes were mustard yellow and he had many battle scars. The gryphon was almost twice Fletcher's size. He had no idea that gryphons could even get that big.

Tamura padded over to the huge gryphon and nuzzled him under his neck with her beak. "I have brought you your new servant as you requested, my love." She whispered.

"Ahh, my dear Tamura. I knew I could rely on you!" the massive gryphon replied.

Fletcher could sense the lack of sincerity in the larger male's voice but Tamura seemed oblivious to it.

The big gryphon padded up to Fletcher and looked down at him for several seconds. He walked in a circle around the smaller gryphon, looking him over before stopping in front of him one more.

"He'll do." He said to Tamura. Turning to Fletcher, the gryphon introduced himself.

"Greetings, I am Fireclaw, leader of the Black Talon Clan. Tell me, young one, what is your name?"

"My name is Fletcher." The younger gryphon responded, not wanting to upset this behemoth.

Fireclaw nodded. "Now, let us get one thing straight. I did not bring you here as a slave. Instead you will be a personal servant."

"That does not sound any different." Fletcher scoffed.

Tamura gave a disapproving his but Fireclaw gave her a look that silenced her.

"Tamura, leave us!" he called to her. As the female gryphon departed, Fireclaw turned his attention back to Fletcher.

"You are mistaken. You will be performing tasks for me and in exchange, the Black Talon Clan will provide you with food, shelter, and protection."

Fletcher knew he didn't really have a choice right now. "Alright, I'm in."

Fireclaw huffed. "Good choice. Now, I take it Tamura already explained to you how things work around here."

"What do you intend to have me doing?" Fletcher asked curiously.

"We smuggle goods for Agatha. She has a vast smuggling network set up but recently the authorities have begun searching all travelers entering and leaving the major cities. The simple solution to that problem is to simply not use roads. My servants carry the smuggled goods into cities under the cover of darkness and completely avoid the guards altogether. That is where you come in. We also store her goods here, as you can see."

Fireclaw gestured to the large stacks of goods inside his quarters.

"Tomorrow, Agatha wants me to transport some of these items to her compound. You will be the one to carry those goods."

Fletcher was apprehensive about having to go back to Agatha's compound. Fireclaw saw the look on the gryphon's face and said in a low tone, "I urge you not to get any ideas though. Agatha's men are expecting you. If you do not arrive, I will have to send Tamura to find you. She is a trained assassin and an expert tracker. There is nowhere on this whole continent you can hide where she can't find you. Do NOT make me send her looking for you because I promise you it will be very, very bad!"

"Understood, sir." Fletcher nodded in agreement.

"Can I ask you something, Fireclaw?" Fletcher said. "Who exactly is Agatha?"

Fieclaw let out a deep chuckle. "Agatha is scum. She is from a wealthy family of smugglers and criminals. She has a lot of influence in the underworld and she has friends everywhere. Honestly, the only reason I do business with her is because she is helping me to gain a position of power. Someday I will rule this land and when I do, everyone who has served me will be rewarded, including you, Fletcher."

Fletcher nodded. "And I suppose Tamura is going to be your queen then?"

Fireclaw let out another deep chuckle. "No. She thinks she is, but she isn't. She possesses all the attributes I want my offspring to have, and I shall mate with her when the time is right. However, I do not have any real affection for her nor do I particularly care about her. She is a good assassin and does her job well. That is all I care about."

Fletcher huffed. He already hated Tamura. She was arrogant, rude, and aggressive, and now she was stupid to boot. It was so obvious that Fireclaw was just using her and yet the grey female was too dumb to see that she was nothing more than a tool. However, Fletcher did not dare tell her this.

"Do you know what the illness that afflicts Agatha is?" he asked.

"It is a vile disease, Fletcher. It is one that our kind almost never suffer from, but humans seem to suffer from it frequently. They call it cancer. Apparently gryphon blood is capable of stopping it. Tamura was previously giving blood to Agatha. She was doing it on my orders of course. I have her wrapped around my talons, you see. She is so infatuated with me that she will do whatever I say without question. Truly it is wonderful to have such loyal servants."

"I think I am going to get some rest if that is fine with you, Sir." Fletcher said, disgusted by this discussion. Tamura was an aggressive idiot and Fireclaw was a manipulative bastard.

Fletcher now understood why Tamura had the scars on her front legs.

The next morning, Fletcher awoke early and prepared to make his delivery. A pair of Fireclaw's human servants fitted the gryphon with a leather harness and attached several bags filled with undisclosed goods to the harness.

"Alright, gryphon, you're all set." One of the men said.

Fletcher snorted and spread his wings, feeling like a pack mule. He took off into the sky, flying back toward Agatha's compound. More than anything in the world, Fletcher wanted to just take off and fly somewhere but he had no idea where exactly he was and these creeps probably knew the area very well. There was nowhere he could hide from them.

The flight took several hours and when Fletcher arrived, there were four men waiting outside the gate of the compound. Fletcher descended and landed next to the men. Without saying a word, they unloaded the goods and sent the gryphon on his way.

For the next two months, this was the routine for Fletcher. He smuggled Agatha's goods all over Danthuania. He felt guilty for what he was doing, knowing that the goods were most likely stolen. On missions involving particularly valuable items, Tamura would accompany Fletcher. He especially hated those missions because Tamura hardly spoke to him and when she did, it was to insult him. She never called him by his real name, instead calling him "peasant". Fletcher never understood why she called him that since a peasant was a human term for a poor person. Fletcher assumed it was because Tamura considered herself to be above everyone else. In exchange for carrying out these missions, Fireclaw provided Fletcher with a dry place to sleep and plenty of food. It did not change the fact that he had no freedom though. Fireclaw may have called it something else but this was still slavery.

One afternoon, Fletcher was summoned by Fireclaw and whe he arrived, Tamura was already waiting.

Oh great! The gryphon thought to himself as he stood next to Tamura.

"I have another assignment for you two." Fireclaw explained. "Agatha wants you to steal some goods from a wealthy collector in the city of Gringsford."

Fletcher snorted defiantly. "With all due respect, Fireclaw, I have done all your demeaning tasks up until now. However, I am no thief!"

"It will not matter, Fletcher. The people you are stealing from are going to be dead anyhow. That is why I am sending Tamura along with you. Now, I know you lack the guts to kill so Tamura will handle that part. You just concentrate on taking the valuables."

Fireclaw turned to Tamura. "Agatha wants these people dead. All of them. Your orders are to kill everyone you find in the house!"

"Understood, love!" Tamura replied, dipping her head to him.

Fletcher was horrified. Stealing was bad enough, but now he was going to have to be involved in a murder?

"Come, peasant. We need to get moving if we are to make it to Gringsford by nightfall!" Tamura demanded.

May the great Gryphon Gods forgive me for this… Fletcher said to himself as he followed her out the door. The two gryphons flew to the northern port of Gringsford. Neither of them spoke to one another as usual. Fletcher's heart raced in anticipation of what was coming. He dreaded every bit of this trip. He simply could not allow this to go on. Fletcher knew that he would have an opportunity to attack Tamura while she tried to kill the occupants of the house. He would have to strike quickly and put her down before innocent blood was shed. The young gryphon had hoped he would never have to shed the blood of another gryphon but if anyone deserved death, it was Tamura. Fletcher utterly detested her almost as much as he hated Agatha. As much as he hated working for Fireclaw, at least Fireclaw treated him well. Tamura, though, treated him like dirt and was always cruel to him.

Finally the agonizingly long flight came to an end. They city of Gringsford lay sleeping beneath a starry night sky. The two gryphons landed on a rooftop and Tamura eyed a large house across the street from where they stood.

"Don't worry about taking the gold right now. Let me deal with the prey first!" Tamura ordered. She leaped down from the roof, gliding down to the street below.

Fletcher detested the way she referred to the people she was about to kill as "prey".

At this late hour everyone was asleep so the gryphons did not have to worry about being spotted. Fletcher prepared for what was coming next. He needed to wait until Tamura was vulnerable before he took her down. He wasn't sure what he would do after he killed her though. Fireclaw would certainly come after him seeking retribution.

Tamura charged toward the house's wooden door and threw her body against it, breaking it in with a loud crash. Fletcher entered the house behind the grey female. The two gryphons were just barely able to squeeze through the narrow doorframe. Moments after they entered, a door opened and a man wearing a nightgown and holding a candle entered the room, no doubt coming to investigate the noise. The instant he entered the room, Tamura pounced upon the hapless stranger, pinning him to the floor. The man let out a terrified cry as the gryphon held him down with her left paw while raising her right, ready to fillet him with her talons.

Fletcher prepared to make his move when suddenly a tiny voice called out, "Daddy?"

Both gryphons and the man who Tamura pinned beneath her talons turned and saw a little girl standing in the door way. A woman entered moments later, screaming in shock at the scene before her. Tamura seemed surprised and puzzled by the presence of the child. Fletcher decided to take advantage of the distraction and put her down for good. Crouching down, he prepared to pounce upon her and end her reign of terror for good.

To be continued...

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