They stand in the laboratory of Gylden, the High Mage, Professor of Applied Metaphysics and Energy Shifting, and Geryon’s uncle. Located in an annex to the Academy of High Magic per se, a ten-story-high tower of winding stairs and other such mandatory architectural features commonly found in libraries under the section “Mad Wizard Lairs, Past and Present,” the laboratory is a common holding place for all kinds of high-level artifacts. Sent to his uncle’s aid by Archon Math, Geryon stoically stores the items Gylden hands him in satchels, taking care to evenly distribute the load that will soon burden his flanks on his way to the Council’s safe-storage house.
“And don’t forget to load the more sensitive items last,” the wizard reminds him for the hundredth time. “Some of those things are very fragile.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Geryon responds, taking advantage of the wizard’s distraction to roll his eyes at the endlessly repeated instructions. “I will do as you say.”
“That’d be a first,” Gylden snorts as he hands the gryphon one more item, the God Striker the lovely, if slightly deadly, Sergeant Alma had brought from the Oracle’s grotto, now apparently fully recharged. “I swear, boy, if you didn’t happen to be my sister’s son, I would not have kept you around for so long.”
Geryon sighs, his head bobbing slowly up and down. “I know, revered one. I am a disgrace to the family name.”
“You can be damn sure you are!” Gylden exclaims, gesturing wildly as he always does when he embarks on one of his self-righteous rants. “You just have to look in the mirror to see that! You and that libertine friend of yours, getting drunk and casting old spells. And destroying a priceless spellbook, no less–”
Geryon pretends to pay attention to the words he already knows by heart, so frequently have they been spoken through the years. “One would think you have never made a mistake in your life, Uncle.”
Gylden freezes mid-speech, belated but not the least bit abashed by his nephew’s comment. “Sure, I’ve made plenty,” he concedes. “I turned your mother into a newt, after all.”
“I have never known my mother to be a newt,” Geryon retorts.
The wizard looks at him as if half-surprised, then shrugs. “Well, she got better. Now, get on with packing, boy,” he adds, jerking his finger at a window. “Go get the Era One records on the essence of mana that your so-called genius friends have been studying so closely. It’s time they get returned to safe holding, before I die from chronic anxiety that they might ruin them.”
Geryon sighs and mutters, “Your wish is my command, Uncle,” and leaps out the window.
With a few mighty thrusts of his powerful wings, he gains altitude and makes his way to his own lab, in the main building. Landing silently and elegantly on the ground, he crosses the threshold to the winding corridors of the Academy, navigating them with barely a thought, his paws now so used to the secondary paths that usually keep him away from the more crowded, busier hallways where the students tend to gather. Minutes later, he is back at his laboratory, now blissfully silent as the three wizards with whom he tends to share the space have apparently left to attend a lecture on the Unstable Causality and Outcome in Shifting Conditions of Research and Development, leaving only a scribbled note in their place.
Also known as “Why your experiments are bound to work only once, and usually only after you screw up some major step in protocol.” Geryon snorts as he deciphers Alan’s complicated approach to cursive writing.
Knowing himself alone, the wizard-turned-gryphon sighs again and places his nearly full satchels on a low workbench before making his way to a secondary room he uses as a makeshift office. On his desk lie the sun-dried clay plaques his uncle so dearly wants returned to storage and that Geryon has been studying in the hopes of finding a way to reverse his condition as a winged beast. He touches them gently, sensing the inert power they are still infused with, even after millenia of having been engraved by the hands of the ancient. Even they have failed him in his query.
He walks to a far wall covered by a heavy velvet curtain. His uncle is not the easiest, or even the best of men, but it is because of him that Geryon can even dream of a life away from the menial servitude passed on in his family, from generation to generation, like some sort of sick gag-gift. The son of two temple-servants to some old, misshapen god of healing whose name Geryon was never quite able to pronounce, long devoid of his father, Geryon has come a long way since his days growing up in that ancient temple, surrounded by his countless little brothers and sisters and step-siblings and cousins and whoever his mother decided to take under her wing. There was always room in her heart for everyone, always time for every single one of her patients. Just not enough time in her day for her first born, to whom she would only pay heed whenever Geryon happened to get hurt doing something stupid and dangerous meant to attract her attention.
The days spent roaming aimlessly are long gone, mostly ended after uncle Gylden conceded to pull some strings and have Geryon enrolled at the Academy as a scholarship student. Then came Dion and his wonderful tastes in the finer things in life: women, drink, parties and hardcore magic. He made things easier. Whatever he didn’t want, Geryon could take for himself, which included many a damsel in need to be distressed. All was great and lavish for a while. And then one day…
Geryon looks at one of his paws, thankfully still armed with slightly opposable thumbs, as some cats have. One day, a chug too many on a bottle of Ambrosia, among the dusty old books of the archives of the Academy library, turned a stupid dare into a life-changing event. Always scrawny and awkward, Geryon had challenged Dion to cast an empowerment spell to make him strong as a lion and powerful as an eagle. Of course, there must have been a warning about the spell’s rather literal nature somewhere in the fine print, but it was hard enough even to read the title through Ambrosia-fogged eyes. Suddenly, Geryon was a gryphon and Dion took such a fright that he dropped the book and it crumbled into dust. Without the original words to the spell, reversing it was almost impossible. Dion had tried, Geryon had tried, Gylden had tried.
He moves the curtain aside to reveal a large mirror. The monstrosity of his reflexion no longer scares him, but he can’t help wondering, Is the man still lost within the monster? Or is the monster the true face of the man? With eagle-sharp eyes he examines each feather on his head, each hair on his body, each mote of light on the smooth surface of his beak. Again he sighs.
What does it matter? he thinks to himself as he allows the curtain to hide the mirror again. Man and monster, they are one and the same.
Just as he turns away, he catches the faint sound of moving feet and returns to the laboratory to find Dion and the Bunnies entering the room via a secondary door, with the lovely Sergeant Alma at the rear. All nine look pale, exhausted, breathing heavily as if strained by some monumental physical effort. Alma closes and locks the door behind her and Dion half wheezes to her, “We should be safe here.” He immediately starts pacing around the room, dashing toward the windows to scout the ground below.
“What in blazes?” Geryon swears at the sight, prompting gods and Bunnies to look in his direction.
“Whoa big-ass gryphon!” Cherry cries and takes a step back, eyes wide with the unexpected shock of seeing Geryon in his true size and glory.
“Shh! Ah think that’s Geryon!” Merri hisses to Cherry, grabbing her arm. “Goodness, he’s big and strong!”
The gryphon decides to ignore this for the time being and stalks up to Dion, who barely seems to notice him in the midst of inspecting the Academy’s grassy grounds. “You look awful! What happened?”
The god looks at him and then walks back to help Alma, who is currently busy with Cherry and Merri’s sister, a dark-haired, fair-skinned Bunny, in the process of barricading the door they have just used to enter the room.
“We met with a few...obstacles on our way here,” he explains briefly. “And transporting so many of us… Even though it wasn’t terribly far, it was not easy.” He fishes a globe of mana out of his pocket and begins to absorb it, replenishing his reserves.
“And why have you come here, exactly?” Geryon inquires, with a little side note of “Please don’t touch that” to the two younger male Bunnies.
“I am afraid we need to hide for a bit, until the Commander and the others can guarantee our safety,” Alma replies, the deep blue of her eyes flaring for a moment as they scour the room. To Dion she says, “I can’t detect any other presence here.”
Meanwhile, the dark-skinned male Bunny, obviously the oldest male, takes the one who looks like a really young, Bunny version of her creator-goddess, and gently guides her to a chair by the workbench where Geryon left his satchels, probably the least cluttered and safest place in the room. The black-haired female Bunny keeps peeking through the windows, much to her creator’s distress.
“Demons, what is going on?” Geryon demands of Dion. “I thought the Bunnies were to be taken to your uncle’s.”
“We were attacked while my uncle attended Council,” the god explains, stopping to look straight at his friend for the first time since he arrived. “There is a major Fourth Ring gang named ‘the Dukaines’ that is after the Bunnies, most likely under the command of an Archon. They definitely have connections, at least.”
“And the courage to attack the full force of the Guardia Dei at the Curia,” Alma adds.
“Not so much courage as food for powder,” a voice rings in a far corner. “But it seems this is one of those situations where the only way to get things done…”
A familiar vulture-headed shape steps into the light. “...is to do them yourself.”