“Where is your planet? Can we see it from Earth?”
“Firstly, in essence it is your planet as well, Alice. Secondly, it is further away than any super telescope can view. Unfortunately, our escape required we never return. We have no idea what fate our planet suffered after we left.”
“What happened? Why did you all leave?”
Totoran guided Alice to a stone bench and sat beside her. As he looked into her eyes, she saw a shimmer cross her vision. Images began to appear and a dark sky appeared. Alice shook her head but Totoran held her chin.
“Let the vision come, Alice. I am showing you our last view of the Griffian world.”
Alice let her shoulders relax and watched the vision come into sharp relief. The landscape stretching before her eyes was festooned with hexagonal boulders stacked on top of each other. The dark sky was a dark purple but there were infrequent streaks of blazing aquatic blue across it. In the distance she saw intense blue sparks and flames shooting hundreds of feet upward.
“What you see is the destruction of our capital city, Alice. We have no idea if any Griffian’s, who escaped to the far shores, survived. We have no way of getting back now.”
“Who or what did that? Why can’t you go back?”
“You are so full of questions! The destruction was caused by a break in our atmosphere. A large fissure grew to extraordinary lengths across the whole planet. Without the protection of the atmosphere our planet was at the mercy of bombarding comets. These brought with them not only a kind of radiation but also bacteria. Griffian biology cannot withstand either of these elements and many hundreds of Griffian’s died. In a desperate hope that we could find another planet that would sustain us, we built a craft of mammoth proportions. Many did not live to see it launch.”
Alice saw the sadness in Totoran’s eyes but she was puzzled as to how a young Griffian could be so moved by an event that happened generations before. Unable to voice her thoughts she placed a hand gently on Totoran’s own. They remained silent for a while, both lost in their thoughts. Wrightsen’s croaky voice broke their peaceful contemplation.
“Prince Totoran, please you must come. The watchers have a report.”
Alice nearly toppled backwards off the bench with the speed in which Totoran stood up. He ran and soon disappeared down a corridor, shouting behind him for Wrightsen to take care of Alice.
“Oh goodness, what has happened, Wrightsen?”
“I think it might be human machines approaching, but sincerely hope that is not the case.”
“Can I do anything to help? What should we do?”
“We are at the mercy of fate, my young Griffian. I only hope we survive this conflict.”
Before Alice could stop her thought escaping her mouth, she blurted out.
“Did you see your world burn, Wrightsen?”
Alice clasped a hand to her mouth and shook her head vigorously while laying a hand on Wrightsen’s shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, don’t answer anything, I shouldn’t said that. I apologize.”
“Totoran told you then of our escape?”
He begun to but then could not continue. The sadness in his eyes was intense. How can he feel such pain? He could not have been there.”
“It is not for me to disclose the Prince’s secrets, Alice but we all feel the loss of our world. Tales are passed down generation to generation.”
“I understand that but to see how intensely Totoran felt at a distance event, stunned me.”
“As I said, I am not at liberty to discuss the Prince, my young Alice. Come now we should make our way further into the mountain.”
Alice followed the older Griffian, keeping close to the rock walls as other Griffian’s hurried this way and that in a determined manner. Wrightsen glanced back repeatedly to ensure Alice did not stray from their path. As they traveled further into the mountain fortress the air grew colder. Alice shivered, wishing she had some sort of cloak to wrap around her misshaped figure. As if reading her mind, Wrightsen pulled her sideways into a small room. With a click of her talons, Wrightsen produced a spark and lit a torch held in place by a bracket on the wall. The yellow flame illuminated the room. Alice saw large boxes piled high one side of the room and folded garments to the other.
“Take a couple, Alice, it will get colder the further we go.”
“Thank you, I was shivering with the cold and damp air.”
Once they were both wrapped in warm woolen garments, Wrightsen took Alice’s claw and guided her into the corridor again.
“Stay close, Alice, these passages are not frequented by the majority of the Griffian’s. There may be rock falls and slimy surfaces to deal with as the maintenance crews have enough to monitor and repair higher up.”
With care the two Griffian’s trod the narrow passage lit only by the torch flame held up by Wrightsen. A sudden gust of wind battered the flame, producing grotesque shadows all around them. Aware that Wrightsen had stopped, Alice stayed behind the older Griffian waiting for instructions.
“That’s not good. There are only a couple of reasons there would be such a gust like that. We must hurry, Alice and get to the sanctuary.”
“I have no time to explain, just follow me, Alice, we have little time.”
Alice heard the fear in Wrightsen’s voice and saw it cross the elder’s eyes. With her heart racing, Alice followed in silence through several passages, which gradually reduced in size. They were both hunched over when her guide held up a claw and stood still. Alice narrowed her eyes trying to glimpse what was ahead. The torch’s flame flickered casing shadows over the wet rock walls. A talon went up to Wrightsen’s lips and Alice compiled to remain silent. Claw in claw they moved forward one step at a time listening intently. A booming noise echoed along the rock walls, halting their progress for several minutes. Alice saw Wrightsen sniff the air then motioned to move forward again. After some time they came to a dead end, surrounded by a clawed rock face. Alice looked at her guide in puzzlement and pointed at the impenetrable barrier ahead.
Wrightsen placed her claws on the wall in front of her and pressed. A glimmer of light appeared to her left and Alice realized it was a door. Stone scraped against stone as they both pushed the rock door open. Once the gap was large enough to accommodate them, Alice and Wrightsen passed through. Before Alice could take a look around, the elder grabbed her shoulder and motioned for her to help close the portal. Once satisfied it was secure, Wrightsen turned to Alice.
“Now we can speak, we will be safe here.”
“Where are we exactly?”
“In the deepest part of the mountain, a place none of us ever wished to use.”
“Can other Griffian’s come here to safety? We should have brought others with us.”
“There are other entrances just as well hidden, do not fret, Alice. We need to continue for a while yet but there is no fear of being followed now.”
Alice took the torch from Wrightsen as she lit another. The rock walls were not as well maintained or as smooth so as they walked they took care not to bump into pieces of rock jutting out into the passage. After a while, Alice heard running water.
“Is that water I hear, Wrightsen? All the way down here?”
“It is an underground river and the reason we dug these passages so deep. We have supplies stockpiled but water is vital for a siege.”
“A siege? I don’t understand.”
“The humans will try to eradicate us, Alice. We must hide until they feel their invasion has been successful.”
Alice’s eyes grew wide with fear. She tried to make sense of what the older Griffian was saying.
“How long do we have to stay here?”
“Last time it was about ten years.”
“What! No…Wrightsen that’s not happening. I can’t be here that long. We have to go now, get out of here and fly far away.”
“Alice calm down, we can not risk going to the surface. We must stay and hope many other Griffian’s have made it down safely. Including the King and Prince.”
With her body shaking uncontrollably, Alice fell to the floor sobbing. The elder Griffian embraced her and made soothing noises to comfort her. A grinding sound made them hold still and quiet until Wrightsen heard a huffing sound and replied in a similar manner. Large shapes approached and gradually formed into Griffian’s.
“Wrightsen, what a welcome sight you are? How many are here?”
“My Prince we have not ventured further as yet. Alice is upset.”
Tortoran knelt beside Alice and pulled her head upward to face him. With great care he wiped tears from her skin.
“You are safe here, Alice, do not fear. I will try to be near at all times but cannot promise. The humans are blasting the upper rock face in an attempt to break through. We must be diligent and secure this sanctuary. “
Alice looked up her fear increasing at his words.
“They are blasting the mountain? Surely we must leave?”
“We have constructed numerous safety measures and escape routes throughout the mountain range, Alice. There is no way they can penetrate this far down. We are safe. Would you feel more comfortable changed to human form?”
Alice looked into Tortoran’s eyes seeing his sincerity and care. She felt easier having him near.
“Would the other Griffian’s not be offended if I changed, Tortoran?”
“No, of course not! Whatever helps you is fine. Wrightsen will be with you at all times and Marduke here will protect you too.”
Tortoran pointed to a large Griffian standing behind him, who nodded in agreement at his Prince’s order.
“Thank you, Tortoran for your understanding and for the extra protection but do you not need every available Griffian to fight?”
“We are many, Alice, it is not a problem. I would feel better knowing you are kept safe. Come, we can rest in the sanctuary.”
Alice wrestled with herself on whether to transform or not and decided her Griffian form would serve her better if the humans did penetrate the fortified sanctuary.
“I will retain my form, Tortoran, if we are attacked I will be better equipped to help. Thank you.”
Tortoran smiled at her and held his claw out to direct her forward.
“I would hope that situation does not occur, Alice. There are many Griffian soldiers between you and the surface.”
In single file the group walked steadily downward again along a narrow passage. There was a glow ahead of them and the torches bright flames diminished as they approached. The passage way ceased abruptly into an enormous cavern. Alice saw stockpiles of food and equipment on all sides. The cavern was teeming with Griffian’s carrying more supplies and others directing their placement. The low buzz of grunts and murmurings lessened as Tortoran entered the space. Griffian’s turned to face him and bowed.
Tortoran held up his claws and spoke loudly so the assembly would hear him.
“Griffian’s we will overcome as we stand together. We have endured before and we will again. Together we are strong. Continue with your assignments, I thank you all for your loyalty.”
Loud huffing sounds echoed around the cavern as Tortoran’s speech ended. Alice looked at him in awe. They all love and respect him.
Tortoran turned to her and guided her down a ramp into the center of the cavern. She was aware of questioning looks, as she passed, at her presence with the Prince. A corridor ahead was their destination. The walls were smoothed and there were torches cradled in holders along its length. Alice saw an elaborating decorated door before them and puzzled why such decoration was needed so deep within the mountain.
“Your majesty, I will await your orders.”
Alice turned at Marduke’s words and saw him stand to one side of the door. Wrightsen bowed toward Tortoran and then sat on a small ledge in the rock face.
“Come, Alice, it is time you met my father, the King.”
“Are you sure? I can stay with Wrightsen and Marduke.”
“Yes, I am certain. Please bow and remain silent unless my father questions you directly. He is not as fierce as he appears but insists on proper protocol.”