Britta instinctively leapt to the side of the nest and held the egg over the edge. The gryphon’s wings snapped open, the ferocity of their spread causing feathers to come loose and continue falling while the gryphon herself hung in mid-air.
“What are you doing?” The gryphon’s voice was low and filled with venom.
Britta’s hands were shaking. The egg seemed to be getting heavier. “Stay back,” said Britta, her voice shaking, also. “I’ll drop it.”
“Don’t,” whispered the gryphon. It wasn’t a demand, it was a request, a desperate one.
In her mind, this is what you would do in a movie. The big bad guy is about to shoot you so you grab the priceless vase from his collection and threaten to drop it. He’s a vase connoisseur. He would rather let you go than lose one of his precious Ming Dynasty vases.
It wasn’t like she was going to actually drop it. In the movie, there would be an ‘amusing’ slapstick scene where the vase nearly falls and then gets saved. And then accidentally get knocked over and smashes to pieces. Ha ha, it’s funny because he loved that vase more than people.
There was only one slight difference here. She wasn’t holding a vase. She was holding an egg—and in the egg was a baby.
The person threatening the life of a child wasn’t the one trying to stop the bad guy. That person was the bad guy.
“B? Is that really what you want to do?” Nigel had floated up to the nest and was hovering in front of her.
She looked at the egg in her hands. A gentle breeze washed over her. The gryphon was still hanging overhead, her wings gently flapping but creating hardly any sound.
The egg didn’t feel like an egg out of the fridge. It was warm. It felt like there was something moving inside.
It was a game. The egg wasn’t real. There wasn’t a living thing inside it. But did that matter? Killing monsters and zombies was unpleasant, but it was fake killing. They came back to life, like Big Billy. Even if she dropped the egg, the game would reset at some point and the egg would be back in the nest. No harm done.
She could feel her arms weaken. Holding the egg out was no easy task, but the gryphon would do whatever she asked while the egg was in danger. It was a strong negotiating position and there were a lot of things to gain. She doubted the game had been designed with this sort of scenario in mind, so there probably wasn’t a set response. The gryphon would have to make the call the way Nigel had been forced to decide if he was willing to bend the rules.
It was a feature of the game she was beginning to notice. There was a clear path you could follow and quickly achieve upgrades and level ups, but if you veered off that path, the NPCs had the capacity to make judgement calls.
As Britta considered this revelation, her arms grew more weary. Both Nigel and the gryphon waited in silence. Britta hadn’t actually stated her demands, she’d just taken a hostage. A pretend hostage. Not a real baby. Britta couldn’t think of any demands to make.
Slowly, she pulled the egg back in, turned around and placed it in the middle of the nest, next to its siblings. She looked up at the huge flying lion hanging above her.
The gryphon dived down and sank its talons into her shoulders. It hurt, but not as much as it should have. She wasn’t being mauled, she was being grabbed. And then she was airborne.
The wings made a deafening clatter as they relentlessly beat the air. The gryphon shot out of the hole, into the blue sky, the chill mountain air rushing past. Unlike the levitation, this felt like flying. She was really moving. The idea of riding a gryphon had excited her but not like this. Dangling underneath, held in claws, she felt like a dead rat snatched up by an owl.
Below her, the world looked oddly unreal. Not like a computer game, just regular unreal. Fields and houses and forests passed by. A bunched up group of buildings in the distance she assumed was New Town. A ranch with horses just below her.
Was this the ranch she had been headed to? Was the gryphon giving her the lift she’d asked for in the first place?The gryphon hadn’t spoken since they’d taken to the skies and Britta didn’t feel like starting the conversation. She felt too guilty. Even the digital guilt felt real in this place.
Perhaps it wasn’t so bad. She hadn’t actually hurt the egg. It was a moment of madness, but it was in the past. The gryphon would drop her off at the ranch and that would be the end of it. Next time the game reset, the gryphon probably wouldn’t even remember her.
Britta looked down. The horses and other animal, some of which Britta couldn’t identify from this height, were getting bigger. They were coming in for a landing. And then only Britta was. The gryphon had released her and she was falling.