The Chase

Image by Michael Pointner from Pixabay

Crisp winter air.

Sun just beginning to lighten the sky.

High-pitched chirps behind her.

Ava kicked up her pace, straining to reach the top of the hill. Her hair yanked back from the force of the wind, her scalp stinging in response. She could feel the wetness on her cheeks, but she didn’t stop moving forward.

The screeches were getting closer. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, Ava chanced peeking over her shoulder. Four baby griffins skirted just above the dewy grass. Despite being well over a hundred yards away, and with barely formed wings, they were closing fast. Facing forward again, Ava lengthened her stride despite the thirty-degree incline. Her lungs protested, but she kindly told them to fuck right off. Oxygen was overrated at this point.

Beaks began pecking at her calves just before something crashed into her with the force of a seventy-ton wrecking ball. She smashed to the rocky hillside ground so hard, both front teeth chipped. Hot breath gusted against the back of her neck before a wet nose trailed over the skin there. Ava didn’t move a muscle. She was caught, but she wasn’t about to risk an early death. A talon grazed her bare shoulder, just keeping from breaking skin. This time, Ava couldn’t contain her whimper.

“Boryk.”

The familiar rough voice grated against her already taut nerves. She wiped the side of her face with a shaky hand even as heavy steps sounded behind her. They stopped at her right shoulder. After a long pause, gentle hands guided her to her feet.

“Dammit, I told him to pull back on his tackles,” Germaine said. He waved two fingers from her bloody mouth to her sternum. The teeth repaired themselves, torn skin reknitted, and her heart rate dropped by a good thirty beats. “You okay?”

Ava shook out her arms and nodded. “All good. I should’ve been faster. If I can’t outrun a 600-millennium-old griffin, I don’t stand a chance in the Games.”

“You’ll never outrun a griffin, dear, no matter how old they are. The wings will get you every time,” Germaine said. He held up his stopwatch with a smile.

Ava looked at the time wide-eyed: 14.69 nanoseconds. That was her best time yet as a racer. A whole 1.053 nanoseconds faster than her oldest rival. She nearly tore her freshly healed cheeks, her smile was so wide.

“Feel like you’re ready?” Germaine asked, holding out her water tank this time.

“Hell yeah. But I want to try to beat Boryk again,” she said. She gulped down two whole gallons before wiping her mouth. Boryk trotted up and nudged her shoulder with a wing. “See, he wants to go again, too.”

Germaine nodded indulgently. This time he used both hands to encircle the entire group. In the blink of an eye, they were all back at the tree line.

“Two-nanosecond head start this time. Let’s make it challenging,” Boryk said, teeth gleaming. The baby griffins chirped excitedly, dancing around Ava’s feet. “Competitive beast,” Ava grumbled, even as she prepared herself to bolt. It was going to be a long morning. Her honor was on the line, though, and not against her griffins. This year’s Games were her last chance to oust Domie as the clan’s head. If she failed, the commissioner council would force Ava back to the fields. She’d worked too hard to escape. Through victory or death, she would earn her full freedom this spring.

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