Monday, January 27, 2014

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt: The Flight of the Gryphon

 The gryphon caught my eye.
            In my eagerness over Farvardin, I'd completely forgotten about it. A sudden curiosity washed over me as I looked into those fiery eyes. Apprehension similar to what I'd felt about Farvardin crept in on curiosity's heels as I glanced down at the long, sharp claws and the powerful, muscular legs. Would it be as amiable as Farvardin turned out to be? What if it was hostile? Everyone thus far had been pretty friendly; I had no cause to believe the gryphon would be any different. Besides, I knew the only way to really know what would happen was to just do it. Resolutely, I hung the chain on its neck.
            It blinked once and instantly leapt upon me, digging its claws into my shoulder. It was evident by the outrage in its eyes that it most likely assumed I was in league with Krasimir. I wondered what the man had done to them.
            "No, I'm a friend!" I yelled.
            The gryphon ignored me and bore me upwards toward the ceiling, flying quickly with powerful strokes of its strong wings.
            I reached up and tried to pull the claws out of my shoulder, "I'm a friend! I'm not with him!"
            We were now nearly touching the ceiling of the exhibit hall. The gryphon riveted its golden gaze upon me, and I knew exactly what it intended to do.
            "Oh no, please, NO!" I begged, but I felt those huge claws leave my shoulders, and I plummeted thirty feet to the floor of the exhibit hall below, screaming all the way.
            The floor was coming up fast when the gryphon suddenly dove and caught me again with a force that knocked the wind out of me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that I was only inches from the floor. Flapping slowly, with broad strokes, the gryphon gripped me tightly as it lowered me to the floor. When my back finally touched, it still pressed downward, as if meaning to crush me beneath its lion's paws. The head bent close to my neck, the curved beak snapped threateningly, the eyes narrowed dangerously--
            and widened quickly, as the gryphon suddenly raised its head slightly and cocked it to the side. I heard a faint jangling.
            Sheerya had come to my rescue!
I saw the faint glimmer of her wings as she endeavored to explain who I was to the enraged gryphon.
            The gryphon kept its eyes on me all the while, cocking its head back and forth to get a good look at me.
            Finally, it stepped off my chest and allowed me to get up, which I did very slowly and carefully. My shoulders stung, and my legs were still shaky after the scare I'd had. I held out an open hand toward the gryphon as I stood.
            "Easy, boy, I'm not gonna hurt you. Good boy--"
            With a growl, the gryphon head-butted me back down again! It raised a claw like it wanted to dismember me.
            A small voice tickled my ear with the whisper, "It's a she
!"
I turned my head just in time to see Sheerya exit a small window near the ceiling, where she had probably entered in the first place.
            "She?" I echoed, looking back at the gryphon. "You're a female?"
            She grunted, which I understood to mean, "Yes."
            I stood up again, and this time, the gryphon did not react. I could only stand and stare at her. She was a bit shorter than Farvardin, about the size of a pony, with the head of a golden eagle, and feathers down to her shoulders, where her body took the shape of a lion, with huge claws and a tail.
            I thought perhaps now that we had established non-enmity, probably the most proper thing for me to do next was introduce myself. I pointed to myself, "Casey," I said slowly.
            The gryphon tapped a paw on the ground. "Kshh-eee,
" she cried, and it sent chills down my spine to realize that she was trying to say my name. "K-khh-shee! Kaah-sseee!"
            The gryphon raised a paw, "Ah-kree! Aaah-kree!
" she screeched, telling me her name.
            "Ackree?" I tried to interpret.
            She growled like a lion and bucked her head, trying again, "Ahh-kree! Akhh-ree!"

            I tried to imitate the screech, hoping to get it right this time. "Akhh-rie?" I called. (Linda giggled soundlessly as she watched us.)
            She grunted, "Yes."
            I tried saying the name, "Akhrie?" I grunted the "kh" sound in my throat, like the German "/ch/".
            "Yes," Akhrie grunted a second time.
            She watched me as if she expected me to do something. I watched her for the same reason. I knew that to make friends with a dog, you put your hand out and let it sniff you, but a gryphon? How do you befriend one of those?
            Akhrie slowly circled me as I stood still. When she returned in front of me, she was so close I could almost touch her.
            "Hey Casey," Linda whispered, "stick out your hand."
            Dare I? Without thinking, I put out my hand. Akhrie looked at it hungrily. "She looks like she wants to bite it off or something," I remarked to the giantess.
            Akhrie crept closer, so close I could feel her feathers just barely brush my fingertips. I gently brought my hand down onto her silky, soft head. Akhrie did not move away, but made a warm, happy sound in her throat. I stroked the feathers, and the happy sound swelled louder.
            I was surprised at how soft her feathers were; it was like stroking rabbit's fur. I petted Akhrie's head, and had to step quickly aside as she joyfully stretched her forelegs forward, cat-like, as her tail stood upright and twitched pleasantly.
            A long, relaxed croak escaped her beak as I moved my hands down her back. I scratched her shoulders, and she suddenly darted away from my hands.
           
Without warning, Akhrie's head suddenly appeared between my legs as she lifted me off the ground astride her back. She unfurled her wings in front of my legs, and before I could react, she screeched loudly and launched herself into the air! I desperately grabbed the Chain around her neck because it was the only thing I had to hold onto as we zoomed in wide, graceful circles around the hall.
Linda watched us, laughing joyfully. She extended her arm, and Akhrie landed on it, gripping with her claws like a bird of prey.
            "Lucky you, riding a gryphon!" she exclaimed enviously, "I wish I could be your size!"
            I didn't answer right away because the flight had just about taken my breath away. It was like nothing I had ever done before, the exhilaration of riding astride such power, hurtling through the air at speeds only possible in a car! The sheer magnitude of it left me gasping.
            "Linda, this is the most amazing thing I've ever done!" I told her, and Akhrie took off again.
She flew circles around Linda's head a few times, and then took a low zig-zag course around the exhibit hall, deftly avoiding all obstacles. She ended our flight in front of her display.
            Akhrie had to crouch a bit so I could climb off her back.
            "Thank you," I said, stroking her neck like a horse. She leaned closer; I could tell she liked it.
            As we stepped up onto the platform, I thought how fortunate it was that she was shorter than Farvardin, so I could get the Chain off easier. I pulled the Chain off, and as soon as it was not touching her, she crouched and froze as I had found her.
[...]

As I walked back to the dorm, ... I shook my head, remembering how long it took me to submit my application for an interview in the first place. I'd never been anyone you'd consider self-confident at all. But my interactions with the Phantasmians were gradually changing me.
            I wondered as I fell asleep what further changes the next days would bring.
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            Krasimir Schlimme waved his hand, and the great doors seemed to open before him on their own. In reality, they were pushed back at his signal by two grey goblins disguised as gargoyles. Krasimir passed over the gruesome creatures as if they really were made of stone.
            His cutting grey eyes scanned the sanctum. This was his inner room. Very few people—of the human variety, anyway—ever saw the inside of this room. The goblins all around the door saw that no one entered without Krasimir’s knowledge.
            Here in the privacy, alone with his creatures, Krasimir could cast aside his philanthropic, eager young artist and businessman persona like a Halloween mask. He crossed to the middle of the room.
            “Adolf!” he barked. The werewolf’s long, lean, slinking form materialized beside him.
            “What do you wish, Master?” Adolf growled meekly.
            Krasimir stood with his hands crossed behind his back. He gazed upon the centerpiece of his travels to Phantasm, the crown jewel worth more to him than anything else he owned. The one thing so valuable that he dared not even touch the pressure, temperature, motion, and moisture-sensitive transparent case designed specifically for it:

The Gyth of Phantasm.
Krasimir’s acquisition of such a priceless artifact was really too simple.

He had been tracking the red-horned unicorn all over that cursed fantastic world, and had seen the gem gleaming on its breast. Near the end of the chase, he had noticed a flash of light in the dry grass. The gem lay loose, as if it had fallen off the fleeing unicorn. The animal he caught soon afterwards, and now both treasures were his.
Every source he could find on the subject told him that, given the elusive nature of the unicorn, and its integrity, purity, and loyalty, it was usually the guardian (if at all) of the most precious and the most powerful things. This one had guarded the Gyth.
And now Krasimir owned the Gyth.
“Adolf,” he whispered in awe before such a rare, fantastic item, “hear what I wish: I wish to know the secret to the power of the Gyth.”
With such power, people like old man Gilroy, and that junior janitor—what was his name? Rankle? Well, he certainly rankled Krasimir—would not matter, because Krasimir Schlimme would be able to—what? Turn them into dust, or some heinous creature, or even control them, maybe; who knew? At any rate, that power, Krasimir knew, would be great indeed.
Krasimir wanted that power; and when Krasimir wanted something, Krasimir got it.
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