By Claire Banschbach
The griffin hovered in the air, turning lazily on the currents as its rider peered down at the advancing infantry. Only a few miles away from the citadel now. He tugged on the reins and the griffin wheeled around, racing above the road that twisted through the mountains to the last free city of the Elvarin.
The griffin alighted on the wide turret, and he slid from the saddle, sending it back to roost with a quick signal. He didn’t bother untacking the animal. They’d be seeing battle before the day was done. He made his report to the grim faced officers.
“Have you seen anything else?” one asked. They didn’t mean with his mortal eyes. He shook his head. The spirit that resided inside had not shown him any glimpses of the future yet. He hadn’t had a vision for days, something that worried them all. It wasn’t like the phoenix to go so silent.
He left and went back to the walls, climbing up to his favorite perch upon the north tower that spired almost as high as the mountain top behind. Almost all sounds faded away and he could imagine that he was just there for a visit, not preparing for an inevitable last stand. They just needed to give their people enough time to drive deeper into the safety of the mountains. The whetstone growled over the edges of his two swords, eager to help in the preparations for war.
As he stared down at the blades, a sheen of red flicked over his vision and he saw fragments of the upcoming battle play before his eyes. He would not tell anyone. They needed what little hope they still clung to. He dug a hand through his fiery red hair, a greater sense of foreboding clinging to him. This would be his last day on the earth.
He remained up there until the horns called every soldier to the walls. Many looked to him, hoping for some sort of reassurance in their future. He gave them a nod and went to find the general. He at least needed to know so that perhaps some men could be saved.
The commander accepted the news with slumped shoulders.
“We’ll hold them as long as we can and then sound the retreat. We’ll get as many as we can out through the back gates before we collapse them,” he said.
It was the best plan. Or they could all leave now and everyone would live. Red flicked over his eyes. They would live, only to die in the next three days. This was one of the few moments in his life where he truly hated what he had been born with. He simply saluted and made his way from the hall to take his place with the other griffin riders.
The citadel fell at dusk. Liquid fire ate at the stones and soldiers from both sides littered the walls and courtyard. He was the last to leave, the griffin carrying his bleeding body away as the sound of the gates collapsing ricocheted off the mountains. The griffin touched down on a green sward overlooking the city. He crumpled to the ground, looking down at the smoking walls. Their banner was torn down and replaced with a new one.
Then through a haze of red, the smoke cleared, laughter rang, and children roamed the walls – the pointed tips of their ears marking them as his people. He smiled until the vision faded and he was faced again with reality.
Blood was staining the grass around him, and he hastily reached for the paper and charcoal ever present in his pocket. Survivors were beginning to reach him. The general still survived and he pressed the paper into his hands.
“We take it back. We take it all back,” the man read, tears glistening in his eyes.
He lay back on the stained grass. His time was coming. The phoenix was leaving him. Sometime tonight or the next morning, a child would be born, the phoenix dormant inside until the future needed to be seen.
Men gathered around, mourning the loss of their city and the man who had carried the phoenix.
He caught one last glimpse before the red that ringed his dark iris faded forever. A girl. A leader. The flaming red of his hair returned to the natural black he had been born with. As the last traces of the spirit left he uttered his first words.
The general clutched his hand, promising that he would.
His eyes slid closed. No regrets. No anger. It was the way of life. He had to die so the phoenix could live.
Discover the inspiration behind the story HERE.