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My Duty is My Pride

Part Two- Finding Pride

By Kelley SteadPublished 4 months ago 15 min read

Soon the road was full of sand. It blew around the pod making tink tink noises as it bounced off the glass doors. Some seasons the sand would cover entire blocks up to your knees. Everyone wore masks or scarfs around their faces and dove into podcars as quickly as possible. The sand was relentless, penetrating every crack, every crevice, every orifice it could find.

The sandy streets led to a fence high enough that is wasn’t easy to climb. There was the faint buzzing of electricity in the air, enough that you felt it in your bones. It had been constructed almost a century ago, maintained by the State to keep undesirables out, citizens in and the drug trade at bay. None of it worked, of course. People tunneled under it, flew drones over it and hacked it constantly. Drugs came in and out, more lucrative than ever. The higher the fence, the more you charged to jump it.

There were two bots guarding the border armed and ready to open fire on anyone that gave off a wrong signal or had something illegal hidden in their podcar. They would have been a major problem to Joni, but Kobe had been tinkering all night. He’d installed a small device on the gryphon’s box. When scanned, it would corrupt the bot’s database, crippling its ability to discern the difference between a box of clothes and a box of illegal animal. By the time technicians were alerted to the problem, they’d be long gone. He’d never used it before, of course, and his hands were sweating as they handed over their identification chips.

The bot chirped something to headquarters, lights flashing as it scanned the pod. Kobe waited for a red light to come on, a sign that his device had worked and the bot was incapacitated. It flickered, sputtered and after deciding there was no threat, opened the gate and let them through.

The desert was called Lio’ahva and it spread out in all directions around Nexus City like a taupe silk sheet. Kobe had played in this desert as a child, throwing sand at Joni as they raced around his family’s farm on the outskirts of Nexus. Everything was grown in glass houses, water pumped from deep under the sand to nourish potted fruits and vegetables that never knew soil. The sand wasn’t fertile.

Kobe’s father used to tell the boys how it’d been ruined from military blasts, how the State hadn’t taken notice until it was too late. He’d wanted Kobe to become a farmer as well, perhaps in a world where the soil was restored and he could grow food for the masses the way his grandfather had. Kobe’s brain could never absorb the information, preferring pelting Joni with sand to gardening any day.

“Oh if my father could see me now,” Kobe said, patting the device on the gryphon’s box. “Skirting border bots. Harboring illegals. Hacking tech. If heaven’s real, his heart is giving out up there all over again.”

“Some of us had to be our own father.”

“Yeah yeah. Lucky you,” he rolled his eyes. “This place is way out here. I bet this is where gangs come to get these things. Probably come grab a few babies and smuggle them back into the city.”

“I think they breed them all in Nexus,” Joni said. He reached back and opened the box, allowing a tiny gryphon baby to peek out, sleepily. She stretched and crawled onto Joni’s lap.

“No, it needs to stay in the box.” Kobe pressed himself against the side of the pod, as far away from its razor beak as possible.

“She’s been locked up all day. She’s bonded to me. I can’t keep her in there.”

“So what do you think is going to happen when you dump her out here? Mister mum? Think she’s just going to latch on to a grown one? I doubt it. Probably be killed as soon as they sniff it and it smells like you.”

“I know,” he closed his eyes. “There was nothing in the docs about it. No one knows how their social structure works. Pretty much all the information was about D23 and its effects on them. Seems like they did a lot of experiments with it before it was outlawed.”

“Yeah, making things illegal works great. Well, since it’s so in love with you, tell it to leave me alone. We’re in this podcar together for two days and I’d like to arrive with all my limbs.” Kobe leaned his head against the window as the pod steered itself towards the oasis. He drifted off into memories of playing in the desert with his comrade-- no sense of the layers of human bones rolling in the sand beneath them.


“We’re here.” Joni woke his comrade with a shake.

The oasis was all around them. Giant palms and lush shrubbery, a lovely blip on a sandy brown radar screen. Kobe felt his eyes overloaded by the sheer number of shades of green. He stretched, his back cracking audibly.

Nexus City was probably even more exquisite at one point in time. Before the first nomads stumbled onto its fertile soil and underground wells. Before the first alien seed was planted or the first brick was laid. Before the blasts turned the soil into poison. It was astounding no one had turned this place into a termite mound city.

“Would you look at this place,” Kobe said, hands and forehead pressed against the curved glass of the pod like a child at the zoo. “It’s amazing.”

Joni’s hands were running absentmindedly over a sleeping gryphon but his eyes were wide and alert. He scanned the trees, looking for any sign of movement that was not the gentle tickle of the wind. His blue eyes sparkled in his fervor.

“I’m taking it off autopilot.” Joni ran his finger over the cockpit and two handles rotated from underneath. He grasped them firmly and navigated the trees, gryphon still unconscious on his lap.

“No need to announce everything you do, this isn’t a raid.” Kobe said. “Head that way, there seems to be a clearing. If eagle cat monsters are running around wild in here, I want to see them before they see me.”

They veered left, carefully guiding the pod through the green mess of branches. So many living things were crawled around in Nexus City, and somehow it didn’t feel anywhere as alive as this place.

The trees thinned and opened into a valley like Kobe had never seen-- a giant bowl dipped into the earth and filled with green salad. The edges sloped sometimes softly, sometimes dangerously, creating cliffs of red and brown rock. And in the distance-- nowhere near distant enough for Kobe-- giant creatures were soaring through the air.

At first, one might confuse them with eagles. But their extended clawed legs and tails gave them away.

“They live in the cliffs,” Joni said, smiling absurdly. “They look enormous, achi. They’re far, but they look larger than any gryphons we ever found in the city.”

“Fantastic. Where do we leave yours?” Kobe said but could not take his eyes away.

They had to get a bit closer to realize the gryphons were not alone in the sky. Human forms could be seen on top of them, hair waving against the blue of the sky as they leaned low over their backs. It was terrifying to watch. Kobe could not help but imagine what a fall from those heights would do to a man’s body.

“None of this was in the documents,” Joni said, awestruck. “They’re supposed to be nocturnal.”

“These trees are too close together. We can’t keep going this way.” Kobe stopped the pod, reached across the dash panel, and touched a button that killed the engine. “Let’s think about what we’re doing here before we do it.”

He couldn’t believe he was the one being cautious.

“There are people here, living God knows how far above the ground, flying around on illegal animals. There was nothing about this in the documents? Nothing at all?”

“Gryphons bond for life,” Joni said. “If these- people- are bonded enough to fly on top of them, then they must have some respect for that bond. This isn’t Nexus City. This is something else.”

He opened the door, cradling the gryphon like a human baby, and began walking toward the trees.

“Where are you going?” Kobe hurried after him. “Get back in the pod! You have no idea where you’re going!”

“The pod won’t go any further.” He patted the holster on his belt. “Don’t worry I have my weapon.”

While Kobe stood at the tree line, seriously considering tranquilizing his comrade, ditching the animal and making the two-day journey back in safety. But before he could make a decision, they were spotted. There was a high-pitched whistle that carried across the valley and the flying animals turned in the sky, coming straight for them.

Kobe felt the wind change; it ruffled Joni’s hair and made the trees dance around them. They immediately jumped behind the trees and pointed their weapons towards the cliff’s edge. Charged bullets rained from the air, making steamy holes in the ground near their feet. Joni held the tiny animal against his chest with one arm and held his other skyward. “Stop, stop!”

Someone whistled again as the animals landed on the cliff’s edge, just a stone’s throw from the edge of the tree line. There were three gryphons, so tall their riders had to slide in front of their wings like children to reach the ground. They were larger than any Kobe had ever seen, their feathered fur glistened with health in the sunshine.

The riders kept their ancient e-weapons drawn. Kobe could hear them humming even through the adrenaline pumping in his ears. The largest was held by a woman, old but visibly strong, with stray white hairs curling around her face. Her clothes were tattered, she wore no shoes. Her gryphon stood behind her, moving its head side to side and occasionally snapping its beak. It seemed to be waiting for any signal to strike.

“You come from Nexus City?” she asked. Her voice was deep with age, her eyes crinkled at the edges from years of squinting in the desert sun.

No one answered. Kobe’s weapon remained pointed towards the gryphon. He had no idea if it was powerful enough to kill the beast.

“What about the gryphonette?” a skinny man said from behind the woman. She walked closer to Joni, her eyes scanning him like no visor could.

Kobe thought about shooting her, then turning and shooting the others. If Joni joined, they could probably take out all of the people and make a run for it. Their outdated, barely functioning guns were no match for the one he carried. But one look at Joni’s face made it clear he was in no mood to fight, to risk his new pet’s meaningless little life. He allowed the woman to stroke the gryphon’s naked head.

“Are you bonded?” she asked.

Joni nodded.

“Do you know what that means?”

“She will follow me anywhere.”

The woman did not smile, her eyes did not react. “It means she will eat when you eat, drink when you drink and kill if you need her to. It means if she is separated from you she will become weak and die.” She leaned in close, wild hair curling around her features. “What were you thinking? Bringing her here?”

“I didn’t know anyone lived in this oasis.” he said, “I’d read there may be a pride here. I brought her to save her life. We drove two days from Nexus City. Otherwise, she’d been destroyed.”

“You thought you could leave her here? Bonded?” The woman clicked her tongue. “Your information has failed you. If you return to the city without this creature, you will always regret the day you did. Your heart will be broken. You’ve obviously read of a gryphon’s bond with a person, but nothing of the bond you have with her. She will die without you, and you will never be the same. So tell me, what is your decision?” She raised her hand and the gryphon crept forward, following her every move with its golden eyes. “I can kill you both now. Otherwise, you come with us for a talk.”

Kobe lowered his weapon, praying the gryphon would understand his surrender. “So let’s talk.”


As the coolness of night began to creep in, Kobe found himself sitting outside a cave, dangling his feet off the side of the cliff, wondering how many people had fallen to their deaths here. He’d refused to climb onto the back of a gryphon and instead was escorted, rather rudely, by a skinny man with dirty feet around the brim of the valley to the caves on the other side. It had taken a little over an hour. The sun was going to set soon.

Joni had taken his life into his own hands and allowed the woman to hoist him onto her flying beast. Kobe couldn’t get Joni’s eyes out of his head, wide and excited, like the time they’d snuck into a carnival as children and rode the fastest rides. He didn’t even look back to see if the skinny man had slit his throat. Hadn’t even given it a thought. All the best training the ACF could provide and he’d turned his back on the enemy. And his comrade.

Kobe was told to wait outside the cave. With his gun confiscated and no idea where they had taken his love-sick friend, he was forced to abide. And so he sat, exhausted and sweating under the irritated watch of the skinny man, wishing he’d shot the damn beast the moment Joni had brought it into his apartment.

Achi,” Joni finally emerged from the mouth of the cave, gryphon perched on his shoulder, “It’s getting dark.”

Kobe leapt to his feet. “That’s all you have to say to me? Yes, Joni, it’s getting dark. What of it? What are we doing here still?”

“I’m staying here.”

Kobe felt his heart sink into his stomach. The words bounced around in his mind, unable to settle into anything he could process. Surely, he was joking. Surely he’d been drugged, brainwashed, something.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Kobe said. “What did they say to you? You swore an oath to the force. What are you going to do? Abandon everything in your life and fly around on gryphons all damn day? You have duties to attend to.”

“You heard what she said. If I go back, the gryphon will die. She’s right, I’d never forgive myself.”

“You will! You’ll forget this ever happened. We’ll hit the town, have some beers, grab some dinner at Slamos. We’ll get up for work tomorrow and--”

“Raid some arenas?”

“Yeah,” Kobe said, unfamiliar emotions clouding him. “Because that’s my duty. And it’s yours.”

Yoni stroked the gryphonette’s head as it looked around from atop his shoulder. “They used to use them in the force. Did you know that?”

“How would I know that?”

“Every officer had a bonded gryphon. You got one as soon as you completed training. Can you imagine the captain riding a gryphon through the streets?”

Kobe fought the urge to smack the smile off Joni’s face.

Joni continued, “When the State came to full control, they started doing experiments. Officers were getting too attached—they would actually commit suicide if their gryphon died in the line of duty. So they stopped bonding them. That’s where the D23 comes in-- it interrupts thebonding process, makes them ferocious killing machines. But non-bonded gryphons make terrible partners and eventually, the State decided they weren’t worth the trouble.”

“And you’re just trusting this crazy woman? You’re not serious.”

Joni looked at Kobe hard.

“I can’t go back,” he said. “The State took Claude Devereaux’s gryphon and he took his life because of it. This isn’t a joke. I can’t return to the city. I can’t leave her here alone.”

One look into Joni’s blue eyes and Kobe knew it was the truth. Reaching his arm out, he felt his heart sink lower. He briefly considered hitting him over the head and dragging him back to the podcar. It was a ridiculous thought-- he had no idea how to get there and the skinny man still had a weapon.

Tears of frustration started to well in his eyes, he wiped them before they could give themselves away. For once, he didn’t know what action to take.

Joni grabbed him, hard. The animal on his shoulder did not object. His green eyes were pooling too. “Men don’t cry, you prick.”

“I had a plan,” Kobe said. “I had a plan. I was going to—”

Joni grabbed him harder, choking out the words. Suddenly, everything seemed utterly pointless. The years of raids, tinkering with codes, the red light blinking in his apartment.

What was life without Joni? What was his duty if it wasn’t to protect his brother? The world turned gray and dark around them, little creatures started to make their nighttime sounds.

Kobe whispered the old words, the ones they’d been taught in training. The ones written on the peeling wall of the department. The only words he could think to utter.

“My duty is my pride…”

Joni sniffled but his voice never wavered, “And my pride is my duty.”


FantasySci FiSeriesShort StoryYoung Adult

About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King.

Published in DreamForge Magazine.

A mixture of fiction and insights from the perspective of a writer, business owner, and casino person.

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