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Silence was the key to the entire mission. If they were caught, they’d be carted back before their father to answer for the failure. This alliance kept hunters in top shape and was crucial. She had never failed the test before and she didn’t want to start now. The fact that the test wasn’t for her didn’t mean anything.

Unfortunately, the clumsy crashing and urgent noises coming from behind them was going to bring the very attention they were hoping to avoid.

“It sounds so scared.” It did, but they had an objective that did not include comforting a hatchling. Pressing herself into a small crevice, she tugged her partner in with her and gave her a frustrated look.

“Shut up.”

“But…”

“Shhhh!”

“Echo, we can’t just let it cry like that! It’s a newborn!”

Echo put her hand over her sister’s mouth and narrowed her eyes at her. The newborn was not their problem. When the parents returned, they would know how to care for it. Right now, they needed to do what they came here for.

“This is a training exercise, your training exercise Aine. You can’t throw it away for a baby Griffin that misses its parents.” Echo growled, waiting until her younger sister nodded in understanding before letting her go. The crashing and crying of the griffin echoed in the cave as if to argue what she said and as bad as she felt for the thing, passing and making sure Aine passed this was important.

“I can’t,” Aine started, peeking around the corner in the direction of the baby. Obviously, it didn’t have strong night vision yet. Echo didn’t mind that fact but it was the look that Aine pinned her with that started the bells and whistles in her head. “But you can.”

“Aine.”

“You’ve passed this at least fifty times! You’re supposed to be my backup anyway and look how far you’ve already gotten me; I can go the rest of the way and grab one of gems and be back before you know it.”

“This is a two person exercise.”

“And you’re the one not trusting me to finish it.” Aine bit back, crossing her arms and huffing. Her little sister usually didn’t act like this and if not for the current situation, she might have teased her about it. It wasn’t lack of trust that made her reluctant, it was worry. That worry was the exact reason their brother had warned against Echo agreeing to be Aine’s partner.

Narrowing her eyes at her sister and glancing towards where the baby griffin was still crying, she debated on what could possibly happen. There hadn’t been any adult griffins around to worry about but the baby being neglected was bound to anger one of them. The alliance with them was important for the development of their hunters and for the safety of the endangered Griffin population.

“You were the first thing that it saw, it’s possible that it has imprinted on you.” Aine murmured and Echo’s contemplative look turned to one of horror. That couldn’t be possible. No way.

The last thing she needed was a damn griffin following her around because it thought she was its mother.

“That isn’t possible, they’re part lions and lions don’t imprint.” That should be enough to keep imprinting from happening; besides, they were mythical beasts. There should be some kind of failsafe built in or something.

“Griffin’s are also part eagle and eagles do.” Aine argued, edging out the crevice. On most days, Echo would trust her little sister’s judgment on the habits of creatures but this was just insane. Still shaking her head, she nearly missed her sister telling her to deal with the baby while she finished the mission.

Biting her lip to keep from growling or yelling at her little sister, Echo counted backwards by threes. Aine had been right about one thing, she was only supposed to be the backup. Though she preferred being in charge, she’d have to trust the brat to finish it on her own.

A piteous cry rang out after a particularly nasty sounding crash and Echo sighed. The baby griffin had been an issue when it started following them but the cries and noises were even worse. Now she had to shut the little thing up or all their work would go down the drain.

Picking her back through the caves and around the various nests, she found the little thing stuck in the shallow pool of water. The rocks that had tumbled around the edge must’ve been the source for the noise but the water seemed to alarm the little thing more than anything before because its cries were only getting louder.

“Poor thing,” she murmured, refusing to acknowledge that she just cooed at the tiny creature. Though she didn’t particularly like even thinking that the creature could have imprinted, it was nice to see the way it calmed down when it saw her. Most people and creatures alike tensed and hid things but the baby couldn’t.

It was oddly refreshing.

Kneeling down, she plucked the griffin from the water and set it on the ground. The moment that its feet were on solid ground, it was crawling into her lap and burying its face against her stomach. Echo didn’t know what to do, this was far beyond her element of expertise and it wasn’t like she had a handbook for how to deal with baby griffins.

Visible shivering was worrisome despite her lack of knowledge and she shrugged out of her jacket and pulled off her shirt. Wearing a skin tight tank top underneath everything turned out to be a good decision today.

The loud crying had stopped but it was still making sad keening noises while she gently wrapped the shirt around it. She could only hope that the sadness was because it was cold and couldn’t get warm without the help. Pulling her jacket back on, she situated the baby so that she could zip up the jacket part way and leave it a space to poke its head out.

“There, that’s much warmer isn’t it?” Scratching the tuft of feathers atop the griffin’s head, she slowly stood up and figured it would be alright to check on Aine. Finding the treasure trove was pretty straight forward so long as she had kept to the plan they had laid out. Any wrong turns led into a maze of caves that were a bitch to find a way out of.

The griffin seemed much happier curled up against her stomach. It hadn’t made so much as a peep since she had started moving and only shifted once. Overall, it wasn’t so bad. The griffin wasn’t heavy either so she didn’t worry about her arm getting tired while making sure the little thing didn’t tumble out of her jacket.

“You know, you’re not so bad when you aren’t making all of that noise.” She suppressed a giggle as it poked out a tiny beak at the sound of her voice. For a baby, the griffin was surprisingly well behaved as she made her way through the caves. They had always been rowdy little buggers when she’d seen them before.

Then again, she’d never seen a newborn before. All the ones she had were old enough to start flying but this one only had soft down feathers, nothing close to the sleek feathers of the adults. Though it went against the creed of silence, she kept murmuring to the tiny thing under her breath just to see the reactions.

Sometimes it would poke its beak out, others it shift in the ‘blanket’ and rub its head against her stomach. The last one tickled but after years of dealing with two siblings and that weakness, she was able to hold it together.

Hearing a noise that wasn’t her or the baby, she crouched down into the shadows and prayed that the baby would stay silent. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until the figure emerged from one of the caves and she could breathe a sigh of relief.

Aine was alone, which meant that she had managed to snag a jewel and come back without getting caught. Taking a moment to thank whatever higher power decided to look out for them, she moved over to her sister.

“Good job.” She whispered, rolling her eyes when Aine jumped. They were really going to have to work on that. The girl could run around the world to document all kinds of creatures but startled easily and even hesitated in hunts. That was going to lead her into a situation she wouldn’t be able to handle. “So, what did you grab?”

“Was I supposed to grab something specific?” As she spoke, she pulled an emerald the size of her palm from the pouch on her thigh. It was a safe size, smaller would’ve been easier to hide on her, but not the worst choice either. There were some huge jewels in the treasure trove.

“Not bad, now come on. We have to get out of here now and I have to put the runt back in its nest.”

“The…runt?”

With a sigh, Echo moved into the light a little and leaned over so Aine could see the baby that was nestled within her jacket. “You told me to deal with the baby so I did. Thing got itself stuck in one of the pools and was freezing.”

“It’s so cute!” Rolling her eyes again, Echo ignored Aine’s baby talk and pushed her forward. They had been extremely lucky so far but it wouldn’t last. Most of the griffin didn’t sleep in the nesting chamber but there were checks almost every two hours. If she wasn’t wrong, they were getting dangerously close to that two hour mark.

Getting caught here would ruffle more than a few feathers and the griffins wouldn’t be happy that they figured out that the nesting chamber was closer to the treasure than the usual entrance. The biggest difference between the two is that the usual one had a path that led straight up to it while the nesting entrance required climbing a sheer cliff.

That meant having to redo this was going to be hell on both of them.

Reaching the nest where they had first seen the baby, Echo waved her sister on before kneeling down. Aine needed to pass, not her.

“Alright little one, time to go back home now.” Getting the griffin out of her jacket was the easy part; it was still wrapped up in her shirt so it couldn’t really move much. Once she unwrapped it and set it back down in the nest, it immediately started crawling for her again. Sighing, she set it back in the middle of the nest and stood up before it could get at her again.

“No, you stay there.” She said as sternly as she could manage when faced with the most miserable pair of eyes she had ever seen. Steeling herself, she turned and started for the entrance. She didn’t even make it ten steps before the baby started crying again, louder this time, and was trying to climb out of the nest for a second time.

Sighing, she turned around and went back. Having the baby follow her to the entrance would be catastrophic and she really didn’t want the little thing to die. More than that, she didn’t want to get attached to the tiny creature. With the parents of the little one aside, her father had a very strict ‘no animals’ rule that Aine had barely managed to undermine with her horse.

“You have to stay here,” She murmured, picking it back up and carefully stepping into the nest. Sitting down in the middle, she figured she could wait until it fell asleep before leaving. It’s baby talons gripped the fabric of her jacket like a vice but it’s cries had died down again once she settled down again.

Running her fingers over the downy feathers and down to the soft lion’s fur of its hindquarters, she hoped the baby would fall asleep soon. Aine was probably making her back down the cliff and was going to have a fit if she didn’t return soon.

Since freed of its blanket, the thing was more than happy to play with the zipper of her jacket and try to tame her hand. As amusing as it was, she forced herself to think of it as only tiring the thing out. Then it would sleep.

This is interesting.

The voice that echoed in her head made her sit up suddenly, nearly knocking the baby away from her. Catching it before it went tumbling, she pet it in a mix of apology and reassurance for herself. “Make a noise or something would you? Sneaking up on a hunter is not healthy.”

You would not hurt me. The adult Griffin’s telepathic voice was amused as it emerged from deeper within the cave. No one thought any would dare try for this entrance for the test; I applaud you.

“It was Aine’s test.”

And you helped her. She passes. That was a relief. Now Aine would get to start learning more difficult hunting techniques. As the griffin stretched out lazily next to the nest, leaning over the edge to brush its beak against the baby, Echo realized that this must be the baby’s mother. Crap.

“Uhm, I’m sorry. I can’t get the little one to stop crying unless I hold it.” The baby was curious about the bigger Griffin but it was only curiosity. But the attachment that she usually saw between hatchlings and their mothers wasn’t quite there and it was setting off more alarms in her head.

That is because you are his mother. He has imprinted upon you.

At the back of Echo’s mind, she could hear her sister laughing and practically singing ‘I told you so’. Weirdly enough, the griffin didn’t sound angry at all. She sounded amused and intrigued by the whole thing while Echo’s panic rose.

“What am I supposed to do with him?”

Raise him. It has been many centuries since a Griffin and human have partnered but I dare say my offspring has picked a good one. For what you cannot do, you may bring him here and we will assist you.

“Seriously?!”

He will not survive without you now. Congratulations Echo, you’ve just become a mother.

“…My dad is going to kill me.” The adult Griffin only laughed in her telepathic way before giving instructions for what the baby needed.

_______________

That took forever

Next Creature: Hippogriff

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