Flight to Freedom
“We're leaving!” the voice of Ronan, the wizard called through his tower. Gareth felt the tension ease a bit at that declaration. Ronan's familiar, an imp looked over his shoulder and out the door of the room that Gareth called his home. Grumbling, the imp dropped his large set of tongs onto a table beside Gareth's cage.
The imp was fond of trying cruel and torturous experiments on the griffon, Gareth. This time, he had been alternating holding an icy scale, followed by a blazing scale to Gareth's side to see how the griffon held up to rapid temperature changes. Obviously, the experiment was quite painful, but Gareth was threatened by drugs and tranquillizers if he acted threatening, so he remained cowed.
The scales for this experiment had been obtained from Gareth's roommates. The icy scale from a nasty frost drake who had lived here longer than Gareth. Ronan had probably raised it from an egg, like Gareth had been. On the other hand, it did not seem to understand human speech like Gareth could, perhaps from the difference in their inherent intelligence. The other was a bright orange snake who had supplied the fiery scale. Ronan had obtained the snake a few months ago, and it mostly slept, even through most of the imps experiments.
The three of them provided the key components for the wizard's business, selling enchanted arrows. Gareth supplied the feathers, as griffon feathers were supposed to make an arrow fly faster, further, and truer. The drake and the serpent supplied scales that would be bound into the arrow heads, granting them either an icy or a fiery enchantment.
The imp left the room, and as it did Gareth listened while Ronan left his tower. Hearing the door shut at the base of the tower, Gareth waited a few moments, making sure Ronan wasn't faking him out. As the seconds passed, Gareth was satisfied that Ronan had indeed left, and extended a claw from inside his cage. He had been working on disabling the lock on his cage the past several times Ronan went out, and he was sure he was getting close to figuring it out.
Gareth could not see the lock, so he worked on it blindly, and instead focused his sight around the tower. The orange serpent was sleeping, as per usual. On the other hand, the frost drake was watching him carefully. As Gareth locked eyes with it, it hissed loudly at him. Gareth looked away quickly. The frost drake was very aggressive. It was the only one of the three that the imp never “experimented” on, as Ronan did not want to waste tranquillizers for it.
As Gareth was contemplating his fellow prisoners, he felt the lock click in his claw and pop open. Pushing the door open, he slunk out of the cage. Sitting outside it, he looked the lock over carefully, working it with his claw some more.
Satisfied that he could work the lock competently now, Gareth stretched, loosening his muscles. His cage was a bit too small, and he always felt cramped when inside it. While this was not the first time he had been outside the cage, it was the first time without Ronan around. He rubbed delicately at the spot where the imp had been pressing the scales. Fortunately, their effect was diminished between harvesting and enchanting, otherwise he might have been seriously hurt. He would still be sore there for at least a week, though.
Gareth looked around the tower room again, noting the drake eyeing him. “I would think about letting you out too, but you'll just rampage,” Gareth said. Despite having learned the human tongue, his voice was still accompanied by a squawking noise, much like a parrot or parakeet, though deeper in pitch.
Gareth pulled his attention away from the drake, focusing back on his original intent. He hated living here, and was going to find a way to escape. His first task was to better understand the place in which he lived. After all, there was only so much he could see from his cage, and it was all in this room. Gareth made a cursory search through the room, but only found what he had expected to. Various depressants and tranquillizers used to keep the three of them under control, tools for extraction of feathers and scales, tools for cleaning their enclosures, and other various bits of care equipment. Gareth hadn't needed a dose of any of the drugs recently. He had learned quickly that there was no point in being loud, as the wizard had his ways.
Glancing back at the drake, who was a frequent recipient of tranquillizers, Gareth crept to the door. He found it unlocked, surprisingly. Perhaps Ronan didn't expect anyone to make it to the door? Either way, Gareth exited the room, and found himself in a small landing hall. Across from the door he had exited, there were stairs going both up and down. There were two other doors on this floor of the tower, so Gareth tried the first. Surprisingly, he found it was open as well. Was Ronan really this careless with security?
Inside the room, Gareth saw dozens of cages, filled with mice, rats, small lizards, and even a couple of aquariums with fish. That explained where Ronan got their food from. Gareth slinked into the room. He opened the cabinets and drawers he found there, but each only held food for the rooms occupants. Huffing at his poor luck, Gareth left the room as he had found it.
Back in the hall, Gareth tilted his head to listen carefully. He did not expect Ronan to return anytime soon, but he had to be careful as well. If he were to be caught, Ronan would surely tighten security.
After a moment, Gareth turned to the final door. By now, he was not surprised to find it also unlocked. Inside, he found three long tables, one down either wall, and another in the center of the room. Stretching up to look, Gareth saw they were covered with various tools, materials, and even some completed items. Most of the items Ronan crafted were arrows, but he had some other small enchanted items like simple rings and broaches. None of them looked as though they would be useful in an escape attempt, however.
Gareth made a note of what the third room contained and backed out onto the landing once again. He looked to the stairs, deciding to head up first. He stretched his wings unconsciously as he considered flying away. It seemed unlikely that his escape would be quite so easy, but it was worth a shot.
Gareth started up the stairs, but as he placed his first claw onto a step, an alarm started blaring loudly. Gareth froze, his eyes going wide. He turned and dashed back into the holding room to find the frost drake alert and screeching alongside the alarm. Gareth shot back into his cage and pulled the door shut. He quickly worked the lock with his claw until he felt it latch back locked.
Safely back where he was expected, Gareth curled up and pretended to sleep. Despite his relaxed appearance, Gareth was listening closely, hoping to hear when Ronan appeared to answer the triggered alarm. Several moments passed in silence, then he felt a pulse of magic from outside the tower. Another minute later and Gareth, watching through a cracked eye, saw the imp walk into the room. From what he could hear, Gareth thought the imp was muttering something about false alarms.
A tinge of fear clouded Gareth's heart as the imp approached, looking around the room. It poked at Gareth with one of its clawed fingers, hard enough to draw a bead of blood. Gareth struggled to remain passive as the imp cackled raucously. The imp swaggered away, spitting onto the fire snake, where the spit sizzled as it evaporated.
The imp slammed the door behind it. Gareth's mind began churning, considering plans to make his full escape. Obviously, he knew he would need more information first, and he expected to need several more outings by Ronan before anything became clear. One thing was evident from just this attempt, though. Ronan's security was far more lax than expected. He could do this; he would escape.
* * *
The next time Ronan went out, Gareth was ready. He had his cage unlocked in a flash, and was out to explore again. He briefly looked into the other rooms on his floor, to see if anything had changed. The mess in the crafting room had shifted, but the content was unchanged. Otherwise, things were basically the same, so Gareth moved on.
Gareth stood at the stairs, this time ready to go down first. Now that he knew it was there, he could sense the alarm spell that had been set on the stairs up, though just barely. He turned to the stairs down, searching for a similar magical field, but he could not sense anything out of the ordinary.
Figuring he had nothing better to aim for, Gareth crept down the stairs. He let out a breath as he reached the next landing hall, relieved that he was not going to set off another alarm. He preferred to not make the alarm a regular thing, Ronan would likely get suspicious if he did. On this floor, there was only one door, in addition to the stairs heading back up where he came from and another set heading down.
Gareth crossed to the door first. Trying it, he found it unlocked also. Inside, the walls were lined with bookshelves. About eighty percent were covered in old tomes, the rest with scrolls and a few scattered items. Near a pair of windows were a few chairs, arranged for either reading or casual meetings. Only one of the chairs looked like it was commonly used, as the others were dusty, so Gareth guessed that Ronan didn't receive many guests. He took a moment to look over the shelves, before realizing that he really didn't understand the scripting that made up the written human language
Huffing in annoyance at his lack of education, Gareth exited the library, and stood above the stairs down. He examined the stairs, looking again for any signs of magical fields, but as before he didn't spot anything. Doing his best impression of a human's frown, Gareth carefully started down the stairs.
About halfway down, an alarm started shrieking loudly. Gareth froze, momentarily surprised. He recovered quickly, and leapt the rest of the way down the stairs. He had a minute or so before the imp would show, based on the last alarm, and he wanted as much information as he could obtain. At the bottom of the stairs, he saw yet another staircase going down. In addition, there were two... no three doors here. He almost missed the door tucked into the corner.
His scan complete, Gareth dashed his way back up two flights of stairs. He found the frost drake was once again screaming alongside the alarm. Gareth shot his way back into his cage, pulling it shut. As he did, he felt the magical pulse that indicated something teleporting to location. Without time left to lock his cage, Gareth instead held it shut with one of his claws, laying down as if asleep again.
As he assumed his position, the door creaked open and the imp crept its way in. “Oi!” it shouted, “Shut up will you! The alarm is bad enough, don't need you making it worse.” Gareth could hear it crossing the room. “Don't know how you manage to sleep through this racket,” it remarked, poking Gareth roughly.
Gareth froze for a moment, trying decide how to react. Finally, he slowly lifted his head, blinking as he looked at the imp. The imp flinched as Gareth looked it in the eyes. “Creepy thing. I swear, you are way smarter than Ronan gives you credit for.” The imp grimaced as it turned to leave. “I wouldn't even be surprised if you were causing the alarms, looking for a way to leave. Nah, that would be impossible, you'd have to get out of that cage first, and the key isn't even in the room.” The door shut as the imp left to complete its sweep of the tower.
Gareth lay his head back down, feeling his heart pounding. The imp was going to catch on sooner or later, so he needed to figure his way out, if it was going to happen at all. Going down did not seem particularly viable, as the imp always entered the tower from that direction, so he would have to try going up. The problem was that the imp was always here too quickly. Gareth needed a good distraction. As he looked around the room, pondering his options, his eye stopped on the frost drake. That could work.
* * *
The next few times Ronan and the imp were out, Gareth worked on preparations. He located the keys in Ronan's workshop, and confirmed they worked on his cage, as well as the enclosures holding his roommates. Next, he checked the enclosures for the neighbors, the rats, mice, and lizards. While they would not be particularly dangerous to the imp, they could serve a decent distraction, so Gareth planned to release all of them as well.
When he felt as prepared as possible, Gareth waited for the opportune moment. A moment which presented itself in short order. Ronan had apparently made a beneficial contract with some mercenary group, something that would provide a great volume of sales. He planned to meet with them to discuss the contract. That sounded like it would take a while, so Gareth planned his escape for then.
On the day of the negotiation, Gareth felt the familiar pulse of magical energy, and moved quickly to unlock his cage and set his plan in motion. As he opened the door out of the room, he found himself face to face with the imp.
Gareth froze, his brain turning quickly to try to understand. Ronan always took his familiar with him. Why would he deviate now? Whatever the reason, Gareth's work and plans were now ruined. Security would certainly be tightened.
“Now, now, lookie here. I thought maybe it was you who was escaping,” the imp said. Gareth cowed at its voice. “Good, good. Now, see here. Be a good little griffon and hop back into your cage. I'll give you an extra treat and won't tell Ronan what you've been doing.” As it was speaking, the imp had paced closer to Gareth, until its wagging finger tapped Gareth on the beak.
Gareth blinked once as he looked into the eyes of the imp, and he noticed something he hadn't before. The imp was afraid. Gareth was much larger than it was. He sat back on his haunches, reeling from the realization. The imp opened its mouth to say something else, but Gareth didn't let him get a word out. Instead, he bit the imp's finger off and spat it into the imps face.
The imp looked at him in shock. “How...?” But Gareth interrupted him again, slashing across the imp's chest with a claw. The imp reeled back, collapsing into a heap. Gareth pounced on him, and tossed the imp down the stairs. Why had he ever been afraid of that tiny bully? Moving unconsciously, Gareth put the shards of his plan together.
He would still need a distraction, in case Ronan showed up, so he snatched the keys from the workshop. Next, Gareth pulled a few rats from the middle room, holding them by their tails. He used the rats to catch the frost drakes attention as he unlocked its enclosure. He lured the frost drake to the stairs, glad it didn't attack him too. His newfound courage only went so far, and he didn't think he was prepared to fight a drake just yet.
The frost drake chased the rats down the stairs when Gareth threw them. For good measure, Gareth tossed several rat and mouse enclosures down after it, grinning at the sound of shattering glass and imp's shrieks from below.
Gareth bounded up the nearby stairs. There, he found a large bed against one wall and a washtub behind a privacy screen on the other. Across from him were a pair of glass doors leading out to a balcony. The alarm was blaring by now, so Gareth paused. Would Ronan return to give his imp backup? Figuring he would do just that, Gareth crept to watch out the doors from behind the bed.
His patience was rewarded a couple of minutes later, as he felt a pulse of magical energy. Ronan had arrived. He heard the wizard crash into the tower below, and knew it was time to move. He could hear the wizard's shouts, but paid no mind to their meaning. Instead, he leapt onto the bed, taking a moment to rake his claws through the bedding, shredding sheets and scattering mattress fill.
Grinning again, Gareth bounded across the room, throwing the doors open as he heard a pained roar from the frost drake. The time was here. He was going to fly or die, literally. Gareth threw himself from the balcony, spreading his wings and letting instinct take over.
After a moment of fear, worrying that he would plummet, Gareth let himself relax. He looked around, spotting mountains to the north. He felt drawn to them. They seemed more appealing than the plains that surrounded the tower, or the large forest to the east and south. So he banked north. As he did, he spotted Ronan on his balcony. Even form this distance, Gareth could see his face was bright red. Normally a sight that would cause fear, Gareth instead felt a sense of glee. He waved a claw back at him, though he was sure Ronan could not see such detail at this distance.
Then Gareth turned his face north. He felt no need to pay Ronan any more attention. His life was separate from the wizard's now. He would make his own way. Hopefully he could find other griffons. He felt a longing to know others of his kind, to make friends. Gareth smiled as he felt the wind rushing past his face.
Thanks for reading Garhom’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.