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The Runaways MAG
The night was very cold. Thick clouds hung in the sky, shutting out the moonlight. The darkness was so deep that even the shadows had shadows. Everything was quiet. The whole world seemed to be holding its breath – as if it knew what was going to happen tonight.
I knew. It was my fault, my doing. And I was going to fix it.
I hurried to the great oak in the center of the grove, dashing from shadow to shadow, hiding in the depths of the forest. The home trees surrounding the great oak were quiet, filled with the sleeping bodies of my people. They didn't matter to me anymore. Only she did – and the little one. They were why I ran in the darkness.
The world was still silent when I reached the base of the great oak. High up in the branches were three nests, each a separate room of a greater house. The giant globes were woven from green branches and tall meadow grass. The largest was suspended between the two thickest branches and was big enough to hold a platoon of soldiers. The other two were smaller and set on either side of the main nest.
I glanced at the smallest nest above me, in the crook of a branch about five spears high. The sound of my wings would draw attention; I would have to climb. As quiet as the mist covering the moor, I scaled the tree, coming to rest under the branch that supported her home. Inside I could hear voices; one was hers, etched with anxiety. The other was that of her closest friend, Alese.
I whistled three short notes. Her answering whistle sounded, and I swung myself up through the opening into the nest. There she stood, green eyes blazing as if preparing for a fight. Her prized bow and a full quiver of arrows were strapped to her back, and her throwing daggers were in holsters at her sides. With her long, dark red hair tied back at her neck, she looked every bit the fierce fighter I knew her to be.
“Stephan, quit staring at me like a love-struck peacock! There is no time to waste!” she snapped. I couldn't help but grin, which only made things worse. “Please tell me you're taking this seriously!”
I snapped back, surprised I'd been able to push it from my mind for even a second. “Of course I am, Tasha,” I said. “You just create quite a picture sometimes.”
“Well, quit worrying about my picture. If we don't hurry, there won't be a picture left – of any of us.”
The truth of her words hit me. This was it. If we couldn't pull this off, our lives would be over. She'd be killed for committing treason, the worst crime in griffin society. And I'd be killed for kidnapping the princess, even though Tasha was the one who had planned our escape.
Who wouldn't want to escape if your father was K'nig of all Griffins, a man with great power and a knack for always getting what he wanted. A man who wanted his only daughter to find a suitable mate so that when (if) he died, she could ascend to his throne and lead the Griffin people to victory over the other Ancient races in the battle for unbelievable power. Yeah, no pressure or anything.
One could only imagine what he would say if he knew his daughter had fallen for me, a man with no parentage, considered unfit for warrior status, though I had secretly undergone training to become a great warrior. Imagine if he knew his daughter had secretly married this man and bore his child, a beautiful little girl, the future heir to the crown. And all this took place while the K'nig was away at a conference with the leaders of the other three Ancient races.
“Prinzessin, if you are sure you want to live with this man and keep this child then you must hurry!” Alese's voice brought me out of my thoughts. “A messenger arrived this morning bringing news of your father's rapid return. If there is to be any chance of you surviving this escape, you must leave now!” No argument there. Tasha glanced at me, then shared a long look with her best friend, her right hand. She nodded.
“We must hurry. The night will not last forever.” Tasha picked up her rucksack and threw it to me before turning to the bundle of fur on the bed. Stretching out a long finger, she stroked the soft cheek of our little girl, sleeping in the cocoon. “Sleep well, my angel. Soon we shall be free. Then you'll be able to spread your wings and fly without fear.” Her eyes glistened as her voice broke on the last word. Fear was not something a Griffin warrior, especially a warrior princess, should feel.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she breathed in and I saw her lips move as if she were praying. Then her green eyes found my brown ones and her stance changed. Scooping up the bundle, she tied it to her so that it seemed like she was cradling our baby girl.
Turning to Alese, she said, “You have been my best friend, my closest companion. I will miss you and I pray our ancestors will keep you safe from my father's wrath.” She placed her fist over her heart and bowed, the customary way of acknowledging an honored warrior. “It has been my greatest honor to fly with you, Alese of Tahn,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.
“As it has been my greatest honor to fly with you, Natasha, Prinzessin der Greife. May fair winds always find you,” Alese replied, using Tasha's full title.
A sad smile filled with a thousand memories spread across Tasha's lips as their gaze locked. Hope hid at the corners of her eyes as Tasha wondered if she would ever see her friend again, but
then reality chased that hope away. By marrying me and having my child, Tasha had exiled herself. She would never see Alese again – unless she repented her transgressions, which she would never do. Turning to me, she hid her pain under a mask of calm.
“Let's go,” she said.
I nodded, then swung myself out of the nest, her pack and mine slung across my back. I dropped to the earth, and Tasha jumped down beside me. Holding a finger to her lips, she motioned toward the west. Then she ran so fast the shadows could not catch her. I followed, glancing in every direction, watching for movement. We ran in silence. Suddenly, Tasha froze.
“What is it?” I asked.
“My father,” she whispered, with terror. “He's almost here.”
Fear, that terrible monster, took hold of my heart with its icy claws. I didn't even stop to wonder how she knew. “We must hurry. If he catches us, it will be the end of our lives,” I choked out. I could not let Tasha or my daughter die because of me. I grabbed her hand and pulled her after me.
And we ran.
We ran as fast as we could. I'm not sure how far or how long. The freezing cold didn't bother us. We were too terrified. The trees seemed to leap out of our way as we sprinted. Nothing could get in our way, except the man we were running from.
After some time, I noticed the trees were thinning out. I wasn't sure how long it had been; hours had passed like seconds. Ahead I could see pale pinks showing through the dark browns and greens of the foliage. We were approaching the edge of the forest. Soon we'd be able to take to the skies.
I glanced at Tasha and saw relief on her face as she realized we were almost free. Faster still we ran; how that was possible, I have no idea. The trees fell away, ending in a huge span of waving golden grass that met the horizon. The dawn sky, in shades of pink and lavender, stretched out over our heads. Over the edge of the earth, the yellow sun began its climb.
We didn't slow down; with a shake of our shoulders, our wings extended and we soared into the air. The air stream whistling across the meadow caught us and tossed us high into the clouds. Feathers rustled as we pushed our wings with all our might, trying to gain as much speed as possible.
We climbed until we broke through the cloud field. Still grasping Tasha's hand, I angled us west. Only then did I glance at her. She returned my gaze. At first, I thought I saw regret in her eyes and I could feel my heart start to tear apart, but then she smiled. Her grin was so full of peace and relief that I found myself smiling back.
“We're free,” she said in awe, as if she couldn't believe it was true.
I nodded. The realization finally hit me. I squeezed her hand then faced the bright blue horizon ahead, wondering where the wind would take us, yet not really caring.
I watched from the nest opening as my best friend and the warrior she loved ran for their lives. Galfridus might be the all-knowing K'nig of the Griffins, but he had no idea his greatest betrayal would be committed by his own daughter. She would make a glorious K'nigin one day, if she survived. Even though she was his only heir, Galfridus would not hesitate to end her life for such duplicity. Ruler first, father later. Much later.
Gods, I hoped they made it.
I stared out into the darkness, debating the possibilities of Tasha and Stephan surviving. I sighed, a wish to follow them sneaking into my heart.
The snap of a twig brought me out of my musings. A man I knew well appeared out of the shadows. His eyes were focused on the base of the great oak. I shrank back, praying he didn't see.
“Ah, Kagan,” said the very voice I'd dreaded hearing, “I pray you brought me the traitors?”
“I'm afraid, mein L'ttich, that I was not able to catch them before they disappeared. But I found this at the edge of
the forest,” Galfridus's right hand man replied. I peeked out to see what he
held. A feather. One of Tasha's feathers. Oh, no.
Galfridus growled, “Well, they can't fly forever. We'll find them.”
Oh, gods. Oh, no.
“Oh, and Alese?”
“I hope you don't know anything about this. Or you'll die right alongside Natasha and that filth she's run away with,” Galfridus called up to me, his gravelly voice sending chills down my spine.