1-1 It’s Kind of a Bird and Definitely Not a Plane…

“Aren’t I right, Edge,” Hearing his name, Edge was roused from his catnap.  Not bothering to open his eyes, he took a moment to process the voice that called him.  Brash, jovial, and male.  Could be half the people he knew, but it best matched a man who’s only true name was Champ.

Barely cracking his eyes open, Edge turned to the tall, raven-haired woman beside him and asked, “Is he right?”

“No,” She promptly answered, not turning her cold gaze away from Champ.

Edge closed his eyes and leaned back against the uncomfortably hard railing as he responded, “You heard the lady.”

He tried to return to sleep, but the rover hit yet another pot hole and lurched him further into wakefulness.  At the same time, Champ cried out, “Can’t you at least look at me before siding with her?”

“I don’t see how your face is going to convince me of anything,” Edge rebutted, opening his eyes, but refusing to face towards Champ.  Instead, he turned to look behind himself at the sprawling plains.  All just grass and emptiness as far as the eye could see.  The only notable thing in the entire area was the small track the rover was awkwardly bouncing along.  Even that wasn’t anything so luxurious as a dirt road.  Just a line of slightly more worn-down grasslands.

“I can be very convincing when I want to be-,’ Champ started with a sultry tone that just didn’t fit him.

Then the image of a monstrous beast set against a blue sky flashed into Edge’s mind.  It was an animal with the lower half of a lion and the head, wings, and talons of an eagle.  The thing could almost be called regal if it didn’t look so eager to feed.

“Griffon,” Edge and his six companions all muttered in unison.  Edge immediately turned forward and shifted his gaze upward.  At that moment, everyone’s attention was focused on a black particle in the clear sky.  With the naked eye, one couldn’t even discern it from a speck of dust, but everyone knew what it was.

“How big is it?”  The captain called out from the passenger seat as he stared at the speck.  He was a well-built man of moderate height.  In spite of his snow white hair, he didn’t give off the impression of age.  Instead, he always let out an air of cunning intelligence.  Like he’d been a fox in a previous life.

“About the size of two tanks humping,” The woman named Cauliflower called without removing the binoculars from her face.  She was currently siting against the rough metal cage that surrounded the two front seats of the rover with her feet resting in the truck’s bed.  Hidden in the black fatigues, her body gave the illusion of being soft and plump.  Anyone who made the mistake of buying into that illusion left with broken bones.

“Damn,” Champ cried out as he shifted his attention from the rapidly growing dot to his assault rifle.  He was a reassuringly muscular man with a firm jaw and a broad smile.  Taken in parts, he would be considered an almost statuesque man.  However, his arms and legs were unpleasantly long for his body.  That coupled with his overall personality always gave Edge the impression of a chimpanzee.

“ETA, 1 minute 30 seconds,” Cauliflower called out, finally removing the binoculars from her eyes.  Her short, tea colored hair framed her deceptively gentle face.  By most accounts, she would probably be considered a beauty.  Though, Edge found the idea of thinking that uncomfortably wrong.

“Dammit,” the Captain echoed Champ’s earlier sentiment.  Then he shifted his gaze to the rover at large.  “Cauliflower, we don’t need more recon, get on the fifty cal.  Lotus, ready your rifle.  Everyone else, full auto.  If it comes close, make it regret it.  Also, newbie, I know you just got ‘em, but no using your artes.  If you get too excited, you’ll fall off.”  As the Captain finished his warning, he shifted his attention from the newbie to give Champ a pointed look.

Champ paused for a moment to look sheepish.  Then everyone jumped into action.  As Cauliflower moved to the mounted turret on the back of the truck, Edge readied his own assault rifle.  While his hands completed the actions on their own, Edge’s attention shifted to the woman beside him.

Lotus was changing the barrel and checking the scope on her rifle.  There was some logic behind those choices, but Edge didn’t understand it.  She had tried to explain it to him a few times.  However, it was just something to do with her Arts.  Without the same affinity, he would never understand.

As he watched her deftly handling her weapon, Edge’s attention naturally moved along her body and to her face.  She really was tall.  Almost as tall as he was.  That made her practically an Amazonian.  Only in height, though.  Her muscles weren’t bulky, they were thin and long.  Like an elastic band.  Small and innocent until you put some energy into it.

Her features were soft and easy.  However, ninety percent of the time, she had such a fierce expression that you wouldn’t notice.  While her deep magenta eyes were often cold, they were fueled by a blazing determination deep within.  She really was the most-

Closing his eyes, Edge shifted his attention to The Newbie.  Currently the lad was hugging an AK-47 and shaking across from him in the rover’s bed.  He was probably fairly strong and courageous for the average person, but among this company, he looked like a waif.  He just hadn’t been properly forged yet.

“Don’t worry, Newbie.  Just stay calm,” Edge called out to the youth.

Hearing his words, The Newbie looked up and asked, “Have you guys faced something like this before?”

“A griffon of this size?”  Edge asked back as he consulted his cluttered memories. “No, we haven’t.”  Seeing The Newbie’s face blanch at that statement, Edge quickly added.  “Just be thankful it’s not a dragon.  Those bastards are damn tough.  Also, remember, don’t worry.”

“I know you’re trying to be comforting, “The Newbie responded, attempting a smile.  “Telling me not to worry doesn’t help that much.”

“He’s not reassuring you,” Champ cut in.  “He’s giving you advice.  Monsters always go after the weakest in a herd, so be sure not to worry!”

“Then it’s definitely gonna come after me!”  The Newbie exclaimed frantically, almost dropping his rifle.  “I’ve only been here for a month.”

“That’s no excuse.  The second she joined, Lotus was like a little fire cracker,” Champ declared happily.  He attempted to pat Lotus’s shin jovially, but got stepped on for his troubles.  As he rubbed his withdrawn hand, he continued.  “You just have to be tougher.”

“Listen, if you can’t calm yourself, then don’t think too much!”  Edge shouted, waving his hands to catch The Newbie’s attention.  “Just point your gun at the thing that isn’t us and pull the trigger.”

“Failing that, just yell bang, bang, bang really loudly.  Sometimes that helps.”  The Captain cut in, now crouching on top of his seat rather than sitting in it.

The Newbie looked like he wanted to respond, but he was interrupted by Cauliflower’s voice from where she was standing with the mounted gun.  “It’ll be in range in 10.”

Looking back up at what was once a speck, Edge saw the encroaching griffon.  Its beak was pointed straight at the rover as it prepared to swoop down towards them.  It looked just as savage in person, but it was much more intimidating.  Now that it was closer to the ground, you could really feel its scale.  It looked large enough to swallow Edge’s upper half in one gulp.

Everyone readied their guns and prepared to fire.  As Cauliflower counted down the seconds, the tension on the rover rose until Edge felt like the whole car was vibrating with anticipation.  Then, just as Cauliflower was about to shout “one,” the griffon opened its beak and let out a sharp screech.  As Edge was subjected to the sound, he felt like his ears were going to burst.

Then everything was really sticky.  Like his brain was coated in molasses.  He felt like there was something important, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it.  He knew there was something he was supposed to do at times like this… What was it?  Digging through his mind felt like sifting through sand.

Then he hit upon a nugget.  At times like this, he was supposed to bite.  He quickly closed his teeth on his own lip, not holding back any strength.  A sharp pain cut through the fog and as the tang of blood filled his mouth, his mind returned.

When he looked up, Edge found that only he and the captain weren’t in a daze.  There must’ve been some magic in that shriek.  He’d never seen a griffon with that kind of ability, but then again, he’d never seen such an old griffon before either.  That was the problem with monsters, they just kept growing.  In every sense of the word.

When he understood the problem, Edge reached over and pinched Lotus’s thigh hard.  At the same time, he shoved his boot into Champ’s knee hard.  As he did so, sense returned to their eyes and they glared at him irritably.  When they realized what was going on, they nodded and turned back to the monster.

By that time, the griffon had already covered half the distance between their firing range and the car.  Edge got into position, took aim, and started firing.  Within seconds, the entire rover was overwhelmed by a chorus of gunshots.

They were clearly landing shots on the beast.  There were several trickles of blood across its body.  However, it didn’t stop its approach.  As he watched the thing come closer, Edge could barely make out The Captain’s voice.  “Drive faster, dammit.  You wanna get eaten?”

“This is faster,” Knot complained from the driver’s seat.  As he spoke, he desperately maneuvered the wheel to stay on the trail.  “You wanted to bring extra ammo this time.  Extra ammo means extra weight and the opposite of extra speed.”

“Just do something,” The Captain ordered unreasonably.

“I’m pushing the pedal; I don’t know what you want from me!”  Knot shouted as the entire car shook from driving over another dirt mound.

When the griffon came in close, it bent its body down to dive towards the rover.  It accelerated fast and would be on them in seconds.  Four assault rifles focused all their fire on the beast’s soft underbelly and Cauliflower drew lines along its body with the mounted gun.  At the same time, a slow, yet rhythmic boom continued to sound from beside Edge as Lotus placed bullets in the thing’s vitals.

Just before the griffon barreled into them, it finally flinched.  Its body quivered and it unconsciously opened its wings from some shock.  It recovered in an instant, but it had been slowed down enough to brush along the grass immediately behind the rover rather than plough through it.

The Griffon ascended quickly and once it got high enough to avoid the assault rifle fire, it circled the rover.  Since, at that distance, further attack would only serve to enrage it, the team stopped and just watched it watching them.  As the veterans looked to the sky, their hands reloaded their weapons without conscious thought.

“What’s it doing?”  The Newbie asked nervously.

“It’s trying to decide whether we’re too dangerous to eat.”  The Captain answered sagely, not looking away from the griffon.

“So it might run?”  The Newbie’s hopeful voice inquired.

“Sometimes they do…” Edge answered slowly.  Then, as the griffon started to descend again, he added, “But usually they don’t.”  As he spoke, everyone but The Newbie readied their weapons again.  The Newbie looked around at the assembled veterans and then followed their examples.

During this dive, the griffon’s angle was much steeper.  It would be on them in moments.  As the team lit the griffon up, The Newbie could only let off one burst before his rifle started to click impotently.   While he attempted to reload the magazine, failing several times in his desperation, the griffon approached.

Edge saw the Griffon lowering its sharp talons towards the Rover and Immediately shifted his fire to its legs to dissuade it.  His bullets struck their mark and burrowed into its flesh, but not very far.  Its hide was too tough and the monster was just too big to give pause due to 5.56 mm rounds.

When edge was nearing the end of his clip, The Newbie had just reloaded his own.  He turned to triumphantly face the griffon only to find the monster almost on top of him.  He gave off a stifled shriek and instinctively pulled the trigger of his rifle, which he had let fall to his side.  A few rounds pinged off the rover’s bed, just inches away from Champ.

Then the Newbie was suddenly speeding towards Edge from across the rover.  Edge just had time to duck to the side as The Newbie, now in the griffon’s clutches, flew past him and was carried into the air.

To the boy’s credit, he held onto his rifle.  After the griffon had carried him a few hundred feet away, he seemed to remember the weapon and started desperately firing up at the monster.  The first few bursts were just as ineffective as Edge’s had been, but then he must have hit a soft spot.  The griffon released him.  It took a second for him to realize his situation.  Then he started flailing his limbs desperately on the uncomfortably long trip to the ground.

The team, aside from Knot, watched the scene in impotent silence.  Edge bit his lip again when he heard the barely audible crunch of the impact.  Then the Captain shouted, “Dammit!  What’s happening, Lotus?  Why isn’t it dead yet?”

“I got it in the eye on the first pass, just seemed to piss it off,” Lotus complained bitterly, scowling at the griffon in the distance.  “Small arms just aren’t enough against it.”

“We have plenty of vials of Serum, no need to be conservative here,” The Captain replied.  “I want that glorified chicken taken down.”

With that fierce declaration, the entire team nodded their ascent.  Then Lotus stood up, rested her rifle against her shoulder, and looked down the scope towards her target.  The griffon had just started another pass back towards the rover.

As she was completing her stance, the rover shook and she stumbled, bringing the barrel of her rifle down onto Edge’s head.  As Edge suffered the splitting headache in silence, he heard Lotus shouting, “Keep the car steady, Knot.  You know I have to be standing to do it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Knot retaliated sarcastically from the driver’s seat.  “I’ll just go right quick and pave over this cow trail for her highness.”

“I don’t care what you do,” Lotus shot back as the rover shook again, breaking her stance further.  “Just let me kill this thing.”

Upon hearing that declaration, Edge looked towards the griffon.  The beast was coming in fast and if it reached them again, they would probably all die.  At the very least, Lotus made a clear target, standing as she was.  Coming to that understanding, he got on his knees behind Lotus and wrapped his arms tight around her waist.  At the same time, Champ flopped down to lay across her feet.

Lotus looked at the two and pursed her lips in irritation at the situation.  Then she replaced her rifle against her shoulder and took aim.  As she focused on her target, a faint white mist started to condense around her body.  It grew denser and brighter as she focused all her attention on the griffon.  Then she pulled the trigger.

With an ear-shattering boom, the bullet left her gun.  As it flew forward, the white mist seemed to spiral along with it, speeding it up until it seemed like a beam of white light.  The bullet struck the griffon at the base of its left wing and took the whole thing off before disappearing beyond the horizon.

It all happened so fast that the griffon didn’t seem to understand what it had lost.  It did, however, feel that it was falling.  It desperately flapped its remaining wing to stop its descent, but it couldn’t’ do anything without the full set. Within a few seconds, the monster came crashing into the grasslands, pushing up clouds of dust and piles of dirt as it skidded to a stop a dozen feet behind the car.

With that, the griffon was taken down… but it wasn’t taken out.  Less than a minute later, the monster started to stir.  Then it shot to its feet and gave chase.  Running along the ground, the griffon wasn’t as fast or maneuverable as it was in the sky.  It could barely keep up with the speed of the rover.

While the griffon remained about 75 feet behind them, Cauliflower laid into it with the machine gun.  After a few seconds of bloodying the things head and shoulders, she turned back to Lotus and asked, “Weren’t YOU supposed to be the one to kill this thing?”

“I would have if Knot had learned how to drive in the six years he’s been doing it.”  Lotus shot back irritably. “The shot would’ve gone through its head if the car hadn’t lurched at the last minute.”

“I’m sorry if running away from what is clearly a century class monster gets a bit hectic,” Knot cried from the driver’s seat, not daring to look away from the front of the car.

“Can we stop arguing?”  The Captain shouted over the sound of the gunfire.

“What else are we supposed to do?” Champ asked happily, retaking his seat on the left side of the rover’s bed.

“Just watch Cauliflower kill it?” Edge suggested as he and Lotus followed Champ’s example.

Since no one had any more productive suggestions, that was what they did.  After five more minutes of shooting, the griffon finally stopped getting up.