Characters and Text © 1999, 2000, C Sandwalker
Arrallins © Dee Dreslough

A couple of days after their last romantic escape, a light drizzle fell, obscuring objects more than a few metres away. The dusty ground, as it does, absorbed the water readily, turning pathways to sticky mud.

"Ugh!" offered Fortren when he looked out of the home entrance. Turning around to face his father he inquired, "Do we have to go out in this? Today?" The smell of wet gryphon was definitely not high on Fortren's list of favourite odours.

"The Weathercasters assured me yesterday that this rain will disperse around midday, though you know what their predictive powers are like," Tymon replied. "In the meantime, I would suggest that you eat something. There's still some ox left over from last night..."

Fortren shook his head. "I don't feel all that hungry this morning." Actually, he was ravenous, but was too worried and nervous to eat. He sat back on his haunches and studied the rain intently. "Dad?"

Tymon glanced up from the remains of the ox he had dragged in to protect it from getting wet. "Yes?"

Fortren thought a few long moments, then asked, "Why should I be a Builder? I'm not all that good at it. I don't even particularly like building things."

Lying down before the ox carcass, Tymon began to rip pieces off, pondering his son's problem, his long tail swishing back and forth as he did so, as it always did when he was thinking. "Well," he said finally, "I naturally assumed that you'd follow in my footsteps."

"You didn't follow your father's footsteps, did you? He was a Weathercaster, wasn't he?" Fortren's tone was slightly accusing.

Tymon's nares flushed red, and he hurriedly looked down at the meat he was eating. "Er, well, yes he was. He had the talent. I didn't. I also didn't have the interest. I just couldn't see what was so fascinating or fulfilling about predicting the weather a day or two ahead."

A chuckle rumbled from Fortren's insides. "That's exactly how I feel. I actually wanted to be an Archivist, but I didn't want to let you down, so I applied for the BuilderCraft." He turned and came back into the main living space, sitting on a couple of large cushions, and looked over to his father.

"Well, if you're that unhappy about being a Builder, I'll have a word with Master Therin about letting you transfer to the LibraryCraft." Tymon raised a feathered eyebrow, silently asking if that arrangement was acceptable.

"Thanks, Dad." Fortren got up and nuzzled his father, grooming his ear tufts affectionately, before he went to his room to recheck his packing.

Alla actually greeted the rain with enthusiasm. She liked to run around outside in the cold drizzle, letting the water droplets wash away her cares and worries, if only for a little while, as well as the dust picked up from almost everywhere she went.

After a brisk shower, she strolled into the foyer of her home, and shook herself vigorously, padding into the family room to greet her parents, who, oddly, were in a much better frame of mind.

"Morning, dear," purred her mother as Alla walked in. She stopped, and stared at Ferria intently. That greeting had been just a little forced, if she wasn't mistaken. She turned and stared at her father Ulwin, atop a large square pillow on the opposite side of the room. "All right, what's up? I know you two well enough to know when something's cooking." She sat on her haunches between them, glancing from one to the other, waiting for an answer.

Ferria shot a look at Ulwin, who returned it coolly. This seemed to unsettle her a bit, as she fluffed up her feathers and tried not to appear anxious. "Ah, Alla, dear..." She struggled with the words she had to say. In a rush, she managed to get out, "We'd like to apologise for our behaviour last night, and promise not to interfere with your romantic affairs in future." Her nares flushed bright crimson, and she turned away from Alla's piercing gaze.

"Really?" Alla was impressed. It wasn't like her parents to apologise to anyone, let alone their own daughter. "You really promise to allow Fortren and I to continue our relationship?" Her voice suddenly took on a wary note. "There has got to be a catch here somewhere. It's definitely not like you to offer something and not expect a return investment."

Her father spoke up before his wife could formulate a reply. "As the regulations stipulate, if you, and Fortren, still have affections for each other after your period of Outdoor Experience, then we will let you...be together. Assuming that his parents both agree."

Ulwin's voice had a tone of wistfulness, and Alla could see that they were indeed sincere. "Very well. Thank you both," she said, and going first to her mother, then her father, she nuzzled their cheeks, and momentarily groomed their ear tufts. "Now, anything for breakfast? I feel as if I haven't eaten for a week. Is there any venison lying around?"

As predicted, the rain cleared up at noon, leaving behind steaming fields and muddy pathways. Along these, Fortren and Alla were escorted to the landing area, a square about a hundred feet along each side, now a big mud patch.

"Ew," groaned Fortren. He hated mud, the way it stuck to his fur and feathers, and the way it smelled. For Alla, it was more of an impromptu beauty treatment as she walked.

Alla turned her head to regard him. "Don't you like the mud?" she asked in a teasing voice, exaggeratedly squishing the mud through her toes and claws in jest.

"No, I don't. Given the choice between mud or rain, I'd just as sooner have soggy feathers and smelly fur than liquid bricks all over me." Fortren made a comical sight, trying to walk with touching the ground, without much success.

The landing area loomed in front of them, a big square bog. To one side stood a group of younger gryphons, chatting and bickering amongst themselves, whilst their parents and supervisors discussed other things.

One of the elder gryphons excused himself, and went to meet Fortren and Alla. "Hello..." he checked the list dangling from his neck, "Fortren, Alla. You'd be the latest lovebirds, I'd wager." He grinned a gryph-grin. Fortren, embarrassed, looked at the ground, while Alla chuckled with mild humour. "Don't worry, lad. I was in the same situation myself once." He turned and pointed to a female with sienna plumage and dark brown fur chatting to someone else. "And we've been together since." As both were starting to show signs of ageing, it must have been a fair time ago.

"Right, you two. I'm Galmin, and I'll be Alla's supervisor for the O.E. Fortren, you'll be taken by Sinclan..." Galmin broke off as Fortren muttered a dirty word under his breath. "Yes, I'm sure you don't like him, but he's the best in the field, despite his creaking and groaning like a tree in a strong wind. Anyway, if you'll both go and stand over there with them," and he indicated the gaggle of younger gryphons, "we'll be getting under way shortly."

"Of all the no good, rotten, underhanded, despicable..." Fortren ranted quietly as he and Alla strolled apprehensively to the gathering of 'misbehavers'. "He's going to really enjoy torturing me, I swear."

"Well, well. If it isn't Fortren and his girlfriend," a female with purple ribbons braided into her rust-coloured feathers remarked snidely. Behind her stood a male with feathers dyed a deep purple, his golden fur clashing horribly.

"Rizarra, Keltin," greeted Alla coolly. "How lovely to see you again. It seems like only yesterday you were such a sweet little gryphlet. I wonder what happened?" Rizarra's hackles rose at the jibe, but she merely replied, with her voice oozing sarcasm, "Nothing you'd care to know, Little Miss Perfect." Rizarra turned her back and started talking with her cronies again.

Fortren shook his head worriedly, sitting back on his haunches. "This whole thing is going to be hell with her on board. Could it possibly get worse?" A moment later, when Alla opened her beak to say something, he added, "Don't answer that. It was rhetorical." Alla subsided with a grin.

Fortren looked around at the other young gryphons. Some were there because they'd been public nuisances, others for romantic connections, and the odd two or three who were along just for the experience. He wondered which ones would make up his expeditionary group. He didn't have long to wait.

"All right you lot, settle down, please," called Galmin over the minor din. All heads turned to regard him, the chatter dying down to a few whispers. "Right. I'm sure you all know why you're here..." The crowd broke into various noises, some laughing, others groaning, others just staying silent. "Quiet!" shouted Galmin.

He surveyed the young in front of him. "Thank you. Now, you will be split into three groups, the leaders of which will be Sinclan, -- " Fortren groaned again. " -- Rillon and myself. We will be flying southwest for several days, across the Rivki Sea, before we make the Southern Continent at Cape Hypri, where we will then split up into our separate groups. We will make stops every night for sleep, obviously, and other stops when needed." Galmin paused for breath, then continued. "Sinclan's team, that is Tolstin, Bella, Heston, Fortren, Jallin, Rizarra..." Galmin continued to list the rest of them, "will fly another day southwest to the Bandari Mountains." He then went on to detail the other teams, and an explanation of their basic duties.

"Ugh! Rizarra? I just had to ask, didn't I?" Fortren looked very put out, much to Alla's amusement.

"Right, you all understand?" Galmin asked, looking around at the young faces. "No questions? Then let's regroup here tomorrow morning at dawn." A chorus of disgruntlement met that statement. "Due to our fickle weather, we have lost a lot of flying time today, so I will postpone leaving until then tomorrow, so you'd might as well make the most of what time you have left, pursuing your various activities...excepting those that got you enlisted in this in the first place." A winsome gryph-grin puctuated his speech, and with a wave of one taloned hand, he dismissed the delinquents.

As the band dispersed to enjoy their afternoon, Alla and Fortren chatted quietly as they strolled away from the landing area. "How nice of him to give us a free afternoon," said Fortren, glancing back over his shoulder to get another look at Galmin, who had resumed talking with some of the parents.

Alla chuckled with wry amusement. "Don't be so glum," she told him. "I'm sure this fortnight will be packed with action and excitement. Maybe a meteor will come down and provide us with valuable information about the heavens. Perhaps a nice show of aurorae? A new species?" Her voice was tinged with enthusiasm, which just made Fortren even more resigned.

"Yeah, right. Or we could just get strange visitors from space." Fortren closed the discussion with a tone of finality, and stalked off to the Library/Records Hall for a bit of light reading. Alla sighed as she watched him go, then turned and made for the Healer Hall to spend her time practising her healing powers on willing patients.

On to Chapter 3