Tobias Skythorne the Third

The bitterly cold winds of winter storm whipped around Rhianon as she flew across the tips of the mountains into the Storm Peaks, the gryphon beneath her struggling against the fierce gusts. She reached down and patted his neck to soothe him. The creature squawked in reply, beating his wings harder against the currents of air.

Rhianon, shivering, wrapped her cloak around her. The enchanted cloak was lovely – woven from a single bolt of snowy satin and embroidered with gold thread – but the thin material was hardly able to keep out the chill. Another gust hit them and the gryphon flailed; the shaman had to grip his harness tightly to avoid being thrown off. She bite her lip, squinting her eyes, barely able to see through the blinding sheets of snow. “We need to get lower,” she said to herself. “Maybe we’ll be able to get out of the tough part of this storm.”

The draenei let up on the harness, guiding the gryphon down through the clouds as snow swirled around them. In the far distance, she was able to make out the glinting lights of a town – most likely the goblin town where her “luxury vacation” was awaiting her. Rhianon rolled her eyes. Did the goblins actually expect her to believe such stories?  Laughing softly to herself, she dug her hooves into the side of her gryphon, steering him even lower.

As they came down from the heavens, Rhianon thought she heard something that sounded akin to hunter’s rifle being discharged. She glanced over her shoulder, wondering if there was someone following her. “No one — ”

Something hit her gryphon’s belly hard and fast and clouds of smoke and sparks billowed up around them. The gryphon buckled, the creature squawking and his wings flapping furiously in the air. She was desparately trying to right him, her eyes burning from the smoke, when something else hit them. Rhianon felt the ends of her gryphon’s harness whistling through her hands and felt the heavy warmth of the creature disappear out from under her.

She was alone in the air, countless yards above the ground, and falling. Before she blacked out, Rhianon whispered a single prayer to the howling winds.

Please don’t let me hit the ground very hard.

~~~~~~~~~~~

High-pitched voices floated over Rhianon’s head as she gradually slipped back into the waking realm. Barely able to open her eyes, she could just make out the vague shadows of three stocky goblins, chatting amongst themselves.

“Maybe we should get a priest? Do you know any priests?”

“Priests are useless.”

“I’m not wasting gold on a priest.”

She coughed and rolled over onto her side, planting her cheek into a mound of hard snow.  Every part of her body was screaming at her. The goblins, apparently surprised to see movement, hustled over to her. One of them grabbed her ripped cloak, tugging at it. “You alive?”

“Unfortunately,” Rhianon rasped.
The goblin released her cloak. “You owe us 500 gold then.”

Her head swirled and she flopped over onto the snow, staring up at the sky. The storm had passed and through the parting clouds, she could make out the tiny pinpricks of stars. The goblin, worried that she hadn’t heard him, spoke again. “You owe us 500 gold.”

Rhianon sighed. The throbbing in her head dying down, her thoughts were finally meshing back into something approaching a normal pattern. “What are you talking about?”

“You wrecked our minefield, that’s what!” another goblin snapped at her. “Those mines cost a fortune to manufacture and you plowed through them like…like…well, I don’t know!”

The shaman blinked. “A minefield?”  She picked her head up, surveying her surroundings. She was lying on a fine outcropping of snow bordering a large plain that was speckled with small black mines. Down the center of the plain, she saw a large slash of debris and torn-up snow that looked something akin to the Dead Scar snaking its way through Quel’Thalas. “A minefield,” she repeated, groaning. “A minefield!”

She picked herself up off the ground and shook her head at the goblins. “I should have expected something like that. Now, where is my gryphon?”
“Oh, that big bird?”

“Yes,” Rhianon said slowly, eying the goblins carefully. She wouldn’t be surprised if one of them tried to run off with the gryphon; the birds were still fetching high prices and a goblin would do just about anything for a stash of gold. “Where is he?”

The goblins looked at each other before gesturing to the debris scar in the minefield. “Take a look for yourself.”

Rhianon squinted her eyes, searching the area that the goblins had indicated. After a moment, her eyes fell upon a large lump of black snow and feathers lodged halfway into the earth. She winced. “That’s not good…is it?”

“We were going to use it for bait, but it’s too charred even the snobolds won’t go after it.”

The shaman dropped down onto her knees, sighing heavily. This was *not* going to be easy to explain to the gryphon trainers at Wildhammer Stronghold.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
“I’m sorrae, lass,” the dwarf said finally, pushing the papers back across the knotted wood table to Rhianon. “We jes’ cannae let ye buy another one.”

“But it was an accident!” Rhianon explained, shoving the papers back towards him. “The stupid goblins had a minefield right next to their town! I didn’t deliberately kill my gryphon!”

“It does nae matter,” the dwarf said. He picked up the papers and crumpled them up before handing them back to Rhianon. “The gyphons are like our fam’ly. We cannae risk this happening again.”

Rhianon looked down at the papers in her hand and back up at the dwarf who was slowly making his way out of the room. “So, what am I supposed to do then?”

The dwarf looked back at her and shrugged. “Yer an adventurer, right? Ye’ll think’a somethin’.” He sighed, somehow sensing how upset the young draenei was getting. “Jes’ take a walk. Somethin’ will come ta ye.”

~~~~~~~~~~~
Rhianon’s walk led her through the barren lands of Shadowmoon, through the Bonewastes, and into the murky depths of Zangarmarsh – and still nothing came to her. During the last hour of her walk, she ended up plotting ways of getting the Wildhammers to sell her another gryphon. She could ask Dacianna to pretend to buy one for herself and switch places with her at the last second; she might be able to get some sort of official document that demanded they give her a gryphon – but she wasn’t sure whether the Wildhammers obeyed any of the traditional alliance authorities. There was also the option of trying to steal one, but that pretty much flew in the face of everything she believed in and would probably get her in hot water with alot more people than just a few Wildhammers. By the time she arrived at Cenarion Refuge, she was debating asking several other adventurers to bring testimony to the Wildhammers that it wasn’t uncommon for a rider to have trouble in the goblin minefield and that it certainly wasn’t the rider’s fault.

Sighing to herself, Rhianon settled down on one of the steps leading up to the Refuge’s inn. That plan probably wouldn’t work either. “Unless I can get a dwarf to say it…maybe they’ll listen to another dwarf…”

“Rhianon, right?”

Rhianon looked up to see a green-clad druid hovering over her, the elf smiling broadly. She nodded and he continued, “I thought it was you. You haven’t been around here in ages! I guess everyone’s focusing on Northrend these days.”

“Well, it is the spot to be,” Rhianon muttered, wishing the druid would leave her be. Rather than returning to whatever tasks he had at hand, however, the druid plopped down beside her on the stair and Rhianon sighed heavily.

“It’s been rather lonely out here…and not as many hands to do the work, if you know what I mean,” the druid told her as he gestured to the near-empty Refuge. “And there have been these odd creatures coming through…soul-less beings they are.”

“Death Knights,” Rhianon intoned and the druid nodded.

“So, what brings you out here?”

Somehow, Rhianon felt her mouth opening and her tale of woe and mishap spilling out into the air around them – and like many feathers cast to the wind, the tale gone and told before she could gather it back up again. After listening, the druid leaned back, nodding his head. He then glanced over at Rhianon. “I might be able to help you.”

Rhianon found herself being led back behind the inn to the stables where the members of the Cenarion Expedition housed their companions. The druid paused before one of the stalls before opening it and turned to Rhianon. “Ordinarily, I shouldn’t be doing this…but you’ve been so helpful to the Expedition, I’m sure they won’t mind if I make an exception for you.” The druid then flung open the door, gesturing to the stall. Rhianon peered into the darkened stall, her eyes quickly adjusting to the dim light.

In the back corner, nestled on top of a warm mound of hay, she saw a hippogryph curled up into a tight ball. She looked up at the druid, her eyes questioning. “The hippo–”

As she spoke, the hippogryph raised its head and unfurled its glorious blue-red wings. Its beady eyes focused on Rhianon’s elf companion, it spoke first in Darnassian, a language that simply sounded like gibberish to the poor draenei. The elf said something in reply and gestured to Rhianon. The hippogryph then squawked and said in perfect Common, “So, you’ve come to take me out of this damp swamp then?”

Rhianon eyed the elf. “Is that…?” The druid nodded and Rhianon swallowed hard. She slowly approached the hippogryph, hands outstretched, as one might do with an unfamiliar beast. The hippogryph, wings flapping, lifted itself off the ground, balancing precariously on its two back hooves.

“I called Tobias Skythorne the Third. My father rode with the Kal’dorei windwarriors as did his father before that and his father before that.” He bowed his head. “It will be an honor to serve with you in battle. May we bring glory to our forefathers.”

The shaman blinked but before she could say anything response or introduce herself, the hippogryph had glided past her and out the door. Tobias paused in the doorway, craning his head back towards her. “Are you coming?”

Rhianon walked up to the hippogryph, placed her hands on Tobias’ feathery neck and then looked over at the druid who was smiling to himself. “Do I need a harness or anything?”

“I’m not some dumb animal,” Tobias retorted, snapping his beak. “I don’t need to be guided around with straps or ropes. Get on. I grow restless.”

The hippogyph lowered himself slightly so Rhianon could climb onto his back. Once she was astride, he took off and Rhianon lurched back with a start, her hands tightly gripped to the ruff of feathers around Tobias’ neck. As they rose through the damp marsh air, gliding just above the tall mushroom caps, the shaman eventually relaxed and closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of the wind whipping against her face.

The Wildhammer dwarf had been right. She had found a solution – maybe not exactly the one she had been expecting, but a solution nonetheless.

One last thought remained on her mind. She blinked her eyes open and patted Tobias’ neck, announcing, “I can’t wait to introduce you to Quincy!”

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