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GRIFFETS

by Chris Wayan, 2006

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Griffet, a small, intelligent arboreal creature on Lyr, an experimental world-model. Image based on a sketch by Skysong of VCL.

SPECIES

Cat-sized, griffets appear (to the casual eye) to be small relatives of gryphons. But they aren't; they evolved 40,000 km apart. Pure evolutionary convergence!

It's obvious on closer inspection. Griffets have quite mammalian lips and teeth, not hawklike gryphon-beaks. Their claws are small and digits on all four feet are opposable.

Unlike gryphon sexual dimorphism (males outweighing females) griffets are one-size-fits-all. Wing color is the best sex marker--while plumage varies and neither sex is flashier on average, female primary feathers are a solid hue, while male primaries usually darken at the tips.

But all statements about griffet appearance require prefacing with a "usually." Griffets love individualistic body decoration--they seem to see themselves as a palette to paint on. Such body art, originally used to help attract a mate, has grown complex and subtle. For example, the wingtip rule doesn't really signal gender, but sexual orientation--the four permutations of warm/cool color and single/bicolor really mean you like boys, girls, anything that moves, or nothing right now, thank you very much. And that's only the surface. Tourists should probably just try to recognize their friends' color patterns and leave it at that. Asking isn't rude.

But then, to a griffet, not much is.

HABITAT

A map of Lyr, a large water world with small scattered continents. The tropical rainforest range of griffets is marked in yellow.

Griffets evolved in the rainforests of southern Lokon, but spread north via the Fiery Islands to warm-temperate woodlands throughout Ythri, Oronesia and Gaiila, and to the southeast via the lush Kraoka Islands to the Polesotechnic Strip. Today they're found in warmer forests all over the center of the world map.

Those continental clusters contain many cooler woods which look lush enough to be prime griffet habitat; but griffets just don't thrive in cool-temperate forests. They're too small to retain heat well, and while griffets in temperate climes have slowly grown larger and better insulated, if they push further north they get constant colds and their fertility drops. They can and do travel colder flyways with care in global summer, and can be seen at conferences and trade fairs; but like the songbirds they resemble, they flee the snow.

Koreens (though they look quite different) fill much the same niche in the equatorial Diomedes Group--seed- and fruit-eaters of the rainforest canopy. Ecologically, it's perhaps simplest to ignore appearances and think of both species as bigger, smarter parrots living in rainforest-canopy flocks.

BEHAVIOR

On first acquaintance, griffets seem not-quite-people, or unfinished people still climbing the evolutionary ladder. They use few tools and lack dexterity, and their language (only one, with dialects; that's one effect of winged emigration!) consists of short phrases with weak syntax, like gorilla signing; and it has no pronoun "I"--yet. Yet their native vocabulary is huge, and most of us who've worked or traveled with griffets think their I-lessness is a strange sort of courtesy, to prevent quarrels--they seem to have a solid enough emotional sense of themselves. Sketches of griffets, small, intelligent quadrupedal mammals with birdlike wings but fur, claws, and large, nocturnal eyes set in a rather human face--except for the huge ears.

It's not a griffet lack or even a taboo exactly, but a feeling, a reticence about the very concept--almost embarrassment! It's worth noting that many human cultures consider it rude to say "I" a lot. Perhaps it's worse for griffets; even when a griffet does refer to itself by name or third-person pronoun, it usually looks down and licks a paw like a cat avoiding confrontation; can this shy act be considered a gestural I?

It's worth noting that normal griffet conversation incorporates constant gestures, even mime; in fact, a griffet in deep thought (say, while playing Lyran chess) will act out scenarios, swiftly and sketchily; they find this difficult to suppress when excited. Griffets are master comedians, but bad poker players. They simply seem to think in actions, not words.

Despite their mental quirks griffets communicate well with other species; and while their original language lacked terms for emotions, abstractions, and time, they've borrowed them from others, and clearly grasp these concepts. Though other species may pet griffets and let them ride on shoulders or backs, playing with them in a petlike fashion, this is merely an extension of griffets' own tumbling, physical style of interacting. To a griffet, physical reserve (as opposed to verbal) seems cold, and they worry that you're suppressing anger. If floxes fill the role of dogs in Lyran society, then griffets are something like domestic cats--if cats were as playful as otters--and literate!

One distinctly un-feline behavior is their sociability. Griffets typically live in large treetop villages. Round, cantilevered huts circle tree trunks, woven of a sort of rattan fiber. Every roof is also a sun porch and landing deck.

A griffet village; small, winged catlike creatures fly between round grass huts high in a rainforest canopy.
Griffets find other intelligent species wildly entertaining. Even the smallest, poorest village has large guest huts for oversized visitors, and plenty of griffets live in multispecies communities.

Because they're so small, griffets aren't well suited for long inter-island flights, so neighboring groups differ culturally. In this, they're more human than most winged Lyrans, whose cultural regions tend to be large. Still, some cultural generalizations can be made:

Individuals of both sexes compete for status and mates by singing, dancing and drumming. Griffet music has universally admired harmonies, but manic rhythms and jangly, squeaky instruments--to our ears. But it's dignified, full-bodied music to the griffet ear and heart. The griffet hearing range is higher, their tiny hearts beat faster.

Griffets love artistic novelty and originality, and particularly in music. Storytelling songs with a really perceptive twist bring the composer instant fame, fruit, and groupies of every gender. The reproductive awards for good singer-songwriters may be the driver behind their quick evolution out of a typical Lyran monkey/parrot niche into personhood, for griffets universally find intelligence sexy...

... as long as the performer pretends modesty and unselfconsciousness, of course!


Map of Lyr, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

Gazetteer: index of places, with descriptions. Or...

TOUR LYR! Climb volcanoes, swim seas, meet weird creatures. First: survival tips! Then, pick a region:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn

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