The beast slept. It was young—only weeks old, in fact. Despite its youth, it had grown quite large. It weighed tons and had a fifty-foot wingspan. However, at the moment, its monstrous wings were carefully tucked in while it perched and slumbered on the tower. Sixteen days ago he and his siblings had hatched. His mother hated him and his siblings from the moment they broke through their shells. Once they hatched, she ignored them, and they returned to their father, whom they followed here. His kind numbered in the hundreds. They perched and slept wherever they could find room to roost. Given their size and weight, finding a suitable roost was no easy task. Today, he found a place high above the others. He was alone, having ventured there. Here there was no squabbling for space or being pushed off his roost by one of the others. No one bothered him here. He slept soundly, too soundly. The noise broke into his consciousness, barely at first.
He scarcely noticed it. His brain persisted in hanging onto a state of sleep. Dragons’ growth rate made sleep something they constantly craved.
Finally, his brain surrendered, and consciousness won out. He opened his eyes to see what was making that sound. For several seconds, his eyes registered the image of Fury hovering in front of him, and then an intense light blinded him. The searing pain lasted for only a few moments past his eyes registering the image of Fury as the flames engulfed and incinerated his body.
Fury hung there, hovering, blasting the young dragon’s corpse with fire. The sky surrounding the tower, Fury’s tower, was filled with flame and light. The acrid smell of burnt dragon flesh filled the air. Smoke billowed from the top of the tower and the now-dead dragon’s carcass.
Fury took in another huge lungful of air, blasting the tower and the corpse with his flames. The carcass burned brightly. Fury flapped his massive wings, first hovering over, then landing on, his tower. His roar echoed through the valley. He pushed the interloper’s body off the tower. It took several kicks from Fury’s powerful legs, but finally the young dragon’s body, still burning, fell to the ruins of the buildings below. The dragon landed on a corner post of the remains of the stables that Fury had burned long ago. The dragon’s corpse hung there, impaled, still burning. Fury looked down, pleased. The corpse would serve as a reminder to all the others whom this tower belonged to.
Denrael of Gesthamin stood at the precipice, above the highest cliff looking over the canyon city of Griffin’s Perch. The ancient city had been carved into the cliff face over thousands of years. Over that time the carvings had become quite ornate. The entrances, once plain openings and tunnels into the rock, were now surrounded with intricate work of skilled stonemasons. Columns, balustrades, doors, statues, and reliefs covered the canyon walls. Very few spots were left untouched now. Likewise, the interior halls were carved in similar fashion. Denrael thought not about any of that, instead surveying all that his home had become. From this vantage point, he could see across the Plain of Lisa and into the valley. What he saw was not what he expected to be looking at in the twilight of his time in the Silver Order.
He had once led the Silver Order. Now only he and another’s apprentice remained. It was the Fourth Age. As in every age, the Silver Order stood watch over the forests and all their inhabitants. Six wizards so connected to nature they could manipulate it through spell and incantation. A thought, wave of a hand, or word was enough for them to sway the natural order. Forests, fire, water, wind, beings, and chaos: there was a wizard for each. Each wizard could control all, but each possessed their own niche where they were comfortable and felt they did the most good. It was from these places that each wizard in the Silver Order drew their power. It was a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Each wizard acted as a steward, and in return nature provided them power to perform their stewardship. It was because of their love of nature that they were selected for the Silver Order in the first place. The apprenticeship was extensive and lengthy before they eventually ascended to their positions as full wizards to stand guard over nature. They would act as shepherds until the next age began.
With one exception the wizards took their names from the trees under their care. The trees had stood watch longer than even the Silver Order. Powerful, strong, and steadfast, the trees were more than symbols. They were conduits for their power and strength. Denrael remembered all but one of his compatriots fondly. Bruce of the Redwoods, Giselle of the Oaks, Tremane of the Cedars, Charlemagne of the Hemlocks, and Daniel of the Dark Wood: all but the last were remembered well.
Bruce was charged with care of the forests, and there were a great many to care for. Lush tropical rain forests, huge ranges of pine in the mountains, even larger stands of cedars, hemlock, and redwood thousands of years older than any memory. Bruce was a quiet and kind soul. He said very little except to communicate what was needed to tend his trees. They were not actually his trees, of course, but that is how he thought of them. Under his care and his watchful eyes, they were watched better than a child by a parent. Bruce wandered the world’s woods and forest. He was gone for months at a time. He always returned to the Crystal Castle, often to seek help from the other wizards to care for his beloved trees. A fire here, a rain or snowstorm there helped his trees grow healthy.
The forests were spread over an area so large that is was Bruce who was able to map the world as it was. When he was young, he had not minded the long travels. But he eventually tired of the long walks and his time horseback. He created a spell that would transport anyone from the Order where they desired instantaneously. He fashioned a detailed map, thousands of distinct locations. Timbers, meadows, plains, and at the edge of it all were the Deserts of Tumult. This was far beyond the sight of any forest dweller. Few ventured there, and in the history of the Silver Order, there was no record of any ever returning. Bruce was happy to have made a lasting contribution to the order but was happier when the project was finished. Now he could return to caring for the forests without further distraction.
Giselle of the Oaks cared for the waters—streams, rivers, lakes, springs, waterfalls, and a huge underground water system that fed the forests. As one might expect, Giselle possessed a bubbly personality. She was happy. Giselle’s beauty matched the soul inside. She was raven haired, and her pale skin set off the greenest eyes. Giselle possessed a keen wit and quick intelligence. Her penchant for cleanliness could sometimes annoy her fellow wizards but most often was appreciated. Her clean spells ensured the dirt and debris stayed out in nature, not in her castle. Daniel and Bruce frequently came back to the castle filthy and might make it up the staircase before her spells would enact a stream of dirt, which could be seen making its way out the nearest window or door.
Tremane of the Cedars was the keeper of the winds and weather. A very tall wizard, very dark skinned, with no hair. Tremane was moody and volatile for a wizard, much like the storm he used his powers to control. While snow and rain somewhat encroached on Giselle’s territory, no feuds ever erupted between them over it. Giselle was happy for the help. She did not have much luck gaining the cooperation of the clouds and winds in any case. She was also terrified of lightning. That being said, they were both happy with the arrangement.
Charlemagne of the Hemlocks was in charge of fire. Despite its reputation as a destroyer, fire was a very important part of the forest cycle, clearing out the dead and returning the nutrients to the soil. Several species of plants and trees needed the fires to drop their seeds to earth and replenish the trees below the canopy. Many animals used those seeds and young plants to feed. What many consider to be a destroyer actually brought life to the forest. Charlemagne himself was slight in stature, calculating and thoughtful. But much like fire, he could be unpredictable and subject to rashness. Denrael frequently managed those rash decisions with his own calm.
The final wizard was Daniel of the Dark Wood—self-assured to the point of arrogance. He used his powers to keep evil and chaos at bay. It was not something Daniel always agreed should be done. Denrael frequently overruled Daniel. Daniel resented the fact that Denrael could do this, control him and his actions, that he was in charge of the order, that he was his superior. Daniel considered himself an equal and in many ways superior to Denrael. He was jealous Denrael led the Silver Order.
Denrael’s ability to remain calm and detached in his decision-making made him a more fitting choice for the leader of the Silver Order. Denrael was able to keep emotions out of his decisions. That is not to say he made them without heart or empathy, but he controlled his passions. Control and empathy were two very important things that set the two apart and in the end were how the order selected Denrael over Daniel to lead the order. Daniel’s belief that he could control evil and chaos was a lie to himself and others. His jealousy of Denrael was counter to the tenants of service that bound the six together into a single powerful force for good.
Tremane was an ardent supporter of Daniel and his views, and so was Charlemagne to a lesser extent. Denrael’s role was to protect all those creatures that resided in the forest and lands of his home. Denrael was intimately connected to all the inhabitants. The pixies of Luna, the merfolk of the Silver Lake, and especially the Delphens.
Delphens were a fox-like race. They had large ears atop their heads that could be swivel in multiple directions to capture any sound. Honorable and duty bound, they had large beautiful eyes and were covered in short gray fur. With a few exceptions, they were all gray, but occasionally white or black Delphens came into the world. Legend had it that Delphens of different colors were destined for some great deed. Denrael was aware of this prophecy. His affection and empathy for the Delphens was not based on anything written on parchment or passed on as folklore. He found the Delphens a people whose honesty and honor appealed to his own.
Denrael was shaken from his memories by a large roar from Glory, a Griffin to whom he was bonded. Glory was a white Stonehenge, exceptionally large—her skin gleamed in the sun, shimmering as she moved. Her silvery mane also shimmered. Male and female Griffins both bore lush manes. They had green eyes that, for those first meeting Griffins, were quite unnerving. Her black talons stood out in stark contrast to her white skin. Another feature of Stonehenges was a razor sharp tail. The cutting edge, sharper and harder than the finest blade, ran the length of both sides. They could use their tails with incredible lethality.
Glory emitted a low growl to make sure her compatriot was alert. Riders were not masters of Griffins—bonded to them to be sure, but a team with Griffins would be a more accurate depiction of the relationship. As such, Griffins knew it was folly for either of them to get out of touch with the sky and situation around them. Glory roared now to get his attention. Denrael stroked the Griffin’s mane to signal he was indeed alert. Alert but weary.
Denrael had stewarded the forest for a very long time. He had one final task to perform before he could rest. He continued to stare out over the vast areas of green and the huge blackened scar across the area under his care. For nearly three eons, he had served as nature’s guardian. Throughout the war, he had also protected, trained, and fought alongside the Delphens. Fearless, they made excellent companions for Griffins. Their caring nature, drive to protect their own, and willingness to look after other creatures made them friends to all. Their honor and willingness to battle evil drew the Griffins to them—as friends and soldiers together fighting the darkness that, at that time, spread across the land.
Denrael stepped back from the precipice and climbed aboard Glory’s back in front of her huge wings. It took a bit of finesse for Denrael to get up there. Glory stood sixteen feet tall at the shoulder. She had a fifty-foot wingspan and weighed in at nearly three tons. Glory was a force that few could compare with. There were only two Griffins larger. Havoc, Shala’s white Stonehenge, was eighteen feet at the shoulder and six tons. Her wingspan reached an amazing seventy-five feet. The other was Savage, another white female Stonehenge almost as large as Havoc but with an ill temper for anyone but Shala and her Rider, Flinch.
Once Denrael mounted, Glory leapt from the cliff’s edge. Glory kept her wings tucked back for most of the thousand-foot cliff face. At one hundred feet she spread out her wings and they pulled out of the dive.
“Glory, I’m much too old for those kinds of high jinks,” Denrael shouted over the rushing wind into the Griffin’s ear.
Glory emitted a low growl that Denrael came to identify as a Griffin’s version of laughter. Glory used the momentum to rise up, and a few flaps of her massive wings put her high enough to land on a ledge outside the elder’s council chambers. The council chambers also doubled as a headquarters of sorts for the Griffin Corps. Denrael slid down Glory’s neck. Glory moved to get a drink from a trough fed by a waterfall. The cool, clean water flowed through the trough to fall into other collection points in the Delphens’ cliff face home.
The Elders’ Council were vigorously discussing the business of the day—the Silver Scroll and Gold Cluster. It was a legend dating from the First Council of the Silver Order. Many of the elders thought it a hopeful story but only that, a story. Others argued all legends had a basis in fact. Even if the story had been embellished over time somewhere, the scroll and cluster did exist.
Denrael’s entrance into the hall stopped the rancorous debate. For Denrael the legend was in fact prophecy. He had seen the written prophecy, the scroll, and the cluster. His description of all three left little doubt to the tale’s authenticity. So now the issue was to appoint warriors to retrieve the scroll and cluster. Denrael had two in mind for the job. But Denrael convinced the elders to hold off sending anyone just yet. Denrael had set a number of events in motion already that might make a quest of that sort unnecessary.