Groyven knelt at the edge of the clearing, his hands aflame and flaring with blue. A sense of relief washed through him as he felt the amulet heat up under his touch. He watched as a crystal blue glow rapidly built around the clearing as sudden mists formed among the trees. An expectant calm stole through the forest in anticipation of the arrival of the named.
The mists started channelling into the clearing, siphoning into a spark of light that appeared in its centre. Groyven watched in awe as the great beast formed from the mists, the spark of light blindingly brilliant, making spears of light shine through its shadowy body as it materialised. Within a few short moments its body was more than just mist and light. Instead, in the absence of sunlight and bequeathed with the shadowy white glow of the full moon, a creature of monochromes presented itself.
Dappled grey and white feathers flecked with black adorned large wings at rest were tucked against its body. The grey furred body, feather-edged tail, hind legs and big paws of a large hunting cat of the plains. The wings, front legs and head of an eagle, the master of the skies. Its great hooked beak and intelligent eyes already taking in its surroundings. It was far from a small creature, filling most of the tight space between the trees. A magnificent male gryphon, large and in its prime, proud and unyielding in its presence stood before him. Groyven’s head just reaching the midpoint to its muscular shoulders and back of the great protector, the gryphon named Hendosphyre.
Even before its summoning was complete, it twisted away, its attention momentarily elsewhere. Its sharp eyes searching the darkness as it finished materialising, dropping one wing to provide a shield and turning in preparation. It immediately placed itself between Groyven and the distant sensed danger, the feathers on its neck rising. Hendosphyre spent a moment like this, listening carefully, his head cocked to the side, before turning back to Groyven. Hendosphyre’s eyes immediately observing that his master’s hands still aflame with ethereal fire and that he stood with his eyes closed in respect. The great gryphon lowered its head before the boy, settling onto its haunches. Feeling warm breath on his face, Groyven opened his eyes. Hendosphyre’s head was close, his beak almost touching his cheek.
Finding his voice, Groyven spoke, ‘Hendosphyre, thank you for coming to my call.’
The gryphon touched his beak against Groyven’s chest, almost tipping him over. He looked at his charge with a questioning expression, tilting his head quizzically.
Groyven looked at him, his expression serious, ‘It is good to see you too, great one. I would like to have done this during the day, but we are in danger.’
Hendosphyre tossed his head to the side, letting out a quiet rumble from his throat, changing his posture to an aggressive stance.
‘You felt it? It flew over us a while ago. But I can’t keep myself standing for much longer, I can feel it, everything is swimming in front of me.’
Hendosphyre nodded, waiting for Groyven to sit before settling himself lower. He listened carefully as Groyven explained what had happened since the morning on board the Lychen’s Fiddle. As Groyven finished, he brought a wing out, guiding Groyven closer to hug his thick feathered neck. Hendosphyre looked down at him, pulling him in tighter. As the boy pulled away he tilted his head towards the fire in the distance. A motion that Groyven immediately understood.
Groyven led the way back to the campsite, glancing occasionally at Hendosphyre to his side, trying to pick a wider path through the trees.
‘Are you going to investigate?’ Groyven asked, watching the great gryphon squeezing his way between some trees.
Hendosphyre shook his head and then fixed Groyven with a stare.
‘You are going to watch over us?’
Hendosphyre tipped his head and then closed both eyes and tilted his head like he was sleeping.
‘Sleep, you will watch over us while we sleep?’ Groyven asked, watching as Hendosphyre clicked his beak with a nod.
He smiled, the great protector’s innate ability to communicate exactly what it meant through body language was welcoming. Groyven stopped at the edge of the firelight, turning to the gryphon. The flickering light of the fire washing over the great one’s fur, drawing out the rich russet undertones in his pelt and turning his feathers into the fiery shades of sunset.
Groyven frowned, ‘Hendosphyre, I have a message, from Sialin. I had hoped she could give it to you herself. She says: “thank you, great one”.’
Hendosphyre nodded slowly, bringing his head in right beside Groyven’s, their eyes on each other. He carefully lifted a claw and gently touched the side of Groyven’s head, near his ear with a knuckle. Groyven nodded in understanding.
‘Yes, I am her apprentice.’
Hendosphyre looked at him knowingly, tilting his head slightly before nudging Groyven’s chest, hooking a wing around him. Groyven laughed quietly.
‘You see too much!’
Hendosphyre winked before looking back to the clearing and Tiffaniel, flicking his head. Groyven nodded, ‘Wake me before dawn. And, thank you. I was worried that I had lost you too.’
The gryphon nodded again and bowed his head, slipping back into the trees. He watched from the shadows as Groyven made his way over to Tiffaniel and laid down beside her, quickly settling himself. He stood for a few long moments, his exceptional hearing easily picking out the breathing pattern of the two children over the campfire. While listening he looked away, into the forest. It was still out there, it too was strangely sleeping, its breaths unsteady and catching on occasion. Hendosphyre closed his eyes, standing completely still, using all of his natural and enhanced senses to feel the forest, the valley and the mountains that rose above. Sensing that the valley was clear of threat and his master was sleeping soundly, he slipped between the trees. Moving with a silent gracefulness that would do any nocturnal predator proud.
Progress was slow as he had to pick his path, his broad shoulders and wings hampering his movement. Ahead, he had noticed a soft glow and headed for it. Hendosphyre stopped as a narrow clearing opened up in the forest before him, the night sky open and inviting. The moon shone in at an arc, the large gryphon looked at it intently. Turning his head, he noticed an orange star hanging in the sky, eyeing it warily, he clicked his beak. Dragging his eyes away from the heavens, he listened again. It was clearer now, the deep and steady breathing rumbling through the forest quietly, accompanied by a soft vibration underfoot.
Taking another quick look, Hendosphyre broke out from under the trees, loping across the clearing and passing into the forest on the other side. Here the trees were spaced further apart, allowing him to climb towards the ridge ahead at a run. Cresting it, he pulled up short, almost tumbling into the unexpected chasm, quickly buffeting the air with his wings, pushing himself backward to a secure footing. He settled himself, scrutinising what was before him. Uncertain, he followed the remains of the ridge, coming across uprooted and smashed trees. The moonlight shone down, lighting the depths of the chasm. Immediately he picked up his pace, following the destruction.
Finally he came to the edge of the ridge, before it angled off and down into the valley. Looking back from where he had came, it was obvious the chasm was not natural. He stopped at the fresh gouge in the soil that cut deeper the further it went, yards deep and more than a score to the other side. Trees snapped like twigs or simply torn clean out of the ground from where it had hit the ridge at speed. The gryphon observed the wreckage with respect, looking down into the valley below. Trees and soil parted down and into the valley, as if a giant plough had tilled a straight line in a dense, grassy field.
Hendosphyre could hear it clearly now, the giant of a beast sleeping off a concussion. Groyven had spoken of wings overhead, overwhelming fear and terror. The gryphon knew of such beasts that fitted the description. But what he was witnessing was beyond reason. He looked into the valley, following the line of wreckage. Needing a better vantage, he unfurled his wings, giving a quick, powerful flap and gliding to an exposed point further along. Landing, he turned, almost sliding into the torn up ground as the sight before him in the valley below demanded his full attention. Quickly scrambling up, he focused, one claw anchoring itself to a tree as he stared in a mixture of fear and awe.
A great beast it was, but of a size unlike anything the gryphon had witnessed before. In the distant past Hendosphyre had been in the presence of such creatures. But the moonlight shining off the magnificent silver scaled and armoured beast below was of a magnitude beyond his comprehension. For the first time in his long life, he felt fear. This creature that had smashed into the mountainside was not a bloated monstrosity or a freak of nature, but a muscular and sleek weapon that could tear fortresses apart without concern. He dared not get closer, for one of their kind to be out in the night like this was unwarranted. He looked back the way he had come and up at the mountain that towered above them. It was investigating a disturbance in its territory, a disturbance that had made it investigate in its most dangerous form. To think that the children’s arrival would have caused a disturbance to warrant such a response. A shiver ran down Hendosphyre’s spine as it pondered the thought.
When it wakes, all he could do if it continued the search would be to gain its attention and seek forgiveness. If it were anything like those the gryphon had been in the company of before, hiding from sight and concealing intent would be the worst path of action. Hendosphyre gave the unconscious creature one more sobering look before returning to the other side of the gouge with a strong leap and glide. Taking another look at the sky and the orange star, he slipped silently into the forest, moving quickly through the trees, making the return to his young master.