Never trust a gryphon.
As much as we do not like to admit it, humans, that is to say the current lot of Homo Sapiens, do have some good ideas. And some pretty stupid ones as well, but it is best not to dwell on that. Then there is the ages old debate of whether we, the Magica Sapiens, are the rightful inheritors of Planet Earth or, having crossed the Dividing Curtain, should we abandon the place that made us? A tricky philosophical debate. I would say stay, but then, just look what happened to the Neanderthals. A lovely lot, in tune with the Lifeweb but too dozy to understand that Hom. Sap. would outbreed them. Then there were the Devisonians - do not get me started on those dimwits.
For the past couple of centuries Mag. Sap. have withdrawn more and more to Otherworld, moulding this bare lump of clay, rock and bitter seas to our ideals. Sugar Mountains, not actual sugar, that would dissolve, but a white and brown sparkly quartz. Honey Sea, it was meant to be pure water but we seeded it with the wrong mix of algae and bacteria in and it made a noxious, brown gloop. And so on. No one dares to mention the words 'pollution' or 'ecological disaster'. They are exclusive to Hom. Sap. Nevertheless, we have had some outstanding success, such as Gaia Zone. Paradise on Otherworld, or it will be, when we have stocked it with Magica sub-species rescued from our old home. Hom. Sap. would call it a zoo.
Which brings this entry into the Annals around to me. My name is Gluteus Maximus because my mum thought it sounded posh. It has caused quite a lot of bloodshed, no one calls me Big Bum and has an unbroken nose or proboscis. I am not afraid of a bit of a scrap, even if the Fae opposite me is fully half my size and few are, being as my dad was a Gigantosaur and mum a Loong. So I got the size of both, the soft and silent footfall of a Saur and the affinity with water from the Chinese Dragon side. A skin of scales from both but the colour is my own. A rather hansome black with iridescent blue highlights. Just like a blue bottle fly. Mention it and I will rearrange your facial features. I have not mentioned the embarrassing ability to change my scale colour, I swear I have no Chameleoid in my ancestry. You know what will happen if you remark on it. Nevertheless, it is useful when I am on the hunt.
I am enormously proud to be employed by Gaia Zoo. Not many of us Magica are actually given gold for doing what comes naturally. I am a Hunter and Trapper, not in the old-fashioned sense of netting wandering Hom. Saps. and using bits of them in potions and what not. I do not even eat them, most are bland, at best, and the hair gives me indigestion. My job is much more important, I hunt and trap Magica sub-species to stock the zoo. It is one of the Hom. Sap. good ideas. Collect endangered creatures and breed them up before they are re-absorbed into the Lifeweb. Which brings me to my latest expedition.
A new section of Gaia Zoo was nearly finished when Lord High Upplestumps summoned me. He likes to make me climb the rhubarb tree where he has built his 'office', it looks just like any other Spriggan's nest except for the stapler and tea mug on display.
'Ahhh. Gluteus. Good of you to come. Harumph.' A whiff of Moon Potion drifted past my nosethrills. 'I have a bit of an assignment for you.' He was between merry and very merry. 'There's been a report of a Gryphon burrow in Wales, in the Llanberis region.' He thrust a scroll at me. The ribbon with the Grand Seal had been stapled on one corner and, when I opened it, there was a tea ring smearing the lettering. The words were big and written in red, it was supposed to be blood but smelled like strawberry jam. I followed them with a claw while reading them aloud.
'Kapchur a Gryffun and bring he and hys egges and hys cubchickes to ye Gaia Zoo. Then to mayke them well comed in ye Mynydd Caverns.'
'Jolly well read, young, er, hurumph.' Lord High Upplestumps waved a hairy paw in dismissal and I fell out of the tree. So much easier than climbing down.
According to the Mundungatory Beastiary, the sub-species Gryphonolia are a varied lot. Their basic form is the top end of an eagle and the bottom end of a lion, where the joining line is determines whether it is a Gryphon, a Gryffon, a Griffin or Gryffyn. Welsh ones are usually Gryphons, as white as Welsh snow, with the eagle head tufted like hare's ears and the waist join central to both bird and beast. No bird talons but the rear legs of a lion and that creature's tasselled tail. By nature they are fierce in defence of their younglings, and their horde of gold. Yet they are noble of spirit, proud of bearing and loyal of friendship. They mate only once for life and may produce no more than three clutches of three eggs in their lifetime. I ignored the following culinary section, although curried Griffin did sound tasty.
Wales. North Wales. Land of slate mines, rain and more rain, and wandering Hom. Saps. all kitted out in waterproofs, boots and backpacks. Not to mention cameras. I was going to have to be careful. A night raid would be best. But first. Find your Gryphon. I trotted along to Mother Farago. It cost an arm and a leg, not mine, I need them, and Reggie will not miss them, he has plenty more. She muttered about yet more millipede limbs, so I slipped her a couple of sachets of curry sauce. Highly illegal, of course, but I did get a detailed map, before she passed out.
I like Snowdonia, it still has the wildness of the Olde Dayes, and is wonderfully wet. Except when there is a drought. When I slipped through the Dividing Curtain, the moon was hanging low over Yr Wyddfa. (That is the proper Welsh name for Britain's second highest mountain.) No silver disc, or crescent, just a dirty orange smudge, playing in the skirts of foul smoke. The moorland was afire. Across the valley I could see flashing blue lights, red machines, brave humans scuttling up to the fire like suicidal ants and retreating as it roared at them. They were as much use as a whistle against a trumpet blast.
I looked at my map and tried to orientate myself. The smoke made my eyes water and my throat choke. Over there! There was the drainage adit. Above it, the slope was black with old heather and higher still a glowing worm of flame was creeping downwards. Gryphons are aligned with air for the eagle and fire for the lion. In practical terms, it means they burn fiercely but, unlike their cousin, the Phoenix, they do not rise out of the ashes. A dead Gryphon is nothing more than a lump of gold, which is why they have been hunted nearly to extinction.
'Here, Gryphy, Gryphy, Gryphy!' I clinked the gold doubloons I had liberated from Davy Jones. 'Nice Gryphy!' Clink. Chink. 'Pretty golden coins. Just for you-hoo.' I make no excuses for yodelling. Wales is the Land of Song and that fire was wriggling closer. Peering in the slot where once the mine's water had flowed out, I could see a pair of glittering eyes. I clonked the money again. Another pair of eyes! I could not believe my luck. Like a pair of chickens they scuttled forwards, then retreated with a sound like a squeaky door. What? Then it hit me. They were a pair. This was their burrow. They had eggs, or cubchicks. I crossed my odd fingers and hoped that there were only eggs. Cubchicks could peck a hole even in my scales. I crept up to the entrance and laid the coins in the dirt.
'Listen, guys.' I spoke in Brittanic Fae. 'There's fire above and fire below. Now, I've got a nice, clean sack, big enough for you and yours. You all hop in and I'll be away with you to Otherworld before you're,' I tried for a euphemism, but failed, 'burned up.' The bigger of the pair, about the size of a badger, came to the entrance, flapped her wings and retreated. Then the other one repeated the dance. 'I get it.' I spoke with more confidence than I felt. 'You want me to come in?' They backed up. It was a tight squeeze and I was going to have to back out, there was no way I could turn around in that narrow cleft, my tail was far too fat.
A breeding pair of Gryphons and a clutch of three eggs and a lair decorated with gold. I only had a moment to gloat before a whiff of choking reality swirled in and a nasty feeling of singe hit the peak of my tail. I cannot help it, it is a natural reaction, a legacy from mum, she being a Chinese Water Dragon. All the ducts in my scales filled up with water and started squirting a rainstorm. In the open air, it does not matter but in a small cave?
'Quick!' I opened my sack and shovelled in a few handfuls of nesting rocks, mainly the yellow, glittery ones. Then reached for the first egg. The hen Gryphon stabbed at my hand with a beak like a dirk and spread her wings, bending her rear legs, ready to pounce. A mother has no fear protecting her young. Even if her feathers were a soaking bedraggled mess. Outside, my tail told me that time was almost up.
'Look, you.' I made the sack's neck open as wide as I could. 'It's either this or hard boiled.' With dignity in every dripping step, the cock paced into the sack and sat down. He made a noise like pins rattling in a tin can and waited. Reluctantly, the hen stepped back and allowed me to gather the eggs. A crackle of burning heather later and she had scuttled in the sack and I was backing out into a rapidly closing circle of fire. Opening the Dividing Curtain in a panic is not a good idea. When I stepped through, I had been aiming for the Mynydd Caverns. A minor transposition of 'agga' and 'rothum' in the spell landed us in the Honey Sea.
Cursing, I waded ashore, coated in honey-coloured slime that had the appetizing odour of troll's feet. Mixed with the pong of singed tail scales, it even made the crocodillas back off. Hanging on tightly to the neck of my sack, I gave myself a good shake. A quick glance all around and I unfurled my wings. The Honey Sea is a no-fly zone but even if I got a traffic citation, I was going home in style. A speedy climb and a long glide under the radar took me straight into Gaia Zoo.
Did you know that Gryphons get airsick? The sack was a total, disgusting mess. But I had to admire the way my captives, I mean passengers, stepped out into their new abode. Bedraggled with Water Dragon scale slime, coated with Honey Sea glop and wobbly from a flight with no barf bags, they exuded the unassailable air of royalty. As a stately parade, they stalked into the cave that had been prepared for them. Leaving muggins to drag sack, glittery rocks and eggs after them. I did not mind. Gryphons are known for their generosity and I had saved them from starring in a barbeque. Carefully, I placed the eggs in front of them and made to unload their treasure. A wing flap and a regal nod indicated that it was all mine. I was rich!
Back in my den, after a good wallow in my pool and a stiff, celebratory drink, I examined my prize. Pyrite is a mineral that is a sulphide of iron, not uncommon in Wales. It looks like little crystals of glittering gold. Fool's gold to be precise. It did not say in the Beastiary that Gryphons are con artists.