A new chapter is up for my story, Gryphon. Enjoy.
Gryphon stood on the hill top trying to ignore the wandering fae as they waited for moon rise, the first trial would start after the announcement of the contenders. She felt naked without her normal glamour. No spells to distort or hide were allowed during the rite, the Counsel, the contenders, and their chosen judge would stand in their true forms during the trials.
Torches and will-o-wisps lit the small standing stones that marked the hill as a gathering site. She shivered slightly as a shiver seemed to thrum through the ground as the first rays of moon light struck the stones; the hill was well hidden from the non-fae thanks to the natural lay lines that powered the spells but it meant that natural magic flooded the area.
The crowd about the hill shifted and surged as the moon crested. She’d noted fae she knew and others she hoped to avoid but no one approached. The judge was meant to be an outsider in society, removed from the normal social circles and no one was going to openly try and influence her choice with so many others watching. Sparrow gave her a nod from the edge of the crowd but he was considered an outsider by most considering how closely he worked with humans.
“I heard you were in need of a bodyguard.” John said climbing the hill to stand at her shoulder with a grin.
“I thought the Packs were sending someone else. You’re not too busy with the murders?” Gryphon asked taking in his unmasked features with a relieved smile, red hair and amber eyes with a vertical pupil watched her with a cheeky grin displaying a single sharp fang.
“I like the look, it suites you.” John said casting an eye over her feather patterned skin and red grey hair.
“I’ve been among the humans for too long, it’s making me nervous to be out in the open like this.” She admitted tucking her hands into her jacket.
“Surely you don’t wear glamours constantly; even I let them drop at home.” John said with a blink.
“I’m in hiding from my Clan until the Counsel decision. I never drop my glamours.” She offered with a bitter smile. “Until they announce the decision my Clan can force me back if they catch me out in the open.”
“Will they be here?”
“My brothers might come but my mother will have to being the head of the Clan.”
“Do I need to keep her away?”
“She can’t do anything on the hill, it’s only once we leave that there’s any danger and then it’s mostly from the contenders. Judges have a history of being killed if they won’t favor a Clan’s contender.”
“Will your brothers compete?”
“I don’t know, mother might force one to just to have the chance at a council seat.”
“The moon has risen, let us start the ritual!” Councilman Dragan called out, the other members standing behind him in a loose arc wearing resplendent white robes.
“Where I’m I meant to be for this.” John asked his voice low as they moved to the side between the Counsel and the gathering fae. Gryphon took her place with a smile ignoring the glares from the Counsel at her human world attire.
“Three steps behind me, only move if there’s a threat.” She murmured counting on his enhanced hearing to catch the words as she moved.
“Right.” He muttered with a huff taking his place and scanning the crowd while Gryphon smiled at the assessing gazes.
“Let the trials of ascension begin!” Dragan announced his sharp weasel like features and the dark badger striped fur running along his head and neck only adding to his sharp gaze, “Our judge of the trial will be the Clanless Gryphon you see before you. If you wish to attempt the trial, step forward.”
One by one seven contenders stepped forward and took a place between the standing stones. Gryphon let her eyes dart over them memorizing features and Clan names as each put forward their bid. It was a mixed group of race, power, and reputation that would make guessing who would complete the trials and gain the Council seat. Her younger brother watched her from his place with a sneer, her mother watching her with a sharp gaze a few steps behind him.
“The first trial will start this very night. Given the size of the field this should be an interesting event.” Dragan said with a feral grin gesturing her forward. “Judge, if you please?”
“Of course, Councilman Dragan,” Gryphon said with a polite nod, moving off towards the finish line.
She ignored the frown the Council speaker had for her lack of respect, she needed the breathe for her task. She had to reach the finish line before the contestants and no mechanical assistance was allowed. She set a long legged ground eating pace and cursed under her breath as the path suddenly burst into light, revealing the course to the clan members undergoing the trial.
“Christ,” John gasped panting as they ran past the convoluted obstacle course they were running parallel to, magical bogs, walls of fire and water, and illusions would test the physical and magical abilities of the combatants. “They have to run that?”
“They have all night, we don’t.” Gryphon said, forcing her legs to keep the quick ground eating pace. “We have to make the finish line before they announce the start.”
They just lurched past the last obstacle and started up the incline towards the finish line when a horn announced the beginning of the trial. Gryphon cursed and threw herself forward, she could have been there in seconds if she’d been allowed her wings. She snatched John’s arm and threw them through a shadow into the door she’d set up as soon as she’d heard where the rite would be held. They burst through behind the finish line, John dropping to the ground with a curse as Gryphon staggered to the line trying to find the first runner.
The test was meant to get the combatants to show off their abilities, forcing them to use both magic and physical strength to finish the obstacle course. Each person was timed but she was expected to give points for how each fae got past the obstacles. She tugged out a reporter’s notebook and noted down the Clan of the combatant and what she knew of his abilities.
Clan Darkmore, they were air creatures, and not known for their physical strength, their power lay in illusions, which would be of little use here. She watched as they slowed to a crawl as magical constructs and physical walls forced them to actually climb and dodge. Ten minutes in Gryphon knew they would be out of the running as the next runner was released to start the trial.
Clan Hern joined the race in fine form, the young woman easily passing the first few barriers until she reached the first magical construct, a warrior holding a flaming sword. The water fae, stalled there as she steadily lost strength in the fight, the fire weakening her magic. Eventually she won past and continued but at a much slower pace clearly winded.
Clan Versus joined the group next, her brother bounding through the first few obstacles easily. She could almost see his sneer even from this distance.
“You might need to watch my back when Aedan crossed the finish line.”
“Which one is Aedan?” John asked watching as yet another heir started the course.
“The male from Clan Versus, my half-brother.”
“Grand,” John said with a sigh, watching as the muscular gryphon stubbornly plowed his way across each obstacle. “He’s rather direct.”
“Yes, most of my family prefer the direct approach.” She said with a snort, “Gryphons aren’t known for their subtlety.”
“That’s not always a bad thing.” John said eyes on the trial, “I tend to prefer the direct approach in women.”
“Should I set you up with my mother then?” she asked grinning when he sputtered in shock.
“That’s just mean.” He said with a groan.
“She’d have eaten you alive anyway.” Gryphon said with a snort, making notes on the next two runners, a youth from Clan Smithe and the new heir to Clan Farris. “Now that is interesting, why is he running?”
“The new heir to Clan Ferris.”
“I heard about that, messy business.
“They’ve had several small scale brawls that had to be suppressed in the news thanks to that mess.”
“They’re not keeping it within the Clan then? I hadn’t heard of any unrest reaching the precinct.”
“I don’t know what that lad has on the Clan Head but it must be good, they’re not backing down in the slightest no matter how the rest of the Clan protests. It might turn into a Clan feud.”
“That’s the last thing we need right now.”
“Him entering might be a good thing, those against him are probably are being told it was done so the true heir won’t be risked.”
“Not true?” he asked grimacing and moving back as the runners started passing the finish line.
“That man has the Clan by the balls somehow, it’s going to be messy if he loses, worse if he wins.”
“Grand, upheaval and chaos everywhere we look.”
“I thought chaos was the spice of life?”
“I’ll take a calm morning with a large cup of coffee any day over open warfare.”
Gryphon didn’t respond, nodding to each runner as they passed and forcing herself to do the same for her brother. It was surprising to see who had been nominated for the trails from each clan, most were the known heir but not always. The trial went on until sunrise, none of the runners willing to admit defeat until the horn sounded.
The final two were carried over the finish line by other members of their clan, allowing them to complete the trial even if they were out of the running for the Council seat. The crowds had been slowly dispersing as the hours mounted with only the Council members and herself required to stay for the entire night. Those to watch were the ones who finished in the first hour generally, Clan Versus, Clan Farris, and Clan Blane. The rest might rise to replace the others as the trails moved to more magical tests but traditionally those who passed the first test easily, were the ones to fight for the final seat. They had three more trials in the coming weeks with a final trial by combat if there was a tie with any of the contenders.
Dragon gestured her forward as the contestants nursed their injuries to one side. “Judge announce the scores. How do you judge the trial?”
Gryphon stepped forward and quickly listed out the scores of each Clan. Aedan grinned viciously when she announced his second place behind Clan Blane but the serpent fae had won through all the trials at a speed that left the entire field behind. Only Clan Ferris and Versus had come close in the times, the rest of the contenders were almost an hour behind or even more.
“Wonderful, congratulation. The remaining eight contestants will continue in three days at the next trial. The location will be announced the day of the trial. Rest up and prepare!” Dragon said with a sneer, his own choice for the trial cringing under his withering gaze hugging a broken arm to his chest, the heir to Clan Greer had passed the trial but he would be declared unfit unless he could find someone to heal his injuries before the next contest.
Gryphon quickly moved away from the group John trailing behind her, watching her back. Several of the various Clan members looked like they wished to speak with her but she broke into a jog giving them no polite way to stop her. She reached her bike and they both quickly checked it for tampering before she tugged on her helmet.
“Do you want me to follow you back?”
“Yes, you probably should know where I’m staying, just in case.” Gryphon said tugging on her gloves and fighting back a shiver, neither gryphons nor sphinxes were meant to run away from a fight and her instincts were screaming at her to tear into something. “Where’s your car?”
“I ran here.”
“Get on,” She bit out, “I don’t have a spare helmet.”
“Just don’t crash us then.” He said swinging a leg over the bike and wrapping his arms around her waist.
She peeled out ignoring his curse, the ride was fast and a bit reckless. She took a rambling route but the need for distance wared with her need for stealth and eventually she took them home by a mostly direct route once they reached the city. It would have taken a fast flier to follow them anyway and the skies were clear that she could see.
John helped her get the bike into the garage before silently following her into the kitchen. Several of her troop were waiting for them. She could see the tension drop from Richard’s shoulders when she came in the door. She gave them a quick smile before showing John in and locking and warding the door behind them.
“Everyone, this is John. He’s been helping with the hidden fae and the Council trials.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” John said with a nod to the room, taking a seat at the oversized kitchen table and taking a cup of coffee only to groan around the first sip, “Damn, that’s good. I might have to move in if all the food’s that good.”
“That would mostly be Lana and Gryphon’s fault. They cook so good most of us have given up trying.” Jake said with a snort.
“Anyway, we’re hoping to make it an official clan soon if the Council will even make up their minds.”
“That’s the decision you’re waiting on? If you can form your own Clan?” John asked glancing around the room before watching where Gryphon was accepting a cup of coffee.
“That’s the idea,” Gryphon said with a sigh, “If they say no then I’m sent back to my Clan. If they say yes, I’m released and allowed to start my own.”
“But you have to have like fifty members and votes from other existing Clans,” John said glancing around the handful of fae gathered.
“We already have both.” Gryphon said with a small smile, looking over her assembled family, “We can prove that the group is pulling in enough income to support ourselves, we have over seventy members about the town, and several prominent Clans have offered their votes of support of the vote goes my way.”
“That is amazing.” John said with a grin, “If you want I can speak to my pack and get their vote as well. They might even be willing to send you some members, some of the younger shifters like to travel and we allow a lot of movement between Clans.”
“Mostly we taking in those who’ve been turned away from their Clans but as long as they follow the same rules as everyone else they’re welcome.”
“No fights, physical or verbal, within the House. Any disagreements are heard at weekly meetings and dealt with as a group. Clan affiliates and light or dark bigotries are not allowed. If you can’t live with both light and dark fae then you’re not wanted. Everyone is considered family here and attacking another member for their affiliation or birth race or Clan is grounds for banishment from the Clan.”
“That does narrow down the possible applicants but I can thinks of a few who’d still be interested.”
“Wait until we get the official decision,” Gryphon said grinning when Lana floated John a well filled plate of breakfast, “Until then consider this your trial run.”
“Offering me a spot? Few are willing to take lone shifters in.”
“As long as the rules are followed we don’t refuse anyone who wants to stay. They are all allowed the same benefits of the House.”
“The older fae will be livid when word gets out but I know a number of the younger who would be willing to consider changing clans for a chance to live outside of their Clan’s rules and affiliation. What affiliation would your clan take if you’re taking in both dark and light fae?”
“Officially we’ll be neutral but we don’t want an affiliation. Light and dark are welcome, no matter the race or clan, no matter if their affiliation is traditional or not.”
“You’re going to get a lot of flak once word gets out but you’ll have my support. We need more clans willing to support their members no matter their affiliation. I’ve known a number of shifters that were forced out for following their nature when it went against the affiliation of the Clan.”
“That’s where most of our members come from. The ones the other Clans cast out. My Clan thought me weak for refusing to declare dark but gryphons are too possessive to toss a member out without a fight.”
“Which is why you’re petitioning the Council to be allowed your own Clan, it forces Clan Versus to release you. Sneaky.”
“Thanks.” Gryphon said with a snort, “Enjoy breakfast, I’m going to head to bed. Everyone have a good morning and stay safe.”
A chorus of good morning and good nights followed her up the stairs. She glanced at her bed before heading to her laptop with a sigh, she had too much work to do to rest quite yet. The sun was well up and her coffee gone cold before she finished with the last email and bit of business.
A knock on the door stopped her just as she was pulling out a change of clothes. Jake leaned around the door frame once she released the warding dangling her phone.
“That cop just called, said he’d text you the address.”
“They found another one?”
“Yeah,” He said with a sigh, “I updated the map.”
“It’s too soon, they’re not following the pattern.” She said quickly starting to change while Jake looked away with a blush.
“Well, they have another body, maybe it’s not related.”
“Let’s hope not, if they change the timing they have to keep getting faster for the right to continue. That means we have less than two weeks before the rite is finished, right in time for the dark of the moon. Would make for a powerful dark rite.”
“Yep.” Gryphon agreed, snatching her phone and starting down the stairs, “Make sure everyone who can stays in, I don’t want anyone out after dark if we can help it.”
“I’ll spread the word.”
The three dwarves were hung from the branch of a metal sculpture in another park. The cops had already cordoned off the area but this time there were no press or witnesses to watch as the coroner eased a body down to join another bag on the ground. Two other bags sat empty and waiting for their grim cargo.
“Four dwarves?” She asked in greeting moving up to stand next to John, his card having gotten her past the half fae guard at the entrance to the park.
“Three dwarves and a hob.”
“Earth, air, and water. They only need a fire based fae to balance the ritual.”
“Fire fae don’t tend to be hidden.”
“No, we don’t.” Gryphon said with a sigh. “They’re going to have to take someone out in the open if they want a balanced rite which means they have until the dark moon to finish.”
“Two weeks, shit.” John said scrubbing a hand over his face and gesturing for her to follow as he dug in his pockets pulling out a pack of cigarettes.
“I didn’t realize you smoked.”
“I don’t, bad habit I gave up years ago.” He said with a bitter laugh as he searched for a lighter. She took the cigarette from his hand and blew along the tip, lighting it with a small spell before taking a puff, she blew out a plume of smoke with a hum before handing it back.
“The next trial is in two days, if they keep with the same timing the next killing will be at the same time.”
“With another killing every two days until the dark moon.” John said blowing out a stream of smoke, “Shit, we need to catch this guy now.”
“Can you stake out the parks around town?”
“We already have.” He said crushing out the butt and pocketing it, “They only caught this one because someone drove in using an unused service road, it wasn’t on our map so no one was posted there.”
“Description of the car?”
“A dark truck or SUV, it was too dark to see much more and we only have so many fae aware staff I can use on the case.” He said with a huff, “Why does the way the bodies are placed sound familiar?”
“It’s from a fae story, most of us read it as children if you were raised in a Clan.”
“That’s right, the crossed lovers who met at the tree and were left in the branches as a warning against going against your Clan’s rulings. Shit, are the other killings from stories?”
“I’ll have to check, I don’t remember anything specific about a water fae or air fae in a fairy ring.” She said with a grimace, the old stories were often brutal bloody telling’s that had given her nightmares as a hatchling.
“There was one about wandering too far from the Clan, an air fae went out to fly a ring alone and was punished.”
“I never liked the fae stories, too much death and corruption, so I didn’t read many.” Gryphon said with a sigh, “Looks like I’m going to get my chance.”
“Stories about not going against your Clan.” John said glancing back at the sculpture, “Is this a fae rebelling against his Clan or showing his devotion?”
“Depends on the Clan affiliation and how they were raised. This might just be a case of madness, a half blood trying to prove how pure his blood is by preforming a dark rite?”
“Or a light fae rebelling and showing just how dark they can be.” John said with a frown, “I don’t care why they’re doing it, we need to find them before someone else dies.”
“What if it’s all from the same book? There can’t be that many collections of fae children’s stories can there?”
“Let me finish up here and we can head to the Lantern, Sparrow has a big library. If he doesn’t have it he might know where to ask around and find a copy.”
“What about your partner?”
“He’s keeping to the human side of things for this one. Someone complained about a human investigating a fae crime.”
“Let me guess, Daven?”
“The man is stuck in the fifteenth century.” John said with a snort, “He sent out cards requesting copies of the evidence, hasn’t even bothered to call or even visit the precinct.”
“At least it keeps him out of your hair.”
“Not really, I have to report to the Council building to pass off the information tonight. The prick won’t even come pick up the paperwork.”
“Maybe he’s hiding an iron sensitivity.”
“If he is it’s from the pike shaft up his ass.” He said grinning at the bark of laughter the Gryphon couldn’t hold back, “Give me ten minutes and then we can go wake up Sparrow.”
“This is a fool’s chase.” Gryphon said with a groan, tossing the massive book onto an even larger pile of rejects, “There must be ten different versions of just the fairy ring story.”
“It was a fair idea but the rite will be over before we find the book.” Sparrow said setting his own volume down. “What else can we do?”
“We know they’re using parks to display the bodies and cast the final rituals of each part of the rite.” John said ticking points off on one hand, “They have access to a dark SUV or truck and might be a small group or have at least one accomplice to help move the bodies. They are modeling the killings after fae children’s stories. Am I missing anything?”
“They’re only attacking the hidden fae, at least so far. Only those without political clout or magical power and focusing all the power on increasing the dark without balance in the casting.”
“I’ll keep looking through what I have here and ask around.” Sparrow said passing a fresh cup of tea to Gryphon, “Don’t you have somewhere to be, John?”
“Shite, the meeting with Daven.” John cursed gathering up his jacket, “Can I borrow you’re car, Sparrow? I’ll bring it back tonight.”
“Take it and hurry or you’ll be late.” The small man said waving off the shape shifter without bothering to glance up.
“Catch you later, Gryphon?” John asked pausing at the door to glance back at Gryphon with a small grin.
“Of course. Be safe.” She said adding milk to her tea and trying not to yawn, this week seemed to be never ending.
“You as well.” He said giving her a quick smile before dashing out the door.
“He wouldn’t be a bad match if you’re looking.” Sparrow said with a grin, “It’s been a while since I saw him so taken with another fae.”
“I can’t even consider it, Sparrow.” Gryphon said with a grimace, “The Clan controls everything and they’ve promised me to another Gryphon. It’s why I left, if they knew I was with someone else they would declare a feud with their clan, I can’t do that to him.”
“For Gryphons being so possessive you seem rather even handed. The Sphinx in you? You certainly don’t take after your mother’s side.”
“Tatha always thought so, she said I took after my father in most things.” Gryphon said sipping at her tea.
“At least they’ve left your hoard alone, do they know?” He asked starting to clean up the books they’d already checked.
“No, and I don’t want to know how you learned of it.” Gryphon snapped setting her cup to the side and giving Sparrow a harsh glance.
“Tatha told me in case something happened, she worries about you.” Sparrow said reproachfully.
“I made her promise that she would keep everything safe should my petition be denied, I don’t know what would happen if it was damaged or attacked.”
“Hopefully we never have to find out,” Sparrow said with a sigh, “I’m not sure even that collar would hold you if your hoard was in danger. Gryphons have went to war for less.”
“Let’s hope nothing happens to it then, even my brothers wouldn’t be so stupid as to attack another Gryphon’s hoard.”
Check out the previous chapters, here.