A/N: :::grin::: I said I'd write it, Vyse! Especially after I gave you all those spoilers! Did you think I was bluffing? ^.- And thank you very much for proof-reading and being my guinea pig!
Special Notes: Certain aspects of gryphons I borrowed from Mercedes Lackey while other things I researched or made up. However, Mindspeech is the main concept I borrowed from Ms. Lackey. (Read her books! They're really awesome!) I do not know if Ms. Lackey intended anything that I like to call "Mindsong", but I'm using that idea as well. Also, the idea of "Student" and "Soldier" Classes of Irken society seems to have been created by Aliet Faslami. Irken date reckoning in this story was created by me.
Disclaimer: Invader Zim doesn't belong to me. The wonderfully insane show belongs to Jhonen Vasquez. Bow before his iron fist!Chapter 1: Rejected, Lost, and Found
The fourth day in the month of Slendi in the one hundred fifty-seventh year of reign of Tallests Purple and Red would be a day one invader would never forget and never truly forgive.
It was Zim's first day back from Earth after six weeks of interstellar travel. (New travel techniques had been introduced to the Irkens after the conquering of the space-faring Vlenda race.) He had come with his loyal yet insane SIR unit to resupply on several necessities. He had a meeting with the Tallests that afternoon.
While Invader Zim whistled and hummed, eagerly anticipating seeing the Tallests in person once more, the tallest Irkens dreaded the meeting. Zim had been sent away to be killed, and now he was back…even if it was only for a week.
"I can't take it anymore!" Red shouted to his co-ruler, making the purple-eyed Irken jump. "It's been…what?! A year?! Two?! And he's still alive?!"
Purple's left eye twitched. He had no affection for the smallest and most destructive Irken in history either. "We have to be patient…"
"Patient? Patient?! Purple, I've been patient! This has to end now!"
"And what do you propose we do about Zim?" Purple sneered. "Tell him the truth?"
This made both Tallests pause. As Purple thought over what he'd just said, a slow smile crept over Red's face.
"You're not thinking about really doing it…are you?" the purple-eyed Tallest asked.
"Why not? Once he knows that his mission's a fake, he'll be out of our antennae. We send him on his merry little way back to Earth and never hear from him again. That would be good, right?"
The Student Tallest shifted. "Well, yes, it would…"
"So let's do it!"
Purple thought for another moment, then nodded decisively. "All right, but I'll tell Zim. It'd be better than letting you do it."
That afternoon, Zim stood before his leaders, GIR standing next to him. Both saluted smartly, though GIR had that familiar idiotic grin on his face. (Purple was secretly impressed that the SIR unit still functioned after being built entirely out of trash with no AI chip.)
"My Tallests, I thank you for meeting with me. It's an honor to be in your presence once more!"
The Student Tallest's squeedily spooch twisted. So trusting. Not a clue that he was going to lose that "secret mission" he had been sent on. The enthusiasm in his voice proved it.
Still, it was that enthusiasm that had earned him getting exiled from Irk forever.
However, Purple wished at that moment that he could've been of the Soldier Class like his co-ruler. Soldiers didn't feel any sort of attachment to anything except their leaders and the glory of the empire and themselves. Students did.
"Yes, yes, Zim. It's nice to see you, too," Red said, waving off Zim's enthusiastic greeting with a clawed hand and not really meaning what he said. "Listen, we have something important to tell you about your mission…"
Zim visibly tensed, GIR giggling beside him. "I know I'm behind the other invaders," Zim said slowly. "There have been several problems thus far in the invasion. But I will conquer them for your glory, My Tallests! Those stinkbeasts will fall to the Irken Armada and shall spend the rest of their lives serving only you!"
'He just had to say that,' Purple thought, his squeedily spooch twisting even more from the guilt.
"Zim, it's about Earth…" the purple-eyed Tallest began, but Zim was already in the middle of his enthusiastic speech of conquering the "pathetic humans".
After several more minutes of Zim's ranting, Red lost all control and forgot his earlier agreement with his co-ruler. "Zim, there is no mission!"
The invader immediately stopped speaking. The sound of GIR's high-pitched squealing as it ran around the room the only thing interrupting the all-consuming silence.
"No…mission…?" Invader Zim slowly asked. "Surely, you're joking…"
"No, I'm not!" Red snapped.
"Red!" Purple called, waving for his co-ruler's attention.
However, now it was Red's turn to be lost in his own words as he began a vicious tirade. "We would never have sent you off on any mission unless we thought it would get rid of you! You're the most destructive force that Irk's ever known! We sent you off on that 'secret mission' because we thought there was nothing there! But, no! By the First Tallest, you found a planet! Then you started your pathetic attempts to conquer Earth and continually report in your insane ideas and failures!"
With each stinging word, the tiny Irken flinched. "But…you assigned me…gave me an advanced SIR unit…"
"GIR is a piece of garbage!" Red roared in anger. "Purple put it together from bits he found in a trash can!" As the insane SIR unit ran by, the red-eyed ruler snatched it and, using his claw-like fingers, tore open the back of it. "See?!"
GIR screamed in agony as the infuriated Tallest ripped him apart. "Master! Help!"
Purple gaped as Zim rushed forward, crimson eyes wide with horror and shouting, "GIR!"
A pair of guards rushed in and grabbed the invader who was forced to watch as the only real friend he'd ever had was torn to pieces. He cussed and twisted in the guards' grip, but couldn't break free.
Within moments, GIR's head was ripped free from its body. Bright blue eyes faded out, empty and lifeless.
The tiny Irken's fight left him. He stared in shock as the last piece of his loyal companion ceased to function.
"We want you to leave, Zim," Purple quietly told the horrified Irken.
The now ex-invader was released. Without the guards' support, he actually fell to his knees, staring, unblinking, at the remains of his former comrade.
No one said a word as Zim slowly rose to his feet, walked over to GIR's head, and placed a gentle clawed hand on it. The Tallests watched in fascination as Zim closed his eyes, his antennae quivering.
"Then this belongs to you," the banished Irken stated, slipping a claw under his collar and retrieving a tiny, glittering pendant.
It was a Master Key. In the event that any inhabitants of any conquered planet gained control of an Irken complex, the invaders had a way in that no override could block. It was also the symbol of accomplishment. Zim had earned it a dozen times over before the disaster of Operation Impending Doom I when, for some strange reason, his mind had suddenly snapped, causing a fire to burn half of Irk.
To surrender a Master Key was to admit defeat and to welcome utter rejection.
Not even Red could say an angry word to the Irken who offered up his Master Key. The red-eyed ruler nervously fingered the chain that held his Master Key.
"Keep it," Purple's voice suddenly whispered.
One crimson eye looked up at the ruler of the owner. "My Tallest?"
Purple had surprised himself when he told Zim to keep the Master Key, but he continued, "Keep it as a reminder of Irk. I don't think we have to worry about you breaking into any Irken facilities where you're going."
A pause. "No. You won't, My Tallest."
Zim turned with military efficiency and walked away, eyes focused on nothing but the floor.
"Do you want us to remove the trash, My Tallests?" a servant asked, motioning to GIR's remains.
"Take it to my quarters," Purple ordered. "I wanna know why it worked."
"Yes, My Tallest."
After the two rulers sat in silence for ten minutes, Red stated, "It's over."
"I suppose so."
Zim walked with his head held down. He couldn't go back to Earth. Dib would be gloating to no end. Besides, his life on Earth was over. His life as an Irken was over.
He was a disgrace. All those times the Tallests had told him that he was a great invader were all lies. The entire empire must've been laughing at him.
Somehow, Zim found himself on barren, charred ground. He had left the city and – judging the positions of the twin suns – had been walking for hours. The first sun – Blejdra – was nearing the horizon. Her sister Retmal was right behind her.
Evening was fast approaching.
Excellent. That meant predators would be out soon.
Many plants and creatures on Irk had been wiped out due to the extreme pollution the Irkens had spread across their planet. Those plants and creatures that did survive were either under the extreme watchful eye of the Farmer Class or had mutated so much that they were barely recognizable.
Finally, in grief and exhaustion, Zim collapsed to the ground, tears falling from his eyes.
Let his end come. His story was finished.
'Mother of Irk, I want to die,' he thought as he prayed for death.
But apparently, the Mother of Irk had other plans.
High above the charred landscape soared a feathered and furred creature right out of an Earthen legend. Impressive taloned-forelegs differed from paw-like hind legs. A long tail ending in a tuft of hair ended the long sleek body that melted from feathers in the front to fur in the back. Two large feathered wings stretched from the back to catch the most minute of air currents. Two golden eyes glared intensely out of the feathered face over a wickedly curved beak. Two small ear tufts – hardly noticeable – decorated the sleek head.
Windsinger was a white gryphon with black bars decorating her wing feathers and the tuft of hair at her tail also black. She was simply patrolling her pryde's territory while her mate and other gryphons patrolled other sections of their territory.
Though they shared the same planet, gryphons tended to stay away from the Irkens and their cities. Communication was next to impossible. Irkens didn't trust the gryphons' strange abilities of Mindspeech and Mindsong and their manipulation of energies the Irkens simply couldn't understand, and the gryphons were equally unable to trust of the Irkens' technologies. After all, the Irkens feared that the gryphons could simply look around in their minds without any problem or simply destroy them on a whim while the gryphons were angry at the damage technology had brought to this planet.
This had not always been so. When these winged creatures had come to this planet as refuges using a Gate from the third planet in the Sol System, the Irkens had marveled and had welcomed them, surprised and delighted that they weren't alone in the universe after all. The gryphons had been equally surprised and delighted, glad that their desperate risk to find a planet similar to the one they had left had worked and had found creatures that were willing to let them stay. Peace between the two species reigned for millennia.
That is, it reigned while the Irkens lacked great technology. As they became more and more advanced, pouring more and more attention into their technology, the gryphons rejected it, perfectly content with their way of life and simply developed their own unique abilities to master the strange and mysterious energies that were present on all planets. As the Irkens rejected nature, the gryphons began to fear that they would be simply pushed off this planet like they had been on their old planet.
A treaty was set into place that one third of Irk would be solely for the gryphons' own purposes while the rest went to the Irkens. The gryphons agreed immediately, thankful that their way of life would be preserved.
But over the years the poisons the Irkens let bleed into their planet began to affect the gryphons' third of the planet as well. The gryphons worked hard to keep their part of the planet clean, but it didn't work. More and more Misborn were being born every year, and more and more of the children had to be killed out of mercy since there was no way they would live for long on their own.
This was the situation that Windsinger had been born into. Attempts to make contact with the Irkens had been shaky and extremely iffy. Neither side knew exactly what to say or do around the other side. The situation was currently deadlocked.
Something small below her caught her attention. It lay still on the ground, an easy target. Windsinger would've licked her lips if she'd had any. She hadn't stopped for any sort of meal all day due to the fact that the game in this area was scarce. That small thing would be a perfect snack.
She circled lower, its features becoming more and more clear to her. Its skin was a deep emerald green, and two thin antennae stood out straight over its head. It wore some sort of strange device on its back and wore a red striped shirt along with black gloves and boots.
Sighing, she began to pull out of her circling. No meal here. Due to past loyalties, gryphons under no circumstances attacked or killed Irkens. Devouring an intelligent species made them sick to their stomachs.
Something in the back of her mind heard something. It sounded like a weak flute that was badly beaten and broken. She paused.
:What on Irk? Where's that Mindsong coming from?: she asked herself.
She circled lower, the weak fluting sound continued its mournful "tune". As she drew closer to the Irken, it grew stronger, leading her to the source.
:The Irken? No. They lost that ability millennia ago…Didn't they?:
The white gryphon landed softly nearby. Without the wind whistling in her ears, she could now hear the soft sobbing of the Irken as it lay on the ground.
She approached slowly, her neck stretched out and her wings folded. Using her limited sense of smell, she picked up the scents of oil and machinery, scents that made her want to retch. Her eyes studied the Irken as he – clearly the Irken was male – continued to sob. The mournful flute sound in the back of her mind changed as the Irken's sobs grew sometimes more forceful and sometimes more pathetic.
:Irkens don't have emotions,: the voice of an Elder reminded her in her mind. :They care for little but conquest.:
:Shut up, Nightstalker, you old has been,: she snapped back at it. :They have to have emotions! Otherwise this little guy wouldn't be crying!:
She now stood right next to the little male Irken. She nuzzled her beak against the Irken's tear-stained cheek. He simply continued to cry, leaning into this unknown source of comfort, the fluty Mindsong speaking without words of ultimate rejection.
Windsinger couldn't help but feel pity for him. From what little they knew about current Irken society, she knew that being part of the Irken Empire was something that all Irkens clung to. To be rejected by the Empire was to be rejected from life itself.
She lay down next to the Irken, curling around him as her maternal instincts took over. Due to a miscarriage caused by a poison in their benala – the Irken equivalent of water – she and her mate had no children of her own, so she had never felt that pang of motherly affection before. Yet, it felt right to care for this lost Irken. She stretched a wing protectively over him as if she could shield him from his own species' rejection with it. She purred deep in her throat comfortingly, mentally singing a little Mindsong which included gentle clarinet-like sounds with other soft instruments to soothe him.
The gryphon half-expected the Irken to snap to full awareness and flee from her in terror. However, the Irken instead found his way to curl up against her warm, soft body, still sobbing for all he was worth. His mind actually welcomed rather than rejected the comforting Mindsong, something she couldn't remember when the last time that had happened.
Slowly, his sobbing subsided, and he fell into a fitful sleep against her. It was almost night. Blejdra had long since disappeared over the horizon, and only the upper half of Retmal could still be seen.
Something landed nearby brought her out of her half-dozing state. She turned her head to face a burgundy gryphon.
Starsong – her mate – approached her. :Windsinger, we've been waiting for you. We thought you'd gotten lost.:
:Never, love. I just couldn't leave him.:
:Who?: Starsong looked down to see what she had herself curled around. :An Irken?!:
:He's alone, Starsong. I think that his kind banished him.:
The burgundy gryphon gazed down at the small male Irken curled up against his mate. :You're sure it's alone?:
:Yes. You have to be well-educated in Mindsong for you to be able to lie with one.:
Her mate blinked. :Mindsong?:
:Believe it or not, Starsong, but this Irken has it. And I imagine that he also has Mindspeech. If that's so…: She looked up, opening her beak in a gryphonic grin.
He did the same. :Then we have the link we need to talk to the Irkens.: He stopped grinning. :But what about him?:
:He lacks a pryde and training. We'll talk the Elders into making him one of us. The pryde can teach him what he needs to know to control it, and he could become one of us.:
:Do you think that will work?:
:We have to try.:
Starsong studied the tiny Irken sleeping fitfully next to his mate. :We'll need someone to sponsor him.:
:We would work.: She gave him a gentle gryphonic grin. :Besides, now's our chance to have that child we've always wanted.:
:He's an adult Irken.:
:And once he's welcomed into the pryde, he will have to learn the ways of the pryde like any gryphlet. I intend to be the one to teach him.:
The burgundy gryphon carefully considered what his mate said before he opened his beak to grin back at his mate. :Let's do it, then.: