Private Tales Namesake

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Griffyn

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"There's a five... and a lovely four to go with it."

Keates laid his cards with a satisfied smirk on the ever-growing pile in the centre of the rough table. The three onlookers responded with appreciative murmurs and nods.

"Go on then, my man," the large soldier goaded. "You wouldn't happen to have a lovely little three in that hand of yours, would you?"

Griffyn grimaced. The Three of Flames stared him back from his hand of four, a perfectly legal move to make in these final moments of the tense game of Spine's Sundial, but Keates' words made him hesitate. He'd not want to play into the older man's hand. So he leaned back in his chair instead, and stalled for time.

"You were saying about your time in Vel Anir, Rych?"


The young man nodded. "Now there's a city knows how to put on a siege!" he said with a sage wave of his hands. "They got us all up on walls, facing off the horde that must have been literal miles below us, and they handed out these spears, yeah, with nasty little hooks in 'em!" He made a thrusting motion with an imaginary weapon, twisting his wrists on the return. "Cutting tendons, you see? Can't climb a ladder with your muscle hanging out your skin."

The others chuckled, while little Kyle made a sour face. Rych covered the boy's ears, but Kyle pushed him away with a frown.

"Didn't know you was Vel Aniri, Rych," Keates remarked.

"Not," he replied. "But gold is gold, yeah? I'd fight for the bloody orcs if they paid my way nice enough."

There was general laughter, which Griffyn shared. This was certainly different to his own impressions of a siege. Alliria, of course, had not suffered such while he was growing up, but he had heard the tales of mass panic and starvation, rampant disease and despair. But once the offending forces had made their intentions known against the walls of the little city of Menura, where Griffyn had only intended to spend a short night, all there had been to do was wait and to keep the walls manned. The red banners of the still unknown army on the ridge above the city were happy to bide their time, and the small force of soldiers and volunteers here in the city had no intention of rushing up to meet them.

Griffyn had joined those volunteers as soon as the call had gone out. He had only to look at the faces of the women, the children, the elderly and, following the initial assault, the critically infirm to know where he wanted to stand in this conflict. Indeed, a few bolts of flame from the top of the walls had secured him something of a name for himself among the mismatched defenders of Menura.

He now awaited his next shift in the small barracks by the north wall of the city, where he had spent most of the last three days. The rations were basic but satisfying, especially as Griffyn had arrived in the city with only a pittance to his name and limited means of paying for them. The men and boys who watched the walls with him were genuinely friendly, curious about his skills but tolerant in letting him keep his history to himself. A far cry from northern Dornoch, where everyone seemed to already know everything there was to know about him. A twist of guilt in his chest pained him as he realised he wouldn't mind if this siege never ended...

A rapping on the table pulled him from his navel-gazing.

"You're up, my man! No more dawdling!"

"Uh, sorry. Yes. I pass, then." He reached for the small deck to add a card to his hand, but was stopped by Keates' deep, theatrical voice.

"In that case, I show you a three, a two... and there's the Eye! Gentlemen, the sun has set on our boy here, and I retain my title as undefeated lord of the Sundial!"

Quiet cheers and laughter were the backdrop as Keates laid out his winning cards. Griffyn stared, and then laughed aloud.

"You're telling me you had a full run of one to five in one hand?"
he asked, agape.

Keates scratched his nose with a smirk. "What can I say? The Lady favours me!"

"You, uh, told your wife about this Lady yet, Keatesy?" intoned the heavy-set Jon, the final member of their little group.

"Best not to, eh. Would only upset the poor love."

Griffyn chuckled along as he collected up the deck of cards and handed them over to Rych, who bustled them away into his coat pocket.

"Thanks for the game, all," he said. "Same again tomorrow?"

"You know it," said Keates. "Always happy to put a young lad in his place."

Griffyn waved as the four departed, stretching out his shoulders and neck. Same again tomorrow... In full defiance of the spears leveled at the city, he would play cards again tomorrow.

"'scuse me."

He turned to the barracks entrance. Young Kyle peered back in from the streets outside.

"Your name's Griffin?"

Griffyn nodded.

"Cor," said the boy. "That's great."

And then he was gone, out into the sunshine. Griffyn smiled.

His foot brushed up against something as he made to stand. He bent down. A playing card. It must have slipped between the planks of the table when he had sorted the deck back into order. He picked up the card and turned it over. The Two of Mirrors.

Pocketing the card, Griffyn shrugged. He'd give it back tomorrow.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah sat in her dead-end corner between the shops of the baker and the fletcher. Her shoes she had taken off. Placed aside. She sat in the shadow of her corner, her makeshift spot in Menura, and endured her starvation.

She lifted her right arm. Pulled down the sleeve of her tunic and looked at the underside of her forearm.

The skin there. The skin of her feet. A lock of hair fell loose and dangled in the periphery of her eyes and yes, this as well. All different from before.

It was a quiet moment. Here now, trapped in a place she never before could have and would have come. Among them. The difference of six months of time since her transformation came to a silent manifestation, an unspoken acknowledgement of the depths of change that had occurred. Both from without. And from within.

Hahnah rocked forward onto her knees and clasped her hands fiercely together, a slight tremble to them. Her face she turned skyward, teeth clenched in a hard grimace. An undertone of vexed desperation was in her voice.

"What do You want from me?"

No answer. There had been none from the Dying God since Strathford.

"What do You want from me??"

She had never spoken in such a tone while praying before.

Hahnah pinched her eyes shut. Drew in a shuddering gasp. "Why...are You doing this to me...?"

No answer. And there was no surety in her heart as there always had been before the Dying God had actually spoken to her. No unwavering belief that the love she felt for the Dying God was in truth being reciprocated. Only a hollowness in this new silence, wherein could be found the true meaning of horror.

* * * * *​

AMONG THEM.

The last two of the five total words the Dying God had spoken to her. And that was all. He did not say why. He gave no purpose broad nor specific. He gave no reason at all why Hahnah should walk among the profane, the killers of elves, the scourge of Arethil, the cruel and the sinful: Humankind. It sickened her everyday to be subject to such evil company, however well they might mask their true intent and pretend at a veneer of goodness. Every human she passed, every time she stayed her hand and her sorcery, was perhaps another dead elf. If not an elf, then an orc. If not an orc, then a dwarf. If not a dwarf, then a komodo. Humankind was a manifest threat not only to the elves and Falwood. All who could hold love in their hearts were in danger.

And yet her hand had to be stayed. She had to permit evil to live and cruelty to spread. The small ones--the children--of those elves, orcs, dwarves, and komodi, every single one of them that she saw could be made like her. They could have their caretakers, their father and their mother, slain at any moment of any day. And she had to permit this. Because the Dying God had spoken.

And it...

It made her ill. Terribly, terribly ill.

But she persevered.

* * * * *​

Hahnah pulled down her sleeve and placed her hand on the wall of the fletcher's shop and staggered to her feet. She could not leave the city--Menura, they called it--to find food in the wild, but she needed to eat. The general rules of the city she had come to learn through trial and error. "Stealing" was not permitted. But it was either that or killing someone and eating them, and that was far riskier.

Hahnah walked out from her corner in the small alley. Left her shoes behind, not bothering to put them back on and simply going out barefoot. She despised wearing shoes. But most cities and towns and villages under normal conditions did not like people walking barefoot. Menura, however, was not under a normal condition.

Hardly anyone took more than a passing notice of her and her bare feet as she walked down one of Menura's busier roads. Though there existed some strange, thin pretense at normalcy, even though there were other openly hostile humans (Hahnah assumed that they were) on the other side of the walls who were not permitting anyone to leave.

Words she heard as she drifted:

"No, no, not too much. We wouldn't want to be seen as greedy, Daniel. We've all got to share right now. Come..."

"...wouldn't be so worried. They'll never breach the walls before Oban sends aid." "Hah.
If Oban sends aid., you mean." "You're a pessimistic fuck, you know th..."

"...knew this was coming. Didn't I tell you my grandma has visions? I told you that. This was coming to pass long..."

"...says they're gonna have those trebuchets finished by tomorrow." "We're the lucky ones, Mary, we've
got a cellar to shelter in, most..."

"Your name's Griffin?"


Hahnah stopped, and her heart stopped. She stood. Frozen. Head canted down and eyes wide with a sudden shock.

By the time she looked toward where she had heard that name, the door to the barracks was closed and there was a human boy was walking away. Hahnah's eyes shifted from the boy to the door. Her breath seemed to still in her lungs.

(was this it? was this the culmination of everything? her true purpose in being here?)

She slowly approached the barracks. The door. She laid a hand, quivering with a malnourished weakness and anticipation alike, down on the handle. Then she slowly pushed the door open.

And dared to peek her head inside.

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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Dearest Altyr,

Some day I'll write to you about the festival I passed through near to home. You would have loved it. Everyone was wearing a mask, if you can believe that!

I am writing to you from near Oban today. It's a nice little city called Menura - try to find it on the map in the study! Everyone here is very friendly, and the landscape is very pretty.

He paused, lifting the quill from the page. Best not to tell his little brother of the ongoing siege, of course, but it felt deceitful to hide such an important fact from him. What if he died here tomorrow? Would wide-eyed Altyr believe he was murdered by the "very friendly" people? Would that lead him down a path of mistrust later in his life? In fact, would he even receive the letter at all?

That was not a thought worth dwelling on, so he pushed it aside and wrote down something his brother was genuinely waiting to here.

But I haven't seen any Griffins yet!


A shout from the trapdoor leading to the roof nearly made him scratch the paper.

"Midday and all's well!" announced the ruddy face of the soldier that peered down at him from the second storey. "So if his lordship is finished with his rest, might he grace the walls of our humble city with his magnificence?"

Griffyn blinked, shaking his head. "Sorry Amon, I got distracted. I'll be up presently."

Amon gave a theatrical salute from atop the ladder, and disappeared. A frustrating fellow, and Griffyn was thankful their patrols never coincided.

He stood and returned his journal to his bunk at the far end of the room, concelaing it beneath the sheets and making sure to blow on the ink of his most recent letter so that it didn't smudge. Then he grabbed his sword from his bunkside and hopped onto the ladder.

He paused half way up, and turned to the door. Someone there? But there was no-one. Griffyn frowned. What a strange, cold feeling that had come over him.

"Griff!" Amon called. "Today!"

He put the thought out of his mind, climbed the ladder and ascended to the walls.
 
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Hahnah

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No one by the door.

Until Griffyn climbed the ladder, and Hahnah poked her head up from behind the edge of a bunk. There had been a man here in this building. A man whose face she did not yet see. The man to whom that human boy may have been talking, the man to whom the other man--unseen from the hatch in the ceiling--was calling. Who else could it be? There was no one else inside of this place.

Hahnah stood upright and walked down the length of the barracks, bare feet padding on the wooden floor. She passed the table where unbeknownst to her a card game had taken place and her cloak brushed and glided against it. She glanced at the rows of bunks, taking the opportunity to quickly scan for any food as she went. But she saw none.

Then she came to the bunk the man had gone to, where he had placed the paper. Maybe placed it--she did not see. She sat down on the edge of the bunk and exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, just breathed. That ragged feeling of weakness simmered in her legs, her arms; it had been awful in her stomach days ago, but that had stopped as she knew it would--this was not her first time starving. Menura was simply a larger Temple, one that the sun could shine in, and it had its own sealed door. One that was made not of inert stone but of a living army.

Hahnah moved the pillow aside on Griffyn's bunk. She did not see what she sought. She put the pillow back without a care for placing it as it had been. Paused for a moment. The sheets. The blanket. The pillow as well. All things from a better time, when she lived in peace with her ranger caretakers in their lodge.

She blinked. Once and then many times. Her hands were on the sheets, fingers splayed out, simply feeling them. Reminiscing.

Do not forget who took them from you.

Hahnah lifted the sheets and saw it. The paper. The man, the maybe Griffin, had been writing on it. She could perhaps find out if it was him with this, without having to place herself in danger. It was true that Griffin did not know what she looked like now, but it was also true that humans were cunning, and that he might have a way of knowing that she did not anticipate.

Hahnah took hold of the letter and held it up. She had learned a lot of things from Zael. Disturbing things about how the world worked, but also useful things. Reading was one such thing. Her caretakers had tried to teach her, but she always had trouble, and simply could not retain the concept in the normal way. Zael's knowledge of written letters and words was not perfect--far from it--but it was serviceable.

Even so, it worked best when she sounded the written words out, recognizing in her own voice the sound of the spoken words more readily than deciphering the letters upon the page by themselves.

She spoke slowly, quietly, and carefully. "Dearest...Alt-yr."

She did not know that Griffin had so soon acquired new cohorts in cruelty. If this was Griffin.

"Some day..."

Hahnah, even with Zael's absorbed knowledge, did not understand contractions in their written form. She skipped over it.

"...write to you about the festival I passed through near to home."

She could make the apparent sound of the word 'festival', but she did not know what it meant. Maybe it was a kind of forest. Her caretakers had taught her to speak Common and also a good amount of Elvish before they were killed. There were a lot more words for 'forest' in Elvish than in Common. Maybe this was a borrowed word.

"You would have loved it."

A tiny huff of air out from her nostrils.

"Everyone was wearing a mask...if you can believe that."

The meaning of the exclamation mark was lost on her--it just looked like a special stop dot to her. Why was everyone wearing a mask in that forest? If they were, why was it difficult to believe? She shook her head. It was not important.

"I am writing to you from near Oban today."

Oban was a place that she knew. She had not been there, but in this area that was southeast of the Savannah Portal Stone, Oban and Dalriada were names that she kept overhearing as she walked among them. What if...there was more than one Vel Anir? What if this Oban was a place like Vel Anir? A giant hive of humans?

"...a nice little city called Menura..."

She knew that. There was a symbol she did not know the sound of that followed. She skipped it.

"...try to find it on the map in the study."

Was that as difficult as believing everyone was wearing masks in a special forest?

"Everyone here is very friendly."

She stopped. Closed her eyes and shook her head and let out a small, nasally sigh. Humankind was exceptionally dangerous, far more than she knew even before. They could act on the evil in their hearts and fully deceive themselves that they were not. They could pretend with ruthless and unthinking proficiency to be like elves, orcs, dwarves, all of the good peoples of Arethil, while they did this.

She read the next part, "...and the landscape is very pretty."

Hahnah just sat for a moment. Thought. Thought longer.

...yes, the landscape was very pretty. Hahnah enjoyed the sight of it very much, the natural splendor and newness of it all. In that there was agreement. Truth. Even if it came from a human hand and a human heart.

She flicked her eyes back to the letter. And was about to read the last passage when...

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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"On walls!!"

The shout echoes across the plains and shuddered the roof tiles of the city's buildings as a light company made its way swiftly and boldly towards the gates from the hills above. Griffyn started forward to the edge of the wall as he was joined by fellow volunteers on his left and right, swarthy men with mismatched leather armour and weapons thick with rust. He crouched down with them below the short ledges of the north wall of Menura, watching their enemy approach. He gritted his teeth.

The aggressors were a small group of about twenty, riding light on spry horses. They carried no banners, but each wore an item of red somewhere on their persons. They advanced quickly and at an angle, moving west by south west.

"Not much of an assault," came a voice by Griffyn's side, a fellow he didn't know. He scratched his bald head as he eyed the scouts disdainfully. "They think that little of us?"

"More likely just testing reactions," said the man on Griffyn's other side. "They want to see how we respond. An' there's not much we can do with them that far out, what with...-"

"Down!!"

Griffyn looked up. Faster than he could believe, the red riders had pulled curved bows from beneath their capes, drawn and fired into the air. The deluge of pointed wood screamed down towards the walltop. People ran, and many covered their heads with their arms in a desperate bid to preserve themselves. Griffyn didn't have time to think twice. He pushed forward on his heels, right arm on the shoulders of the man to his left. The fingers of his left hand found the wood of his wand, tied to his belt. And in a hurried whisper he incanted four forceful, belligerent syllables.

The arrow made a satisfying twang like taught wire as it struck the little transparent shield of density above them, and then clattered to the floor by their feet. Little else could be heard over the moans and shouts of those who had been less fortunate. Griffyn pushed back as his bald compatriot stared at him. "You do that?"

But Griffyn was on his feet. The archers, spurred on by the lack of counterattack, swung around for another volley. He unhooked his wand and aimed his shot, accounting for distance and the mild wind, and uttered a short string of red-hot sounds from his lips.

Flame shot forth in a bright little missile of heat, arcing over the wall and landing well short. The riders continued, those that saw the attack surprised by not intimidated. Griffyn fired again, and again...

The seventh time, the flame burst in a shower of sparks against the dirt ahead of the red riders. The lead horse bolted, its master fighting for control. Another struck them from behind. And suddenly the riding crew was in chaos. After a moment to compose themselves, many holding hands over their eyes to protect themselves from further flame, they retreated for the hills.

A cheer went up around him, or perhaps more a jeer, as the people of Menura celebrated their victory. A few threw stones.

The bald soldier stood up beside Griffyn and raised a hand. "That was something else, lad!" He slapped him on the shoulder.

Griffyn staggered. He heard the shock in the men around him as he fell to one knee, seeing stars. His wand-arm was numb.

"N-Not done... so many... before..." he muttered deliriously. Then the day grew astonishingly bright, and he had to close his eyes.



He remembered the feel of hands under his arms. The heat of the day replaced with the cool interior of the barracks. He remembered the sturdy softness of the rolled sheets beneath him. He had put out his hand as he was seated on the bunk, searching the covers for his letter lest he crumple it under his weight, but it hadn't been there. He remembered the gruff words of a familiar voice:

"Pale as a ghost. Grab the lad something to eat."

He remembered lying down, the ceiling spinning. A plate of something had been placed with some reverence on the side table by his head. There was a scent in the air that he couldn't place. Something big and pink and bald loomed over him.

"Get some rest, yeah? They won't be back for a while, I'll bet. Get some rest."

He remembered rest. The room emptied as he closed his eyes and let the dark take him.
 
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Hahnah

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...the daylight from the hatch burst back into the barracks.

Hahnah was startled. They were coming. She had nowhere to go. She could not possibly get to the door and out. The bunk. Underneath the bunk.

She dropped down from the edge of the bed and went flat on the floor and rolled under the bunk by the time the first booted foot appeared on the ladder below the hatch. She brought her knees up to her chest and her cloak about herself--it was dark in tone, much like her former skin, and would blend better into the cool dimness of the barracks. It was all she could do. There was another rule of the city, one that was frustrating in its seemingly amorphous nature. Not everyone was allowed everywhere at every time. Even though Hahnah now had an appearance that allowed her to enter settlements without inviting open hostility, this rule still applied to her.

The voices of men by the hatch:

"Easy now. Easy."

"I've got him."

Footsteps. Coming closer. Coming right up to the bunk. A pause, and Hahnah thought it may be time again when she would have no other option. That she would have to slay them. And she waited always with a restrained eagerness for when such times came.

She heard something being laid on the bunk above her.

"Pale as a ghost. Grab the lad something to eat."

Footsteps. Time passing, but she knew that there was another man standing close by. Footsteps again, approaching. The sound of something being placed on wood.

"Get some rest, yeah? They won't be back for a while, I'll bet. Get some rest."

Then she heard the two sets of bootfalls walking away, and the sound of the hatch opening and closing, a general stillness following. Hahnah let out a small exhale; it felt as though she had held her breath for the whole ordeal, and the mere act brought a cool tide of relief along with it. She did not think they would return so soon. Or did they return so soon? How long had she spent reminiscing upon touching the sheets? She was not sure. The letter did not take that long to--

The letter. She felt it in her hand, becoming fully aware now that she still held it. She was not done reading it. Someone had been laid to rest on the bunk directly above her, but she did not know who. For all that she did know, this person might not be the man she thought to perhaps be Griffin, or even human. But it was safer to assume that the person was this man, and that he could very well be Griffin. She heard quiet breathing, but otherwise no sound.

Hahnah slowly brushed her cloak aside. Her eyesight was not as good in the dark as it was before, so she stretched her hand out from underneath the bed to catch better ambient light by which to read the rest of the letter. But she had to be very, very quiet.

"But I...seen any Griffins--"

Her eyes went wide and she pulled the letter back underneath the bunk. Her thoughts raced and her heart pumped with terror, rage, fervent hope and flaring hatred.

There has to be a reason. There must be a reason.

Hahnah slid out carefully from underneath the bunk. Slowly sat upright on her heels and peered at the man on the bed. His eyes were closed--he appeared to be asleep. She regarded his face. He was not Griffin, not the one who had gotten away twice. But he knew Griffin. Griffin's name in the written form was in his letter. And it was plural.

He did not know her. He was human. The rule of the city for being in the wrong place would apply to her. But she had to ask him. She was getting better at it, speaking to humans in a manner that was good for her purposes--she had practiced while walking among them. It all maybe led to this.

So she sat. Sat on the floor with perfect posture and stared intently at the sleeping man as she held the letter primly in her lap. Sat and considered all of the options available to her. Only briefly did she glance to the food on the side table. No. Back to the sleeping man. She needed to focus.

Time passed, and she made a decision on how to begin approaching this.

Hahnah reached up and across the bed and with the tips of her fingers cupped Griffyn's chin. Turned his head on the pillow to face her. Her hand retreated back to her lap and she waited patiently for him to open his eyes.

And she would say, "Are you okay?"

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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Griffyn was dreaming. He saw a man flying without the aid of wings, leaping over a mountain. He wore a golden crown, and it was the sun. The land fell to night as he passed out of sight on the horizon. Griffyn turned to face a pale elf woman in a silvery gown. "I should have told you sooner," she said.

Now he was at home. His father had given him some ledgers to work on, but had neglected to tell him they had been written in some sort of inky, illegible hieroglyphs. And his mother had asked him to keep an eye on his dinner, sitting on a plate on the kitchen table, set up incongruously in the middle of the study. She had warned him that the mice would try to get at it, so he needed to be vigilant.

He looked down, and one of the mice was sitting on the desk. Its paws smeared the ink of his father's records. It stood up on little legs and said...



"Are you okay?"

He stirred, head swimming, and opened his eyes. The light outside was dim, blocked by the closed door and shuttered windows of the barracks. His left arm was stiff as iron, and he was desperately hungry. He sat up on one elbow, facing left for some reason, and there she was. The girl was slight, fair but hollow in the cheeks and dark in the eyes. She was barefoot, and watched him with an unreadable mixture of concern and something else that made him instantly wary. He blinked his eyes back into focus, and stared at her.

"I..." he said, "...yes. Yes, I'm fine."

He took a couple of deep breaths, peering about the room. Outside, the city sounded wrought with tension, as though pulled tight by unseen hands. He could hear distant shouts for aid, the running of booted feet. He remembered the engagement at the walls. The red riders. Things were looking bleak for Menura.

He rubbed his eyes and sat up on the bed, peering down at the girl. Only then did he spot that she was elven by the points of her ears, sticking slightly through her fair hair. That was a little unusual, he thought, though he hadn't really seen Menura for long enough to make that call. Pushing his hair back into a semblance of neatness, he addressed the visitor.

"Are you... a porter?"
he asked. "I thought civilians were meant to be staying near their homes."

As the girl shifted, her dark cloak rustling on her shoulders, Griffyn saw a red sash about her slim waist. Red... He tensed. Could she be an agent, in league with those riders? An assassin, even?

He turned his head as though stretching out his neck, and checked his periphery. No sword - where had it gone? But his wand was lying on the side table, next to a plate with some slices of bread. It would have to do. He turned back warily.

"Sorry, that was rude,"
he said at length, feigning a smile. "I'm Griffyn. And you are?"

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah got a better look at his face when he opened his eyes, scrutinizing it again. Similar eyes, but his hair was not like Griffin's. It was not yellow--no, blonde, that was the special word for it. His hair was not blonde and the shape of his face was different. It was not him. But it was still somebody who knew him.

Hahnah shifted her eyes when she too heard the distant shouts, the heavy bootfalls. It was worrisome. She might not have a lot of time. Humans varied in levels of aggression, and far more aggressive humans might come back into this place. That would have been fine--even welcome--if Hahnah could leave the city at will. But she could not leave. She was trapped, and they were many. Too many.

She looked back to the man when he sat up. She had tensed slightly, unsure of what he would do. He had deigned to speak to her, but aggression came in different forms. Sometimes it was not outright. Sometimes it was patient.

Are you...a porter? I thought civilians were meant to be staying near their homes.

"Yes, I am a porter," she said, going along with the assumption despite not knowing what a porter was. She flicked her eyes down. Thought and shifted a bit. Then she looked back up and added, "I am a bad porter. I do not do my job well. I also do not have a home here to stay near."

The man stretched his neck. Hahnah sat and watched, hands rested atop one another in her lap, the letter underneath.

Sorry, that was rude...

She knew what rude meant, more from the teachings of her caretakers than her time spent in settlements, but she did not know why his question or his statement was rude. It did not seem important. She let it go.

I'm Griffyn--

Hahnah drew back ever so slightly, the pupils of her eyes narrowing with hard focus and eyebrows slowly climbing. Her fingers flexed in a tiny motion.

"My name is Hahnah," she said, a certain strained hollowness to her voice, the hallmark of a pretense of normalcy. "It is Hah...and then it is Nah...that is how my name is said."

Her face was paling.

"...Why is your name Griffin?" she asked in a small whisper.

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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He blinked.

"Ask my father," he responded with a twitch of the mouth. "I understand ornithology sort of runs in our family, so... It's just a name, I'm afraid. I've never even seen a real Griffin before!"

He trailed off. His mind whirred. If she was an assassin, then she wasn't doing a very good job. Unless she had a specific target in mind, and was required to determine whether he was it. Twice now he had used his College arts to fend off an assault on the city - it was no stretch to assume the Red Riders would send someone to deal with him specifically. Or was that just arrogance?

Hahnah had an odd way of speaking, and that was only in part due to the slight accent of her voice. She spoke as though a mummer reading from a script that hovered constantly in front of her eyes. But then again, she had admitted to being without a home. Presumably also without a family. Life on the street could do something like that to a girl, he assumed.

Or, perhaps, it was all an act.

"If you're a porter," he continued at last, "you must be delivering something? Do you have something for me? Or did you need to take something from me to somewhere else?"

He glanced at the bread his fellows had left for him.

"Did you bring this?" he asked, reaching for the plate. His hand lingered over his wand, but then took the metal plate in his hand, the wood of his weapon resting just below his knuckle. "Very kind of you. I expect you'll want the plate back."

He lifted it up and watched her carefully. A notion came to him.

"Would you like some?" he asked, taking in the pallour of her cheeks and the slight gauntness of her face. "There's not much but it's enough to share."

Hahnah
 
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Ask my father.

Hahnah had only recently learned the truth of the world--absorbed it from Zael. She learned the truth of how living things came to be, and that more of them could be made. Hahnah had lived under a misconception for all of her life save these last six months, a great misconception that there was only a finite number of living things in the world, and that they had always been. Each, in a way, precious. Unique and irreplaceable to the sum total of life on Arethil. Once lost, gone forever. And so each elven life taken was a permanent scar in its eternal absence from the world. And each human slain, once she had learned of their pervasive evil, a permanent boon.

But it was not so.

Mothers were not special friends. Fathers were not special friends. They were, but also far more than that. They were creators. They had touched the power of gods and they did not marvel at this. No one did, so far as Hahnah could tell. This man, whose name was Griffin and who also knew the other Griffin, spoke casually of his father. How was he not in awe, as Hahnah was with the Dying God? She did not know who her father and her mother truly were, and so the Dying God she felt in her heart was the closest analogy. Did...

"What do You want from me??"

She had never spoken in such a tone while praying before.

...this awe wane? And was this waning common to humans, elves, and strange elves like Hahnah all?

It took a moment for her to register the rest of what he said after that. Ornithology--a word whose meaning she did not know. Family--the true meaning of this word she discovered, like father. Just a name--not to her. Never even seen a real Griffin before. A real Griffin. A real. Griffin. All the possibilities vying for her attention from this were terrifying.

He explained what porters were through a question. Asked if she had something for him--she did not, and it would be foolish to hand him back his own letter as if it were delivered from elsewhere. Take something. Porters also took things elsewhere. How was that not "stealing"? More and more, Hahnah's preference for the wild was reaffirmed. Learning the rules of civilization was like trying to learn how to read. It seemed futile.

She opened her mouth to respond, but Griffin spoke again; it was best to let him talk. Another question. Did she bring the plate of food. She opened her mouth to speak again, and again let Griffin speak. She did not see a way to make use of what he had said.

"No, I did not bring the bread, and I do not want the plate."

Her eyes tracked the lifting of the plate from the table. Watching the plate. Watching his hand.

Would you like some? There's not much but it's enough to share.

Her breath stilled, and a low murmur of shock coursed from her heart to her limbs. She felt dizzy. A disbelief of two separate kinds struck her: that he should offer, and that she would accept.

"Yes," she said. "I would like that very much."

In the darkness there is only the faint orange glow of her eyes.

The Temple is a place of stone. She explores with a curious wonder at first. There are not many chambers. Five in total. She does not know that the outside world exists; there are no windows nor is there any light from the heavy stone door. Her world in these first months following her birth is small and confined.

And her food, the human bodies, has run out.

She tried gnawing on the bones. It was not good. There was a pain in her throat she would come to know as thirst.

She has grown a lot in these first months. But now she is too weak to move. She does not know how long it has been since she last had something to eat or drink.

On the floor she lays.

Helpless.

Hahnah reached up with a slowness that spoke of apprehension and caution. Her fingers grasped a slice of bread. She dragged it off of the plate. Brought it to her mouth. Took a bite.

She opens her eyes and the new light is blinding. She is a skeleton wrapped in flesh on the floor. The strands of her Armor have gone inert days ago.

Footsteps.

"Elurdrith! She's still alive!" says a voice, and she does not understand any of the words spoken.

More footsteps.

"Water. And bread. Not too much. There, that's good."

Her head is lifted.

And there is taste on her tongue.

A tear rolled down from the far edge of Hahnah's right eye. Down her cheek and along her jaw and gathering to drip by her chin. Another, from her left, when she took a second bite. All the rest of her body, her face, retained a quiet intensity, but her eyes flooded with the echoes of memory.

Of a better time.

All found in something so simple.

Griffyn
 
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Now she was crying.

Griffyn rubbed his eyes when he thought Hahnah wasn't looking. This was all a bit much for first thing in the morning. And it spoke of something deeper and more unpleasant that he would rather not address right now. Something about the city he was protecting.

He levered himself off the bunk and sat himself down on the floor with her, his weak left arm protesting as it was forced to take weight. It didn't feel right to be talking down to her when she was like this, and asking her to sit on the bed with him would have created the wrong connotations.

"Hey now," he said as softly as he could. "No need to be like that."

Hollow words, but they were all he could muster.

Griffyn was reminded of a time, must have been three or four years ago. The last time he had seen his sister cry. He hadn't known what to do then, either, and that impotence had hurt him more than he had been able to admit to her. This was much the same, though he didn't know this girl at all. Robyn had hugged him, back then, but surely that wasn't appropriate now. Was it? He reached out a hand to touch Hahnah's shoulder.
 
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Hahnah had not even registered them--the tears. She had not the capacity currently, not with the intense wariness of the man named Griffin before her, the trepidation of being locked in a city teeming with humans, the earnest joy of finally having something to eat and the flashes of memory that came from it, not with all of this commanding her awareness.

She watched in a guarded way as the man named Griffin came down from the bunk and sat on the floor of the barracks as well. Watched and ate and finished the slice of bread and laid her hands back into her lap.

Hey now. No need to be like that.

She blinked. Still guarded, still as yet unaware, even as the blink sent a new pair of streams down the ridges of her nose. "There is no need to be like what?"

The man named Griffin lifted a hand. Hahnah flicked her eyes to it. Tracked its movement. And she stiffed when his hand touched her shoulder as if expecting a knife to follow. She stared at his hand. Glanced back to him and then back to his hand with a manner of low grade surprise. She could kill him if she had to, but that would be dangerous. The humans of Menura were organized against the other humans outside, the "Reds" as some of the people called them, and it would be very dangerous if they organized against her. Cruelty coalesced quickly against a common enemy, and while here, trapped with them, it was best not to reveal herself as another common enemy unless it absolutely could not be avoided.

And the man named Griffin had not harmed or tried to harm her. Yet.

She looked back to him. Attempted again to figure out what he meant by "no need to be like that."

Finding an answer she thought likely, she explained, "I have not eaten since the..." (What was the word?) "...siege began."

She knew that it came with risk, but she resolved to ask for more of the bread anyway. And, just in case, she turned her hands over in her lap, her palms facing up and the letter beneath them. A perfectly circular hole was cut into the palms of her gloves each...where her sorcery could manifest unimpeded. Just in case.

"I would very much like another."

After a second.

"Please."

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn removed his hand stiffly and replaced it on the floor to steadying himself. He nodded, eyes down at the brickwork beneath them.

"Nothing," he said. "It's fine." After all, what was the use in saying there was no need to be sad? Here and now, in this cage of a city, what other choice did they have?

She asked for more, adding that she hadn't eaten in three days. He found he could not deny her. With a smile he handed the plate of bread to her.

"Go ahead," he said. "I'm not hungry anyway."

He doubted there was another attack planned for the near future, meaning he had plenty of time to find a meal another time. So not a lie. Just... not true presently.

A sudden crash as the door to the barracks was kicked open. Griffyn spun, his face flushed, to see Amon as he leaned into the long chamber.

"His lordship is awake," the surly man interred. "You're needed."

Amon frowned past Griffyn to Hahnah, eyes narrow.

"Who the fuck's this?"

Griffyn had had about as much of this man as he cared for. He placed the plate of food on the ground beside Hahnah and stood up slowly, brushing his knees off, and cast the man a sardonic look.

"A porter."


"Then get her to port your arse over to the main thoroughfare," Amon replied with a wry smile. "Your presence is requested, by a real Lord."

Griffyn frowned. His imagination set possibilities before him, one by one, but none ended well for him. He sighed, and shook his head.

"On my way."

He took a couple of steps toward the door before stopping, turning to face Hahnah again. What of her? Was he supposed to just abandon her to this state she was in? Was there really nothing else he could do for her?

"Hey Hahnah," he said, "would you mind accompanying me? There may well be something I could use your help with."

That way he could keep an eye on her. That way he knew for certain she wasn't suffering in some alleyway, alone and afraid.

"Unless you'd rather not,"
he added a little too quickly.

Hahnah
 
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To ask for benevolence from Humankind was fraught with danger. She had experimented with it since her transformation, now that she was at least tolerated within settlements. It was very rare that her requests, however small, were granted. Those instances she could not readily explain. But those where her requests were denied, where her requests were seemingly invitations to aggression, some to the point of having to slay her aggressors and flee the settlement or the area, those she could explain. She already knew. She had known it the day she had first encountered Humankind--the very same day that her caretakers were killed by them.

Here was an instance that she could not readily explain. The man named Griffin had handed her the plate of bread. Maybe it was that, in this case, they shared a common enemy: the Reds. What made humans the most dangerous creatures on Arethil was how quickly and strongly they could band together, to put aside their own cruelties inflicted upon one another, against such. Even if that common enemy was another group of humans.

Hahnah accepted the plate of bread with a nod, the metal quivering slightly in her grasp. She set it down in her lap and ate with a growing rapidity, a desperate yearning from her stomach for sustenance. Her eyes never left Griffyn's. She watched him. She watched his hands.

Until there was a loud crash. The door of the barracks. Kicked open. Hahnah, the last slice of bread in her hands, snapped her head over to look and saw another human man down the length of the building. He spoke. Not to her. To the man named Griffin.

Then he saw her. Spoke of her. Who the fuck's this?

I have to do it now. I have to kill them before they kill--

A porter, said the man named Griffin. His answer seemed to blunt the sharpness of the other human's aggression. She had been close to summoning a halo of Knives, of launching the magic at both men simultaneously, and then running to a good place to make her final stand. But it was not necessary. The evil in their hearts was focused solely on the Reds still.

Hahnah finished the last slice of bread as the man named Griffin stood. Then he stopped. Spoke to her.

It was a good idea to accompany him, despite how hard it was to admit. The situation was extreme. She was trapped in a place filled with humans by other humans, and the two distinct groups were hostile to one another. They were sinners all. Profane things who darkened Arethil. But if she could work with one side to kill at least half of the humans here, the Reds, without raising the ire or suspicion of the other half, then that was better than being an enemy of the entire mass of Humankind in and around Menura.

This man, who was to her displeasure also named Griffin, might be a way in. And as well, she still needed to ask questions of him.

She set the plate down on the floor and absently held the letter in one hand and stood. Said, "I will accompany you."

She gasped. And a look of surprise came over her. It was here that Hahnah finally became aware of the wetness on her face, the slight watery blur in her vision. She understood at once why it had happened, and she also understood that it was perilous to show weakness so blatantly in the face of Humankind. It was all she could do to quickly wipe at her face with the edge of her cloak, to dry it as best she could, and then try to direct his attention away from what had happened.

She let go of her cloak and walked up beside the man named Griffin and held out his own letter to him. "This belongs to you. I was curious." No, that didn't sound exactly right. "I was...nosy. That is why I read your letter even though it does not belong to me."

Hopefully that was enough.

Griffyn
 
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A flash of anger, a twinge of suspicion. But then he saw sense. Griffyn forced a smile as he took his letter from her hands.

"Not to worry," he told her. "If I wanted it kept private I shouldn't have left it lying around."

He folded the letter and slid it into the pocket of his jacket. He would finish it later. Perhaps even send it.

"Oi, the Lord awaits!" called Amon, already outside.

Griffyn rolled his eyes, and winked at Hahnah.

"We can't be having that," he said.



The main street of Menura was wide enough for two carriages to pass through side by side, though right now the roads were eerily silent. Groups of 'soldiers', little more than everyday civilians with weapons, moved up and down like packs of dogs, eyes watching the buildings and alleys with a sinister tension. The afternoon sun bore down on them.

Wagons had been set up on either side of the road, blocking off this central stretch of paving from easy access to the tall gates at the east and west sides of the city. Between these makeshift walls sat a long, stone building with a wide set of double doors, emblazoned with a winged emblem that Griffyn assumed was that of the ruling Lord. Amon gave a theatrical sweep of his arms at the entrance, and Griffyn stepped by and into the shade, turning briefly to make sure Hahnah was following.

Inside the room was a long table bearing a map of the city. What looked like chess pieces had been arranged at various points to denote the movement of soldiers and supplies. Three knights arrayed the hills to the north, west and south - the Red Riders. The walls were decorated with an odd collection of watercolours depicting scenes of idyllic and peaceful nature, strikingly at odds with the militant use of the building. A group of men, better dressed than the packs outside, bickered over some detail of strategy or another, though they ceased their argument to fix the newcomers with narrowed eyes.

"Through here, sir." A lad waved to Griffyn and gestured to the plain door on the opposite wall. He approached, and the door was opened for him. Griffyn paused at the threshold, beckoning Hahnah closely on. He didn't want her loitering about with the locals, not with the mood they were clearly in.

The room beyond was a study, complete with desk, books and maps along the walls. It retained the subterranean cool of the stone, while a set of oil lanterns on the walls generated a welcome amount of heat and light. Griffyn heard the door close behind them, and stood up straight, hands folded in front of him. He was about to meet nobility, after all.

The woman behind the desk was severe, grey-haired and with keen blue eyes that felt like they could pierce directly into Griffyn's memories. Her wrinkles were minor, but had formed to tell a tale of disappointing subordinates, humourless meetings and a lingering, quiet fury. She was dressed simply but in fine blur fabrics, and a winged broach adorned her breast. Beside her desk stood a smaller man, thin as a pole, who had a ream of paper and a quill ready in his arms.

Both nodded to Griffyn as they entered, but to Hahnah they reacted differently. He with wide, fearful eyes and she with a narrow, suspicious clench of the jaw. But the moment passed, and their faces relaxed. The woman did not smile, Griffyn would learn that she never did, but her manner softened visibly.

"Welcome to Medura," she said, "Master Griffyn von Spurling of Alliria."

Griffyn nodded in acceptance, though his heart was presently sinking. It seemed his curse to always be recognised eventually for who he was. Perhaps it would save him a lot of this bother if he changed his name. "Madam," he replied, "you have me at a disadvantage. Might you be..." He trailed off.

"You were expecting a man to be the Lord of the city?"

He shrugged, looking at the floor. His stomach tried to growl its hunger, so he pressed his palms harder into his gut to silence it.

"A fair mistake. I am Lady Eloise Sunderland, wife to Lord Sunderland of Medura. My husband is a busy man, and so often leaves matters of city governance in my care. He is unfortunately bedridden at present, up in the manor where you were no doubt expecting to be escorted."

"A pleasure," Griffyn said with a bow. "I must wonder, however, what the ruler of this fair city would need with an itinerant foreigner such as myself."

"Yes indeed, there is much that I would ask of you this day. Much that you could do for our city in this time of crisis, Master von Spurling. And you shall be compensated, make no mistake."

She paused, and her gaze shifted to Hahnah. Her brow narrowed, her shoulders tensed. Griffyn could only watch.

Hahnah
 
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Returning the letter worked out much better than she had thought. There was anger, but that was expected. He did not outright attack her and force her magic, and he seemed to be distracted now from her earlier showing of weakness. It worked out well. For once. Her trial and error in walking among them more often consisted of error.

The other man called to him. And the man named Griffin winked at Hahnah. The meaning of the gesture was somewhat lost on her, but she knew that it was a positive one. And that was a good sign.

She followed after him. Relieved that what the other man had said about "porting Griffin's arse over to the main thoroughfare" was, as it increasingly appeared, not a serious command.

* * * * *​

Her bare feet padded softly on Menura's main street, and it did not bother her. She could feel the warmth of the sun--contained in the smooth paved surface of the road--on the soles of her feet. And though the road was made by Humankind the stone itself had come from Arethil.

Hahnah saw the emblem that featured the wings upon the doors of the structure they approached. She adored the beauty of wings--creatures with wings, people with wings. All of them were like butterflies. It was perverse to her that humans would try to reach for that beauty, to try to partake from it, copying its likeness upon their buildings and upon other things.

She followed the man named Griffin inside. She walked and her eyes took in her surroundings, darting there and absorbing what she saw, darting here and absorbing what she saw. Civilization and the structures that defined it were unnatural. Things of sharp corners, narrow spaces, straight and rigid lines. In ways sometimes small and sometimes big, every building save the lodge that belonged to her ranger caretakers subconsciously reminded her of the Temple. Of a world that was confined to a tiny box.

One that she did not want to get lost or locked within. It was bad enough that she was locked inside the city.

So she stayed close behind the man named Griffin. Followed him through the threshold into the study. The dawning realization that she was in the center, or close to the center, of the fairly large mass of humans that was Menura came upon her. A wonder, one that terrifying and disdainful, that she was here in a beating heart of her enemy, of the enemy that plagued all of Arethil. And this thought would be affirmed soon.

Hahnah stood beside Griffin in the study. Her posture was superb, but her hands she kept at her sides instead of folded in front of her. She did not think to mimic Griffin's stance, thinking it unimportant.

Before them. A human woman who also clutched at the beauty of wings with her broach. A gaunt man beside the desk. They were not armored. They would be easy to kill if she had to. When walking among them, it had proven invaluable to have at least a plan to kill every human around her immediate vicinity--if and when their cruelty overtook them. Getting away was the more difficult part.

Griffin (whose name was also von Spurling of Alliria) and Eloise Sunderland spoke. And here Hahnah was prepared, for she had known what "masters" and "mistresses" were from her interactions with Pretty Boy and Reginald, and "Lords" and "Ladies" were different names for the same thing. What surprised her though was that Griffin von Spurling of Alliria was a human master of other humans. That made him especially dangerous, but also, in this extreme and unprecedented case, especially good for her.

Eloise looked at Hahnah. Hahnah returned her gaze, showing no fear.

"My name is Hahnah. I am an itinerant foreigner too, and there is much I can do for the city as well. I do not wish to be compensated. I am a bad porter, but I am a better slayer of men and monsters."

Her voice became as cold as her gaze was intent.

"I will kill many Reds, and I will spare none."

That is what a human mistress would want to hear.

Griffyn
 
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The atmosphere of the room grew dense as Hahnah's words sank in. The scribe had paused in his note-taking to look at the girl with horrified fascination, and Lady Sunderland eyed her darkly, inscrutibly. Griffyn's eyes were wide as he took her in. What has been done to you, he wondered.

He cleared his throat. "Hahnah has been very helpful around the city," he told the Lady. "She happened to mention that she doesn't have anywhere to sleep. I was actually hoping I could ask about finding her accommodation. Seeing as she is supporting our defences.

"And don't listen to her,"
he added with an attempt at a wry grin. "She's actually a very good porter."

Lady Sunderland nodded. "I see. I am also pleased to witness the fighting spirit of the civilian population of our city. However, let me confirm..." She fixed her eyes on Hahnah. "You said you are not in fact from this city originally? Where do you hail from? Why are you visiting our city?"

Griffyn watched Hahnah closely, also curious about her answer. It was clear that Lady Sunderland also feared what he did, that Hahnah was a spy from the other side, sent to scope out defenses and perhaps remove key targets. But if that was the case, she wasn't doing a very good job.
 
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The silence she regarded as good. The look on the scribe's face she regarded as better. Her attempt to persuade the human mistress had gone well--she had shown the right aptitude and demeanor for cruelty.

Griffin spoke, and Hahnah glanced to him as he did. And, curiously, he said things that were not true to the other master, the female mistress. The lying came as no surprise. Hahnah needed to learn how to lie, and how to lie well, in order to merely survive inside of a human settlement--still she had much to learn and improve upon. What was surprising and curious about it was that he lied on her behalf. She did not think the practice of lying was done for any other purpose than the benefit of oneself.

She stayed quiet about it. Returned her gaze to Eloise.

Questions. Now it was her turn. To lie and to tell the truth and to mix the two so that they could not be distinguished.

"I am from Falwood. The exact place that I am from in Falwood has no name. I did not stay there. I--"

(Kylindrielle. Elurdrith)

"--became a ranger. This did not last very long. My fellow rangers--"

(whom I loved)

"--were killed. I found a new purpose as--"

(a slayer of humans. a cleanser of profane things)

"--a porter. But I have not forgotten from where I have come, and what I used to be."

(from a place of love, and at peace with the world)

Hahnah stared down at Eloise with eyes benumbed to the sight of blood and death. The dead look that soldiers inured to the intense shock and violence of battle wore on their faces. It was the look that Hahnah knew a human mistress would want to see, and yet it also came naturally to Hahnah when she spoke of such things.

"I am visiting this city because I am looking for a friend. His name is Griffin."

She turned her head slightly, but did not move her eyes from Eloise.

"He is not this Griffin. He also does not appear to be here as I had thought."

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Griffyn looked down at her, shocked. So that was what this was all about? A mistaken name? After a moment, he laughed aloud.

"Sorry," he said once he had control of his humour. "That's quite funny, though. I've never met another fellow named Griffin."

Lady Sunderland appeared to still be mulling over Hahnah's story. "I see," she said at last. "A ranger of Falwood, is it? Well, I am sure your talents can be put to better use than through just fetching and carrying." She nodded, as though coming to a decision.

"Now that we are acquainted, the reason for your summoning," she continued. "Master von Spurling, you are aware that you have made something of a name for yourself among the defenders of our city. We are priviledged indeed to have a College-trained magician among our ranks, and you have already shown your worth many times over."

Griffyn cleared his throat. "Not strictly College-trained, madam. You could say I was trained by the College-trained. It's really nothing much to speak of."

"Regardless, it sets you above the rank and file. As does your pedigree. It is no secret to those of us with ears in the right rooms that you have a lineage that speaks of wealth and greatness. Master von Spurling, I would instigate you as a Commander of the City, if I may."

After a moment of initial shock, he frowned. "I am no leader of men, my Lady. I have not been trained in leading armies, or even individuals. And anyone who has played me at cards will know that I do not possess much in the way of strategic thinking."

"Nevertheless, the people of Medura look up to you. Trust me when I say that it will do the spirits of the men good to hear someone with authority reminding them what common sense looks like. That is all I shall require of you. In return, I could always make the appointment official once we are freed of this ghastly seige. A title, however minor, will no doubt fare you well for your continued travels. I could even have a medal made up if you like."

Sunderland glanced at her scribe, who nodded quickly and scribbled something down. Once she did, and before Griffyn could protest further, she had turned to Hahnah.

"And a Commander will require specialised assistance to perform his duties efficiently. He may even become a target for the enemy. You, my dear, strike me as someone who could effectively provide an asset in both cases. To watch his back, as well as to deliver his messages.

"The position," she continued over Griffyn's protestation, "would of course come with a salary, meals and accommodation. For both of you."

Griffyn faltered, and looked down at the stone floor, brow creased. This was not what he wanted. He had not come here to gain fame, glory and status. He just wanted to see the way the world worked from a different angle. This felt wrong, as though he was once again resting on his laurels.

But Hahnah was without a home, and was clearly without much. He would remember her tears vividly. This would help her. He could help her, and the people of this city, if he accepted.

"In that case," he said hesitantly, "I suppose, if there are no problems with that..."

He glanced at Hahnah. Would she agree? Would she willingly tie herself to him in order to remove herself from vagrancy? Or would this be a stifling chain to her?
 
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Hahnah's eyes did move once the man named Griffin laughed, glancing to him in a sideways manner. Though she was puzzled she did not show it outwardly. This was strange. The female, Eloise, acted in the manner that Hahnah would expect from a human master--even though she had until Menura not been in the presence of one. Griffin von Spurling of Alliria, who was a master as well, did not seem this way. She could not fathom why other humans would follow him, since he did not exude a potential for malice and cruelty to awe them. How did he control them?

She blinked. He has never met another human man named Griffin. And this, because she had read the letter, she knew to be true. That was what the word with the straight mark between the letters--whose sound she did not know--must mean. Haven-td. It was close to saying have and not. Many people in their speech said have and not as have-ent, and there was some way involving that straight mark to write it like that too. That changed what she had read at the end dramatically. She had been mistaken. He had not seen and he did know Griffin, or any other men named Griffin. Why he would make a special note of it in his letter to the recipient named Alt-yr she did not know. She resolved to ask him about it later. It might arouse his ire, but it could be worth the risk.

Eloise spoke. Hahnah returned her attention to the human mistress, and it seemed that she had succeeded in appealing to the mistress's sinful heart.

Hahnah, as Eloise spoke further with Griffin, did not know what "College-trained" meant, but she knew what "magician" meant. One with magic. And that was even more dangerous than armored men. She knew firsthand how deadly magic could be. The words "pedigree" and "lineage" were also lost on her.

Commander. That word she did know. She knew it from the Vel Anirians, from Commander Velcheck. As Griffin went on to say, a leader of men. And those men were ones who were explicitly engaged in war--mass killing. Menura was preparing to enter into a war with the Reds. And so far as Hahnah could see, that meant dead humans. The irony that every human involved would be doing Arethil an inadvertent good was not lost on her.

Eloise's attention came back to Hahnah. And it was confirmed that she would, indeed, be able to kill humans who were Reds with no repercussions. It was...strange...to be protecting a human. Especially a human who just so happened to be named Griffin. But it was the best choice available to her, and she would choose it gladly. The celery (the human mistress had pronounced this in a peculiar way), the meals that came with the celery, and the temporary lodging were all small bonuses. She valued none of those as highly as the chance to cleanse Arethil of the profane at low risk.

"There is no problem. I will kill Reds at Commander Griffin's discretion, and I will kill anyone who threatens him. For this purpose, I am eager." After a second, she added, "I will also deliver his messages."

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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"Th-Though, of course," Griffyn added to the Lady, glancing sidelong at Hahnah, "the preferred option will be to end this without bloodshed. Right?"

He eyed Hahnah worriedly. It was clear now that he had assumed, then assumed again, on the nature of this fiery girl. First, that she was dangerous. Then, that she was vulnerable and in need. And now he was right back where they had started.

"I won't be expected to lead any raids, I hope," he continued to Lady Sunderland. "After all, the defence of the civilian population is above all else. That should be where we focus our resources and attention, I imagine."

The Lady nodded. "Of course," she replied. "As you say. Our mission has always been to await reinforcements from the capital."

"Forgive me," Griffyn asked, "but how long is that likely to take?"

The scribe answered this one. "Another two weeks or so. Less if the King is kind enough to deploy the Griffins."

"We can only hope," Lady Sunderland continued. "In either case, it appears a Griffin shall be our salvation. Now..."

While she opened a drawer in her desk, Griffyn was left to wonder at the absurdity of a joke spoken by such a severe woman, and without even a smile. He blinked as she handed something to him.

"To mark your new status," she explained.

Griffyn took the fabric in hand. A short stretch of navy blue cloth, no design or amendment made to it. He frowned - this felt a little too much like how the Red Riders seemed to be denoting loyalty. This, above everything, was a symbol that reconciliation would not be easy.

There were two strips of blue cloth in his hands. He rested one on his shoulder, to tie around his upper arm later. The other he handed to Hahnah.
 
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Hahnah

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Without bloodshed. Hahnah matched Griffin's sidelong glance when he said that. It was a very strange thing for a human master, for a commander--even if newly made--to say. Would he have spoken differently if her ears were not pointed? If it appeared as though he were in the sole company of other members of Humankind?

Back to the human mistress. The word "civilian" Hahnah had a passing familiarity with. At first, when her caretakers had used it on occasion, she had thought it to mean "those who are not rangers." The word more accurately seemed to mean "those who do not fight." Though they did not fight, civilian humans still supported those that did. They were not the hand that wielded the sword, they were the hand that made it. There were humans somewhere on the vast expanse of Arethil, whose loathsome faces Hahnah could never know, who made the weapons and armor that helped kill Kylindrielle and Elurdrith, who grew the food that fed the hunters who did this, who had birthed these hunters, and so on. What civilian did not mean to Hahnah was "devoid of danger, and free of guilt."

So it did make sense that Griffin and Eloise agreed that the civilian population needed to be defended. They who waged war and killed did so far better with support.

...if the King is kind enough to deploy the Griffins.

Hahnah's eyebrows hopped upward, briefly, before she could assume again her hard, neutral expression in the presence of the human mistress. What did that mean? What did that mean?? Hahnah had pondered at the idea behind the plural Griffins she had seen in this Griffin's letter. She considered the possibility that a "Griffin" was a special human, one who was especially cruel and whose cruelty was revered by others, an accomplished killer of elves or other good peoples of Arethil, or something of that profane nature. She had discarded this possibility, thinking it mostly unsubstantiated. But now. Now. It had come roaring back to her. It remained open.

Calm. Control. Temperance. Patience. These were the things she had greatly improved upon while walking among them, and she would need these now more than ever if she was to survive.

A Griffin shall be our salvation. For Strathford, it was not. He--the Griffin Hahnah wanted to kill more than any other human--had abandoned the town and gotten away twice. Twice she had defeated, but had been unable to kill, him. If he came to Menura, if his path and Hahnah's own crossed yet again...it would be providence.

Hahnah nevertheless accepted the blue cloth from Griffin (von Spurling of Alliria) when he handed it to her. She took note of the way he had his own blue cloth on his person and copied him, tossing it upon her shoulder and letting it rest there.

She kept quiet, and would follow Griffin's lead.

Griffyn
 
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Griffyn

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Griffyn eyed Hahnah curiously as he tied the armband to his upper arm, watching as she copied him. Truly she was as one from a whole other world. In an unfortunately condescending way, it was pretty amusing. It was also reassuring. Had he not set out from Alliria to see the world from another perspective? To meet people who walked a totally different path to his own? Hahnah, then, was exactly who he should have been looking for.

He smiled at her, but it was short lived. Yet more questions...

"What can you tell us about these Red Riders, our enemies?" he asked. "Nobody seems to know much about them, save that they are here to do us harm."

"Much more than that is irrelevant," Lady Sunderland replied, "for the common folk, at least."

She sighed. "In truth, his Lordship and I know little more than that. They arrived three days ago with some fanfare, as you saw, and immediately set about compounding the city. All attempts at discourse have been unsuccessful, and I am not so cruel as to continue to reach out to them when such results in further bloodshed. They appear to be reasonably well stocked, and arrived from the west. Our current theory is that they are some sort of upstart new kingdom, a lesser Lord with a grasp exceeding his sense.

"They surely know that they cannot keep the city should they take it," she continued. "The King's forces will roll over them like the tide should they try, especially if they were joined by the aforementioned air support. So their purpose is unknown, and we have so far been unable to take prisoners. They are... committed warriors."

Griffyn nodded, though the lack of intelligence was a severe issue. If he would be forced to kill, he wanted to do so knowing full well how the situation had arisen, why it had escalated. But it sounded as if this red menace of theirs would brook no quarter with them, and it would be foolish to pursue diplomacy against such an enemy.

He was suddenly all too aware that he had never killed before. But he suspected he would have to soon. Very soon.

"Any further questions?" the Lady asked.

Griffyn put his hands on his belt. "Just one, madam," he said. "I, um, appear to have mislaid my sword. I was wondering if you have another going spare. I am not trained for spears, you see, and my other talents are, well, I would rather not use them extensively."

The scribe wisely hid his smirk, but Lady Sunderland merely nodded. "Liam!" she called.

The lad from before cracked the door open with a short bow.

"Tell Saxon to hand over his sword, would you?"

"Oh, there's no need for me to deprive another soldier of their weapon!" Griffyn protested, but the boy was already in motion.

"Nonsense, what does he need it for? Drawing on the map? ... The sheathe too, you ignorant fool!" the Lady snapped as a pale-faced soldier appeared at the door with bared steel.

Griffyn was handed the sheathe, belt and sword hurriedly, and his attempts to smile at Saxon were ignored as the large man retreated out of the room.

"Now," said Lady Sunderland. "Was there anything else you require?"
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah did as Griffin did, and tied the blue cloth around the same arm and in the same spot. It was practical for the humans, she would admit, to differentiate allies from foes. No such thing was necessary when they set out to kill elves and others.

A prudent question, asking about the Red Riders. One that did not result in much to be learned, unfortunately. Hahnah, as well, wrinkled her nose slightly when Eloise used the words "I am not so cruel as to..." Yes. They could act on the evil in their hearts and fully deceive themselves. But the truth stood apart from their self-deception. Their gods were cruel, and Humankind was a reflection of them.

Committed warriors. A small smile tugged at her expression when she heard this. Good. This was good. Humans like that would have been dangerous for her to slay if she were alone. Despite the circumstances, she was not alone now. Cleansing Arethil of the profuse sins carried by those committed warriors, those humans called Reds, would do well for countless elves.

Griffin acquired a weapon from a lower human. A better weapon. Even a sheathe to go along with it. He would need it, should the Reds find a way into the city.

"No," she said to the human mistress, "I do not wish for anything else."

Not from her, no.

Hahnah glanced to Griffin. Gave him a small nod.

From him, though. Yes. When she could next speak with him without other humans overhearing.

Griffyn
 
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They were summarily dismissed, and Griffyn found himself out in the afternoon sunshine. He breathed deep, filling his lungs. The weight of command was so stifling, he discovered, even after just a few short moments of it.

"I wasn't expecting that," he said, as much to himself as to Hahnah. But his next words were for her, so he turned to face her. "Are you sure this is all suitable for you? I would hate to think I have strong-armed you into a role you are not comfortable with."

Before she could respond, Liam approached them from the long command building.

"Sirs," he began with an uncertain look at Hahnah as he considered whether the title was appropriate. "I am to escort you to your lodgings. This way, please."

With an adorable, theatrical wave of his arm, he led the way up the street and to the north, the paving beneath their feet angling upwards as they gained altitude. Around them, the buildings slowly morphed in style and structure. Less stone (or perhaps, older stone) and more wood. A prevalence of family emblems and greenery. But here the streets were quiet, devoid, it seemed, of life. Curious eyes peered from curtained windows, the folk with more to lose barricaded in their own homes. After a while, Griffyn turned his gaze downwards.

They were led through the topiary opening of one of these large, noble homes, and Griffyn found himself tensing as they neared the front door. This was too much! But indeed that turned out to be true, and Liam led them down a path to one side of the house, lined on one side by red brickwork and the other by slightly withered hedge. They emerged around the back of the large house, facing a smaller, single-storey building at the end of a garden path.

"This way, sirs," Liam announced as though reading from a script. "I am dismayed to inform you that these are the servant's quarters of this fine manor. I trust they will suit you well enough for your purpose."

"It's more than enough, I'm sure," Griffyn assured the boy as the door was opened for them.

The interior was simple, as far as homes went, but Griffyn found that he was right. The central room was a rough square with a simple red-weave rug over the flat stone floor, a wooden table for meals (already adorned with a loaf of bread and a bowl of slightly withered fruit) and a set of bookcases along the far wall, still vibrant with the covers of various volumes. One door on the right led to a cosy bedroom, complete with a simple basin for washing. Another door on the opposite side led to a mirror image of the same. Large windows lined the southern walls, filling the rooms with orange light.

Griffyn stepped inside, nodding. "Are you sure we are not inconveniencing someone by taking their lodgings from them?" he asked.

"Oh, no, sir," the lad replied. "The servants here fled when the siege began. We have seen neither head nor hide of them, sir. We would ask their permission if we could, but the Lady insists you have the right of this place."

"Uh," he stammered, unsure how best to respond to the announcement that this home most likely belonged to the dead. "A-Alright, then. We will not be here long, regardless. Thank you."

Liam bowed a little too deeply, dropping his hat. He grabbed it sheepishly and closed the door behind himself. Griffyn moved to the window to surreptitiously watch him as he departed up the garden path.

"Alright," he said after a pause. He turned to Hahnah, and leaned back against the wall. "We should talk."

Hahnah
 
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