Föhn, Chinook, and I rested at the compound for three days. I regained my strength steadily, and we searched the compound for more clues. The aurae grew comfortable in my presence, even so far as to reprimand me for over-exerting myself.
Together, the three of us lifted Skiron’s toppled cauldron from the ground outside. The vortex of wind swirling inside was howling with anger and begging for release. I tried to pull from it to give it some controlled release and ended up knocked to the ground. Frustrated, I flung my cold blizzard wind at it and made a big mess of the yard. I felt like my young self, failing at my lessons all over again.
All that exertion got me was another severe reprimand from Föhn while Chinook covered her mouth and tried to stifle her giggles. Then they showed me up and controlled the small amounts of wind that I could not. I was proud of their abilities, but why couldn’t I have that kind of control?
Even with the missing god, the winds were strong. The urgency to find him diminished as Föhn and Chinook worked together to control small bursts of wind. The cauldron was proof he was still alive, but he was still so absent.
When the darkness fell in the evenings, we retired inside and talked about Scythia and what I would ask the Gryph camp master. How would I approach the camp? How would I ask for information without accusation? And would I present myself as a mortal or as a goddess?
I lay awake late into the evenings, alternating between trying to figure out what had happened to Uncle Skiron, waiting for my full strength to return, and admiring my busy little aurae. As I hugged them close, nurtured them, and spent time getting to know them, I realized they had indeed become my children.
On the morning of the fourth day, I hugged the aurae goodbye. The tears and imprints lingered on my skin, even as I blizzarded off, promising I would stay safe.
The peaks of Scythia were not the easiest to navigate, but they were easier than the Rhapion mountain range just to the north. I blizzarded my way over the mountaintops, searching for the Gryph’s camp.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that the large camp came into view. Bright orange fires flickered against the silhouettes of the sparse pine trees in a hidden valley. As I approached their territory, I willed my form to my human self, hoping the griffins would see me as unintimidating. I re-materialized in a grove of bare aspen trees, a welcome change from the evergreen covering the area. As I collected myself, the aspens trembled, but there was no wind. My hair prickled as I turned in a full circle, pulling my senses from the snow. Nothing moved, and the air was still, but the trees still shook.
And what monster’s lair have I fallen into this time? I thought as I prepared for an attack.
The trees shook again, and then I heard a high-pitched squeal above me. A mass of feathers and talons rolled through the snowy leaves. I gawked as the tangled ball came to a stop on my left. The feathered tumbleweed erupted into laughter, and slowly detangled into three young griffins. They paid me no attention, fully engrossed in their horseplay. I was resisting the urge to join in with the infectious sound of their joy when a teenage girl rushed into the clearing.
“Boys! You know you shouldn’t wrestle down the mountain. There are all kinds of dangerous things out here. Now pick yourselves up and get back to the…” Her words stalled when she spied me, the griffins giggling away, still not having noticed me.
“Mountain?” I asked with a smile. Suddenly, there was a gust of wind, and two of the darker coloured griffins had spread their wings, making themselves larger. The third, lighter brown one, moved swiftly to the human girl’s side, protecting her. They inspected me for a moment before the teenage girl spoke.
“Are you lost, ma’am?” she asked me. “We rarely find lost humans around anymore. People don’t wander up the mountains this far.” She smiled, and a look of concern crossed her features. The three griffin youths were trying to remain intimidating, and I smiled.
“I’m not lost. I’m looking for the griffins and judging by your companions, I think I’ve found the right place.” The four of them stiffened, and the air stilled. A look of panic crossed the girl’s face before she composed her features.
“What do you mean you were looking for the griffins?” the light one beside her growled.
“My name is Khione, and I’m looking to speak with the master of the Gryph camp. I have some important things I’d like to discuss. If you would be so kind as to lead me into your camp?” I spoke formally, leaving myself exactly where I was, appearing open and nonthreatening.
The group of four looked at each other, and there was a moment of silent back-and-forth looks. A shake of some heads, and then finally, the girl spoke. “We will take you to the master, but be warned. He may not receive you.”
“I accept those terms.”
She nodded, and the group silently marched forward. The girl and the one who protected her led, while the two others trailed behind me.
Why was the human in charge?
The smell of smoke and searing meats tickled my nose before we reached the camp, making my mouth water. The noises of a busy camp and chatter reached my ears as we turned down into a valley. It was cluttered with tents and semi-permanent huts, plenty of small fires, and action. A large hut was at the centre of the valley. The camp master would reside there, in the middle of all the action.
I was taken aback to see humans mixed in among the griffins. They were stirring pots over open fires, hanging clothes to dry, refining materials, weaving, drying food, and hammering unknown metal. Tents and huts intermingled with massive nests in the sparse trees. My mouth dropped open at the sight of griffins and humans working together.
Since when did they cohabitate? Griffins were always a relatively solitary group. What else don’t I know, and will it get me injured? We stopped at a huge stump at the edge of a large circle near the central fire.
“The camp master will be advised of your arrival. If he chooses to receive you, he will see you. If he chooses not to, you will be cast back out, down the mountain.” She turned on her heel and marched away, the three griffin youths following closely behind her.
I spied the humans that were eyeing me. A young boy and girl chased each other around a nearby tent, and I heard a shout from their mother telling them to knock it off. I smiled, remembering when my brothers would chase me around or we would fight. I created some snowballs and rolled them towards the children. When they looked up, I winked, and their eyes lit up. They grabbed the icy spheres and took off further into the camp, tossing them at others.
The camp was noisy, but I still heard the footsteps as the griffin approached me from behind.
“Miss Khione,” he said. When I turned, I had to look up to see this enormous creature. His beady eyes were staring down at me over the end of his sharp yellow beak. He was intimidating, even with his wings tucked to his sides. He was a fearsome warrior and could strike me down easily.
“I don’t believe we’ve met before. I am Greg, Master of the Gryph Camp. This is my region, and these people are my wards. I will protect them at all costs.” He sat down gracefully on the stump, and the camp seemed to quiet. “So, who exactly are you? And what does someone I’ve not met have to discuss with me?”
I gulped, getting ready to speak my intentions, but a young girl came running up to me and tapped me on my knee, catching us all off guard.
“Please, miss, can you give us some snowballs, too?” she asked sweetly.
I saw movement from behind me, and a small griffin peaked out and spoke. “Please, miss? We have to get back at Claire and Charlie!! They threw snowballs at us!”
I looked up at the master of camp, catching his expression of bewilderment. The rest of the camp had stopped and was staring at the children, waiting to see what I would do. I couldn’t help but smile. They were so brave! The two kids I’d given the snowballs to earlier were hiding behind the nearby tent, whispering to each other.
“Sure thing! Make sure Claire and Charlie and all the other children get some!” I waved my hands and created about two dozen snowballs in front of them. Their eyes lit up, and they shouted with glee as they called to the other children to grab the snowballs. About five others ran out, humans and griffins, between five to ten years old, I guessed.
I looked up at the master of camp and tossed him a snowball. He chomped it with his beak before chuckling to himself.
“Camp master, I came here for some help to locate something missing,” I said confidently, while creating a few more snowballs for the children. His beady eyes had relaxed, and his feathers had smoothed, so he appeared to shrink in size.
“What does the Goddess of Snow need help to find? Especially since you found us so easily?” he asked, watching the children play and the camp inhabitants return to their tasks.
“I am looking for whoever this feather belongs to.” I pulled the long feather out of my cloak. “As well as whether this is, in fact, gold from these mountains,” I said, opening my other hand with the nuggets of gold. I presented them to him and waited for his reaction.
He studied the feather and gold for a few moments, his body stiffening.
“Please follow me, Miss Khione,” he said, leading me to a large hut nearby. Inside, there were beds lined up, and a human was crushing dried plants in a mortar. I realized this was a hospital ward.
“The feather you showed me belongs to one of my guards, Lou. He often patrols the forests, looking for those who become lost and protecting us from detection.”
“I wondered about that, how you had so many humans here but remain hidden.”
“As you can see, we adopted the lost ones into our clan and worked with each other to make a thriving society. The humans can refine the gold that we unearth. They can cure and cook the food that we hunt and gather. They can take it to other human towns and trade it for goods that we need. We provide shelter, protection, a safe home, and family.” We stopped at a bed with an unconscious griffin who looked similar to Greg. “This is Lou, my brother. He was out for a long while recently, and when he returned, he was barely conscious. His wing is broken, two of his talons were pulled right out, and he has several lacerations down his back. When he was found near the camp, he was barely coherent, muttering about flying serpents.” He looked me up and down, his voice dropping. “I can tell this wasn’t you, and you aren’t here to finish the job, but please tell me you have an idea who, or rather what could have done this?”
“I’m not sure about flying serpents, but I found a serpent-like scale along with the gold and the feathers. Was Lou often at the God of the NorthWest Wind’s compound?” I asked.
“Skiron’s compound?” The griffin thought, and his face twisted. “Oh. Oh, no. Miss Khione, I think you are right. We have some things to discuss. I have someone else you will need to speak to. Please, join us for dinner at the Master Fire tonight.”