The Sunlit Land
The gryfon woke.
He lifted his head, gray feathers fluttering in the breeze, green eyes peering curiously around him. The ground beneath him was soggy peat, soft and cool with the early spring. The long grass wavered in the wind, sighing and shifting like the quiet chorus of a hundred whispering gryfons. He sat in the lee of a small mound, cast in shadow by the nightward sun. The wind was quiet, the air devoid of scent. The gryfon sensed no creature, Named or Nameless, winged or grounded.
Hesitantly he pushed himself to his paws, his sharp, black talons digging into the ground, squeezing out tiny droplets of water. He cast around, searching for anyone, any sign of life, any landmark he could use to identify where he was. He took a deep breath, tasting the salt in the air, before climbing the mound in front of him.
Before him the grass rolled away, up toward a cliff where a set of rocks stood highlighted against the sun. He heard the distant crash of waves on rocks, and the scent of salt grew stronger. Feeling an instinctive tug, the gryfon broke into a run for the top of the cliff, flanks brushing the grass with a soft swishing noise. Panting, an unknown excitement brewing in his chest, he stumbled to the top of the cliff, almost pitching head first over the sharp drop.
Stretching away in all directions—starward, windward, and nightward—was a vast, dark sea, its surface tossed and roiling, white foam spraying the air with the crest of each wave. The sun sat in the clear nightward sky, a sunmark above the horizon, its warm rays slanting into his eyes; he squinted slightly against the glare. The gryfon could see, outlined against the distant horizon, a mountain reaching up into the sky, its peak white with snow, an ethereal glow emanating from the summit.
It all seemed so familiar to him. The copper-colored cliff he stood on, the sea before him, the sun perched in the sky, the mountain far away. He knew he’d seen this all before, but he could not remember where, or when. He tried to recall his name, and again nothing came up. He knew nothing, not his name, where he was from, why he was here. He was Nameless, as nameless as the birds of the sky and the prey in the fields: a base creature, ruled by fear, driven by terror, fighting only to survive with no thought of Tyr’s love.
He remembered one thing. Tyr, the creator of all, whose love gave warmth to all of his children as they basked beneath his bright radiance. The gryfon gazed, as much as he could, upon the great ball of fire in the nightward sky. He could not remember who he was, or what destiny he could possibly possess, but there was still one thing he could do.
He spread his wings and mantled before the sun.
After whispering a quiet prayer of thanks to bright Tyr, the gryfon stood, and a new feeling emerged within him. Another pull, this time nightward across the sea. His eyes narrowed as they fell on the mountain in the distance, the light of its summit still pulsing brightly even from so far. He released a breath, tension bunching in his muscles, wings twitching in anticipation.
Tyr had spoken, he was sure of it, a silent command to him. The gryfon spread his wings, tapered and slim like a falcon’s, and flapped once to test the air. As a current of wind picked up from behind, he loped forward and sprung off the cliff, pulling his wings tight against his body as he fell toward the sea. The horizon pitched, and all he could see was water, thrashing and surging beneath him. He felt a familiar thrill, a cry of glee working its way from his chest to his throat.
Then, a mere leap from the surface, he flared his wings and pitched himself upwards, wings straining at the sudden change of direction. The cry of glee came out as a lion’s roar, rising in pitch to a piercing eagle’s shriek. The gryfon cried his joy, again and again, to the empty winds, as he circled to gain altitude.
He was Nameless. But perhaps, if he followed great Tyr’s lead, he would show him his name once more.
The gyrfon banked toward the mountain. With a powerful flap of his wings, he sped nightward, and began his journey.
Time passed. The sea was endless, stretching away in every direction; soon even the land he’d awoken on disappeared beyond the dawnward horizon. He could not tell if a mark had passed, or a dozen. Tyr hung ever present before him, watching him, as if urging him forward on this task.
The gryfon spread his gray wings, catching the wind and letting them carry him. He knew the sea was expansive, and crossing it would take time. So he basked in his Namelessness, letting his thoughts wander. He was the wind, the sea, the sky. Wind, sea, sky.
An image of an albatross came to his mind. He pondered it a moment, before pushing it away. Wind, sea, sky.
Sea and sky.
A mark appeared on the horizon, a black blemish. It grew, becoming land. Grassy plains and cracked dirt, rolling hills and craggy bluffs. Sparse trees grew interspersed among the grass. The land was dry, dusty, its heat hanging in the air.
He gazed down upon it, strange feelings stirring in his heart. He recognized the terrain, though how he could not tell—it didn’t have the same natural familiarity that the land across the sea had, yet even so he recognized these new shores. He scanned the ground for life. Tracks, winding among the grass stalks. The heavy scent of painted dog and lion permeated the air, and he grimaced. A part of him, the Nameless part, spoke of foes, competitors for food and territory. A large, red gryfon came to mind, powerful and gilded in gold, crying for war, war with the wolves. War with the enemy.
Then the red gryfon faded to a russet one. A gryfess, with pale gold eyes dotted with flecks of red. He heard a voice, hers, melodic and pleasing. He sniffed, tried to catch the scent of this enticing, attractive gryfess, but all he could smell was dust and blood. Names eluded him once again.
Blood. Fresh blood.
He perked his ears, and now he could hear something beneath him. There, against an outcropping of rock, a golden shape surrounded by the dirty browns and swirling tans of painted wolves. Arrowing his head, the gryfon swung around, banking toward the golden shape that soon materialized into a fellow gryfon.
He shrieked a battle cry and fell into the midst of the baying pack, whirling around with a hiss, beak parted with a reverberating growl building in his chest. The hounds fell back, whimpering nervously. They growled to each other, and for a startling moment the gryfon thought he could hear words.
Hunt brother. Friend of wolves.
Cautiously, the painted wolves backed off, before fleeing away into the grass, their yips and growls sounding pleased, almost excited.
Panting, the gray gryfon turned to the gold one. The golden gryfon was large, almost an entire head taller than the gray. Brilliant blue eyes stared into green, and the gray found himself cowed, almost mantling to this new gryfon. Was he a lord? A king of a pride? The golden gryfon certainly carried himself like royalty, proud and imposing, a necklace of gold accentuating his gilded figure.
But the gray gryfon did not bow. Not out of disrespect—the gray sensed that this gryfon was familiar, more so than anything he’d passed so far. The gray sniffed, catching this stranger’s scent, and found it wasn’t strange at all; this gryfon’s scent was deep-rooted, going far back in the gray’s mind. An image came, unbidden, of he and this golden gryfon as kits, curled up together in the same nest. Were they brothers?
The gold returned his gaze with likewise recognition. He opened his beak, as if to speak, to call a name, but nothing came out. Snapping his beak shut, the gold cocked his head to one side, as if wondering at this conundrum. Then, shaking his head, the gold chirped at the gray, before pushing past him. Curious, the gray followed the gold to the top of the rock outcropping, where both stood gazing at Tyr, and the mountain in the distance.
The gold gryfon mantled beneath the sun. He stood and gazed at the gray, a silent message in his eyes. The gold chirped once more, then leapt from the outcropping, his broad, golden wings beating the air with audible whumfs.
They may have been Nameless, and voiceless, but the message that was communicated was clear.
Snapping his beak in resolve, the gray lifted his wings and sprang after his new companion.
A large rock formation emerged as the sun sank towards the horizon. Blazing vermillion under Tyr’s dying light, the monoliths were dotted with bright pricks of light. As he and the gold sped past, the gray saw the sources of the light. Bonfires, the glow casting flickering shadows against the surrounding rock surfaces. He saw figures moving among the fires. More gryfons! Some carried sticks, tossing them into the fire, feeding it like a mother gryfess would her hungry kit. Others soared around them, their wings flat and broad like his companion’s.
More images came. He, soaring through the air, a pair of torches gripped in his talons. He, hunched over a pile of kindling, two strange stones before him. A strike, a flash, embers. A strike, a flash, smoldering kindling. A bonfire in an empty waste.
He couldn’t make sense of it. What did it mean?
Something bumped his side. He looked over to see the gold gryfon smirking, a challenging look in his eye. With a shriek, and powerful gust of his wings, the gold plunged ahead, veering for the gaps between the arches and columns around them.
The gray smiled, heart beginning to race in hunt-thrill. Oh, he so loved an aerial competition.
Tapering his body, the gray sped to catch up, weaving between the rocks and gryfons, eyes set on his golden companion ahead. The gold was bigger, stronger, and he had a head start, but the gray was lighter, sleeker, and he knew the skies as well as any bird.
They matched each other, neck to neck, flicking past bystanders and hurling around corners like gold and silver streaks of skyfire. The gray spun, banked, eager to get ahead and show his companion who the true master of the sky was. The rocks and bonfires passed in a hazy blur. Blood pounded in his ears, his beak open in a fervent pant. This was one race he was going to win.
The golden and the gray came upon a large spire of rock at the center of the formation. They circled around it, rising up its vast length, each egging the other on as they reached for the summit. Eyes wild, shrieks of thrill and camaraderie echoing in the air, the two gryfons finally soared over the summit and landed on the top of the spire. They crouched, panting, their wings sore, chests heaving in exertion.
At length the gold approached the gray. They butted heads, exchanging excited chirps, reveling in each other’s company. They lay down to rest, watching Tyr slink lower and lower over the nightward horizon.
Something caught the gray’s eye. He chanced a look behind him, and saw a great, pearly white globe ascend the dawnward sky. Awed, he gazed upon the beautiful sight, the calm, cool light of the moon dying the land with a faint glow, as if covered in an early winter’s snow.
She was here. Tor, mistress of the night. Tyr’s mate, and mother to all.
Quivering, the gray humbly dipped his head to Tor, wings splayed in a mantle. Behind him, he heard the gold scrabble to his talons and come up beside him. He saw the gold mantle as well, spreading his wings and dipping his head. Their wings overlapped.
Brother by choice.
Brother by vow.
Confused, the gray turned away. Together, he and his companion worshipped Tor as they did Tyr, and asked for her blessing.
They would continue their journey into the night.
A roar shattered the night.
The gray gasped, heart racing. Terror seeped through his veins. His muscles locked, his wings stiffened with dread. He wanted to hide, to turn tail and fly back the way he came. Another roar came, filled with hate, with sadistic glee at spreading unending terror across the land and skies. A scent wafted on the wind, sulfur and decay clogging his nose, making him sick. Dark shapes loomed on the horizon, moving through the distant haze, too far for Tor’s light to reveal them.
A third roar. The gray emitted a pitiful whimper. He wished he could plunge to the ground, dig a hole and hide in it.
A wing brushed his, and he glanced over at his companion. He saw fear in the gold’s eyes as well, but something else as well. Confidence, assurance. Courage, the will to face fear. The gold brushed the gray’s wing again, as if saying, I’m here. I’ll be with you every step of the way.
Releasing a pent up breath, the gray nodded and brushed the gold’s wing in thanks.
They flew down through the choking haze, side by side, the scent getting stronger as they went. Beneath them, the grass plains gave way to dry cracked dirt, lifeless and barren. Soon, a yawning gap opened up beneath them, twisting and winding its way along the plain. Crooked cliffs lined with multicolored sediment hemmed them in as they descended into the canyon, following the course of the thin, gurgling stream that had carved it over the course of the First and Second Ages. Above, Tor became a fuzzy ball, her light weakened by the oppressive miasma. The gray could barely make out her form in the darkness. Even the mountain that was their destination disappeared in the murk. He swallowed, heart thumping painfully against his chest.
Tyr and Tor, help us. Guide us through this labyrinth.
They soared silently through the canyon, the air dead, their feathers barely fluttering as they flew. More roars echoed across the silent land. Ahead of them, they heard a panicked shrieking.
The gold hissed and clamped his talons on the gray’s wing, dragging him down to the canyon floor where they plunged into a small cave. The two gryfons huddled in the dark, shaking, as the shrieking came closer. The gray peered out, fearful yet curious of what the commotion was.
A small, dark form shot past, crying and shrieking in terror. An eagle, flapping rapidly, ascended past the lip of the canyon in its attempt to escape—
A monstrous shape blocked out the gray’s view, and he stumbled back, shying from the wall of sulfur scent and decay that slammed into him. The shape veered up, following the eagle as it spun around to avoid its pursuer. Large, membranous wings reached a dozen gryfon spans long, bearing aloft a massive, scaled body with trunk-like legs. Sharp claws extended from each forepaw, while a long serpentine neck ended in a wedge-shaped head with cruel, Nameless eyes. A thin whip of a tail extended back with a large, heavy spade on the end.
A black gryfon, sprawled in the dirt, blood gushing from the stump of a severed wing.
The gray’s eyes grew wide, and his limbs refused to move. His voice died in his throat, and all thoughts but one fled his mind.
With roar of unbridled fury the creature wrenched its jaws open, revealing row upon row of gleaming teeth. It brought its jaws down on the lone eagle with a loud snap, cracking bones and cutting off the eagle’s desperate cries mid-shriek. The wyrm did not chew—the gray watched it swallow the eagle whole, then turn away, a howl of mindless terror bellowing from its maw.
He did not move for ages, limbs locked despite his aching muscles. Gradually the wyrm’s calls faded away, and he fidgeted nervously, new terror rising up in his gut, threatening to drown him.
Finally, his companion moved, stepping gingerly out the entrance of their cave. Beak open in a nervous pant, his companion turned to him, beckoning.
Together, the golden and the gray moved silently along the ground, forgoing flight in the face of the wyrm threat. Their progress slowed, and fatigue crept up on them as they trekked through the endless twists and turns of the narrows.
Marks passed, and yet the night remained. The gray remembered once feeling safe under the cover of darkness. The Nightwing, someone had once called him, for such was his skill at navigating Tor’s dark skies. Or was it his father?
The gray shook his head wearily. His father…his mother…vague shapes of gray and white were all he could recall. No names came to him, as always. He grit his beak, and pressed onwards. The mountain was ahead, its light pulsing through the gloom. His answers lay there.
He glanced at his companion, and wondered if he sought answers as well.
The calls of the wyrms faded behind them, though they never went away. Always their presence was known, a malignant storm brewing at their backs, ready to descend on them the instant they abandoned the cover of the canyon.
The gray was beyond tired. The spasms of pain lancing through his legs and talons had come and gone—now his limbs moved automatically, his mind too tired to conjure up anything but brief images and memories. The gold didn’t fare much better, his head bowed, blue eyes now dim and listless. They padded on, talons dragging against the rocks, exhausted yet knowing they could not stop.
They had to reach the mountain.
They had to finish this journey.
Sometime during their trek they’d found a goat path up the side of the canyon. After clambering their way up the steep rock face, the golden and the gray had finally taken wing, hoping to speed away before the wyrms could notice their presence.
Tor’s light had faded completely; whether it was the haze blocking the light, or her setting for the night, the gray did not know. After a while the haze cleared and the sky opened up, revealing an endless array of stars above. The two gryfons gazed up, following the course of the twinkling lights as they inched across the sky. There, the Dawnward Star. And there, Syg the swan. And, spanning the entire sky, was Midragur, the star dragon, curled around the world like a mother dragon around her egg, brooding it until it hatched, and ended the world.
Dragon. Long bodies rippled across the gray’s eyes. Long bodies, with swan-feathered wings and whiskered snouts.
A dome of crystal. A Winterborn.
A shard of sun.
He felt he was on the cusp of remembering, yet still the names refused to come. He snapped his beak in frustration.
They flew nightward, following the mountain’s light. Gradually the air cooled as they ascended in elevation, flying over low foothills that soon gave way to pine covered ridges and short mountains. It wasn’t long before peaks of snow-covered obsidian towered around them, dwarfing the two gryfons as they entered the mountain range. The gray’s breath frosted, the steam blowing behind him as he flew. The gold fluffed his feathers, and seemed to shiver. Snowflakes drifted from the clouds above.
Clouds. The gray snapped his head up, and saw thick, ominous storm clouds gathering among the peaks of the mountains. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and he saw a flash pierce the dark. The snowfall quickly turned to a blizzard, the soft flakes hurling against them like hail. The gray squinted through the gale as powerful gusts buffeted him. He fumbled, almost tipped over, before he leveled his wings and righted his course. His companion was having more trouble, flapping hard against the storm, bucking as he tried to fight the mountains’ fury.
The gray pumped his wings and sped in front of his friend, acting as a windbreak to the struggling gryfon. He glanced back and saw the gold’s bright blue eyes. A chirp of thanks was blown away on the wind.
So they flew, two gryfons, Nameless, one golden, one gray. Snow and ice caked against their wings, matted their feathers and tails. They gasped in the thinning air, wheezing as they tried to keep their ice-laden bodies airborne. Ahead, the mountain loomed, its light the only beacon in the desolate, whitewashed skyscape.
One wingbeat, and another.
One wingbeat. Another.
They could not hold.
The golden and the gray managed to fly partway up the slope before their wings finally gave out. Simultaneously they descended, almost plummeting headfirst into the deep drifts of the mountainside. The gold sunk up to his chest in the snow, the gray up to his neck. Their limbs, already numbed from their flight through the blizzard, became blocks of unfeeling ice beneath the freezing snow.
The gold chirped, and butted his head against the gray’s.
Come. Almost there.
The gryfons pushed their way up the slope, moving between rocks and straggly, twisted trees for cover. Shivering, feathers soaked to the flesh underneath, they pressed on, unyielding. They had come so far to seek the answers to their Namelessness. They would not falter now.
Wind howled down the slope, flattening their ears and forcing their eyes shut. Snow flew up their nostrils and into their mouths. They lowered their heads to the wind and pushed onwards, bodies straining, shaking from exhaustion.
They huddled, sharing what warmth they could. They pressed their bodies together, wrapped frosted wings stiffly around each other. One step at a time, one talon in front of the other, they pressed on, each push through the snow drifts harder than the last.
They could not hear. The storm roared around them, the wind whistling past, ripping away their voices.
They could not see. The snow came at them, a relentless wall, blanketing everything in an illusory carpet of clean, septic white.
They could not feel. The cold was everywhere. Around them, in them, sapping the strength from their bones, the will from their souls.
They could do nothing but journey on.
The gray gasped, pain lancing through his chest. He cried out, and the wind tore his voice away. His strength was gone, his resolve at its end. He whimpered, stumbled. His companion shouldered him, urging him forward.
Don’t stop. Keep going. Don’t stop.
He was blind, deaf. Dying.
Another shove. Don’t stop.
He was dying.
A beak clamped on the back of his neck, dragging him forward as his talons gave beneath him. Vaguely, the gray knew his companion was bearing him, refusing to leave him behind.
He gasped, breath short. Darkness edged on his vision. Nameless, voiceless darkness, filled with the terrifying howls of wyrms and storms and pure, unbridled hatred.
Only the long day brings rest…
The darkness crept across his vision.
Only the dark of night, dawn…
He could see only the bright snow in front of him, a pinprick of light in a tunnel of dark. He felt warm all of sudden, detached and buoyed away from it all.
When the First knew themselves, the wise will say…
The pinprick vanished. Leagues away, he heard a gryfon shriek in despair. Their movement lurched to a halt, and he felt himself sink into the snow.
They took their Names to the Sunlit Land…
The howling quieted, the warmth enveloped him. The gray plunged into darkness.
But their Voice in the wind sings on…
High above, in the sky beyond the sky, Tyr and Tor watched.
They gazed upon the Horn of Midragur, down at the two lumps of snow buried up the mountainside. Around them gathered their children: wolves, lions, ravens, eagles, dragons, even the mighty whales and blackfish of the sea. And gryfons, of all shapes and sizes, colors and builds. Bright gold to tawny brown, gleaming red to pale green, sapphire blue to deep indigo. Aesir and Vanir, conqueror and conquered, stood side by side, wing to wing, as they gazed upon the two gryfons lying still on the slope.
Kings, they whispered. Peacemakers. Fathers, sons.
The children of Tyr and Tor took up the cry, yearning for the two that brought peace to the land. They pleaded for their lives, begged for their entrance into the Sunlit Land.
Their chorus spread beyond the sky, to the lands and the oceans beneath. The Named and the Nameless, the Voiced and Voiceless, an entire world of beasts and creatures called for them.
As their combined song reached beyond the sky, Tyr and Tor lifted their heads.
They joined in their song.
And as the voices of the world sang their hearts to the heavens, the golden and the gray stirred.
They pushed themselves to their paws, eyes shut, snow sheaving off their bodies. They lifted their heads and opened their eyes, bright blue and fresh green, rejuvenated, revitalized. They gazed above them, beyond the swirling maelstrom of thunderclouds, at Tyr and Tor and the children of the world far, far away.
Tyr and Tor sang once more, and wind filled the gryfons’ wings.
The golden and the gray launched from the drifts, their wings buoyed by the breath of gods. They circled up the column of clouds, spinning faster and faster, higher and higher. Skyfire flashed and boomed, snow dashed around them as they flew up, up, up.
They broke through.
The clouds fell away, white puffy expanses of cotton stretching to every horizon. Tyr and Tor perched in the sky, radiant and beautiful, their twin glows casting the summit in a warm glow. The cold was gone; the air was thick and warm. The golden and the gray looped around each other, keening cries of joy and freedom, frolicking in the skies above the roof of the world. They spun and dove, twirled and somersaulted. They flared their wings and shot up the mountain, weaving around rocks and boulders, past sheer faces and hole-ridden glaciers, until at last they came to the summit, where the peak split into two, as if forced apart by some titanic creature.
The gray gazed upon the split summit, and a final memory clicked into place. Earthfire, billowing from the mountain. He and Hikaru, winging nightward, fleeing the wyrms as they circled the Horn of Midragur.
Eyes wide, beak open, breath caught in his chest, the gray gryfon remembered it all. His voice, his name, his family and the immeasurable love he had for them came back to him in a deluge. He smiled, laughed, cried again with joy. He was Nameless no more!
The gray swooped around his companion, and saw that he too remembered himself. Rejoicing, the two gryfons pumped their wings and arrowed toward the split summit, where the blinding, pulsing light shone across the clear, blue sky. They reveled in their memory, in their shared joy and hardship, in the journey they had made together, from the Silver Isles to the Winderost, and on to the Horn of Midragur. They remembered their love, the unbreakable bond of brotherhood that tied them. Two gryfons, Aesir and Vanir, reunited in the Sunlit Land.
For it was only by knowing the other that they came to know themselves.
The summit approached. The golden and the gray flared their wings and landed, their paws and talons skidding deep tracks through the snow. Before them, the cracked peak awaited, the light pulsing, the instinctive pull stronger than ever. Tyr and Tor’s light, united as one, beckoned.
The gray gazed into the gold’s eyes, green into blue. Breathless, incredulous, he opened his beak.
The gold’s eyes filled with happiness, and the larger gryfon stepped forward, nuzzling the gray.
They broke apart, brothers remade. Together they turned towards the light. Their paws and talons sifted quietly through the snow as they headed into the split peak, rock walls soaring above on either side.
As they walked, Shard extended his wing.
“Wind under me when the air is still.”
Without hesitation, Kjorn extended his, covering Shard’s.
“Wind over me when I fly too high.”
The light shrouded, silhouetting the gryfons.
“Brother by choice.”
The air hummed with energy.
“Brother by vow.”
Their visages shimmered before the beam of light.
“By my wings…”
Wings overlaid, they stepped into the light.
“…you will never fly alone.”Their forms dissolved, and they vanished into light.