The Shadow Grotto – Part 3

Welcome, Fantasy Nerds! This is the conclusion to my short story. If you haven’t read the first two parts, you can start the story here. I hope you enjoy!

After convincing the man that I was also interested in finding a chimera of my own, he gave me more details about the location she was found. Between that information and the image the chimera shared with me, I’m hoping I can find who I’m looking for. Although, I’m not sure what to do once I find the old man. I just have to trust the chimera; she obviously believes that this man can help rescue her. 

I’m just hoping the man from the vision will have a plan.

I pull up to a mountain lodge and throw my backpack on, as I inhale the fresh scent of pine. I booked a room in case I can’t find who I’m looking for in one day. After a quick check-in, I set out into the woods right away. I don’t want to waste any time. 

The first couple of hours are quite nice. I hike through the woods to the melody of birdsong mingling with the crunch of twigs and pine needles under my feet. The cool mountain air makes the exercise comfortable. Every breath makes me feel invigorated. I’m on a mission. But I’d forgotten one crucial thing.

This was bear hunting territory. And I hadn’t come armed.

As I get deeper into the woods, I come upon a creek gliding through a rockbed. I decide this would be a relaxing place to take a break. I sit upon the rough surface of a boulder and dig through my pack for water and some trail mix. I hear some rustling behind me. Not the rustling of a squirrel darting through branches, but the rustling of something much more substantial…and terrifying.

I turn my head and try not to make any sudden movements. Which is very hard when you are face-to-face with a bear

I stand and back away slowly, but I can’t go very far with the creek behind me. I debate whether to jump in and try to swim away, but I think bears are good swimmers. As my eyes are roving for anything to help me, the bear starts to back away. I blink. It turns and stomps back into the treeline.

I turn to see a man standing on the other side of the creek. My eyes go wide.

The man rubs his head and smiles. “I know, I have quite a way with animals,” he says.

“No, it’s not that,” I tell him. “I’ve been looking for you.”

After the man walks me back to his cottage, the one from the chimera’s vision, he sits me at a small wooden table with a cup of tea. As the drink warms me down to my toes, I begin to tell him my tale. As I speak about the chimera, his eyes go wide. But not in the way I would expect from someone who is just learning of the existence of a mythical beast. His face looks more like he has found something precious that he had thought lost. 

He waits patiently for me to finish my tale. When I do, he exhales slowly and pats my hand.

“You found Fiasuru. I didn’t even know she was captured. I thought she had just returned home and decided,” he gulps back an emotion I can’t read, “decided not to come back.”

He drops his head into his hands. “Oh, this is all my fault. I should have known she wouldn’t be safe here.”

I pat the old man’s shoulder, unsure what else to do.

“Fiasuru is my friend. I told you before I have a way with animals, but that’s not the whole story. I can communicate with them. Some, I can even control. Not Fiasuru though,” he says with a chuckle. “She found her way here, and we formed a bond. She would come often to visit me, and then one day, she just stopped. I should have known something was wrong.”

The old man sits up tall. “I am Adius, and I will help you rescue my friend.”

By nightfall, we have come up with a plan. I stay at Adius’s cabin for the night, and we rise at dawn to trek back to my car. It takes the rest of the day, and into the night, to drive back to Florida. We make arrangements until the day arrives to rescue the animals.

We meet Fredrick and the mysterious scruffy man at the pet shop. I turn over the 90 million dollars for the mythical creatures they agreed to sell me. 

“I didn’t say you could bring anyone else,” the man says.

“This is my animal caretaker. I need his help transporting the creatures and getting them settled,” I respond.

The man eyes Adius, and I assume he finds him to be harmless. Adius and I get into the enormous truck we brought with us, complete with stalls for the animals. We wind our way out to the warehouse where I first laid eyes on the magnificent creatures we are about to save. I have to remind myself to keep breathing and act normal.

Our footsteps echo through the enormous warehouse, as we stride past the exotic creatures that are ordinary compared to the ones hidden away. I take note of where the man presses his hand to unlatch the hidden door. We walk through the numerous stone archways until we arrive in the Shadow Grotto. 

Adius stops, and I can see the effort it takes to compose himself as he takes in our surroundings. Not just one chained chimera, but all her children held captive. His eyes lock on Fiasuru, but she must understand that we are up to something, because she simply shifts to her feet and stares at us. 

We go through the motions of loading all the creatures into the truck, Adius communicating to them that they must remain chained for now, but we will not harm them. We shake hands to close out our transaction, checking our truck one last time as we wait for the men to get into their cars. At the last minute, I run up to the scruffy man’s window.

“One of the beasts wasn’t chained up right. We could use some assistance,” I say.

The man hops out of his car and waves Fredrick on. “I’ll take care of it.”

I make sure Fredrick is out of sight before we climb into the back of the truck. I point him to the back corner, where the griffin is yanking against it’s chain and clawing at Adius. Without suspecting a thing, the man jumps in to help restrain the griffin. That’s when Adius releases the griffin from it’s restraint. 

The man falls back as the griffin lunges toward him. It pounces and digs it’s claws into the man’s shoulders, pinning him. He screams, thrashing against the weight of the griffin and swinging his fists into the creature’s hide. Powerful wings flap, lifting the man to the ceiling. The griffin drops him, and he tries to scramble backwards through winces of pain. The griffin pounces again, and with one swift strike, the man is silent. 

I try not to look at him, as I dig through his pockets for the keys. Adius stays with the animals, unchaining them one at a time. I rush into the warehouse and push on the wall to open the secret door. My feet pound down the arched tunnel and up the stone steps to Fiasuru’s cage. I unlock the bars of her cell and the chains keeping her bound to the wall. 

“I told you I would free you,” I whisper to the chimera.

Fiasuru nods once to me before flying out to reunite with her friend.

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Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

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