Designed by Kathy, revamped by Vangroen
Lifespan: 50 minutes
Medium Groups: 20-24
Large Groups: 18-24
From the journal of Rollington J. Pfenniger
As a dedicated ornithologist I am always interested in finding a new acquisition to put in my life book. To find a new species would be the greatest accomplishment any birdwatcher could possibly dream of. The adventure I embarked on when I heard that the legendary Fiery Roc was located at the top of the Spirited Heights would never have been undertaken if I had known how perilous it would turn out to be. When first told that the mythical bird existed, I swallowed hard in disbelief. I am not a trusting man by nature; however, my longtime friend Giles Nordstrom was so sure of it that he made with me a small gentlemen's wager. For years the stories of a rookery of Fiery Rocs persisted, but no one ever took it seriously. It was a child's story like the Emerald Wyrm or the duck that had the body of a beaver. Now it seems the tales have started to come true. A grown Emerald Wyrm was found not far from a city last year, and on an island five leagues off the southern coast was found a creature named the platypus. Giles was so sure I would be up to the challenge that he had already gathered supplies and equipment for the journey. Even if I tried, I could not back out on this adventure. Being older than Giles, I knew what it meant to have gone on many a wild goose chase. Maybe that was part of my apprehension for going on this expedition or possibly precognition of what was about to happen to us.
Giles' preparation for the trip was very thorough. The party consisted of a valet for him and me, one local traveling guide and a spelunker for the trip through the caverns. The location of the Roc is on top of a mountain, but the only accessible way there from the south is through a series of caves. From my home the trip took around twelve days. It was uneventful, but as with any trip, it had its moments. Before heading into the caves we decided to have two days' rest. I am not very old, but my years of experience told me that resting to recoup the energy expended on the trip would do no harm. The first night we lounged under the stars and a waning crescent moon. This is when we first heard the cry of a large bird. The awesome force of the screech was unnerving to us. We were all the way at the base of the mountain, and it seemed as if the noise were produced right next to us. Giles was the first to notice it. Above us, silhouetted by the faint glow of the moon, was the dark outline of a huge bird of prey. With nothing to gauge its dimensions we thought that the size was an exaggeration of our minds. It was hard to sleep that night, but we did.
Our second day of rest was spent learning spelunking from our guide. It was very much like mountaineering, with the hammers, pitons and ropes. Since we knew many of the skills already, it did not take us long. Giles and I decided to go for a midday hunt. Surprisingly for such a heavily wooded area, we could find no game. Instead of dining on fresh meat that night, we made do with our rations. It was hardly an imposition since Giles made sure we had the finest wines and preserved foods available. We slept well that night, knowing we needed the rest for the expedition at hand. To our dismay, the bird we saw the previous night did not appear.
Entering into the cavern that morning was very easy ... too easy, I thought. The spacious tunnels were so well chiseled that there was not even a rock to trip on while walking. Rumors abounded of a race of giant stone men called Gneiss that took care of the caverns. The story goes that a neighboring city wanted to build an aqueduct from this mountain. To build the aqueduct the people needed labor, so they brought in the Gneiss from a distant island. Held against their will, they toiled in the mountain, building an incredible machine to supply water to the city. A plague wiped out the city, but did not affect the Gneiss since they were made from stone. The Gneiss, being an ancient race that previously had no contact with humans, did not understand mortal death and continued their work on the machines. With their hope of ever returning to their island dwindling over the next thousand years, the Gneiss have become violent to humans and have been known to attack on sight. I think it is all poppycock. Obviously rumors made hundreds of years before to scare kids away from the caverns. Still, we are on a trip to find a mythical bird of prey! Our guide assures us that we will be avoiding the Gneiss settlement, so I guess I will never know the truth. As my father once told me, "In every rumor there is a little truth, and in every truth there is a little rumor."
The caves have turned darker and wetter. Some passages are so filled with water from natural springs that we have to swim to cross them. Without the sun to warm you it gets very chilly inside a mountain. If I had known this earlier I would have brought my skintight suit of selkie hide to keep the moisture away. I keep getting the disturbing feeling that something is under the water in the caves. I have felt things brush my legs, but Giles laughs and says it is my imagination. Too bad my imagination feels some sort of tentacle brushing my leg!
Out of the murky waters and now ascending a shaft that goes on forever. After climbing for hours with tight muscles and scrapes on every exposed piece of flesh, I almost wish I were back in the murky pools I swam in before. I never thought we would reach the top. When we finally did the early morning we had entered the caverns has now turned to darkest night. We had no way of telling how long we were inside. For all we knew it could have been two days. Instead of wandering around in the dark, we pitched camp and lit a fire to keep the chill off our bones. In the high altitude of Spirited Heights the weather was brisk and moist. Everything I touched had the evening dew deposited on it. As the night progressed we heard the sounds of many birds, but disbelieved our ears. The species we heard would never live in such close proximity to each other. I heard the Kestrel, Osprey and Eagle, whereas Giles heard Falcons, Owls and Hawks. To our ears it was a cacophony of delightful music; however, it made our companions shiver and go closer to the fire.
At first light we were awakened by a small man around one and a half meters tall. He was no dwarf. All his body parts were proportional. His whole body was a rippling mass of muscle and sinew. As he stood over us I noticed a large talon with a handle that made it into a dagger held loosely in his hand. The random thoughts of gaiety I felt by his diminutive size were ripped from me as I looked around and saw that we were surrounded by at least forty of these men. The one I first saw spoke to me in an ancient dialect of Medievian.
"Why have you come to the sanctuary?"
"We mean no harm, we only come in search of a great bird."
"Many great birds call this mountain home; no one is allowed to enter here. Our gods protect us, and we protect them."
As he said that, a large black bird emerged from the treeline, ridden by a small man dressed in dark feathers. The bird was nearly nine meters tall, with a wingspan of more than twice that. As it got closer we saw that under its wings were feathers as crimson as the richest blood. Giles fainted away into a heap as he realized it was the ancient Fiery Roc. From around the treeline emerged a myriad of giant birds of prey. Our party members reacted hastily and ran at the little warriors in a blind desperation caused by fear. Two steps after brandishing their weapons, a barrage of arrows, spears and daggers cut our party members down. Their blood spilled and was soaked into the dry ground. In mourning of comrades I hardly knew, I knelt and said a prayer. I was quickly tied down and staked to the ground, as was Giles. We were held captive for months on the mountaintop and learned much from the Kehohta, as they called themselves. The Kehohta were a clerical order that worshipped birds of prey. On this mountain they started their cloister and flourished for over three hundred years. They never thought any person would be able to navigate the caverns and pass by the Gneiss to reach the top. Giles and I stayed on with them for at least a year, recording the habits of this bird sanctuary. The Kehohta had summoned the great birds from all over the world to be living gods. Every day with them was a day in awe. I was once even allowed to touch the Fiery Roc, a great honor since it was the most highly worshipped and rarest of birds.
Our time with them is at an end. They are going to cast a spell on us that will wipe our minds and plant false memories in our heads. The only record of this whole expedition will be this journal I have kept and hidden.
- Rollington J. Pfenniger
Note to readers of Ornithology Abstracts. This account was found in the mortal possessions of R.J. Pfenniger, our beloved founder. His passing was a great tragedy twenty-five years ago. This work is fictional and meant to showcase the great imagination of a truly noble ornithologist. When Giles Nordstrom was asked about this work of fiction by his closest friend, his reply was:
"First I ever heard of it, somebody should mount an expedition to see what is really up there. Too bad my age would exclude me from any such venture."
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