Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quests Episode Six: The Legend of the Griffin

Read the series prologue here.

Read episode five here.

Episode Six: The Legend of the Griffin

Lilac flapped her pale purple wings as she drifted over the vast green canopy of Fairy Wood. She angled west toward the towering shapes of the Emerald Mountains. On most days she liked seeing their deep green shapes which rose above her forest home like silent guardians. Today, though, they seemed ominous.

Terrible rumors had spread through the woods that some disaster had caused the dwarves to shut down their new mine. Lilac was appointed messenger by the queen and asked to go to one of the nearby mines to see if she could discover the truth behind the gossip. Gliding above the jagged peaks, Lilac spotted the shafts which freckled the mountainside. She flew lower, reaching one of the shafts and hovering before the semi-circular opening cut into the rock face and surrounded by short grass and a couple scraggly pines. The tiniest patch of snow lay to the right of the cavern, protected by the shadow of a tree. Taking a deep breath, Lilac flew through the gaping hole and into the darkness it held.

The air was cool and smelled of earth. Dust rested heavy on Lilac’s tongue. The mine was made of dark stone supported by thick wooden beams every few feet. Here and there a solitary lantern cast its pale glow, illuminating side tunnels and carts filled with ore. Lilac flew carefully to avoid brushing her wings on the rough walls and navigated around the machinery.

Following the noise of chiseling and a collection of bobbing lights, Lilac floated down a tunnel until she saw a group of dwarves with long tangled beards. The miners wore grimy overalls and metal caps containing headlamps. “Excuse me,” she said, but her voice was drowned out by the ring of hammers and pickaxes, so none of them heard her.

She flew on and on through the dark echoing recesses of the mine, but all the dwarves were so busy they barely noticed her. As she turned a sharp corner a headlamp shone in her eyes and a grey bearded dwarf nearly ran into her.

“Out of my way fairy!” he boomed, swinging the light to the side a bit so the beam was no longer trained on Lilac’s face.

“What’s a fairy doin’ in here?” asked a black bearded dwarf coming to stand beside the first. “Don’t ya know this place is dangerous?”

“I’m sorry,” said Lilac, lowering the hand she had lifted to block the glare of the light. “I’ve been sent by the queen of Fairy Wood to find out what happened to the new mine in the south.”

“It’s been shut,” snapped the one with the black beard.

“Yes, but why?” asked Lilac.

“A bunch of miners were killed by a humaviper,” said the grey bearded one. “It was terrible!”

“Yeah,” agreed the other. “Those that weren’t killed come to work at the other mines, bringing goblins with ’em.”

“If only the griffins still guarded the mines,” said grey beard. “We wouldn’t run into problems with goblins and humavipers with them watching out for us.”

“Griffins?” Lilac repeated, confused.

“Yes, griffins,” said the black bearded one. “They be a magical cross between a lion and an eagle.”

“I know what a griffin is; I just didn’t know they guarded the mines.”

“Used to guard,” black beard amended. “They was the guardians of all secret treasures until the great war of magic. They went off to fight like everyone else, but when the war ended they went their own way. They haven’t guarded our treasures for years. Mighty shame, too. We had less attacks when they guarded the mines.” He sighed. “Those was the golden years. They’re over now. We must accept it and move on.”

“But can’t you find griffins who still want to help you?” asked Lilac.

The two dwarves threw back their heads and laughed.

“My dear,” grey beard explained, “if our treasures meant anything to the griffins they would have returned long ago.”

Lilac considered this.

“We should get back to work,” said black beard. “Bye fairy girl.”

“My name’s Lilac.”

“It was nice talking to you, Lilac,” said grey beard.

“What are your names?” Lilac asked.

Grey beard smiled.“Silverthorne,” he said pointing to himself, “and Farushin.” He pointed to the other dwarf.

“It was nice to meet you both,” she said politely.

Silverthorne tipped his cap to her as the two dwarves went their way.

Lilac returned to the entrance and squinted in the daylight beyond it. The world seemed incredibly bright after the dim interior of the mine. She rested on one of the small pines until her eyes adjusted, then headed home, turning over what the dwarves told her about griffins the whole way. When she arrived, she reported to the queen and fairy court how the new mine had been closed because of the attacks. The news caused quite a stir in the forest. A few days later, Lilac joined Lilly, Reuben, and Wispen for a picnic lunch on the banks of the Farawad. As they ate, she told the others about her conversation with Silverthorne and Farushin.

“Wow,” said Lilly once Lilac finished. “I knew that griffins guarded treasure, but I never knew that meant the dwarf mines!”

“Dragons guard treasure too!” said Reuben. “Why can’t they get a dragon as a guard?”

“Dragons don’t guard treasure, they hoard it,” Lilly retorted. “They might as well hire a thief as a dragon for all the good it would do.”

Rueben muttered something rude, but no one took any notice.

“I know where the griffins’ nests are,” Wispen volunteered. “I could show you if you like.”

“That’s a nice offer,” said Lilac, “but I don’t see what good it would do. The dwarves seemed pretty sure that no one could talk them into coming back if they didn’t want to.”

“We don’t need to talk them into anything,” Wispen replied.

“What?” cried Lilac and Lilly in unison. Even Reuben was interested.

Embarrassed, Wispen stared at the ground. “I just meant there is an easier way,” he mumbled.

“Please, tell us!” Lilac exclaimed.

“Well, we could find a griffin’s egg,” Wispen began, “and give it to the dwarves. They could care for the egg. When it hatches, they could raise the griffin to be their new guardian, just like in the old days.”

“Wow, you’re a genius!” Lilac cried with enthusiasm. “That’s a great idea!”

“And you say you know where the griffins make their nests?” asked Lilly.

“Oh yes,” said Wispen. “There are quite a few nests on the cliffs at the western edge of the forest.”

“Wispen, I really think your idea could work,” said Lilac. “I’d like it if you would show me the nests.”

“I hope you know that you’re not leaving me out of this adventure,” Lilly added.

“I want to come too!” Reuben chimed in.

So they decided that they would all go together. They set out a couple days later, crossing the river and traveling west toward the cliffs at the base of the mountains. At first the others worried that Wispen might not be able to keep up with them. He was the only member of the group who could not fly. Lilly offered to carry him, but he refused saying that he would do just fine on the ground. They were surprised by how well he kept pace with them. He was never so far behind the flyers that they had to take more than a few minutes to spot him.

At first the forest was peaceful. Sounds of bird song drifted to them and they could see a variety of animals moving on the ground below. Then the wind came up carrying the fresh smell of coming rain. Thunder rolled. Dark clouds moved over the treetops. Rain came down gently at first, then grew harder and harder in a steady rhythm. Soon water beat against their skin, causing it to sting. The wind and ever growing pellets of water alternated between stretching their wings tight and forcing them down. The muscles in their backs ached from flapping and fighting the angry elements to stay aloft. Lilac felt that her sore wings could no longer hold her.

“We should take cover before we damage our wings,” she called over the noise of the storm.

The others agreed. They landed as quickly and gently as they could, hiding in the shelter given by the low hanging branches of a nearby pine tree. Lightning flashed around them.

“Where’s Wispen?” Lilly yelled as the rain turned to hail. Lilac and Reuben both admitted they didn’t know. In a flash of lightning they saw Wispen crouched beneath another tree a short distance away. There was a sudden flash and a loud, BOOM! The fairies ducked as a shower of splinters fell around them. Looking up again, they cried in alarm as they beheld the tree Wispen had been standing under, its side a splintered, smoldering ruin created by the lightning. Just then the gnome stumbled alongside the other fairies.

“Wispen, are you all right?” Lilac asked.

“I’m fine,” he assured them, and aside from being out of breath, he really looked fine.

“You’re amazing!” said Lilly. “You move at lightning speed and aren’t harmed when lightning strikes.”

“He’s the Lightning Gnome!” Reuben exclaimed.

The others rolled their eyes.

After the storm ended, Lilac and Reuben walked on the ground with Wispen while their wings dried. Lilly’s wings hadn’t been much affected by the rain so she drifted in the air above the others. Before long, Reuben complained that his feet hurt.

“Don’t worry,” said Lilac. “We’ll be flying again before you know it.”

Once their wings were no longer heavy from water, they took to the air. Reuben darted here and there so fast even his pixie light was hard to see. Lilac and Lilly were afraid he might get lost so they told him to stay close to them and stop wandering through the woods. Then he complained that his wings hurt.

“Can’t we take a rest?” he whined.

“No,” Lilly replied. “We want to reach the cliffs as quickly as possible, and resting won’t help us do that.”

“But are we even close to the cliffs?” asked Reuben.

“They shouldn’t be too much farther,” said Lilly.

She found, however, that the cliffs were far enough away to give her and Lilac time to get plenty tired of Reuben’s whining. It became so irritating that when they caught their first glimpse of the towering rocks Lilly breathed, “Thank goodness!”

Lilac distracted Reuben from his imagined troubles by saying, “Look Reuben, there are the cliffs. Do you see any griffins?”

The pixie was so excited he forgot that he was supposed to stay near Lilly and Lilac. He flew ahead of them and came back a few minutes later to announce, “I did see griffins, lots of them!”

The others soon saw them too. The cliffs were covered in nests. Griffins sat on some of them, while more of the creatures circled in the air above their heads.

“Wow,” said Lilly. “There are a lot of them.”

“Well, we made it,” said Lilac, “but now what should we do?”

Just then they noticed Wispen waving at them to come down. They landed gracefully on the ground beside him.

“All right,” Wispen began. “Now that we’re here we need to make a clear plan for how we will get the egg. First of all, we should find out how close we can safely get to the nests, without being attacked. Also, we’ll need to make something to help us carry the egg. The best time to get an egg will probably be when one of the griffins leaves its nest to hunt. Even with that griffin gone, though, we’ll probably have just enough time to grab an egg and run before another one attacks us.”

They decided to begin work on making a basket out of twigs and string to carry the egg. They attached it to two long tree branches, one on either side, which would serve as carrying poles. They also took turns scouting around the cliffs. The idea was to see who could get closest to the nests. It ended up that Wispen always managed to get closer than anyone else. The griffins seemed to think he was less of a threat since he came on the ground, while the others came by air. When the basket was finished they took it for a test flight toward the cliffs. Lilac and Reuben carried one end of the basket, Lilly, who was slightly bigger than the others, carried the other. Since he couldn’t fly, Wispen sat inside the basket and called tips to the others. They had agreed that when the time came Wispen would put the egg in the basket and watch over it on the flight to mines.

They only made it about halfway to the cliffs when several griffins launched themselves off the rocks and circled the basket watching the fairies with their sharp eagle eyes. One dark brown griffin blinked then gave a cry which seemed to be a signal to the other griffins for they all dove at the basket. Lilly turned her end to avoid them but only succeeded in bringing the basket broadside to the lead griffin’s claws. The great beast scratched at the basket until it hung to the right hand pole by a single string.

Wispen waved his arms and shouted, “Shoo!” at the top of his voice but this only angered the griffins who snapped at him with their hooked beaks. More claws flashed past the fairies and the tip of one brushed Lilac’s arm leaving a small scratch.

“Head for the trees!” Lilac screamed. “We have to get under shelter before they kill us!”

Wispen grabbed the sides of the tattered basket as the other fairies turned and veered towards the canopy of the woods with griffins streaming behind them. They navigated between the trunks and downward to the safety the forest’s green depths offered. The griffins pulled up at the canopy deciding it wasn’t worth their trouble to navigate their large bodies between the thin gaps of the woods. About a foot above the ground the last string holding the basket in place snapped. Reuben and Lilly lost their hold on the right hand pole which fell free and rolled under a bush. Wispen topped out of the basket and tumbled across the mossy forest floor.

“Are you okay?” Lilac called to him as Lilly set down the ruined basket.

“I’m fine,” he said, “but now we’ll have to make major repairs to our egg carrier.”

“I think we need to find a better way to get to the nests too,” added Lilly.

“I guess that means we go back to scouting,” Lilac sighed.

As they finished the repairs, Lilly took her turn scouting. She was exploring a new area which they hadn’t looked at very closely yet. She went through the routine, flying close to the cliffs and angling upward toward the nests. When she heard the griffins’ warning screeches she turned to retreat into the woods. This time, however, a griffin was coming at her from that side as well! The griffin gave an angry cry and swooped at her. Lilly turned and sped along the side of the cliff, beating her wings as fast as she could in order to keep ahead of her pursuer.

Just as she began to fear that she wouldn’t escape, she noticed a crevice in the cliff face. She flew into it just in time. The griffin screeched and clawed at the opening, causing bits of rock to flake off, but it was too big to fit through. Finally the creature flew away, and Lilly breathed a sigh of relief. She decided to wait a few minutes before coming out of hiding. While she waited, she explored. The crevice was small; no more than a spilt in the rock caused by erosion, but Lilly was sure a few more people her size could fit comfortably inside. She flew to the top of the crack and peered over the edge. She found herself staring directly at a large griffin’s nest.

When Lilly returned to the others she excitedly told them what she had seen.“It’s the easiest way we’ve found to reach a nest yet!” she said. “The only hard part will be getting inside the crack.”

“Speaking of the crack, are you sure the basket will fit inside it?” asked Lilac.

“Oh yes, it should be no problem,” Lilly reassured her.

“Maybe we’ll have better luck if we walk the first bit,” Wispen suggested. “The griffins seem less threatened by things moving on the ground than those in the air.”

“Good idea!” said Lilac and Lilly.

The next morning they put this plan into motion. As they crossed the area between the woods and the crevice, the group was closer to running than walking. Once they were inside the crack Lilly took hold of both poles on her side. Then Wispen climbed inside the basket, and the fairies slowly lifted it into the air.

At the top, they looked cautiously over the edge before proceeding. Reuben had assured them that the griffin had left the nest, but they wanted to make sure he was right. Once they were certain that the coast was clear, they hovered beside the griffin’s nest and held the basket even with it. Wispen jumped into the nest and looked around him. There were six large off-white eggs, partially covered in brown feathers. The gnome brushed the feathers off the closest egg, and rolled it to where the fairies were waiting. At the edge of the nest he had to lift the egg over a small rim and ease it into the basket. The fairies lost a little altitude with the sudden weight, but regained it a moment later. Wispen grabbed an armful of feathers and tucked them between the egg and the sides of the basket, to cushion the fragile shell on the journey.

The gnome then stepped back inside the basket and the fairies took off, flying away from the cliffs. As they veered south they heard griffins screeching and the thud of huge feathered wings beating the air.

Lilly tilted her head back then announced, “Here they come!”

Lilac, Rueben and Wispen also glanced up and their eyes widened in fear. Five of the largest griffins they had ever seen circled over their heads in a predatory fashion. A great golden-brown creature let out an ear piercing shriek, tucked in her wings and dove toward the basket. They fairies flapped their wings hard and fast but they weren’t as fast as the griffin. She leveled out over the basket with her talons extended and grabbed at the egg. Wispen threw his arms over it to protect it then cried out in surprise as the griffin’s talons closed around his stocky body.

“Wispen!” Lilac yelled as the griffin lifted him out of the basket.

“We have to lose the rest of these griffins!” said Lilly, “With them chasing us we have no chance of helping Wispen.”

Lilac nodded. They turned and dropped toward the trees moving so fast that a few branched slapped them before they slowed and came to a stop on the forest floor. They pulled the basket into a thicket of bushes as they heard griffins crashing into the woods behind them.

“You guard the egg,” Lilac told Lilly. “Reuben and I will try to draw the griffins away and rescue Wispen.”

“Just be careful,” said Lilly.

“Ready Reuben?” Lilac asked.

“Let’s teach these griffins a lesson!” he replied.

They zipped back in the direction they’d just come passing two griffins on the way who changed course to follow the fairies. Lilac and Reuben burst through Fairy Wood’s canopy and turned toward the cliffs. Several feet in front of them two more griffins were making a game out of tossing Wispen back and forth between themselves. One of the griffins behind Lilac and Reuben screeched drawing the attention of the other two. The one holding Wispen dropped him as the griffins closed in on Lilac and Reuben.

Lilac dove toward Wispen as Reuben turned in the opposite direction yelling, “Come on griffins catch me if you can!”

Lilac flapped her wings as fast as she could, caught up to Wispen and grabbed him below his arms. Wispen grasped her waist and held on for dear life. Reuben meanwhile flew over the treetops giving off little puffs of pixie dust and hurling insults at the griffins chasing him. Lilac noticed that whenever a griffin flew through a patch of pixie dust it slowed down seeming disoriented then shook its head and continued chasing Reuben.

“Reuben, your pixie dust confuses them. Use more of it!” Lilac cried.

Reuben turned, saw what Lilac meant and flew a circle around the griffins forming a cloud of pixie dust around them.

While the griffins beat their wings in front of their faces and tried to figure out what was happening, the fairies slipped beneath the trees to rejoin Lilly. They found the sprite hovering above the ticket of bushes fighting off the last griffin with a large stick. Reuben flew forward and blew pixie dust on this griffin as well. While the beast flailed around, Lilac flew to the bush and set Wispen on his feet. The gnome assured her he was only scratched and helped pulled out the basket.

“Let’s get out of here before the pixie dust wears off and the griffins figure out what happened,” Lilac said.

The others agreed. Wispen climbed inside the basket again while the others took up the carrying poles and slipped out of the woods and into the mountains, heading south. They were relieved that no griffins followed them this time. It seemed that once the pixie dust wore off the griffins had no idea where the fairies had gone.

When they reached the dwarf mines, the fairies rested the basket on the ground in front of the shaft. Their arms were very sore by that time, so it was a relief to no longer have to carry the full weight of the egg.

Lilac flew down a mine shaft and announced to the dwarves she saw, “We’ve brought you an important gift that will one day keep out intruders. Come to the mine entrance so we can give it to you.” Word spread so fast that a large crowd of miners had already gathered at the entrance by the time Lilac returned.

She hovered in the air and announced in a loud voice, “Dwarves, we have brought you a griffin’s egg. Griffins once guarded your mines from enemies. Now this one shall renew that tradition.”

Joyful cries rang out from the dwarves. Lilac noticed Farushin pushing his way to the front of the crowd.

“Hello, fairy girl,” he called out. “So you gone and made the legend real, ay?”

“Legend?” asked Lilac in confusion.

“The legend of the griffin guardians,” Farushin explained. “That’s what they become. I never knew you’d take those old tales so seriously, yet I thank ye for it.”

Lilac wasn’t sure what to say. She smiled at the gruff miner, and to her surprise, he smiled back. Wispen gave the dwarves instructions for keeping the egg warm and taking care of the griffin once it hatched. The dwarves guarded the griffin’s egg more closely than their precious jewels.

A few months later the fairies received word that the egg had hatched. Lilac, Reuben, Lilly and Wispen were invited back to the mines to meet the hatchling. When they arrived Farushin met them at the entrance and escorted them down several tunnels until they came to a chamber in which sat a bundle of fur and feathers about the size of a sheepdog.

“Ain’t she the cutest griffin hatchling in the mountains?” he asked as the fluffy hatchling blinked her yellow eyes at them. “We named her Griffona.”

“Oh she looks so soft!” said Lilly holding out her hand to the baby.

Griffona snapped at her hand and Farushin warned, “Careful, she’s feisty!”

As Lilly pulled her hand out of reach of Griffona’s small sharp beak Reuben grinned and said, “I like her.”

“The best part’s we haven’t seen any goblins or other monsters since she hatched,” said Farushin. “Seems they’re afraid of her, even as a hatchling.”

“Then I’d say our mission was a success,” said Lilac.

“I guess it was,” agreed Farushin.

The fairies returned home, unaware that their recent adventure had earned them the hatred of the goblins. It did not take the goblins long to discover how the dwarves had gotten the egg. Beneath the ground, in their cities, the goblins were brewing trouble. This trouble was about to come to the surface.

Continue to episode seven.

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