A few days later, Almonihah entered a hidden valley. He knew as soon as he started to descend into it that there was something special about it. It had that… feeling about it, the same one he’d felt so long ago in Llinos’s valley. There was something a bit… different here, though. The feeling wasn’t quite the same.
A short while later, he saw another thing that was different about this valley—the animals here were much larger than normal. His first clue was some deer tracks that were more the size of a warhorse’s hoof-prints. Then he saw the deer themselves, and they removed all doubt as to their size.
After that, he saw many other giant animals—eagles, wolves, rabbits, even a bear that must have been three times Almonihah’s height. The strange thing was, the half-dragon felt completely safe among them, and they seemed to completely ignore him, despite evidence that the predators still preyed normally on their giant prey.
Almonihah found some of this evidence in a clearing. There wasn’t much left of the deer that had been taken down—just some scattered bits of flesh and bone, as well as some bloodstained earth. What really caught his interest were the tracks. There were both lion paw-prints and eagle talon marks in the ground here, both of similar, massive size. A griffon, fully twice the size of an average adult griffon, judging by the size of the prints.
The Ranger grunted softly in appreciation of the size of the beast as he stood back up, looking up the nearby mountainside as he did. A slight movement caught his eye. It was the griffon. Or at least a griffon. He seemed to be looking down at the half-dragon just as Almonihah was looking back up at him.
With just a hint of a grin, Almonihah started walking toward the mountain, looking up every now and then at the griffon watching him. Normally, he’d think it was stupid to walk closer to a griffon. Wild griffons were ferociously territorial, and if this one was twice the size of a normal griffon, he wouldn’t go down easily, even if Almonihah had wanted to try. Here, though… here, the half-dragon was sure that the griffon was no threat. While even his draconic eyes couldn’t pick out much detail from this distance, he somehow felt that the griffon was just… curious. Almonihah wondered when the last time someone had come here was.
It was a hard climb to reach the griffon’s lair. Part of the way, the Ranger could walk, though carefully, picking his way up the mountain. Other parts he had to climb, digging his claws into cracks in the stone as he pulled himself up. Once he almost spread his wings to fly the rest of the way, but the memory of how he’d gotten them was too fresh, too painful… and he couldn’t help but shake the feeling that there was a whisper of a voice in the wind when he flew.
The whole time, the big griffon up above just watched, curiously. Almonihah would meet his eyes occasionally as he climbed up to his perch, and the half-dragon could almost feel the intensity of the griffon’s inquisitiveness when they did. Finally, Almonihah reached the edge of the ledge the griffon was on. Said griffon backed up to give him space to pull himself up, and he could finally see the beast properly.
He was a huge male, at least two feet taller than Almonihah at the shoulder. Even standing level with him, Almonihah had the unusual feeling of having to look up at someone. His feathers were a dark brown, with just a hint of lighter color at the tips, and his fur was a tawny golden-brown. Overall, he looked fit and well-fed, maybe even a bit chubby. Clearly, the griffon had been doing quite well for himself.
Of course, his most obvious characteristic was his size. Almonihah had seen dragons before, and of course he’d ‘lived’ with Galindakherithan for about a year, but you expected dragons to be massive. To stand in front of a griffon this size…
“You’re pretty big,” Almonihah said, again with a little bit of a grin, feeling like he needed to break the silence. The griffon responded with a screech that made him wince just a bit—his hearing felt a bit more sensitive since he’d gotten back from the Madlands.
Almonihah nodded to himself a bit once he finished suppressing his wince. He’d known griffons were more intelligent than normal animals, and that they could generally understand a bit of the Common Tongue, just as all creatures of some intelligence could. Which made him wonder…
“You lived here long?” He asked the big griffon. He just looked back at the strange two-legged creature in front of him, seeming a bit confused.
“Nod your head like this,” Almonihah demonstrated, “To say yes. And shake your head like this,” he again demonstrated, “To say no.”
The griffon stared at him for a long moment. This was something Almonihah had wished he’d tried with Varack’Nara, because he’d always felt the griffon had more he wanted to communicate than he’d known how. Or at least, now that he was older he felt that way as he thought back on those times. Now was his chance to find out if a griffon really could think well enough to communicate more than a normal animal.
Suddenly the griffon started nodding his head, then stopped with an uncertain screech, looking at the half-dragon again. Almonihah grinned back at him.
“So yes, you have lived here a while,” he stated, waiting for the griffon to respond. After a moment, it again nodded, this time with a more certain, positive-sounding screech.
“Well, were you this big when you got here?”
A moment’s pause, then a shake of the head with another screech.
“Hm…” Almonihah thought for a moment, then noticed that the griffon was looking curiously at him again. “Wondering what I am?”
A more enthusiastic nod followed by a screech.
“’m a half-dragon. Father was a bronze dragon, mother was a human.”
The griffon screeched softly, looking rather confused. Almonihah laughed just a bit at the expression, then said, “t’d take a while t’ explain.”
The griffon screeched again in reply, this time seeming a bit disappointed. After a few quiet moments, Almonihah asked, “Want t’ know what I was doing?”
Again the nod and affirmative screech, though this time the griffon moved forward a bit excitedly.
“Was just looking at your tracks.”
Again the griffon didn’t seem enlightened by his explanation.
Almonihah paused again for a bit, then said, “This ‘s going t’ take a while…”
He spent the next several weeks mostly in the valley, spending a lot of time with the griffon and then striking out to explore sometimes when the griffon went hunting or whatever else he did. Almonihah himself didn’t eat or drink anything from the valley itself, instead going on occasional trips out to gather more food from outside of the valley. His experience in the Madlands was too recent for him to risk eating or drinking suspect things, and besides, he didn’t particularly want to be twice his current size. He already had to duck to get in some doorways.
The griffon turned out to have quite a personality as Almonihah got to know him better. He was incredibly energetic, but even more curious. The only way Almonihah could get the griffon to stay still for long was to talk with him about things, and he could always tell when he was getting bored. The most difficult thing was that he clearly wanted to communicate more—Almonihah could already recognize several of the different screeches he made, especially the ‘question’ screech—but didn’t know how. The half-dragon had thought about teaching him to speak the Common Tongue, since he obviously already understood it. On further consideration, he’d decided against it, since it didn’t seem like griffons could make the right sounds. Instead, he’d started to teach him some Great Eagle, interspersed with a bit about how to scratch some letters in the ground when the griffon got bored.
While, at first, Almonihah had felt anxious to get going again, it wasn’t long before he could feel the peace and… rightness of the place soothing him. Though he’d tried hard not to think about it, his experience in the Madlands had shaken the Ranger deeply. He’d become uncertain about who and what he was, or maybe… maybe he’d just been forced to admit he still wasn’t sure about those things. Being here didn’t answer these questions for him, but he felt himself cheering up anyway. The griffon’s innocent enthusiasm was infectious, and Almonihah found himself grinning and even laughing some evenings while talking with him and trying to teach him.
Eventually, though, he felt it was time to leave. While he still didn’t know where he needed to go, Almonihah knew he couldn’t just stay here. With regret, he told the griffon he was leaving. The griffon shook his head violently, and screeched No! with the little bit of Great Eagle he could speak. The half-dragon, however, refused to be persuaded to stay, and eventually the big griffon admitted defeat with a long, despairing screech, and collapsed in a miserable-looking heap of feathers and fur.
Looking back, Almonihah almost changed his mind, but his certainty that it was time to go wouldn’t leave him. As he turned back, he noticed the griffon suddenly stand up.
With! Come! he screeched, bounding after the retreating half-dragon. Almonihah turned again as the griffon came to a stop right behind him.
You want to come with me? he asked in Great Eagle, looking up at the again cheerful and eager eyes.
Yes! was the enthusiastic reply.
Almonihah couldn’t help grinning. After a moment of thought, he said, “Well, if you’re going to come with me, I think you need a name. How about…” he thought of the times he’d watched the griffon fly for the sheer pleasure of it, doing acrobatics or just trying to fly as fast as he could.
Just in case you hadn’t realized before who the griffon was… 😀 So, this is Zakhin’Dakh’s introduction! Next chapter will be all about him, so if you don’t know him, you soon will.