Chapter 1: Architect
A warm breeze blew into the crevices of the cavern walls, brushing past a rather large rhakos resting sprawled out on the cool cave floor. Even then, he still felt hot and sticky, his feathers slightly damp from the humidity that hung in the air. Finally fed up with the discomfort, Kratos pushed himself off the floor and stood up, lashing his tail in irritation. He really needed to work on spiffing up his personal crevice, making it so that it wasn’t so damn stuffy and hot inside the cave wall he’d decided to call his home.
Kratos paced for a moment, trying to decide what he was going to do. He finally settled on going out to find some supplies to remodel his cavern, perhaps some moss that could absorb the moisture in the air, or some carving tools to widen the opening in the ceiling so that more light could reach the inner walls. Maybe even some sort of bedding to place on the bare stone he’d been sleeping on to make it a bit more comfortable.
Kratos sighed and turned towards the path that led to the hidden mouth of the caverns, one he’d disguised himself to keep unwanted visitors out. Once he reached the blocked off entrance, he begrudgingly shouldered the boulder barricading the opening aside, flinching at the sudden influx of light.
The day was hot and the sun was high, small birds chirping contentedly in the trees above while the nearby river churned out a rather pleasant sound. Kratos had no time to stop and enjoy it though, he had work to be doing. He’d first gather the moss to collect the moisture from the air, making it a bit less damp in his cavern. He probably wouldn’t have to look for too long to find it, the stuff was everywhere.
Kratos trodded along the forest floor for a few moments, ripping up the few patches of moss growing on the ground that he’d encountered so far, but they weren’t what he was really after. He knew a great clearing full of foliage and, you guessed it, moss. An abundance of the stuff grew on the ground there, springy and fresh at all times. Kratos eventually abandoned the pathetic patches he’d gathered so far in favor of harvesting what he was sure to find in a moment.
When Kratos finally pushed through the shrubs and bushes surrounding the clearing, he expected to see that excess of spongy damp greenery covering every inch of the forest floor. What he was met with was much less than satisfactory.
There stood a large gryph, surrounded by nearly bare ground, clawing at the exposed dirt with her talons. Off to the side was a rather large pile of what Kratos had been expecting to see growing from the ground; moss, now uprooted and tossed aside to die off.
Kratos pondered what to do for a moment, finally settling on a decision with a huff. He stomped his foot against the now upturned dirt, flexing his toes as it sunk slightly into the earth.
The gryph, seemingly surprised by the disturbance, jumped a bit, whipping her head up and around towards Kratos, who was now staring her down with a piercing glare.
“Can…can I help you?” The gryph asked, uneasiness evident in her voice.
“No, not really. I just wasn’t expecting tourists to come and leech off of the land that doesn’t belong to them. It looked much better untouched.” Kratos spat, a bit of bite behind his words.
The gryph looked shocked, but began to puff up her feathers defensively. Her expression shifted into one of confusion.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that anyone owned this land. The city records have this land marked as vacant, so I was under the impression that it was alright to scavenge here.” The gryph’s eyes were locked onto Kratos now, watching his every move.
“Hmm, of course you’re a city goer. Always so entitled. Thinking they can just plow through entire ecosystems for their developments and wants.” Kratos must’ve struck a nerve, watching as the gryph’s expression went from confused to stunned, then to angry.
“Well excuse me mister eco-tyrant, so sorry for turning over your patch of greens to gather resources, ones that can do more good than your replaceable twigs. You’re probably here to harvest the moss anyway, why does it matter that I did it for you? Now you just have to grab from the pile and head back to wherever you came from.” The gryph made dramatic gestures as she spoke, trying to make a point, a very valid one. Kratos was here to pull up the moss anyway, so why did it matter that it had already been done for him? If anything, he should be happy he had less work to do.
Kratos must’ve shown his bewilderment, seeing as how the gryph simply snorted and smirked, turning back to her business. Kratos quickly regained his composure, prepping a witty response. He was cut off by the gryph sighing at him.
“Don’t bother saying anything, I know I can’t convince you otherwise. How about I finish what I’m doing and move on, leaving you to do… whatever it is that you’re here to do, hm?” The gryph turned her head back to Kratos, her expression softened from what it had been moments prior.
Kratos rolled his eyes, even the ones contouring his horns, giving in to the gryph’s reasoning.
Kratos carefully made his way over to the pile of moss that the gryph had swept aside, nudging through to grab the healthier patches for his cavern. He groaned quietly when the gryph began trying to make small talk.
“So, what are you even getting moss for, anyway? Making a nest for someone special?”
Kratos chuckled dryly at the remark.
“Not like it’s any of your concern, but no. I’m simply gathering something to take the humidity out of my cavern.” Kratos began gathering faster, unable to stand being in another’s presence much longer.
“Ah, I see. You live in a cave?” The gryph seemed genuinely interested for the first time since they’d met.
Kratos hummed in response, hoping she’d stop talking soon.
“Huh. I didn’t even know there was a cave around here, it’s not on any maps or anything.” The gryph shrugged to herself, turning back to her task at hand.
Kratos felt somehow relieved at that remark. So he was still undetected by the general public. Good. Hopefully he could keep it that way for a while longer. Peace and quiet was priceless to him, and a new cave system being discovered by a city dweller was sure to attract attention to his residence.
Kratos, finally satisfied with his selections, began to gather the moss up in his arms, trying to carry it all at once. To his dismay, he was failing miserably, dropping moss chunks in his wake as he began making his way back home.
After about the fifth irritated sigh, the gryph spoke again from across the clearing.
“Look, do you want help? Carrying that stuff back? You’re clearly not going to do it all in one trip, and aren’t satisfied with coming back multiple times, so why don’t I just carry half, leaving you with the other half of the bundle to carry yourself. Then we can just part ways and pretend we never met.” The gryph asked.
Kratos thought for a painful moment, finally giving in with a disdainful grunt, dropping the remainder of the bundle of moss at his feet as the gryph lumbered over, plucking the previously dropped scraps off the ground and piling them neatly at her own feet. Kratos quickly rationed out the pile, doing his best to slip a few extra pieces into the gryph’s portion. Once he was satisfied, he wordlessly scooped up his half, noting how it was significantly easier to carry, motioning for the gryph to follow.
The gryph lifted her pile of moss in her talons, taking to the air. She ascended just above the treeline, high enough to fly freely, but low enough to keep her eyes on Kratos. She simply hoped he wasn’t leading her into a trap.
Kratos leapt over a rotting log that lay just before the entrance to the cave came into view, something that would be practically undetectable to any passersby. Kratos stopped just before the entrance, not bothering to check if the gryph had indeed followed him back. He simply pushed the boulder aside once more and headed underground, dropping the moss on the stone floor and turning to see a large shadow descend on the entrance, blocking out all light from that source. The gryph entered, kicking the moss along and into Kratos’ pile.
“Well, I believe we’ve finished our deal, and you can be on your way.” Kratos said, receiving no verbal response. Turning around, he was met with a strange sight.
The gryph was looking around wide-eyed, taking in everything about the cavern. The way the walls glistened with dew, how the stalactites and stalagmites grew from their appropriate surfaces in such a way, how the stone around them seemed to shimmer slightly with the minerals imbedded into them, even how the beams of light shone in from the holes in the ceiling, casting a warm light across the cavern. It was so… breathtaking.
“Uh, hello? You’re free to go, no need to hang around.” Kratos raised an eyebrow at the motionless gryph, who seemed to suddenly snap out of her trance.
“Oh, uh, I apologize if this is unwanted, but…would it be alright if I took a look around this place? I’ve never actually been in a cave system before, and it’s amazing honestly. I could even help you with whatever you’re trying to accomplish in here, if you’d like.” The gryph offered in one big breath.
Kratos was taken aback by her forwardness, but for some odd reason, he didn’t want to decline her offer. Getting someone else to do the work for him? That sounded like an offer he should accept. But on the other hand, it meant spending more time in her presence. What to do…
“Alright, but just swear not to tell anyone about this place after you leave, alright? I don’t need them coming in and trying to excavate in here. I’d be without a home at that point.”
Kratos wasn’t sure what had come over him in the moment, revealing such a vulnerability about himself so suddenly, but something about this gryph’s nature felt…trustworthy. Even if she was quite annoying.
“Thank you! Oh, and I’m Bakara by the way. I only just realized I’d never introduced myself to you. What might your name be?” The gryph cocked her head at him.
“Kratos.” He replied, gathering up some of the moss and heading for a crack in the far wall of the main cavern. He twisted his head to the side, enabling himself to squeeze through the crevice and into a small little pocket in the wall, one he’d come to call home. He began positioning the moss around the room, making sure it wasn’t too clumped together, but still left him room to pace when he needed.
Kratos was startled at Bakara’s voice calling from the other side of the crevice.
“Uhh, how exactly do you expect me to fit in there?” She asked.
Kratos rolled his eyes.
“You don’t. This is my personal space, and I’d like to keep it personal.” Kratos said.
“Oh, uh, ok then. I’ll just… pass these to you then.”
Kratos watched as a piece of moss was pushed through the crevice, tumbling to a stop at his feet. The two worked like this for a while longer, Bakara waiting patiently as Kratos fussed over the look and positioning of each piece of moss in his area. Once he was satisfied and all the moss had been placed, he crawled back out into the main cavern, side-eyeing Bakara as she inspected a shimmering spot on the nearby wall.
“How long do you intend to stay, exactly? I have more business to attend to.” Kratos asked, brushing some flecks of moss off his chest.
“Oh, I’m not too sure. What do you have to do?” Bakara asked.
“Well, I’m not entirely done with reworking my little pocket back there, so I’ll need to get some bedding, as well as some sort of carving tools to widen the opening in the ceiling to the outside world, let some more natural light in.” Kratos explained.
Bakara’s face lit up at the mention of carving tools.
“Oh! I can help you get some tools, I do live in the city after all! We have plenty of architectural inventions and tools to make things easier.” Bakara offered.
Kratos felt a bit apprehensive at the mention of the city. He didn’t completely trust Bakara quite yet, and wasn’t willing to follow her into the crowded dwelling she called home, fearing those who weren’t as kind. But, maybe if Bakara went into the city herself and just came back with something as simple as a hammer and chisel, he could get the job done with minimal hassle.
“Alright, just be quick. I’ll go out and gather bedding while you’re gone.” Kratos said, trotting over to the entrance and pushing the boulder aside once more, allowing Bakara out before him.
Bakara nodded to him as she spread her wings and took off, flying up over the treetops and in the direction of what Kratos could only assume was the city.
About half an hour passed before Kratos was finished collecting his bedding materials, returning to the entrance of the cave to see Bakara, having just landed, gripping the chiseling tools in her talons. Kratos shoved the boulder aside once again, letting Bakara in before him and nudging the boulder back into place as the entrance went dark once again.
“Alright, I’ll just leave this here for you, so you can do your thing while I look around some more.” Bakara dropped the tools at the crevice leading to Kratos’ room, turning and heading to investigate the small pool of water that had collected under a group of stalactites nearby.
Kratos contentedly set up his bedding, then took the tools inside with him, taking a moment to find the right vantage point to start chipping away at the opening to the outside. Once he was done, his room was doused in a nice, warm glow from the widened opening, making his room look much more hospitable than the dark bare stone that it had been before. He sighed, noting how the air had begun to get cooler, maybe because of the moss, maybe because the sun was setting. He felt exhausted suddenly, yawning as he hopped down to the floor and squeezed his way back outside.
Bakara was now sitting calmly near another roof opening, staring out at the setting sun. Kratos felt…strange. Not bad strange, but a friendly strange, something he’d never felt before.
Suddenly, Bakara seemed to notice he was done with his work, standing up to look at him.
“Well, I suppose I’d better be getting back home, I’ve got others waiting for me. Although, do you think I’d be able to come back every now and then? I could bring some more helpful stuff, to make it worth your while.” Bakara smiled hopefully.
Kratos nodded, somehow feeling less apprehensive in her presence than he had been for most of the day.
“Sure, just uphold your end of the deal. No tourists.” Kratos warned.
Bakara nodded, making her way over to the entrance of the cave, finally shoving the boulder aside for herself and moving to stand in the orange lighting.
“A deal’s a deal, friend. See you again soon!”
With that, she took off, leaving Kratos to close the entrance off once more.
Kratos made his way over to his crevice, laying down on his new bedding once inside. He thought back on the day as he began to drift off to sleep.
Maybe it would do him some good to start being a bit more hospitable towards others in the future.
Total= 68 AP
Total= 51 AP