It was nightfall, and there was only a sliver of moon. Nadia sat on the damp hillside with her arms around her knees, huddled in her cloak. Waiting. She knew that tonight she would see them. She had watched the skies for the signs, and she felt, deep inside her, that tonight was going to be it. So she waited.
The moon had reached its peak in the sky, and was beginning to make its descent back to the ground, when it was momentarily blotted out. Nadia stood up quickly, heedless that her cloak had fallen off her shoulders, leaving her skin exposed to the brisk wind that had begun. She scanned the skies for further movement. Soon she was able to discern shapes moving through the air. It was them. She nearly shouted for joy and excitement when she realized that her calculations had been correct. She knew that in a few minutes the heavens would be ablaze with the fiery tails of shooting stars. They moved under the cover of these bright streaks. Only the people that could spot them before the shower began would be able to continue tracking them.
She concentrated, and willed for the second time in her life, for one of them to hear her, She remembered when she had done this before, when she had come to this same spot with her half-brother. They had willed together, but only her brother had been chosen. Bitter tears had fallen as she watched them fly away. Now, five years later, she had summoned enough courage to face defeat again, if she had to. Using all the mind-strength she had, she called to them, singing softly to them, and waited expectantly, her face lit with excitement.
Soon, though, her face began falling as she realized that the majority of the flight had passed overhead. Tears started forming in her eyes as she watched the last of the flight pass over.
Pulling her cloak over her shoulders she turned and began trudging back down the hillside, oblivious to everything but her feet. She did not hear the whisper of a feathery landing behind her, nor the soft pad of feet following her. She did not stop when a soft whuffing sound began. She did stop, however, when a quiet "Ahem" and a tentative "Nadia?" whispered behind her.
Eyes straight forward, she turned stiffly around. Her eyes widened when they met the wise regard of the other. A brilliant image of a young man with arms outstretched flashed into her mind. Shaking her head to clear it, she tentatively reached forward toward the massive beak that was just a few feet away.
"Are you...?" she breathed, and took a step forward. Her hand came into contact with the soft feathers just below the gentle eye, and she had a strong sensation of warm arms enfolding her in a loving embrace.
"Will you be my kitha, Nadia?" he asked softly, almost nervously.
In answer she threw her arms around the neck of the huge Gryphon, and began crying softly.
"I never thought..." She suddenly noticed the color of the feathers that she was crying into. She backed away, dismayed. "But you're a black! You can't want me...I'm not a mage at all!"
"Please," the Gryphon said, and the feeling of being embraced grew stronger. "I know what I feel. Walk away if you don't believe me."
She hesitated, on the verge, she thought, of having all her hopes and dreams shattered. She made a choice.
"I believe you," she said, stepping back to him.
"My name is Gwilym. Come, we have many miles to cover before daybreak." he said.
"Wait," she said. "I have some things I need to get" She ran back to the place she had hidden her things and picked up the small bundle. Dashing back to the Gryphon (no...Gwilym, her mind corrected.)
"Are you ready, Nadia?" he asked.
"Oh yes!" she said excitedly. "Gwilym," she added.
He knelt down so she could mount. She clambered up onto his back, just in front of the wings. She was snuggled warmly in his feathers, she found, so when he asked her if she was warm enough, she immediately answered yes.
"The first wingbeat is the roughest," he cautioned.
"I'm ready," she said.
With a powerful leap forward, and an even more powerful wingbeat downward, they were airborne. She felt no fear, because she knew from the legends that Gwilym would die for her. (And I for him, she realized, with a bit of a shock.) Also, her mind said, you can't see the ground.
His flight was smooth, and somehow, quiet. There was no sound of the wind rushing past her ears, and she noticed that there was no wind rushing past her...only the lightest of breezes. Lulled by the gentle rocking motion of his wingbeats, she nestled deeper into his feathers, leaned forward, and fell asleep.
When Nadia awoke the next morning, she discovered that someone had bathed her, clothed her, and put her into a luxurious feather bed in which she was now laying. She felt a little disconcerted that she had slept through all this, but she felt confident that Gwilym would not let anyone harm her.
Looking around the room, she saw that the walls were covered with magnificent tapestries, all signed by someone named Gwenwledyr. They depicted Gryphons, mostly, with a few forest scenes mixed in. The floor was also covered with a large tapestry, although this one seemed to tell a story, but she was not sure what it could be. There was a large dresser and a wardrobe, both made out of some dark wood and intricately carved. Climbing reluctantly out of the warm bed, she walked to the wardrobe to see what might be contained. She found all manner of clothing, from tunics to dresses to what looked suspiciously like uniforms, all made out of the same dark blue and black cloth, with varying degrees of silver trimming them. Selecting a pair of pants and a tunic, she quickly changed. Finding shoes and other accessories in a large drawer in the bottom, she completed her outfit.
As she turned to explore further, she noticed a tray by the bed with an array of fruits, cheeses, and breads on it. Her rumbling stomach reminded her that she had not eaten for some time, and she attacked the food with vigor.
She found that the one window in her room had an extremely large sill, large enough, in fact, to perch comfortably on. She ate her breakfast looking out over her new home.
She was high in the mountains, but before her was a magnificent valley that stretched almost to the horizon. Faintly she thought she could see the vast expanse of what must be an ocean. In the valley itself a wide ribbon of river wound its way though small forests and patches of open grassland. Savoring the view (and the fruit she was eating) she relaxed and thought about what had happened to her. She had been selected, not only by a Gryphon, but by a Mage Gryphon. The black gryphons were so selective that their kithas numbers were less than 10. The reason the numbers were so small, she told herself, was because Blacks only chose potential Mage Adepts. There. She had recognized that she, herself, was a potential Adept. She shook her head. All her life she had been second best, never good for anything valuable. And now she was in one of the highest respected positions. Well, she told herself ruefully, that's if I pass my schooling.
(Insert here a bunch of stuff that hasn't been written yet)
The battle alarm sounded shrilly. Nadia dropped the forkful of food that she was about to eat, and leapt up. A cold clench of fear squeezed her stomach. This was her first battle. She quickly changed into her uniform, grateful for the drills that allowed her to get dressed in mere seconds. Grabbing her ready-made flight pack (obtained upon graduation to full Adept-ed.), she bolted into the main room where Gwilym was waiting for her.
Mechanically she fitted his harness, her fingers doing the movements without her thinking about it. She leapt to the flight pad, and buckled herself to it. Magically enhanced, the straps would only break if she needed to get free for some reason. Nothing during a battle would break them.
"Nervous?" asked Gwylim as he headed out the door to the launch.
"No," she answered truthfully. "I'm scared."
"Well, it'll pass," he said, gathering himself for flight.
As she felt his muscles bunch beneath her, she again marvelled at how anything as large as a Black could ever get airborne. He spread his wings, and leapt into the air. A few seconds of weightlessness, then gravity, as the pressure of the first downbeat pressed her into the pad. Her ears popped as the spell that kept them breathing at high altitudes fell over her.