It was halfway through the fortnight, and Fortren, like almost every other gryphon, was heartily sick of flying around the plains and mountains, carrying drawing implements to chart the area, sketching in various scales and detail, and comparing them to others' efforts. He had to admit he was getting quite good at drawing in general, spending a lot of his spare time idly scratching away with a stick of charcoal, doing portraits of the gryphons around him, the scenery, almost anything. He debated giving up a position with the Archivists and moving to the Artists instead. On the odd occasion he had even found himself drawing detailed portraits of Alla, who usually dominated his thoughts.
Today, for a change of pace, he and four others, including Rizarra, were on an orienteering mission to find an object placed strategically for them to find. This was to be a test of cunning, wits and map- and compass-reading, as all the other groups were intent on finding the same thing, whatever it was.
"Are you sure you know where we're going?" came the complaint from Rizarra, never the most even-minded of gryphons at the best of times.
A gryphon named Rallen, who held the map, took it out from his beak, and placed it on a handy rock so everyone could see it. "Well, if we assume that the compass is being read correctly, then we should be near a large spring." Everyone looked at Fortren, standing at the back, who had possession of the compass.
"Ah...I think I've made a mistake somewhere," he muttered.
Rallen stalked over and took the compass, then tried to trace their course on the map. After a minute or so of quiet murmuring to himself, he turned and said, "You've been reading the compass in reverse."
Fortren's nares turned red with embarrassment, and he looked away from everyone's stares of disdain. "Oops?" he offered.
Rizarra pouted. "Great, so now we're lost, thanks to Nature Boy here."
Rallen sighed, and peered at the sky above. "I'll go up and take a look. Perhaps I can get a reference point from up there." He took the map from the rock, rolled it up, then opening out his wings, he flapped them hard, lifting off from the ground and making his way up into the sky, the map clutched in his right foreclaw.
One of the other gryphons, a small one by the name of Delphin, cleared his throat, breaking the wary silence that had fallen over them. "Well, ah, while we're waiting for Rallen to come back, perhaps we could play 'I Spy'?"
The others all looked at him as if he had suddenly turned blue with yellow dots. Rizarra sneered at him. "How babyish."
Delphin flushed with hurt and embarrassment. "Well, I am only ten, compared to you teenagers." He turned away and wandered into the scraggly forest they were in, perched on the flanks of a nearby hill. Fortren followed him; anything for an excuse to take his mind off his blunder. "I'll play with you," he volunteered. Together they wandered off far enough to at least be out of sight. "Right, then," he said, giving his wings a good shake to ease some of his tension. "You start."
Rallen reached a suitable altitude, and unrolled the map, comparing it to the surrounding landscape. He muttered rudely to himself. All the hills looked pretty much the same to him. He couldn't even see a trace of the spring they were supposed to have found.
He sighed loudly, though no-one was around to hear it. This mission wasn't just an exercise - those teams that didn't find what they were looking for first would be in for a slightly unpleasant surprise. Rallen shuddered to think what Sinclan might have thought up for the losers to do.
Shaking himself out of a depression, he studied the map again, searching for any clues as to where they were. After a minute or two of constant comparison, he found a reference point. His initial elation turned almost immediately into despair. They were miles away from their correct position.
Rallen turned, rolling up the map again, and was about to return to the group when he noticed a large speck in the distance. He would have dismissed the sighting but for the fact that the speck was moving very rapidly, much faster than anything he knew of.
Quickly he spiralled down to rejoin the group. As he landed he looked around for Delphin and Fortren. "Where'd they go?" he asked of Rizarra.
"Over there." She gestured with one claw in the proper direction. "Playing 'I Spy'." The last statement was imbued with a tone of disgust.
Rallen ignored her sarcasm, and stalked over to the players. He came up behind Delphin, who was trying to guess Fortren's word. "Um...stones?" Fortren shook his head. "Sun?" Another shake.
Deplhin gave up with a sigh of disgust.
Delphin craned his head this way and that, trying to find evidence of one. "Where?"
Fortren grinned, and said, "Well, it was there," and he pointed at a small tree branch about three metres above them. "Obviously it's not there now, but at that time, I had spied it." He finally noticed Rallen standing behind Delphin. "Find out where we are?"
Rallen nodded, and gestured with his head for the two to follow him.
When all had assembled again, Rallen spoke. "Well, the good news is...I know where we are. The bad news is...we're a good thirty k's away from being in the right place." Nearly everyone groaned at that statement. "On the bright side, we won't be the only losers." He shrugged. "So we'd might as well head back to camp now. What say you?"
A small titter of agreement rippled through the ranks.
"Fine. You, Rizarra, take the compass. Not that we'll need it, but it's better in your claws than in Fortren's." Fortren nspected the ground intently at that.
Fortren was the first away into the sky, pumping his wings furiously to gain height ahead of the rest.
Alla was having a much better time of it than Fortren was, being more athletically inclined. Being closer to the sea, she and her companions spent a lot of time in and around the water. Despite their aerial nature, the majority of gryphons could swim quite well.
On this particular day, the group, twenty-two in all, were practising life-saving, utilising both aerial and aquatic skills. Alla, being one of the strongest swimmers, was picked to go to the 'rescue' of a gryphon who had been carried away on a strong current.
Even squinting, Alla could barely see the gryphon she was supposed to bring back to shore. Sighing to herself, she gathered up the long coil of rope that was provided for her use, and put it around her neck. Then with a couple of running steps she was up in the air, winging her way out over the slightly choppy waters of the bay.
It didn't take her long to locate the bedraggled gryphon, floundering around in the fashion of the nearly-drowned. She chuckled grimly when she saw it was Keltin, his purple colouring standing out against the dark blues of the water. Getting within calling distance, she yelled, "In a spot of trouble are we?"
"That's not funny!" Keltin yelled back as Alla came in for a splash-landing. "I hate getting wet."
Alla swam in close, so she could attach a loop around Keltin's rather pudgy body. "You should lose some weight," she commented as she struggled with trying to get both arms to meet around his girth so she could tie the rope on. Finally she succeeded, and she tied the other end to herself, adjusting it so it wasn't too uncomfortable.
"Oh, just shut up and get me out of here," the purple gryphon grumbled.
With powerful strokes, and a bit of grudging help from Keltin, Alla made good time on her way back through the waves to the beach. Upon their arrival, Keltin quickly untied the rope from himself and slunk away to dry off and sulk. Alla watched him go, and laughed wryly to herself. "Who made him go out there to suffer so unreasonably?" she asked of Nola, a friend that she had made over the past week.
"They drew lots. He lost." Nola gryph-grinned in a slightly wicked manner. "Someone managed to fiddle the scheme so he would lose regardless."
Alla joined her in laughter. "He's going to be quite upset for a while, so what say we go find some lunch? A deer, perhaps? And maybe a coconut or two we can drop on him?"
Nola informed Galmin, the leader, of where they were going, and in minutes they were above the treetops, gazing down for signs of free food. "Ooh, there's a nice big herd over there," Alla called, pointing to the southeast, where a group of deer grazed unaware of their impending danger.
With careful co-ordination of movement, the two gryphons sneaked up on the unsuspecting deer, getting within fifty metres vertically before being noticed. Almost immediately the deer bolted, most running south, the rest running in other directions. Alla and Nola zeroed in on a hapless deer who, from his slower speed, appeared to be an elder member of his herd.
Ease of practise and economy of movement dispatched the deer quickly, and the two fell to feasting on the best parts, those that weren't stringy and tough with age.
Afterward, the two lay on their backs, and let the warm sunshine bathe their distended bellies, as well as studying the clouds and trying to figure out what they most resembled. "Oh, look, there's a rabbit!" Nola pointed with a talon at a rounded cloud with a little bobble and two longish appendages at the other end.
Alla nodded, then gestured at another cloud. "I think that one looks like a palm tree." Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a large, very fast-moving object, and turned her head to track its path across the sky. "What do you think that it is?" she asked Nola, who happened to be looking at another part of the sky.
"That black thing up there, heading to the north someplace."
Nola searched the indicated area, then shook her head. "Whatever it was, it's gone now." She let out a loud burp, and flushed redly. "Pardon me." She got up, and stretched. "I guess we'd better be heading back. We still have to find a couple of coconuts, remember?"
Alla chuckled wryly. "Of course." She filed the sight of the black thing away in the back of her memory for later perusal. Stretching, she launched herself into the air, a little ungainly due to the large meal she had just consumed, Nola following close behind. Together they winged back to camp, in search of suitable coconuts for a practical joke.