Hawkwind's Tale

By Katherine A Smith

Chapter 1
The Fall of Northnest

Icy rain soaked into the fur and fine feathers on her back, making
her shiver, but it hadn’t yet slipped through her overlapping wing
feathers. She tucked her head briefly under one wing, and then the
other. The four little human fledglings were snuggled into the down of
her belly and tucked against the hot bare skin of the apteria under her
wings, and still asleep.

She looked back up at the rain. The tree branches, dark against
the slightly lighter sky, enclosed her and her slumbering burden and
swayed in the whistling wind. The storm the wizards had called up to
ground the griffin flights now worked against them. Their rainbow
drakes couldn’t move through this weather either, and even if they
could have, the trees would thwart their sonar, unlike the nearby caves
that Hawkwind could have chosen to shelter in. They certainly would
have been drier.

One of the children shuddered and twitched in sleep.

“Shh, easy now, you’re safe with me,” the she-griffin soothed.

“Mama,” the boy whimpered. “I want Mama.”

Hawkwind tucked him closer against her, struggling against the
sharp lump of tears in her own throat. “Shh, sleep now.”

The little boy began sobbing. Hawkwind closed her eyes, crooning
under her breath, trying to comfort the child as well as she could. She
could only imagine the things the boy had seen, before she’d fought
her way to the nursery, before she’d snatched him from the claws of
the invaders. Hawkwind suppressed a shudder as the fresh memories
crowded in on her.


“Fall back to the keep. We’ve lost the grounds.”

Hawkwind and the other castle griffins obeyed the order, trying to
dodge the drakes, trying to cover the humans’ escape. Northnest had
been a small kingdom, and an overlooked one. They had nothing of
great value, and no reason to be attacked as far as Hawkwind knew.
Even if they’d had, the unique presence of the griffin wings made others
wary. Hawkwind couldn’t imagine what the invaders were gaining
from this beyond a scrap of cold, semi-fertile, rocky mountain land.

She fell back into the main doorway to the keep, between a pair of
guardian griffin statues and her flesh and blood companions, Eagleye
and Hawkcall. A knot of drakes was forming, getting ready to charge
them: their many colors making them look like a ball of shifting rainbows.
The three griffins reared up, screaming defiance. The raspy growls
of the drakes answered them, promising death.

From behind, the order came. “Fall back, now. The gate is closing.”

The drakes charged, just as Hawkwind obeyed, dropping back—
but Eagleye and Hawkcall leapt to meet the charge. Hawkwind cried
out in denial, skidding to a halt on the rain-slick paving stones and
bracing herself to leap forward and join them—but the gate guards
swung down the doors, blocking her companions from sight, blocking
her from joining them, from dying with them.

Hawkwind’s throat choked and she pressed herself to the solid
wooden doors. She could faintly hear the fighting outside. They would
die. There were dozens if not hundreds of rainbow drakes out there,
and Hawkcall and Eagleye couldn’t get back in. She dug her claws into
the wood, a cry building in her chest.


It was Icefeather, the retired trainer. Hawkwind spun to face her,
wanting to hit her and hug her at the same time.

“They made their choice,” the trainer said, before she could speak.
“You can’t save the lost ones. You’re needed, come.”

The battle surged on, battering against the keep walls like ocean
waves against cliffs. With a conventional army, one that moved only on
the ground, the keep would have held them off for hours, maybe days,
while the aerial griffins could have made strategic counterattacks.

“The drakes will be climbing the walls,” Icefeather went on. “The
wooden shutters won’t keep them out for long.”

The enemy wizards had called up a storm. It had kept the griffins
from flying up to engage the drakes directly, but it wouldn’t keep the
agile, bat-winged drakes from climbing the walls of the keep, and slithering
in through any window they could.

“We have our hands full,” Icefeather was explaining as the dodged
among the milling, panicking people. “Some drakes are already inside.”

“Already?” Hawkwind exclaimed.

“We don’t have enough Feathyrs for every window, and the guards
fall quickly to their claws and maws.”

By Feathyrs, she meant griffin warriors, and by guards, she meant
the humans. Hawkwind was only an apprentice Feathyr; she hadn’t
even been assigned to a flight yet, but everyone who could fight, even
a little, was doing so.

“We must protect the family,” Icefeather ordered.

The family: the human family that ruled Northnest. The griffin
flights owed them their allegiance, and had sworn it generations ago.
Hawkwind had been raised to give every last drop of her lifeblood for
them. She would not go back on her vows now: not when that blood
was needed, when it was time to honor the allegiance. Even had there
been no vow, she had grown up with the people—both human and griffin—
here in Northnest. It was her home; she would fight to defend it.

Icefeather led her to the floor above the family’s apartments. The
drakes were already there. The pair screamed in challenge as they ran
to reinforce the guards and Feathyrs already at work on the swarm.

Vision narrowed to the nearest drake, with no intention but to shred
it with claws and her vicious, hooked bill. She took injuries but hardly
felt them. The drakes kept coming. One by one the defenders fell or fell
back. Hawkwind fell back with them, being pushed to the stairs.

The remaining forces made a stand at the opening to the stairs,
where they had a chance of forming a plug of swords and claws that
could hold back the drakes. For a while, it seemed to work. Then, they
were hit from behind. Hawkwind didn’t know how drakes had gotten
below them. Not prepared for an attack from the rear, half the defenders
went down immediately, and the defense failed.

The greater swarm of drakes from above pushed Hawkwind and
the survivors down the stairs. She stumbled over Icefeather’s still body,
but there was no time to mourn, and to Hawkwind’s churning emotions,
the trainer’s death was merely another bucketful of pain thrown
into the already overflowing whirlpool. The drakes around her were
filling her vision with fangs and talons, and she had to flee, dodge, and
escape them. The family—would she be in time to save any of them?
Was there any hope of doing so, even if she reached them?

The drakes howled at her heels, pushing her into the royal apartments
as they pulled down the last of her fellow griffin fighters. It
seemed that there had been a defense here, too. The bodies of guards
and some Feathyrs were scattered around the rooms, mingled with
brightly colored drake bodies, all splattered with blood. Hawkwind
knew there were secret passageways out, down, deep into the bowels
of the castle, and out through long, dark tunnels. Had the family had a
chance to take them?

No—there, the queen mother; she was gutted. Under her lay her
husband, the retired king: mutilated, throat ripped into a bloody hole.
Hawkwind ran on, fleeing the drakes. In the next room, the reigning
queen and king with the crown princess were in a lifeless pile in one
corner. A few drakes were still standing over them, tugging at their
limbs but not eating them yet. Maybe they had orders not to.

Hawkwind dodged out another door before they could swarm her.
Frantic, she slammed the door between her and them, but the lock was
already broken and the frame damaged. She turned, reared up unto her
hind legs, and leaned her body back against it, as she surveyed the innermost
room: the nursery.

Three drakes hissed at her with their spiny crests rising on their
heads and necks: a sunset red one, a lime green one, and a pink and
purple one. The barbed chains encircling their necks like collars were
glowing a magical red.

Hawkwind had known what the policy would be when the attack
came. Here, the deepest room in the castle would be where all
the children had been sent. Dead, ripped guards and several Feathyrs
were heaped about, leaking blood into the thick periwinkle carpet. The
children were huddled into a corner, but it seemed the drakes had been
pulling children out of the pile, one by one, and—

Hawkwind sobbed in her throat. The poor little corpses were littered
about atop their slain protectors. Her eyes sought the remaining children
as the drakes from outside began pounding against the door, and she
dug her feet in, trying to hold it closed. Although swift and vicious, rainbow
drakes did not have high body mass or great muscular strength; she
would hold the door against them for a while. There were no more than
half a dozen children left, all between the ages of about five and seven, it
seemed: all helpless, all with wide, glazed eyes that fixed upon her.

“Hawkwind,” cried a little girl in a tremulous voice.

What could she do? She looked to the side, towards the bookshelf
that hid the tunnel out. She looked back at the children. How could
she hope to get the bookshelf moved and escape with the human fledglings,
avoiding the drakes in the room and the ones outside, that would
be inside as soon as she left the door? She needed help. She couldn’t do
this alone. The three drakes in the room were closing in on her.

Then she saw the oldest child, a boy, reach down and pick up a discarded,
bloody crossbow. The drakes remained fixated on Hawkwind,
and didn’t notice the boy’s actions. With eerily calm fingers he set a
bolt taken from a dead guard. He aimed, and put the shot into the
back of the lime green drake. It howled and all of them spun to face the
boy, preparing to attack. Hawkwind took the chance and leapt for the
bookshelf. With one vicious wrench she tossed it to the floor, scattering
books over the bodies.

“Into the tunnel, go,” she ordered the children.