Rapid knocking upon the heavy oaken door roused Denora from her work.
“Enter.” she commanded firmly, with an air of exasperation. The door opened soundlessly to reveal a pale elf wearing simple yet elegant robes of light blue. The fabric shimmered as he stepped cautiously into the spacious study.
“Milady, it is happening just as you feared it.” His eyes cast towards the floor as he waited for her reply. Denora rose swiftly and equipped her breastplate then took a very elaborate short sword from the stone bench at which she had just been seated.
“Is Arakin ready? I must inform-“ the male elf interrupted “The Western Realm has been alerted if you’ll beg my pardon. There isn’t a moment to lose and I fear this may be the beginning of the end.” His voice quaked as he finished his sentence, and Denora strode past him while deftly fixing her sword and scabbard to her waist. He followed her down the tight spiral staircase which was common in the steep mountainous environment that was the Snow Elf domain. “You assured me..” Denora growled through gritted teeth “This had better not be the end of the alliance or it will be your head. I do not make idle threats Fairwor”
They reached the bottom of the staircase when Denora suddenly sprinted ahead through a large and ornately carved archway, and into an open courtyard hewn into the mountainside. Three Gryphons were fidgeting near the cliff edge and peering out into the open wilderness below. One was idly preening herself when she turned her head towards the archway, and saw her rider approaching. The Gryphon flattened herself to the ground, extending her broad wings to reveal a riding harness attached to her battle armour. Though smaller than the other Gryphons in the courtyard, she was clearly powerful and confident. She was unique to her species- while other Gryphons were typically yellow or brown (and rarely, black) Arakin was white with silver dappled feathers tipped black and grey. Her razor sharp beak was reinforced with cold, jagged steel and her claws were capable of ripping through plate armour.
Denora was also unique among her kind. While all Snow Elves had long pure white or silver hair, Denora’s hair was faintly golden and cropped to just above her shoulders. Snow Elves were forbidden from cutting their hair however Denora’s legendary status and critical role as Gryphon Master had allowed her to avoid being outcast as a result. It was a practical choice, long hair would hamper her ability on the battlefield.
As though they had practiced the acrobatic manoeuvre hundreds of times, Denora leapt high into the air while Arakin also launched herself directly upwards with a sweep of her wings. Denora caught the harness and pulled herself into the fur-lined straps. She might have been made of paper for the extra weight she bore to Arakin. In flight, and in battle, their close bond meant that they were as one. The duo whirled in the air then sped across the mountain towards a trio of gigantic peaks. They were named ‘Séar d’Venrehar’ in the old tongue, which translated to ‘Claws of Venrehar’ after the vicious Monster which had terrorised the lands centuries ago and had suddenly reappeared recently, seemingly under control of the Empire. The Claws housed the Snow Elves’ sacred Gryphon Nests.
Within a few minutes they were close enough to see thousands of Gryphons wheeling and diving towards the Claws. This was not normal behaviour for the Gryphons and it meant only one thing: the Yetis were attacking.
Snow Elves had formed a mutually beneficial alliance with the Yetis a century earlier, the Yeti allowing themselves to be armed and trained in warfare in exchange for a reliable food source in the harsh alps. Gryphon eggs were their favourite food, and the Snow Elves had more than they could ever want as they did not eat much. The alliance had ensured the Snow Elves held a place in the Commonwealth instead of being subjects of another kingdom, such as the Artilleries. Until Denora could perfect the design of her newest war machine, they needed the Yetis. And the Yetis needed them- or so they had thought.
A recent incursion of sorts between a group of wild Yetis and the city was of great concern. Although no losses were suffered by the city the circumstances were very unusual: in the areas where Yetis were on guard there were reports that they had acted as though they simply couldn’t see the wild Yetis at all. The suspected Yetis were gathered and sent on the next campaign to test their loyalty and those few Yeti made the difference against the Artillery dominion. The lords were satisfied but Denora was not.
She had seen other subtle signs that the Yetis were up to something. A few Yeti appeared to be forming a kind of militaristic hierarchy beyond that imposed by the Elven military command. Others still had been spotted taking a keen interest in the roosting behaviour of the Gryphons. Her concerns were summarily dismissed- Yetis were simple, dumb, trained beasts after all!
To make matters worse housing pressures and repeated invasions meant that the ruling council, led by the enthusiastic but occasionally tactically inept Shârkey, had ceased training and equipping Arbalists, in favour of solely arming Yetis and reloading the Trebuchets.
…and it seemed to be working. Only once had they been successfully invaded and that was some time ago, though from her vantage Denora mused that it had more to do with the timing of the rise of certain other dominions who were presenting themselves as easier targets.
Denora could now clearly see what was unfolding at the Claws and she was not quite prepared for what that was.
Thousands- no, tens of thousands of wild Yeti were streaming up the mountainsides and through sheer weight of numbers, raiding the nests of the Gryphons. Denora was stunned when she realised the wild Yeti were supported by the Yetis of the Kingdom, who were guarding them from Gryphon attacks as the wild Yetis gathered eggs into straw-lined crates. As each crate was filled, the wild Yeti would place them on the ground and they were swallowed up by a brief blue flash. Portals! The Yeti weren’t working alone, this was Dimensionalist magic! Arakin swooped towards one of the largest nests at Denora’s unspoken command. The Yeti weren’t just stealing eggs, they were also capturing and binding their most important breeding Gryphons and sending them through portals as well. Denora drew her blade, which sang as Arakin skilfully swept through the nest, knocking down a few wild Yeti while Denora swiped at one of the trained Yetis. Crimson erupted from its hand, which had been dragging a Gryphon trapped in a net. The Yeti howled and ran, leaping off the side of the cliff, sliding down to a hidden cave just below and disappearing inside. A blue flash issued from the cave and the Yeti was gone. The wild Yetis had also fled down the other sides of the nest and Arakin was nibbling and tugging at the net around her cousin. The net was enchanted in some way to paralyse the trapped victim, and Denora had to saw at the cords with her sword just to free the poor Gryphon.
Other Gryphon riders were beginning to arrive to help defend the nests, when all of a sudden a crackling noise started coming from every direction. Blue light was saturating the whole mountain, and in an instant every single Yeti, wild or trained, had vanished.
Denora cursed loudly, Arakin made a low rumbling sound in her throat. There were still thousands of Gryphons circling, but they began to descend onto the peaks and into the now barren nests. If not for the fact that she had caught them taking Gryphons as well, the lords might have mistakenly thought this was a food raid. Denora knew this was far more sinister than that, and the involvement of the Dimensionalists troubled her. There were no active Dimensionalists in the war right now, but clearly their agents continued to work in secret. Denora had to work quickly now. She already knew that the Yetis were gone, not just here, but throughout the entire dominion. She had to perfect her Ballista, and prove its worthiness as the instrument of war that would carry the Snow Elves into supremacy. This monumental setback for the Snow Elf dominion might just be enough to make the lords finally take her seriously, and support her research. Arakin and Denora flew back towards the towers, leaving Fairwor and the nest attendants to pick up the pieces.
Story written by and published with permission from Sharkey.