The majestic gryphon sat atop the ruined battlements near the entrance to the ruins. He was perched comfortably on the remnants of the tower that once overlooked the valley. He watched, his eyes sharp and piercing as he scrutinised the valley and forest below in the darkness. Earlier, Hendosphyre had blocked off the entrance that the children had entered through. He had stood, listening carefully to both Groyven and Tiffaniel’s reasoning with the eclipse, watching as they put the thought of being saved to rest. Their hopes of seeing their sister again falling away, replaced with a renewed bond between them. It was a significant change. A strength was within it, a strength he recognised from his previous mistress, their mother. He looked up at the red star that hung in the sky, he was in the right mind to agree, the chance of seeing their family again was beyond slim. He clicked his beak, he was especially fond of the fyrelf he had surrendered himself to a year earlier at the request of his late mistress, something about her and her spirit tickled his memory. He could feel her energy well within his master, he found it curious that their bond was so strong to still maintain itself.
He could hear the sound of his charges, the twins talking and occasional splashes of water as they bathed and cleaned their clothing in the small pool off the main flow of the river. Hendosphyre turned his head, one eye observing the twins over the wrecked battlements. Warm firelight flickered throughout the ruins, casting long shadows. Shortly after he was summoned, Tiffaniel had offered him a selection of fish that she had caught. They were almost frozen, but the taste kindled memories of more than half a century earlier when their mother and he would disappear for days at a time and explore the mountain passes and valleys near her home. He settled down, looking over the valley again, his eyes occasionally being drawn to the red star. It had been a long time since he had seen them. The smell of wood smoke from the campfire and cooking fish wafted past him as a gentle breeze glided down the mountain from behind, ruffling his fur and feathers lightly. He cocked his head slightly as he took note of Groyven’s voice over the splashes of water.
‘Tiff, the fish is almost ready. How can you stand that freezing water for so long? You have been in there for over ten minutes.’
Tiffaniel looked up, the dark water in the pool constantly being refreshed from the underground river that escaped the mountainside.
‘It is nice, I enjoy the cold water. Whenever we went to the baths it was always too warm, I couldn’t breathe. But this, I like this; this is refreshing.’ she doused her face, ‘Not like it is a problem for you, you just channel some heat and it is whatever temperature you want.’
She looked at Groyven, dressed in his underwear, a light shirt and trunks, both his and her robes drying by the fire. He stood there with her folded undergarments, similar to his own, already washed and dried and placed them near the pool’s edge.
‘Could you help me, Ven?’ said Tiffaniel.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked as he brought over the light blanket to use as a towel.
‘Ven, you spent the night before last sleeping in the arms of a naked fyrelf. Have things changed because of it?’
He shook his head, ‘I am just asking, Tiff. And Sialin was not naked.’
She moved to the edge of the pool and grasped his offered hand, pulling herself up and out with his assistance, small tendrils of steam rising off her body in the steadily cooling air. Handing her the blanket to dry herself, he quickly stripped his remaining clothes off and slipped into the water without hesitation.
‘By the gods! Cold!’ he gasped.
Tiffaniel giggled as she looked down at him, already noticing the wisps of steam rising off the water immediately around him, ‘You are cheating, Ven.’
‘Not by much. I offered to heat the water for you.’ he reached up and grabbed his undergarments, scrubbing and rinsing them quickly.
Tiffaniel slipped into her clothes and checked on the fish, lifting the skewered fish away from the fire and standing them to the side. She looked across to Groyven as he dunked his head under, washing the blood out of his hair as she placed another fish over the fire to cook. She sat on a makeshift stool of rock and watched him get out of the pool, steam rising off him in waves, his hair visibly drying as he stood.
‘Show off? Far from it. But, I can show-off if you want me to.’ he smiled and pulled his wet clothes on, ‘Watch.’
Steam started pouring off him, engulfing him in a cloud as he walked over to her, he picked up the damp blanket and flicked it out, draping it over her shoulders, now dry and warm. Sitting beside her, the last of the steam dispersed, his clothes dry.
‘Show-off.’ she said again, while he leaned forward and turned the fish over before handing her one that was cooling.
She watched him as they ate, her eyes scrutinising him.
Finishing her last bite, she frowned slightly, ‘Ven, your shoulders are getting broader.’
She could feel his eyes on her as her face grew red, ‘Ven, do you think I am looking more womanly?’
He continued to look at her, his eyes meeting hers, ‘Tiff?’
‘You would know.’ she said, keeping her eyes averted.
‘Tiff, you are my sister. Is this because of the other night and Sialin?’
‘Ven, I just want your opinion.’
Groyven looked at her, a slightly concerned expression on his face. ‘Yes, you are.’
Tiffaniel nodded slowly, ‘Ven, I don’t want us to be embarrassed in front of each other. Even when we find safety I want to be close, I want us to live together.’
‘Tiff, you are my sister, we can’t be like that.’
She stared at him, ‘Not like that, Ven. I want to be completely honest and open with you, I want us to live together. We only have each other.’
Groyven looked at her, trying to cope with her sudden shift, ‘I think I understand.’
Tiffaniel nodded as she looked at the fire, her jaw set, ‘Good. I don’t want anything, no matter how embarrassing, to get between us.’
She laughed suddenly, the sound shrill and unnatural in the night, ‘I got what I wanted, didn’t I?’
Groyven watched her as she stared at the fire with a serious look on her face. For a while they sat in silence with their thoughts.
Suddenly Tiffaniel spoke, ‘We are going to follow the river through the valley?’
Groyven nodded, ‘It would be the most logical place to come across a town, or a road, maybe a bridge, or something.’
‘Logical.’ Tiffaniel echoed, ‘We need something logical. This morning, a dragon so large that it shook the earth with its footsteps, attacked us. That is still not logical for me, the size. Where we come from they are only a myth, a story. Gone or died out before the old people destroyed the world with their quest for sci and tech. Mother told me that the dragon gods abandoned the people, and the people turned on each other, that without guidance they became poisoned. But in all of those stories, the size; they were large. But not taller than the trees.’
Groyven smiled a little, checking on the remaining fish, ‘Maybe that did not happen in this world. It is all maybe until we find someone who we can discuss what happened with, and the truth of where we are.’
Tiffaniel nodded as she regarded her brother for a moment, ‘Do you think Hendosphyre knows anything about this world?’
Groyven met her eyes with a thoughtful expression, a sudden squawk came from the wall where the gryphon had stationed himself. Groyven laughed, ‘He is listening.’ he looked over, ‘Hendosphyre, come, sit with us.’
They heard a brief flurry of feathers and the quite thuds as his paws and claws touched the ground, he approached the fire and settled himself in the open area in full view of the twins.
‘Can we ask you some questions?’ said Groyven as he looked at the Gryphon.
Hendosphyre tilted his head, making a show of listening.
‘Mother told me that you are from before the calamity, before the dragon gods abandoned the world.’
Hendosphyre nodded and looked at the both of them.
‘That silver dragon, were there any that big?’ asked Tiffaniel.
The gryphon shook his head.
‘Was there a silver dragon?’ asked Groyven.
Again Hendosphyre shook his head.
‘Is there something else that is different to then?’
The gryphon seemed to ponder the thought, before looking up at the red star in the night sky and clicking his beak.
Again the click of his beak. Both children looked at each other, then back to Hendosphyre.
Groyven thought carefully, ‘This world must be a parallel. Events happened differently here, different choices were made.’
He looked at Hendosphyre, ‘Is this world like our world, but a little different, from what you have seen of it?’
Hendosphyre nodded, taking a look at the both of them as they became lost in thought before starting to preen his feathers. Tiffaniel watched Groyven as he thought.
Groyven’s eyes rose to meet Hendosphyre’s, ‘Do you think that,’
Hendosphyre shook his head before Groyven could finish.
‘But what if,’ again Hendosphyre shook his head.
Groyven looked at his hands as they started to shake, he reached for the necklace, touching it, ‘Can you,’ and again Hendosphyre responded before Groyven finished his query, the gryphon nodded.
Tiffaniel watched the exchange with a perplexed expression.
Groyven looked at Hendosphyre, ‘I see. It could cause problems.’ and again the gryphon nodded.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Tiffaniel.
He looked to her but before he could speak, Hendosphyre clicked his beak sharply. He shared a glance with Hendosphyre, deciding to change the topic.
‘Tiff can’t summon you, can she?’
Tiffaniel looked at Groyven, noticing that Hendosphyre looked at him for a few moments before shaking his head.
‘She can summon you if her blood is on the amulet? I feel it would be good if she could do so, in case.’ Hendosphyre clicked his beak agreeably.
‘Ven, what do you mean?’
Groyven looked at her, ‘I think that if needed, you should be able to summon Hendosphyre to our side.’
Tiffaniel looked at Groyven in earnest, ‘I can summon Hendosphyre?’ she asked.