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Chapter 7: A Strange New World

Tamura awoke from a peaceful sleep, her tired body feeling rejuvenated and restored. She looked over at Fletcher who was still sleeping curled up under her wing. She had never realized before how handsome he was. Tamura's stomach gave a hungry growl and the female gryphon forced herself to her feet. She didn't want to leave Fletcher by himself but there was no point in waking him up. She wasn't going to stray far from the cave.

Tamura made her way outside and took in the world around her. The hurricane had gone and left much destruction in its wake. There were downed trees everywhere. Tamura smelled the scent of a deer nearby. Following the scent, she found the body of a deer pinned beneath a fallen tree. Though gryphons were not typically scavengers, preferring to eat fresh meat rather than dead things that had been laying around a while, Tamura was not about to turn down an easy meal. Unlike dragons, which could go days without a meal, gryphons had fast metabolisms and had to eat at least once a day. Tamura had not eaten since leaving Danthuania. The deer had only been dead for a few hours and the meat was still fresh. The gryphon hungrily dug in, eating ravenously until she was full. After a quick drink from a nearby stream, Tamura found a quiet place to relax. She climbed up onto a fallen tree and laid down across the log, letting her front and back legs dangle over the sides like a big cat and allowing the sun to warm her feathers and fur.

It felt so good to be alive right now. She closed her eyes, thinking about the future and what might lie ahead for herself and her new friend. She liked Fletcher and hoped he would allow her to stay with him. Tamura still felt like an idiot for being deceived by Fireclaw all those years. Her infatuation with him had been forced upon her at a young age. Now she realized that her feelings for him were all fake and that she had been trying to fill a gaping hole in her life by remaining with him. However, what she felt toward Fletcher was real. She just hoped that Fletcher could forgive her. It saddened her to know that he was the only person who had ever shown her real kindness.

Fletcher awoke and was surprised to find Tamura gone. He yawned and got to his feet, stretching out like a cat and then making his way out of the cave. He looked around and spotted Tamura lounging on top of the log. As Fletcher approached her, he saw the morning sunlight shining on her grey feathers and for the first time, he realized just how beautiful she truly was. Before now, he had never noticed it because he had despised her so much. But now she was a different person. As Fletcher stood alongside the log looking up at her, Tamura lifted her head and looked down at him with those icy blue eyes, a smile appearing on her face. It was the first time he had ever seen her truly happy.

"Good morning, Fletcher." Tamura said warmly.

She climbed down from the log and walked up to him, nuzzling him on the neck. This surprised Fletcher but he felt that strange warmth in his chest again. He couldn't shake the feeling that he and Tamura were meant to be together.

"Fletcher, there is something I want to tell you." She said to him softly.

"What is it, Tamura?" Fletcher asked.

Tamura sighed and looked at him. "We have both been through a lot these past couple days. Now that we're here in this new land, I want to start a new life and I want you to be a part of it, Fletcher."

I like her, but could I really love her? Fletcher asked himself.

"Tamura, are you asking me to be your mate?" he asked to which Tamura nodded.

"Were it not for you, I would be dead at the bottom of the ocean right now. You are the first and only person who has truly cared about me. Fletcher, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you." Tamura said, a pleading look in her eyes. She was afraid he would reject her.

Fletcher couldn't help but smile as the warmth spread from his heart to his whole body. He knew what it was now. It was the love that he felt for her.

Fletcher nuzzled her and spoke softly, "Tamura, I love you too."

If someone had come up to him two days ago and told him that he would speak those words to Tamura, he would have laughed called them crazy. Now there was no question that he truly wanted to spend his life with Tamura.

Tamura smiled at Fletcher, gazing at him with those icy blue eyes. "What now? We have the whole world ahead of us. Where should we go?"

Fletcher looked down, pondering this for a few moments. They could really go anywhere they wanted. Of course, there was still the issue of the two gryphons being completely unfamiliar with this land.

"I suppose we could start looking around." He suggested.
Fletcher spread his wings and took off into the sky, beating his wings as he climbed high into the sky. Tamura followed him closely, flying alongside him. Fletcher was still stunned by the recent turn of events. Someone who he had once considered a bitter enemy was going to be his mate. He let out an excited screech and performed a loop in the air. Tamura laughed as she watched Fletcher. The two gryphons headed inland away from the sea. They were soon soaring among tall, snowcapped mountain peaks and flying over deep, densely forested valleys far below. Up ahead the mountains were even taller. They seemed to stretch for miles into the sky. Though neither of the gryphons knew it, these were the mighty Boer Mountains, the highest peaks in the world. This place was isolated, with plenty of prey, water, and lots and lots of caves. All in all, it was the perfect place for a gryphon to call home. It amazed Fletcher that no gryphons had ever tried to inhabit this land before.

The two gryphons must have flown hundreds of miles in one day, leaving the sea far behind them. For the next two days they flew further and further inland staying along the front range of the Boer Mountains. The peaks were so high and the sides so steep that the valleys between the mountains never seemed to see the light of day. Fletcher had already discovered that the mountains were too high to fly over and he did not want to risk getting lost among the maze of giant peaks. Off to the west lay a vast desert which neither gryphon was willing to venture across right now.

One evening, Fletcher found himself perched on a rock by a small stream. The gryphons had stopped to rest for the night and it was Tamura's turn to hunt for the evening meal. Fletcher stared down into the dark water at his reflection. This was something that Fletcher had done often as an adolescent, staring into the water and laughing at the pudgy little gryphonling that he was. The reflection that stared back at him now was very different though. This was no adolescent, but instead a handsome, full grown adult. Fletcher thought about how his life had changed recently. He no longer had a home or a family to go back to in Danthuania. This land was his home now. This was just as much a new start for Fletcher as it was for Tamura. He was finally ready to come to terms with the loss of his family. He had Tamura now and hopefully someday they would have a family of their own. It was odd thinking about such things. Fletcher had never considered the idea of becoming a father before. He wasn't sure how good of a father he would be.

The gryphon's ears perked up as he heard wingbeats approaching. Tamura circled once overhead and then landed gracefully on the ground, clutching in her talons the biggest goat Fletcher had ever seen.

"This was the smallest one I could find!" the female gryphon explained.

"Apparently everything here is big, the mountains, the goats…" Fetcher started to say.

"And the wolves!" Tamura added, a sound of shock in her voice. "I saw some of them prowling about on my way back here! They're monsters! Perhaps we should eat someplace high off the ground. I do not wish to tangle with those predators! They will come running when they smell the blood from this kill!"

Fletcher had always detested wolves, seeing them as nothing more than just mangy thieving mutts who steal food from other animals. He was certain he could take them in a fight. However, for someone like Tamura, a highly skilled warrior, to sound so unnerved by these creatures, Fletcher knew they must be pretty scary. At that moment, both gryphons heard the sound of a loud howl not very far away. Without another word, Tamura grabbed the dead goat with her talons and took off, followed by Fletcher. The gryphons landed atop a rocky pinnacle, high out of reach of anything on the ground. Tamura set the goat down and nudged it toward Fletcher, offering it to him. She backed up a couple steps and stared at him, smiling. Fletcher eagerly dug in, eating his fill and then letting Tamura finish the rest. The goat was bigger than what either of the gryphons were used to and there was actually a little meat left over.

Fletcher found a cave high up off the ground for them to spend the night in. It overlooked the valley just as his old cave back in Danthuania had. After the sun went down, Fletcher and Tamura sat at the mouth of the cave, gazing up at the stars. The skies here were so dark and clear that the entire cosmos seemed to be visible. Every now and then a shooting star would streak across the sky. Tamura leaned against Fletcher's shoulder and purred softly. He covered her with one wing, holding her close to him. Though the mountain air around them was freezing, the two gryphons were never bothered by the cold temperature. They had their feathers, fur, and each other to keep them warm. All was quiet outside except for the occasional hoot of an owl.

"Fletcher, do you think we could settle here? This valley would be ideal for raising a family." Tamura asked, gazing out over the valley.

"I suppose. It is quite peaceful here. We would have it all to ourselves too." Fletcher said with a smile.

Tamura buried her face in the feathers on his chest, humming softly. Fletcher wrapped his wings around her, feeling the warmth of her body against his.

"I love you, Fletcher." Tamura whispered, lying down on the floor of the cave. She looked at him and opened her beak as if she wanted to say something but couldn't seem to find the words. "Fletcher… I… I think I'm ready." she said in a quiet voice.
When he saw the look in her eyes and realized what it was that she wanted, Fletcher smiled and nuzzled Tamura's cheek gently, his eyes gleaming.

  • *

The city of Illiria stood proud and gleaming in the heart of Alagaesia. Having been renamed after the fall of Galbatorix, Illirea had been restored to its former glory and was now the new headquarters of the Dragon Riders. Tall buildings that appeared to be held up only by magic toward thousands of feet in the air, elegant fountains, lush gardens, and wide streets to accommodate dragons were the primary features of the city. At the center of it all stood a grand fortress-like structure where the Riders and their dragons lived.

Mirriana was mesmerized by the spectacular city that loomed ahead, gleaming against the night sky. The night air was warm and the sounds of crickets chirping could be heard everywhere. The night sounds, combined with the spectacular skyline of Illirea ahead, created a surreal and peaceful atmosphere.

Mirriana strode alongside Arion as they walked down a dirt road on the outskirts of the city. Cadius padded along beside them. For the past two months, Arion had searched for Mirriana's brother and for those responsible for the deaths of Windstrider, Elees, and Tas. Sadly, Agatha had covered her tracks well and no evidence linking her to the murders had been found. Mirriana had never gotten a clear look at Agatha and would not have recognized the woman if she had seen her. Disappointed and heartbroken, Arion decided to return to Alagaesia with his new little friend. It saddened the elf to think that Mirriana would have to go through life knowing that the person who murdered her family would never be brought to justice. Arion had become very attached to Mirriana during his time with her. He loved her adorable appearance and her sweet and caring nature.

Over the past two months, Mirriana had matured considerably. While she was still just childlike in her behavior, she now showed a remarkable level of emotional maturity for one so young. No longer did she scamper along playfully at Arion's feet. Now she carried herself elegantly with her head held high with pride.

Mir suddenly looked up at a tree as Arion passed under it. The young gryphon crouched low and sprang into the air, flapping her wings as she flew up to the upper branches of the tree, vanishing into the foliage. Arion heard the sound of the gryphonling rustling about in the leaves and moments later, Mir jumped down, landing at his feet clutching a dead squirrel in her beak. She sat down and tore hungrily into the carcass. It was easy to forget that despite her sweet personality, Mirriana was still a meat-eating predator.
It pained Arion to think of her growing into an adult gryphon. He knew her innocence wouldn't last forever. Still, he was proud to be her friend and guardian and he would love and care for Mirriana for as long as he could. As morbid as it sounded, especially considering that Arion was an elf, he felt proud of Mir for catching that squirrel. It meant that she was learning to hunt and fend for herself. He had worried that he was making a mistake by bringing the gryphon home with him. He worried that she would be forever handicapped by being away from her own kind. Now, it looked as if Mir would do just fine in Alagaesia. Her hunting instincts came naturally to her.

After Mir had picked the bones clean, Arion chuckled as he knelt by Mirriana's side, stroking the top of her head gently. "Well done, little one." He congratulated her, scooping her up in his arms.

Mir let out a gentle purr and laid her head across his shoulder. Arion pointed to the beautiful city and said, "That is your new home, Mirriana. I am confident you will like it there."

"I hope so, Arion. It would be so wonderful to finally be able to relax and not have to travel anymore." The gryphonling replied, gazing once more at Illirea.
Arion set the gryphonling down and said, "You are getting heavier, Mir. Soon I will no longer be able to carry you."

Mirriana was saddened by that thought as she loved it when Arion cradled her in his arms and tickled her belly. Still, she knew she was outgrowing that.

"Perhaps it is for the better. I'll not be a gryphonling all my life."

Cadius looked at Arion. She has grown so much over the past two months.

The elf replied telepathically to his dragon, Yes, she will be a fine adult some day. It is just sad that she has been robbed of her childhood. No one should ever have to face what she has at such a young age.

Mirriana has grown stronger because of it though, Arion. She has grown more mature and she has begun to master flight as well. Considering what she has gone through, I would say she is doing very well. And you are right, Arion, Mirriana will grow into a strong and beautiful adult gryphon someday.

The elf picked Mirriana back up and placed her on his shoulder. He looked up at Cadius and said, "Let's fly the rest of the way. I don't feel like walking."

The Dragon Rider climbed into the saddle on Cadius's back and the dragon took off into the night sky, flying with great speed toward Illirea. Mirriana climbed down from Arion's shoulder and sat on his lap, watching the scenery low past. The dragon navigated through the canyon of towering buildings until he arrived at the fortress that the Dragon Riders called home. After Arion and Mirriana had climbed down , Cadius bid them goodnight.

I shall be in the dragon keep if you need me. The green dragon said, taking off into the sky once more.

"This way." Arion beckoned Mirriana. He walked down the long and cavernous corridors of the huge structure. The building was designed to accommodate dragons so naturally it was massive inside. The clicking of Mirriana's little talons on the stone floor echoed through the halls. She stayed close to Arion, not wanting to get lost I this big place. They walked up several flights of stairs and finally arrived at another long corridor three floors up. There were wooden doors lining each side of the hall. Unlike other parts of the building, this hall was not big enough for dragons to enter, having been designed solely for two-leggeds to live in. Mirriana followed Arion until he stopped in front of one of the doors. He placed a small key in the lock and opened it, revealing a small apartment.

There were a couple of wooden chairs with cushions, a table, a wardrobe, a small washroom and a single bed. There were a few cabinets and bookshelves lining the walls. Above the bed was a pair of small windows revealing the starry sky overhead. Mirriana bounded over to the bed and leaped upon it. Arion went into the washroom to clean up since it was a custom for elves to bathe daily. After getting cleaned up and changing into clean clothes, the elf joined Mirriana, climbing into bed. The gryphonling climbed under the covers, snuggling beside Arion. The elf couldn't help but smile. Mir glanced up at the window, gazing up at the starry sky. Not a day went by that she didn't miss her family, especially her mother and Fletcher. And yet somehow, Mirriana had the feeling that her brother was alive somewhere. She silently made a personal vow to find him.
"Good night, Mirriana." Arion whispered, closing his eyes.
Mir nuzzled his cheek with her beak and whispered back, "Sleep well, my friend."
She laid her head across his chest and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep and dreaming of happier days with her brother.

  • *

Fletcher awoke the next morning to see sunlight shining into the cave. He yawned and looked down at Tamura who was resting against his side. Neither of them had gotten much sleep and Fletcher still felt exhausted. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep now that it was morning so Fletcher slowly got to his feet and stretched. Tamura stirred and opened her eyes.

"Morning already?" the female gryphon said with a groan.
She stood up and stretched as well before venturing outside. Fletcher followed her as they returned to the rocky pinnacle where they had left their kill from the day before. Finding that scavengers had not been able to get the meat from its high perch, both gryphons proceeded to finish off what was left.

Fletcher turned to his mate and asked, "So, are you sure you want to settle here, Tamura?"

Tamura nodded. "I am positive. This place is ideal for us to raise our hatchlings when they come."

The gryphons decided to thoroughly explore the valley before deciding whether to stay there or not. Fletcher wandered through the woods, gazing up at the unusually tall trees that seemed to grow in the valley. This place was magnificent in every way. The gryphon wandered absentmindedly, admiring the natural beauty all around him until a sudden distressed screech from Tamura snapped him back to reality. He didn't know what she was screeching about but in the next instant, Fletcher felt something tighten around his left front leg. His left forefoot was yanked violently out from under him and pulled into the air by a thin metal wire. He had walked right into a snare trap. The jerking motion was so violent that it yanked the gryphon clean off his feet and there was a sickening cracking sound as his left front ankle broke at the joint. Fletcher screamed in agony as the searing hot pain shot through his leg. Tamura rushed over to him and cut the wire with her beak. Fletcher lay there for a moment on the ground, panting and staring down at his left front forefoot which now stuck sideways at a weird angle.

"I'm sorry, love. I tried to warn you about the trap but it was too late!"

Tamura bent her head down and clipped the wire from his ankle with her beak. She then helped Fletcher to his feet, careful not to jostle his broken leg. Fletcher winced as he held his foot off the ground, unsure of what to do now. There was the sound of wingbeats overhead and a large red dragon landed nearby. His scales were a blood red, as were his eyes. He cocked his head as he gazed curiously at the two gryphons. Tamura stepped in front of Fletcher, crouching down, flattening her ears back and lashing her tail from side to side like a cat ready to pounce on prey.

"Stay away from my mate!" the grey female hissed, seemingly unafraid to challenge this dragon that was ten times her own size. Fletcher was fearful for her safety. He wanted to tell her to run but he knew Tamura's pride would never let her do that, now would she be willing to abandon him. Fletcher dreaded what was going to happen next. With his leg injured, there was nothing he could do to help Tamura if things turned violent.
To be continued…

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