Emia stood at the edge of the field and pretended she wasn’t shaking. It only worked because no one was there to see her. It was obscene. All of this. The fear. The anger. The dread. It had been an accident, a mistake. The sort of thing that could always happen when you tried to train a creature like Dilyku, no matter how careful you were and how many precautions you took.
A twinge of pain shot down her arm. Phantom pain, it had to be. The healer had promised that her wounds were all fully knitted back together. But the healer was only trained in treating the body, and Emia suspected her injuries ran deeper.
The easiest thing to do would be to turn around and walk away. The safest thing would be to pack her few belongings and begin the long trek back to her village, her family, her friends. She wouldn’t be the first. She wouldn’t be the last. It took almost as much luck as it did skill to complete the training, and no one expected her to stay. Better to accept failure and live than to try and try until she died in the attempt.
What if one more try was all it took? They had been so close, she’d felt it. She’d met Dilyku’s golden hawklike gaze and held it, held him, connected with him, and he had let her. He had bent his neck, and she had run her hands down the soft, long feathers, had traced the curve of his beak with her fingers. And then—
Then, disaster. Or so they told her; her own mind still refused to release those memories to the rest of her, though they bled through in her dreams. Too much noise, too much panic. A flurry of wings, claws, feathers. A gryphon’s fear takes on a deadly shape. Though, why Dilyku was afraid they couldn’t say.
Yet she had survived. And she had healed. And there was nothing in the world to stop her from trying again, save perhaps a nascent sense of self preservation. Because there was no reason to believe she would be so lucky if it happened again. And neither was there any certainty that it wouldn’t happen again.
And so she stood at the edge of the field, the one that stretched between her and Dilyku’s cave, and she trembled. A minute passed. Or ten. Or twenty.
The question rattled in the back of her mind.
Why are you doing this?
Her own thoughts stood in accusation. There were so many she’d left behind to come here, so many who were waiting for her to return. So many who would tell her she had tried hard enough, more than hard enough. So many who would welcome her back with open arms.
So many to whom she owed so much.
That was almost what decided her. Her life was not her own– not just her own. If the only thing driving her back across that field was her own pride, her own stubborn will, then that was not enough. It would never be enough. It never could be.
Yet even then she couldn’t just turn and walk away, because that would have been terrible, too. Maybe it was Dilyku’s claws and beak that had come so close to ripping her away from this would and flinging her into the next. That was just one, terrible thing, and there were other moments. So many other moments. Enough that she could never just leave, not without trying one last time.
She lifted her fingers to her lips and whistled, three long, clear notes. It was a request, she realized. A petition for Dilyku to grant her passage into his realm. He had only ever granted it with some amount of grudging impatience, a clacked beak, a thrash of his lion’s tail, as if he had better things to do with his time but couldn’t be bothered to drive her off.
And so when his call, shrill and fierce as any bird of prey’s, warm and friendly as the response of an old companion echoed back across the field, it was the last thing she expected. And when Dilyku himself leaped from the mouth of his cave and into the warm sunlight to look for her, she hardly expected that either. And she knew. For at least a little while longer, she had to stay. Because she had already left this other friend alone too long.