Chronicles of the Griffin: Remnants
In the part of the secluded continent known only by the legend-speakers as the Endless Canyon, clouds blanketed and placed the great earthen fissure in quiet mystery. Protected by a dark mountain range that rose to the sky like a barrier, plagued on its peaks by an endless winter, nothing other than creatures of a thirst for shadows had ever laid foot nor paw on the plant-less rocky desert of stone. What other true and sentient creatures lived there only had their home in the canyon itself, where only the darkness of night penetrated the harrowing cliffs.
That night marked the beginning of a new cycle. The moon was absent, a giant black orb among an ebon sky dotted with stars, lights that never once died since worlds gave birth to worlds. The dark side of the moon granted power to the shadows of the mountains. It was a night of tradition and caution.
Among the still shadows caused by the heavy clouds over the Rim, a small one darted along the sparse outcroppings of the giant stone wall. A creature, but a griffin child, hopped and jumped silently down the walls. His claws, those like the talons of a hawk, gripped stone like a grappling hook. Eagle eyes sought out his destination with accuracy.
There was a large black circle etched below, the entrance to a grand niche that was the home of another canyon griffin like himself.
A few more steps made by less-than-lithe leonine hind paws, and the cub's body hung over the rim of the cavern. With a practice flutter of his raven wings, he leapt down inside, pads making a soft click as he landed.
"Grandfather?" his voice whispered through the pitch blackness. The child's feathered ears perked at the sounds emanating from the forbidding place, and then he relaxed as he recognized it as his own echo. With a gulp, he tried again. "Grandfather? Are you here?" he beckoned in a louder voice, hopefully not loud enough to have awoken any others in the canyon.
Eyes adjusted carefully and slowly in the night gloom. Soon enough the child could see the rough edges of the blackened rock adorned with jagged edges belonging to natural sculptures. Water that had been flowing for millions of years through rock dripped down in small clear puddles, water remaining from when it carved the canyon long ago.
The young griffin stopped and looked about, having reached the end of the den. Confused, he sat and called once again. "Are you here?"
The child jumped after two seconds, his inquiry bringing a rough grunt of a reply alongside the echo of his voice.
A few clicks sounded on the stone floor and the room illuminated a brilliant green. The glowworms crawling slowly over the moist rock face shifted together in a slow parade of light. Their glow fell on the chocolate-colored form of the griffin cub, golden eyes gazing at the breathing rock before him. An elderly griffin idly stretched his wings as he regarded the little one with a tired but kind look in his dark brown orbs. The giant's feathers were matted slightly, shimmering dull silver. Patches of his thick neck ruff and the tuft on his tail were a mix of gray and black.
War-scarred talons wrapped comfortably before the old one as he watched the child and grunted again. "Well, well, Braka…to what do I owe the company of my daughter's hatchling?" he laughed as the cub was beckoned closer. "Are you not supposed to be asleep?"
Braka climbed into his grandfather's outstretched talons, sitting comfortably between the rough claws. "I couldn't sleep," he replied. "The moon is gone and Father and Mother have gone as well."
The old griffin chuckled. "Ah, you were scared? Fear not, your parents are off helping in the Moonless Ritual, to protect our home from the dangers beyond the Rim. I believe I told you the legend of the ritual yester night. Besides, soon you will be recognized as a Youngling, no longer Hatchling. You will need to show bravery by sleeping on your own."
"I know, I know," the cub sighed. "But I will miss the warmth of company. And besides, tonight I wish to hear the singing, just like you told me."
The Oldling laughed, a soft booming sound. "I did say that…but the singing occurs when the moon is at the zenith. You will be asleep by then."
Shaking his head in protest, Braka replied, "I do not feel sleepy. I do not want to go back to my cavern yet."
"Then you do not need to," his grandfather smiled. "Perhaps you would like to hear another story?"
The child fluttered his wings with anticipation, for he had always loved to hear his grandfather's tales. "Yes, yes! What story?"
As he nuzzled his grandson comfortably into the warmth of his thick mane, the old male thought through the memories he had stored and the legends he had heard. "Ah, yes," he finally started, "a story about what lies beyond the Rim."
The child looked on with curiosity and excitement, listening to the elder's enchanting and strong voice as he wove a world into Braka's mind.
I will tell you now that this story is indeed true. It takes place long ago, when I too was a Youngling. This was back when there were no clouds covering the Rim and one could see beyond. The mountains were not a place of darkness, but simple rock rises in which white rain gathered on its peaks.
I had always explored beyond the forbidden Rim, back then not forbidden. The mountains are so big that it is near impossible to even fly through them. I managed to do so, but at a cost. Overcome by cold and hunger, I wondered if I was to die. When I could no longer fly, I had finally traversed the mountain.
What I saw was astonishing! The land at the base of the mountain was green and filled with hills that rolled gently. The green stretched for miles and miles, far to the edge of where the sun disappears. A stream of blue water wound through the center like a serpent. The ground, instead of being hard like the mountain, was as soft as mane fur.
I saw nothing past the great green. But as I gathered my strength and flew into it, I soon came upon a little grove of big plants with heads of green and stems of brown, rough enough to scratch skin. Lying below in the shade was a griffin just like you or I. Several of them in fact. And it was just as my own grandfather had told me in his stories of our noble families. The land of green belonged to the regal griffins.
Wondrous creatures! Fur and feathers of sunlit gold, forelegs ending not in bird talons, but cat paws!
But there is a warning. Beautiful as regal griffins are, they also contain much pride. They claim to be close to the god of creation, a white lion with eagle wings whose every flap brought wind storms. They live unlike us, in a clan ruled by a leader, which is said to be the way of the lion. As I approached, they fled, for they had never seen a creature like me as well. The regal griffins, you see, have been trying to traverse into their own family line from the rest of us. In doing so, they forget that they are not the only family of griffins alive.
So I advise, do not always believe only we exist either, for there is a world beyond the Rim, but one consumed by darkness now, nothing like in days long past. Who knows now where the regals are…live they in the mountains like serpent-tails? Or perhaps among the reclusive foresters? Not one knows now, but something must be there to simply exist, more so than the canyon, whose north feeds into the underworld and whose south stretches to the sea. I have seen it…
The child's eyes were wide with curiosity. "There is something beyond the Rim?"
Braka's grandfather hummed thoughtfully, and gave him a wink. "Perhaps. No one has ever even tried to look for generations. But enough of the story…" he said as he stretched his limbs out. "Are you tired yet?"
The cub looked to argue once more, but was stopped by a wide yawn from him, and his eyes drooped. The old griffin watched his grandson curl in his talons. There was a soft smile spared as the light of the glowworms dimmed. Amidst the gentle dripping of the ever perpetual rock streams, late into the night under the new moon rang the voices of a hundred canyon griffins.
Their prayers reached through the clouds, the only evidence of the creatures and their secluded home, protected by their magic and by spoken legend from the outside.
"Do not worry, he is safe…the child came upon his own accord."
"I will bet he only slept after one of your preposterous stories…"
Sunlight streamed on the eyelids of a sleeping griffin child. He blinked and stretched his night-stiff muscles. Staring out in a daylight-ridden cavern, the wet stone glittered with the dew of morning, and Braka remembered where he was. The glowworms were gone, as was in their nocturnal natures, chased away by the light that warmed all of creation. He slumped on the floor, disappointed at having missed the songs from last night.
The cub ordered himself to his feet and wandered toward the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, where he heard various voices which he easily recognized. Staring from the shadows as he penetrated the end, he saw the three adult griffins standing in the mouth of the cave, whose shadow covered theirs in the sunrise.
The child listened in on the conversation. "Father, why do you insist on telling this impressionable child these tales of nonsense?" a female groaned. Distinguished by the absence of a neck ruff, the fur and feathers on her entire body were black, and her eyes were dark brown. This was Braka's mother.
His grandfather wasn't affected by the question, for his aging countenance seemed to grant him more strength than did what was the last of his youth. "If I recall, you used to enjoy my tales at your age as well. And you dismiss them as mere nonsense when you know it is healthy to have an open mind when young. False or true, there is no way to tell unless one sees for himself."
"All the foolish ramblings of an Oldling," the other male seemed to growl, "The world is not the same as when you were young, it is more dangerous. That is why long ago the families here were confined to living in the canyon, protected by magic and fed by the fish that swim the streams. Braka needs to know that just as much as he needs to grow up. The time will come when he won't need any babying from us." The gruff male was Braka's father, a possessor of much strength among the griffins. His body and ruff were brown, but the underside of his wings and belly were white. The one on his belly was a broad streak that ran over his proud eagle head like a hood, and made his eyes all the more golden.
"Hmph, even if it is dangerous, there is no harm in keeping the old legends alive. Children here are deprived, their minds led to believe our ways are the only ways, that this giant crack in the ground is the only world known. Braka deserves more than to become like those children. The cub is very intelligent and proving to be quite brave." The old male's silver and black mane shook slightly as he laughed. "That is the trait of my grandson."
The father huffed. "Be that as it may, he is my son all the more. He will learn to fly, hunt, and survive like all others. Plus he will learn to keep his dignity when someday he is in the presence of a mate and her family with which he must stay, as tradition calls for." He flapped his broad wings dismissively as he added beneath his breath, "Hopefully he will do better than I did."
"Enough!" the female exclaimed to her mate, "show some respect when in the company of my father."
He seemed to glower at her, but sighed in defeat. "Just find Braka and bring him home," the male ordered as he turned and strode out of the mouth of the niche, catching the breeze with his wings and letting himself drop into the air as he started to glide away.
The two remaining adults watched him fly off, and then the old male's chuckle broke the silence. "I honestly do not know what you saw in him, daughter."
"I wonder that myself at times," she replied in a soft mock tone. "But he means well, and loves our son. He just does not understand your ways. It is best not to arouse his anger, and let Braka grow up as normal."
The Oldling scoffed. "Normal? He calls learning to catch fish hunting! My ancestors always hunted stallions. I say that if a griffin cannot hunt horses, then he might as well spawn a hippogriff!" he spat.
A sigh of exasperation accompanied a shake of the mother's head. "I know, but you do realize that nothing lives in the canyon but fish. It is a life that we have long ago learned to accept during the Great Divide, as I recall from your legend," she added with a smile. "There are no horses left."
"Not here, there is not, daughter. But beyond the mountains, and the great green, who knows? I only wish I could live forever so I could see for myself," he yawned. "Now I will go awaken Braka. There is breakfast to be found."
"No need, Grandfather, I am here," the cub announced as he stepped out into the light, revealing his colorations of a handsome brown coat mixed with splotches of black, and a streak of white that trickled down from the center of his forehead and to his chest where it enlarged into a giant creamy spot. His small wings, ebony as his mothers, flapped idly as he exercised them. He sighed quietly, for hearing that conversation was not exactly the best way to start a morning.
The grandfather smiled. "I hope that you slept well, Hatchling."
"Father…" the mother smirked tolerantly. "You may as well refer to him now as a Youngling; the ceremony will be in a fortnight." She gave her son a gentle nuzzle. "Come home now for breakfast. Father, would you like me to catch you anything?"
Flapping his wings in a grand display of strength, the elderly creature shook his head. "You've asked me that ever since you gave birth to Braka's egg…you treat me like I am old!" he laughed. "I will see you later, my daughter." He nuzzled her and lowered his voice to a whisper. "And perhaps you can escape your mate long enough for another of my tales."
The mother rolled her eyes and beckoned her son forward. "Good morning to you, father," she said in farewell as the child leapt and held on tightly to his mother's chest feathers.
The wind was cool and bracing as the female stepped out further into the light, and Braka glanced downward into what seemed like a never-ending drop to the bottom where a clear silver stream of water flowed over otherwise dry rock and dead soil. From the ledge he could see the scales of fish shimmering in the sunlight as they caught its glare. Feeling a heave, he clutched tight to his mother as she spread her black wings and flew from her father's cavern.
After a moment of recovering from the motion of lift, the cub smiled. "I can't wait until I can do this on my own."
"Me neither…it will be a relief of weight from me," the mother laughed.
"So, are you going to see Grandfather for one of his stories like he said? If so, can I come?" he asked.
The mother was silent with thought, and then softly stroked his wing feathers with a talon claw, humming quietly. "If I can get you away from your father for but two seconds."
Everyone could tell that the river was diminishing, as was the size of the fishes that the canyon griffins ate. Though it didn't seem that anyone else noticed, or cared, only one griffin did.
The night of the full moon came quickly, the ceremony for the Hatchlings to become Younglings. During the day, the moon shone little in the sky, a small orb of white faded against the patches of blue that the inhabitants could see beneath their barrier of cloud and magic that as much imprisoned as protected them. The day passed as fathers and mothers taught sons and daughters how to fly and hunt, in preparation for the night ahead.
Young Braka was of course on top of his training. With the heat of the day absorbing in his dark feathers and fur along his body, yet with the cool breezes sneaking into his skin and giving it a cold taste of its soothing breath, the day wasn't as exhausting as was expected. His father watched and trained him with eyes of stone and a will as fierce as what was shown to him in his younger days. Usually, his mate stood aside and watched the training from afar, hoping that she wouldn't be considered a burden should she interfere. Her father however tended to gently disagree, yet still he kept to her side.
The child was standing on the large outcropping that made the rocky entrance to his parents' den. He teetered on the edge, looking out into the vast amount of space that made the rest of the canyon, the rocky ledges and caverns that made the whole of his world spreading out before him, appearing much larger than it really was. The stream was below, a fresh line of water that kept surging through, minding its business, paying no attention to the feathered leonine creatures that kept residence above it.
With a grunt from behind, the source his impatient father, the son closed his eyes and allowed himself to simply plunge from the cliff face. The mother made to start after him, but she was stayed by her father's scarred talon. "He will do this on his own," he insisted, and she made the hard effort to stay.
The child plummeted into the half-a-mile-wide earthen fissure, heart racing as he felt the wind whipping at his face as his hooked beak pointed to the ground like a swift archer's arrow making its deadly force a reality. His limbs were tucked tightly to his body.
Just like Father said…Braka thought frantically as he gained remarkable speed. Passerby griffins in midair were forced to make quick turns out of the crazy child's way. Halfway into the canyon, the child spread his wings out and lifted his head, finding the wind and gaining momentum from it. The hot thermals lifted his taut muscles, and at once, he slowed and seemed to stop.
Finally, the child saw reason to open his eyes. Carefully he did, remembering to keep his wings steady this time. A few adjustments to his legs, experimenting with turning, and he glided around and back up to where his father stood beaming and his mother and grandfather sat cheering.
Braka wanted to shout with elation as the ground swept far beneath him, taunting him still with the dangerous height, trying to seize his mind with thoughts of dizziness and images of his broken and crumpled body that would end up on the ground should he fail. The child soared past that, his fears gone once and for all as his excited screech echoed throughout the canyon and brought happy replies from many of his neighbors.
He flapped to regain altitude, unlocking the secrets to defying gravity altogether. Braka in his youth became another master of the air, and the scenery that lingered miles below was no longer a ghost that gripped his fears. Instead, it was nothing but scenery, a perpetual beauty of shining waters churning with fish and flowers that grew from rocks lining its banks.
As the child flapped up and finally landed rather clumsily down on the cliff where his father faced him with a satisfied nod of his head, the mother and grandfather came out of hiding and started to wing their way towards them.
Braka caught sight of them first. "Mother! Mother, did you see me? Grandfather?" he called, unable to sustain his heart-tempered breathing of elation at his first flight.
The mother laughed and caught her son as he leaped into her feathered neck, embraced by her protective talons and shielding wings. "Yes, I saw, my darling, fantastic…you were wondrous."
As the father watched the moment between mother and son pass, his intense gaze turned toward the grandfather, who still hovered lightly around the entrance, refusing to land; for it was customary for males to honor the territory of others, especially be it the mate of his own daughter's…likewise, he was not allowed on the Oldling's territory lest he had asked permission first. His kin, however, were always welcome.
"Well done, Hatchling," the elderly creature hummed. "The ceremony will recognize you yet."
That night was the first night in his life that Braka was able to stay awake during a ceremony.
What they could see of the ebon sky was the billions upon billions of illuminated pinpricks, light intensified by an ethereal moon. No longer had the silver shadow lingered in daylight like it wanted to hide. Instead the orb took on a glow of gold with a white angel's halo along its circumference. It was larger as well; the light was reflected a thousand different ways on the surface of the river.
It was on a higher plateau further south that the ceremony took place. The canyon griffins gathered by the dozens, talons grasping the stone foundations of their perches firmly as the songs rang out. They brought all manner of age groups: Hatchlings, Younglings, Matelings, and Oldlings. There was no leader to guide the ceremony, for the canyon griffins swore to nobody but their own and their families. Braka was among a group in the front, made up entirely of Hatchlings that would be declared Younglings.
He barely conversed with the others, but they often conversed among themselves, friends and family that had come together with a common goal. The child kept an eye out for his parents and grandfather, but it was in vain…they watched from another point as they saw the symbol of their future stride to his rite of passage. Children of all sizes and colors were with him, some so small that they didn't look ready to fly yet and some with wings that were longer than his.
The older griffins suddenly grew silent and the chatter between the children stopped, childish banter turned into the respect of adults. Braka's heart pounded and his feathers ruffled nervously as he glanced about, wondering what to expect. No doubt that the others too…no matter how smug some of their expressions were…no doubt they were just as worried.
The canyon was free of all griffin noise. Not a shriek or a squeak was heard, bar perhaps for the edgy scuffling from some of the crowd. The wind instead spoke for them, whistling through the narrow rock clefts and creating melodies that blended perfectly. The Oldlings spread their aged wings wide to catch the wind's notes and the glittering moon dust gathered from the night's magic.
Everywhere, the darkness came alive, sparkling in the moon dust with the beauty of a thousand jewels suspended all around them. The dust seemed to dance intricately in the wind until they were gathered in clear glittering orbs and placed over the circle of children to rain gently down upon them. This was a ritual that embodied the belief that once a child was ready to fly, the sky would allow them to.
Braka turned his gaze to the air, as all of the other children did, and watched the moon dust orbs settle over them like ghostly spheres, and then slowly release a rain of glitter upon them. He blinked as a few landed on his face, and he froze the impulse to shake his feathers free of the dust. The sparkles accumulated on his body like shining droplets of morning dew on the grass, and so too did it do so with the other Hatchlings. Suddenly, he felt himself glow slightly brighter, and his wings felt like they were energized. With a squeal he spread them with excitement and joy, joining in a chorus of the children.
And as the wind sang, so too did the creatures. First the children, singing as if they knew the song by heart. Braka joined in, simply obeying a single thought that had popped into his mind: follow the notes. The ringing in his ears was what he followed, and as he sang, the moon dust scattered among every griffin and all erupted in song.
The children spread their wings simultaneously and dropped from the plateau, causing an arc of moon dust in their wake. Accompanied by proud parents, they sang that the ritual was complete…the skies had accepted the griffins' wings. They were no longer Hatchlings, but fully responsible Younglings.
The singing lasted long into the night, and Braka thought he had the strength to transcend the midst of the griffins, the Rim, the sky, and the moon. He wondered whether he could bypass the barrier.
He knew he couldn't…but it would have been worthwhile to try, he decided.