This was great. Just great. Something like a chicken the size of a rowboat had just dropped out of the sky and carried off the only person who had ever made me feel like maybe there was some point to bein' alive besides getting drunk. I wasn't standing there contemplating the issue, though, I was already scrambling up the rocks after it. Terrifying to me was the fact that I wasn't hearing Minerva scream. A rock jutted out above me, sloping half my height again without handholds that I could see. Without pausing, I flung myself at the top and caught enough of a handhold to swing myself up.
Across from me, on another rocky outcropping, I saw the feathery thing examining its new prize. There was a tearing of cloth, and I heard Minerva make a small cry as she tried to punch the thing in the gut. Relief hit me so hard I almost dropped my chain in the process of unslinging it from my waist. "Minerva!" I bellowed like some dumb, enraged monster straight out of the bard's performances.
"Flee!" she shouted in response, stabbing forward again. This time I saw light flashing off metal and the thing screeched like a sea gull that's just been caught unawares by an over-hand fish head. Uh, not that I have ever amused myself with such a mean and petty pastime. The feathery thing struck down with a clawed front foot and pecked with a hooked beak, drawing a cry from Minerva.
Running, however, never even crossed my mind. That thing was only about fifteen feet away, I was guessing, though the drop between its rock and mine was a lot farther in the down direction than the across direction. I had dropped a nice length of chain and looped it into a swift spin. The thing forgot about Minerva for a moment, cocking its big, fish hawk lookin' head at me and lashing its tail once, like a cat that's pissed off.
"What the hell is this thing?" I shouted, and let go off the chain. A solid iron hook the size of a man's head shot true and nailed it right in the ribs, knocking loose a puff of feathers that would have made me giggle if that cursed buzzard hadn't been sitting on the most wonderful woman in the world.
Instead of answering, Minerva was moving, quicksmart. The thing had been knocked over onto its side, claws still gripping Minerva's robe. Slippery as a fish, Minerva ducked out of the robe, stabbed the surprised creature in the belly, and then flipped herself over the edge of the rock.
The feathery thing and I had about the same look on both our faces.
Then it dove over the edge after her. Without thinking, I did the same, lunging for the buzzard's throat and catching something hot, sinewy and solid underneath the feathers. It made all sorts of angry screeches, twisting underneath me.
"Osgun!" I heard Minerva shriek, and caught a glimpse of her horrified face as I plummeted past. I had time to be a little exasperated that she had been aiming for a ledge I couldn't have known about, then my ride twisted like a cat and got one huge, furry foot up to my chest and raked.
Fire shot down my ribs, followed by a horrible whump that made my head snap, my lungs stop and caused everything to go away for a second. As things started to come back, I took careful inventory of my body, wondering if I had finally found a way to crack my thick skull wide open, wondering if there would actually be much in the way of brains to leak out, and reluctantly turning my thoughts to that widespread crunching sound I had heard when we hit and how much of that was the sounds of my bones breaking.
"Osgun! Osgun, can you hear me? I'm coming!" There was a sound of scraping and an intermittent rain of pebbles from above. I glanced up to see Minerva with her feet braced against either side of the rock face, trying to work her way down. She was only in a man's trousers and a close fitting shirt. I felt my cheeks heat in a blush, then got grit in my eyes and mouth and had to shut both. Trying to get the dirt out of my eyes, I heard her gasp as she lost her grip. She landed on the springy back side of the feathery thing, causing more popping sounds and tumbling into me. With a groan, I realized that the sharp pains in my side were caused by something sticking between my ribs. "Osgun, forgive me," she whispered, sounding a lot more upset about it than she needed to be.
"Aw, don't worry about it." I peered blearily at her, blinking. She was some scratched up. "Did that thing hurt you?"
"Your side!" she changed the subject on me. I tried to follow her glance down to my ribs, but there was a big cat foot nailed to my side. I pried it off, wiggling at it to get two inches worth of claws out from between my ribs.
"Sun and river preserve us! You are badly hurt!"
"Naw, I don't think I broke nuthin." I poked the thing underneath me. It was starting to get a little cooler, and kind of flatter and lumpier looking. "I think your chicken got a little roughed up, though."
"But your lungs..." Minerva stopped and sat back on her heels. I blinked through some grit and saw that she was frowning at me sternly. "Breathe in. Deeply."
"Ow," I winced and poked at the seeping holes in my side.
"You are blessed by the caprices of Luck," she sighed. "It does not seem that your lungs have been pierced by its claws. Let me try to stop the worst of the bleeding." She tore one of the sleeves off her shirt and cut at for a minute, then stuffed some cloth into the holes, making me bellow. "Such noise," she scolded me.
"Sorry, Minerva, I wasn't expecting... hey!" The pain had caused my eyes to water enough to clear away the worst of the dirt and my head wasn't spinning quite so much. Her face wasn't half as blurry anymore. "You got a nose bleed!" I peered in more closely. "I think you're gonna have two black eyes."
"I put up my knife arm to cover my face when the griffon struck at me. I was able to shield my face from its claws, but the blow still drove my arm back against me with some force."
"You got holes in you?" I frowned, trying to sit up and then thinking twice about the process. Exasperated, she stopped fiddling with my side and huffed at me.
"This is not going to work. My sleeve will in no way fit around your chest, and every time you move, your shirt falls in the way of my sight. Take off your shirt and your belt."
"Uh." I was kind of speechless for a minute. In my fantasies, she always said it nicer. "Uh, naw, I wouldn't want people to think nothin. I'll be all right."
She made a little sound of anger that was kind of cute. "Master Osgun, I appreciate your sense of propriety, but I need your shirt removed so that I can see the wound and I need your belt removed so that I can use it to bind a bandage to your wound."
"Aw, I'll be fine. Why don't you take care of the holes it poked in you first?"
"Because if I pass out from loss of blood, you can easily carry me, but if I am to have any hope of climbing back up out of this crevasse, I will require your assistance. Now take off your shirt and your belt!"
Ears burning, I sat up as best I could and tried to turn around a little so I could pull my shirt over my head and undo my belt buckle. As I shifted, the kitty bird crunched underneath me. That wouldn't have been enough on its own to distract me from how sexy the situation kinda was, but apparently my weight shifting on it squeezed out some stuff from the back end, and that smell plus my worry that it was going to get on Minerva really just killed any fantasy I might have had. "Uh, what did you say this thing was again?"
"A griffon. The head, wings and forelegs of a bird of prey, the hind quarters of a lion."
I handed my belt back over my shoulder without looking. "Uh, which one has to get drunk for that to happen? The bird or the lion?"
"They were created with magic, Osgun. It is said that wizards in ages past created them to guard the temples of the sun god. They are symbols of wealth and power now. They are even bred to carry a rider, though they are not commonly strong enough to carry a man in armor. Still, if you accompany me all the way to Noksheoth Heights, you will see powerful clerics and sorceresses astride them. They are quite fierce in battle. Though," she paused for a moment, which made me start to panic a little, because if I didn't have her words to focus on, I might get to thinking too much about her hands moving over the bare skin of my side, or her arms slipping around me for a second when she fastened the belt. "They don't seem to hold up well having someone your size fall upon them from a great height."
"They're pretty springy," I offered my two copper pieces.
"'Springy,'" she repeated, giving me an arch look over the bulge of my shoulder. "Yes. That is definitely a quality that I did not know them to possess until this very day." She sat back. "That will have to do. I must say, Osgun, you have a remarkable constitution. I am surprised that your injuries have not caused you more inconvenience."
"Uh, yeah." I slipped the tatters of my shirt back on and hoped my pants weren't going to fall down when I helped her back up the crevice here. That would be hard to explain. "You sure you're not too hurt?"
"The griffon's claws seized my robes in the initial strike. I have a number of places where the talons broke the skin, but only one wound of significance where its beak tore my arm. The strip I bound it with seems sufficient. The bruises from assorted falls are not too severe." She let out a sigh, and I snuck a peek behind me to see her staring up. "I am not certain that we can get out the way we came in."
I followed her glance up and frowned. The rocks were close enough together here to do that trick she pulled of walking yourself up the gap with one hand and foot on each side, but only for a little way. After that, there were a couple of ledges and hand holds, but not many. Not enough places to fling the chain up to use like a grappling hook, either. But glancing around here at the bottom yielded a possibility. "Here, kid, watch that nasty stuff and let me get past you. I wanna see if I can fit through that opening."
Minerva took the hand I offered her and moved up further onto the clean -- well, mostly -- feathered part of the griffon so I could squeeze past. "But that direction leads in deeper toward the side of the mountain."
"Yeah, but the air coming out of it looks warmer than the stone around us, like maybe it's from outside where the sun heated it up."
"'Looks...' You can see temperatures?"
"Uh. Well, like only if something is hotter or colder than something else." I turned to face the rock and squeezed my eyes shut for a second. Probably the one person in the world that I maybe didn't mind thinking that I was smart and I had to sound like a total idiot every time I opened my mouth around her. I told myself it didn't matter and took a look at that hole.
"Here," her hand resting on my back sent a rush of warmth through me that made my head spin a little. "Let me go first. If I should become stuck, you will have an easier time pulling me back out."
"Uh, I dunno." She was sliding past me, brushing her whole body up against mine and it was the nicest thing that had ever happened to me... "Uh, hey, wait a minute!" I snapped my thoughts back to the situation at hand and reached out to grab her leg before she disappeared completely into the gap between the rocks. "There could be, uh, spiders or something. Like, big ones. That are half goat or whatever." Stupid, stupid, stupid, Ozzie! I was such a sap.
"I still have my dagger." She kicked away my hand and disappeared into the stone.
"Uh, Minerva? Uh, hey." I sat back on my heels for a second, then sighed. She was gone again.