By Ember

She walked through the snow, the tiny flakes falling one by one from the endless grey sky. She shifted through the white with her beak, dissapearing for a second except as an oddly-shaped mound of snow. The cold and wet felt good against her beak, which grew warm the longer she walked. It hurt, to watch the sky. It hurt to remember.

It had been long, long ago, but she could still feel the rain sting her face as the wind pummeled her flank. She could still remember the frozen ocean beating the rocks without mercy, the wind howling it's rage against their tough resolve. She was like that, once; her paws numbed from frigid waters, her eyes constantly blinking to keep from freezing over, half- frozen rain melting between every feather, yet facing forward, never moving at another's will. She was waiting.

They would come, she knew. From the sea in the east, the mountains in the west; the tundra in the north and jungles in the south, they would come. And they did come. Like moths to flame, they flew, horrendous mutations of gryphon and dragon and chimera, their frog-like mouths open wide, to display shark teeth and screaming their bloodcurtling wails. They were the demons of the earth, and were sent by some unknown, vengful god to ravage the world of man and gryphon and dragon.

She was the last of the Black Mountain gryphon clan, proud and noble and brave. Alone she waited for the monsters, alone on the rocks by the water. She knew they would come. They knew she would wait.

A life is a funny thing. She threw herself into the air, catching the wind beneath huge, broad wings, knowing she would die against the millions of monsters. And yet she was not afraid. She would not hide. Why fight for another? Are you not as important as he? And yet, is he not as important as you? And what of everyone else her reckless suicide would save? However- is the value of life measured in the quantity of lives it represents?

They came, and she was not afraid. She thought they could do nothing worse than kill her. She was wrong. They came, bearing fire and ice and water and wind, anything to tear her body and soul apart and leave her a wreck on the ocean- and wind-whipped rocks. But she was ready. She would never let them go, and they would never destroy another soul again.

She spun in midair, surrounded on all sides. They were eagar for the bloodying, they were eagar for the kill. She screamed, a loud, throaty sound, and invoked the Final Strike, the Final Magick, the last attack of the earth against Hell. The fire came from the earth itself, but was filtered through her. It tore her apart, whipped out at her wings, at her paws, and she floated, letting the terrible, burning agony keep her aloft and awaiting the release.

But the demons were terrible creatures, made simply to kill and love killing. They were not going to let her soul survive. In their last breaths, they invoked a final curse as one wizard- the curse of immortality. She fell, fell and fell, into the ocean. The frigid waters sucked at her life, draining her to blissful oblivian she had waited to take her forever.

She found herself cold and sodden, knocked brazenly onto the rocks. She scrambled to her feet, coughing out water that lodged itself in her lungs, and shook her head. She felt dizzy- and both heavy and far too light. Her right forepaw wouldn't take any weight she put on it. And her wings-

Oh, god. Her wings.

The right one was cut off at the joint, a three-foot stump, burned clean. The other was still bleeding, though the cold had slowed it. It was barely a stump. Neither had many feathers, except for charred stumps.

In shock, she slipped on the rock's smooth surface, and found something that should have been obvious in the first place- the rocks, who stood so viligantly against their tormenters, were worn away by the wind and water. Each year that they refused to move, more of them were devoured by the elements that they defied so grandly.

She walked away.

It had been years. Her magic, too, was drained by the years. The other two clans had given members to replenish the Black Mountain clan, and remembered the white gryphon; the gryphon who no longer remembered herself. The summers and winters beat relentlessly on her soul, carrying away and devouring what little there was left. She was alone still. She would always be alone.

She wasn't looking where she was walking, and only a defiant screech warned her before she crushed a tiny house, a half-circle lovingly crafted of dung, mud and sticks. A sparrow, tiny and timid, glared unfrightened at her, dragging a ruined wing behind her as she interposed herself between the gryphon and her frozen eggs. A mother, who had laid too late and lost her eggs to winter, but never given up on them hatching, and never would. One like her, at whom winter tore at with iron dagger. One like her, unable to take the the skies, unable to mate with the wind and course through the clouds and love life and everything in it.

The white gryphon looked down at the sparrow, sudden agony tearing at her heart. The bird was not an intelligent being, and kept screaming warnings to the monster that threatened her roost. The gryphon watched the bird, and the bird watched back, and with the agony still burying deep, the white gryphon crushed the tiny sparrow under her foot.

The last of her sould died with the broken-wined bird. Numbly, she walked away.