Chapter 6: The Hurricane
Fletcher was crouched and ready to attack as Tamura eyed the child curiously. The horrible flashbacks entered his mind as he saw his own family in the place of this human family. Just as he was about to pounce however, Tamura turned to him, anger in her eyes.
Let's get out of here! she ordered telepathically. The female gryphon released the man she was holding by the throat and then strode past Fletcher, out the broken front door. Once she was outside, she immediately took off into the sky again. Fletcher gave one last look at the terrified family, unsure of what had just happened. He retreated as well and took off after Tamura.
"I can't believe he asked me to do that!" Tamura hissed angrily. "He didn't say there would be children here!"
"What do you mean?" Fletcher asked.
Tamura turned to him and for the first time ever, she spoke to him in a civil tone. "Regardless of what you may think of me, I am not a barbarian! I do not harm children nor am I going to leave that child orphaned by killing her parents!"
Her expression changed once more though. "Now, shut up and do not speak to me again! Fireclaw will be most displeased that I did not carry out his orders."
Fletcher was actually taken aback by this. For one brief moment he actually had an ounce of genuine respect for Tamura. She at least had some small amount integrity. Fletcher followed Tamura back to the base. Neither of the gryphons spoke until they arrived home. It was just before dawn when they landed outside Fireclaw's quarters.
"Let me handle this." Tamura instructed Fletcher.
"Fine with me." He said, grateful not to be the one to face Fireclaw.
The massive gryphon had been sleeping on a pile of blankets. Tamura bowed to him as she entered followed by Fletcher.
"Back already?" Fireclaw asked in a surprised tone.
Tamura scowled. "You did not tell me there would be children in that house!"
"So what?" Fireclaw asked, gazing at her suspiciously.
"You know that I do not harm children, Fireclaw! I did not do what you asked, nor did we retrieve the gold. If Agatha wants it done she will have to do it herself!"
"What did you say to me?" hissed Fireclaw, standing up and walking over to the grey feathered female. "How dare you not follow my orders!" Fireclaw roared.
"I am sorry, love…" Tamura started to say, a look of fright on her face as Fireclaw fumed at her. Before she could finish, the massive gryphon unexpectedly struck her with the back of his forepaw so hard that it knocked her clean off her feet and sent Tamura sliding across the floor. In a flash, Fireclaw stood over her, pinning her to the floor.
Fireclaw looked up at Fletcher, who had moved well out of the way and growled, "Get out!"
Fletcher quickly complied, leaving the room. He stood outside the building, pondering what he was going to do next. Inside he could hear Tamura and Fireclaw arguing rather loudly. Then there was a crashing sound and Tamura was sent flying through the doorway and slid to a stop just outside, landing next to where Fletcher was standing. He quickly ducked out of site behind the building. As Tamura lay on the ground with a terrified expression on her face, Fireclaw pounced on her, striking her again, slamming her head into the ground.
"I thought you loved me!" she cried.
Fireclaw struck her once more. "Stupid female! I NEVER loved you! Were you really gullible enough to think I would fall in love with someone as dumb as you? Let me tell you something! You mean NOTHING to me! You are completely expendable and replaceable, just like all the other mooks around here!"
He clamped his talons around her throat and snarled, "Now, if you EVER disobey my orders again, I'm going to wrap my talons around that pretty little neck of yours and snap it like a twig! Do you understand?"
Tamura was shaking with fear. All she could do was nod her head while letting out a feeble cry.
Fireclaw snorted in her face and turned around, growling as he went back inside, "Get out of my sight! I will find you when I need you again!"
Fletcher peered around the corner of the building and saw Tamura still lying on her side, holding one of her front legs to her chest, petrified with fear. As morbid as the scene had been, Fletcher thoroughly enjoyed watching Tamura's ego getting shattered. He decided that now would be the time to make his move. With Fireclaw fuming about the failure of the mission and Tamura in a state of complete shock, there was nobody to stop Fletcher from leaving. He simply strode right by Tamura as she lay on the ground. As much as he wanted to make a taunting remark, he decided to just leave and get out of there. Thee gryphon took off into the sky as the first rays of morning became visible in the east. Tamura watched as he flew away.
Fletcher knew it was only a matter of time before Fireclaw or Agatha came after him. It was almost time for her to collect his blood again. Whatever he was going to do, he had to do it fast.
"There is probably no place in Danthuania I can hide from them." He muttered to himself as he soared along, headed for the northern coastline. Fletcher remembered that Arion had told him of lands beyond Danthuania. He knew that Alagaesia was directly north of Danthuania and Arion had told him that one could fly across the sea in only a few hours.
"That's what I will do then!" he said aloud.
Fletcher did not want to leave Danthuania behind. He had lived there his whole life but if leaving meant he could be free, he would do it. Fletcher arrived at the sea and landed on the beach, feeling the soft sand beneath his talons. He gazed at the massive expanse of water that lay ahead. It looked intimidating but he figured if a dragon could fly across it then so could a gryphon!
The gryphon's ears perked up as he heard wings approaching then a thud as someone landed behind him. He turned his head to see who it was and was shocked to be confronted by Tamura. Her head was hung low rather than held high like it usually was. Her eyes were red and puffy and the feathers around her face were wet as if she had been crying.
"What do you want?" Fletcher demanded, his wings flared and his tail lashing from side to side in a defensive manner.
"Fletcher, I…" Tamura started to say in barely a whisper.
It was the first time she had ever called him by his name. "I… I don't know." She said in a soft voice that Fletcher didn't think she was even capable of using.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'm going someplace where I can be far away from Fireclaw, you, Agatha! Now go back to your lover, Tamura! I don't want to talk to you!"
"I am not going back to him! Not now, not ever!" she sobbed. "If you're heading across the ocean, I was wondering if I could go too."
Fletcher scowled. "Why should I let you come with me? All you have ever done is treat me like dirt! You have a lot of nerve asking me for favors now! You've made your nest and now you must live in it!"
"Fletcher, please… there is nothing for me here. My entire life has been wasted serving that creep!" Tamura sobbed.
Fletcher was getting very irritated now. "Now whose fault is that, I wonder?"
Tamura hung her head and he saw a tear drip from her eye into the sand. "You wouldn't understand…" she uttered. "He was all I ever knew! I knew him from the time I was a hatchling. Fireclaw raised me and every day he told me that I was meant to be in love with him. He told me that if I did exactly what he said, we would someday rule the land together. Being the stupid little fledgling that I was, I believed him!"
There was sincerity in Tamura's voice as she spoke and Fletcher knew she was telling the truth. It dawned on him that it was not her fault that she turned out the way she did. Tamura had been brainwashed and conditioned as a hatchling to be loyal to Fireclaw and to carry out his orders.
"I have killed people… Innocent people… humans and gryphons alike just because Fireclaw didn't like them. I have innocent blood on my talons and I will never live that guilt down. There is nothing in Danthuania for me anymore."
Tamura looked at Fletcher pleadingly. "Fletcher, please just let me come with you. All I want is to find a place to start over. I want to leave my old life behind."
Fletcher stood there thinking it over. Finally he made his decision. "Alright, but as soon as we reach the other side, you are on your own!"
With that, the male gryphon launched himself into the sky, flying out over the vast expanse of water. Tamura flew after him, staying close. As usual, the two did not speak to one another. Fletcher wondered if he was doing the right thing by letting Tamura accompany him. He certainly did not owe her any favors after the way she treated him. Still, she showed remorse for her crimes and she had shown that there was genuine goodness in her soul when she spared that family.
The hours seemed to drag by. Fletcher and Tamura flew on and on over an endless expanse of water. Fletcher's stomach growled hungrily as he had not eaten since the day before. As the two gryphons flew onward, the sky became increasingly cloudy. Fletcher felt a twinge of fear in his heart at the prospect of being caught over the open ocean in a storm. Tamura flew closer to him, looking around nervously. Fletcher sniffed the air and detected that something was wrong, very wrong. Fletcher turned his head to the west and was horrified by what he saw. A wall of thick black clouds stretched from north to south as far as the eye could see and they were getting closer by the minute. Down below the sea had become choppy and the wind began to pick up. The two gryphons had flown right into the path of an oncoming hurricane. Fletcher had heard tales of human ships getting torn to bits in these fierce storms.
"Fletcher, let's turn back!" Tamura called out.
"It's too late! We have to keep going!" Fletcher replied.
He knew that by now they were probably closer to Alagaesia than Danthuania. He began to weigh his options. On one hand, they could continue flying north where they would eventually reach land, but the hurricane would be upon them in no time at all. On the other hand, they could fly east and try to stay ahead of the storm, but Fletcher did not know of any land in that direction. He was growing weak and exhausted from all this flying. Neither of the gryphons had slept or eaten anything since the day before and their energy reserves were running low.
Fletcher decided to take his chances with the hurricane, hoping and praying to whatever gods or deities were out there that he would find land. The wind became stronger and stronger and then the rain started. It was a driving, relentless rain that soaked both of the gryphons in seconds. Though gryphon feathers were coated in an oil that made them resistant to water, they simply could not repel this much water. Within minutes, Fletcher felt that his feathers had become completely waterlogged. Between his wet feathers and the relentless wind, it was all either of the gryphons could do to stay in the air. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked all around them. Nightfall was quickly approaching and darkness enveloped the world around them.
For what seemed like an eternity the two gryphons fought their way through the hurricane but the storm seemed to be getting stronger and stronger ever minute. Then, far off in the distance and just barely visible amidst the veil of heavy rain, Flethcer's sharp eyes spotted the wreck of a ship lodged between a pair of rocks sticking out of the water. Fletcher's strength was failing and he knew that this shipwreck may be his only chance for survival. He turned and looked at Tamura and saw that her eyes were fixed on the ship as well. Both gryphons fought their way toward the ship, battling the howling wind. An unexpected gust of wind caught Fletcher under his wings and flipped the gryphon over, sending him spiraling toward the sea below. He let out a frightened screech as the water drew nearer and nearer and then the next thing he knew, the gryphon had struck the water with tremendous force, knocking the wind out of him. Fletcher struggled to swim upward and finally broke the surface, struggling to take a breath. He heard a shrill cry from Tamura and saw her bobbing in the waves about fifty feet from where he was. She vanished below the water briefly and then came back up, struggling to stay afloat. Her energy was gone and Tamura no longer had any strength to spare. She looked at Fletcher, a look of sadness and deep regret in her eyes. She was too far away to speak to him over the howling wind but Fletcher felt her consciousness brush against his.
Fletcher, I am sorry for everything I did to you. I was wrong to treat you like that. I am so sorry… and with that, the grey female was swallowed up by a massive wave that washed over her and she didn't come back up.
Fletcher struggled there in the water, staring at the spot where Tamura had disappeared. Part of him said to just let her drown and that she deserved it. Twenty-four hours ago, he would gladly have given in and left her to die. However, for whatever reason, the gryphon couldn't find it within himself to be so coldhearted. Taking a deep breath, Fletcher dived down under the water, kicking his legs and paddling deeper and deeper under the churning water. He could barely see and the saltwater stung his eyes but he could make out the dark grey blur that was Tamura's body, sinking lower and lower beneath the waves. Finally Fletcher reached her, wrapping a front leg around her belly and swimming upward with her. He was exhausted and it took great effort to finally break the surface. Tamura coughed repeatedly, gagging on the seawater she had inhaled as she clung to Fletcher's back.
The male gryphon looked around for the shipwreck and to his relief, he saw that the waves had washed them in closer to the rocks. Paddling with all his might, Fletcher slowly but steadily began to make headway toward the ship. When he was alongside the old ship, the gryphon reached up and dug his talons into the rotting hull, holding on for dear life as another wave washed over him. Tamura reached out and grabbed hold as well and began to pull herself upwards. Fletcher clawed his way up and over railing and landed with a thud on the deck. The rotten deck planks sagged and creaked under his weight. He reached over the side and grabbed Tamura, pulling her up as well.
The two gryphons lay there on the deck of the old ship, panting and trying to catch their breath as the rain and wind beat down upon them. Tamura coughed and gagged, lowering her head as she coughed up more water. Fletcher saw that the door to the ship's rear cabin was open. He stood up and slowly walked inside the cabin and out of the rain with his wings and tail dragging on the deck as he walked. Tamura followed, flopping down right inside the door. Fletcher walked over to the broken glass window, staring out at the raging sea outside. Lightning flashed and lit up the black sea and sky, followed by a loud crash of thunder. The howling wind whistled through the gaps in the rotting planks. Fletcher returned to where Tamure lay shivering on the floor. She looked up at him and Fletcher could see that she was scared. He was afraid too. Both gryphons knew they may very well die tonight and that all they had was one another.
Fletcher laid down next to Tamura and lowered a wing over her, trying to comfort her. Just a day ago he had hated her guts and yet now he actually pitied her.
Tamura nuzzled Fletcher's neck as he held her close to him. "Why did you do that?" she asked. "Why did you save me?"
"I couldn't... I just couldn't let you die like that." he whispered.
Fletcher now realized why he had done it. Tamura was now a different person than she once was. Her True Name had changed and to just let her die would have denied her any chance of redemption that she might have had. He felt good about what he had done. He felt that his parents would be proud of him for doing the right thing.
"What are you thinking about?" Tamura asked, clearly trying to start a conversation.
"My family. Agatha killed them." Fletcher replied sadly.
"I'm sorry, Fletcher." She said. "I never knew my family. Fireclaw raised me from a hatchling."
Fletcher crossed his forefeet and laid his head down upon them. He shuddered to think about the fate of Tamura's parents.
"What were they like?" Tamura asked.
"My father's name was Windstrider. He was brave, wise, and in my own opinion, the best father anyone could ask for." Fletcher explained. "Elees, my mother, was always so kind and gentle. I loved her so much." He felt the tears welling up in his eyes.
"Then there was Tas, my twin brother. He… he was always so cheerful and full of life. He was my best friend… Then there was little Mirriana. She was only a fledgling. She died when one of Agatha's men kicked her across the ground."
Fletcher felt the warm tears in his eyes again. Tamura nuzzled him sympathetically.
"Fireclaw told me that my father was a member of the Black Talon Clan and that he was killed while fighting our enemies. Then he said my mother abandoned me and ran away." Tamura explained.
"But I don't think that is true at all! The only thing I remember about my mother is that she once said she loved me. She called me her little angel. She would never have abandoned me like that!"
Tamura scowled, tears returning to her eyes. "Fireclaw killed them! I just know it! I hate him so much! And I hate myself for believing what he told me! At least you were fortunate enough to get to know your family, Fletcher. I will never have that chance."
Fletcher nodded. He was certain now that Tamura was not at fault for her previous behavior. Fireclaw was the real monster, not her.
"I'll kill him for what he did to me!" Tamura hissed as lightning flashed outside.
"Tamura, killing him will not change anything." Fletcher explained. "Just as killing Agatha will not bring back my family."
"True, but it will stop him from doing it to someone else! Fletcher, he ruined my life! He corrupted me and tricked me into doing all manner of unspeakable things that will haunt me for the rest of my days! Firelcaw and Agatha both deserve death for what they have done!"
While Fletcher had to agree with her, he shook his head. "We will inform the Dragon Riders about them then."
Tamura sighed. "They do not care what happens to us, Fletcher. All they care about is their dragons! Nobody protects the gryphons."
Tamure laid her head down on her forefeet. "Thank you for your kindness, Fletcher. It is far more than I deserve."
"I think you are a good person at heart too, Tamura." Fletcher said reassuringly.
Fletcher hummed and held Tamura close to him, trying to comfort her on this dreadful and stormy night. At some point he must have drifted off to sleep because when Fletcher opened his eyes again, all was quiet. The storm seemed to have passed and daylight streamed in through the broken cabin windows and cracks in the planks. Tamura ran in through the door, an excited look on her face. "Fletcher, come quick!"
She called before running out on deck again. Fletcher got up and followed her and what he was next astounded him. There were dark storm clouds all around them but directly overhead was a patch of clear blue sky. They eye of the hurricane was passing over them. In the distance, Fletcher could see mountain peaks rising above the clouds.
"It just suddenly got calm." Tamura said , looking up at the sky in amazement.
"It won't last." Fletcher said with a sigh. "Once the eye passes over us it will start all over again."
He looked at the distant mountains and then turned to Tamura. Do you have the strength to fly?"
Tamura nodded and Fletcher said, "Good. We need to reach the shore before the eye passes over us!"
Spreading his exhausted and sore wings, Fletcher took off into the sky with Tamura right behind him. The two gryphons climbed into the eye of the hurricane and began to fly toward land. The coastline of a strange land lay spread out before them and the two gryphon flew laboriously toward it. Finally they crossed the coastline and were flying over dry land. With the eye of the storm passing and the hurricane hot on their tails, Fletcher and Tamure began looking for a place to take shelter. The rain started to come down around them and the wind picked up again. Finally Tamura called to Fletcher.
"I see a cave!"
The female gryphon dived toward a tiny cave in the side of a cliff. She landed at the mouth of the cave and ran inside with Fletcher right behind her. The cave was very small, only going back about twenty feet but it was dry and just big enough to shelter the two gryphons from the raging storm. Fletcher panted, worn out from the arduous journey across the sea. Tamura looked equally worn out. She sat down on her haunches and began to preen her feathers and fur which were all disorganized and messy. Fletcher did the same, cleaning himself up and trying to remove the sea salt from his feathers and fur.
Outside the storm was raging full force again but both of the gryphons were too exhausted to care. When Fletcher was finished grooming himself, he curled up on the floor of the cave. To his surprise, Tamura joined him, lying down beside and covering him with a grey feathered wing. He had a strange feeling his chest; a gentle warmth he had never felt before. Only a day ago he had hated Tamura and everything about her but now he was actually starting to like her. He no longer wanted her to leave, and he guessed that she did not want to leave him either.
Could it be that I am meant to be with her? He thought to himself.
Fletcher wasn't sure if he was ready for that step yet. He had barely gotten to know Tamura. Still, he was free from Agatha and Fireclaw, he was in a new land, and now he had a new friend. The gryphon closed his eyes, letting the sounds of the raging storm fade away as he fell into a peaceful sleep.
To be continued…