Private Tales Namesake

  • Distant lands call to you, Guest. The next world event coming soon.

    A land once ruled by Dragons and Gods opens, but not every secret of Arethil's past is safe to uncover.

    Titanfall

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Griffyn

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Griffyn saw stars as a booted foot crashed into his jaw. He rolled against the paving and struck the wall with his back. His side was aflame with pain, and both blade and wand clattered to the ground. Though only half-conscious with agony, he was aware that he cried out.

The figure stood over him, bow nocked. Something was said, words he didn't hear correctly or just didn't understand. The other soldiers continued to swing and thrust at Hahnah... except, there she was, outside the conflict. Coming for him. That mean the enemy was fighting... itself?

His mind whirled as the pain took over, and his hand slapped against the stone as he sought his sword. But he couldn't see. Everything was so blurry. Half the world was bathed in red. He gritted his teeth, and closed his eyes.

But the figure halted, turning and seeing Hahnah as she advanced quickly towards him. He hesitated. His arrow wavered, dropped. And the man raised his hand, holding the arrow between two fingers, to his helmet. As Hahnah drew to striking range, he pulled the helmet off his head, revealing his face.

Auburn hair like an autumn forest, and pale skin slick with sweat. Green eyes like fresh leaves. And pointed ears. The man was an elf.

And as Griffyn clutched at his wounds, focussed entirely on his own pain, the elf spoke to Hahnah in his native tongue, an uncertain smile on his lips.

"You escaped?"

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah was not like the man she had Provoked. She did not hesitate.

When she saw the sixth man come into view from the alley and stand over Griffyn and aim the bow, she stopped--a few paces shy of him. Instead of loosing the arrow on Griffyn as she had feared, the sixth man, seemingly hearing her, turned to look. She arced her hand back to throw her remaining Orb. The sixth man--even better than turning toward her--took off his helmet. It would be his last act upon Arethil.

Hahnah threw the Orb of Elemental Hatred.

And it struck the sixth man in the face and did nothing. Half of it went sailing past his head and the other half that did strike him dissipated on contact. Harmlessly. The magic that touched his face wisped away like thin trails of steam.

Hahnah's breath seized in her chest yet again. Now, she could see why her sorcery did nothing. The sixth man was not human. He was an elf. And she did not explicitly hate elves as a whole as she did with Humankind.

Hahnah's eyes were wide with shock and as uncertain as the elf's smile. She heard the Provoked spearman and the other two men fighting behind her (one of them cursing desperately) and she knew well that it was dangerous to have foes to her back. But Griffyn and this elf were in front of her. Griffyn. And the elf. The utter strangeness, the backwardness of this moment in the night and how she felt about who, actually made her lightheaded and queasy of stomach. It was as if the ground was turning round with the sky and soon the two would switch places.

Then the elf spoke. Elvish words instead of Common.

Her lips quivered and her hands trembled. Her eyes flicked down to Griffyn and then back up to the elf.

"I do not understand," she replied in Elvish, her voice thin and hollow. "...What are you doing here? It is dangerous."

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Griffyn

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The elf watched Hahnah with open disbelief.

"You say mine own words back to me!" he said, a strained yet amused smile at his lips. "Where are they keeping the others? My sister? Where are-..."

Griffyn's sword burst from his chest in a silvery surge of metal, a cry of desperate rage in the man's lungs. The two bodies fell forwards onto the paving. The elf was dead in seconds.

Griffyn raised his head. The blood across his brow and cheek made him look half a demon, freshly pulled from the earth. His swollen eye was forced open, his other bloodshot, as he took in the shape of Hahnah in the moonlight. His arms lay heavily on the body of his enemy, as behind her the remaining men cut themselves down and the sounds of combat against the walls of the city echoed afresh up the streets around them like breath in the chambers of some colossal pan pipe.

But the expression that bloomed upon his broken face was one of relief. Griffyn forced the blood back into his aching limbs with steady breaths, slowly easing himself upwards in inexorable movements.

"You are... alright?" he asked his friend. "Did he... did he hurt you?"

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Hahnah

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The world felt completely upside down, and Hahnah's stomach churned with sickness.

The others? My sister?

Griffyn's sword. Bursting through the elf's chest. Just like what happened to Elurdrith.

But he is here with them.

(the words of the dying god, spoken before her transformation, reiterated subconsciously: чи ч бас)

It was like the elf in the roadside tavern who had lied to her. It was like the dark-skinned elf who fought with Griffin with the blonde hair. It was like Zael's mother, and all of the elves who lived in Strathford. They were with Humankind.

But he is an elf. And a human killed him.

It was good that the elf attacked Griffyn. It was not good that the elf attacked Griffyn. It was both, and it was neither.

There is sin here.

(you share his name, but you do not act like him.)

And I do not know where it is.

* * * * *​

Hahnah looked on the outside as horrified and as conflicted as she felt on the inside. Her eyes could move, and all else could do little more than tremble. She looked up from the dead elf to Griffyn's rising form.

"I am..."

(not alright)

"...not hurt."

On her right side where the spear had struck was a thin tear in her tunic the size of the spearhead. There was no blood. Underneath, perhaps difficult to see, tiny black fibers of her Living Armor were poking out of the wound in her skin, sealing it closed like stitches.

She opened her mouth to speak. Almost asked Griffyn directly, where are the elves being kept? But she did not. For a few reasons, she did not do so just yet.

That unmistakable sound of battle, distant as the sound of this skirmish had been when first she heard it, came to rise from the city's walled perimeter. Some of that horror and conflict in Hahnah's expression fell away and it was as if she could now truly see the extent of Griffyn's wounds. She walked forward and touched Griffyn's injured face with the tips of her fingers.

"But you are," she said. "We should find aid. I am not adept enough to treat your wounds by myself."

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Griffyn

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He rose slowly, gratefully taking Hahnah's arm to steady himself. There was a ringing in his ears. His limbs felt like liquid. Still, he gritted his teeth and put one foot in front of the other. The two of them left the street and the bodies of their enemies behind. One was missing, Griffyn dimly noticed. Fled into the city, perhaps.

From the running feet all around them on the paving of the thoroughfare, it was clear that the city of Menura was under duress. There were lights on the walls, lit torches. As they passed, a group of men with spears rushed passed them, heading west towards the main gates. They didn't even spare the two of them a glance.

Nearing the barricade on the main street, Griffyn could see the defense of the city being orchestrated by a number of shoddily-dressed conscripts. The map had been moved outside, he saw; such was the desperation of the situation. He could just make out the distant main gate through his bleary, bloodstained vision, and saw rough lines of soldiers arrayed to force back what appeared to be an inevitable breach. The Reds were getting in tonight. He longed to be with them, but in his distraction his foot caught on a paving stone and he stumbled to his knees.

A shadow in the torchlight fell across his face as someone rushed over to assist. A familiar voice...

"Woah, what you got here, girl? Another of our brave boys needs..."

Rych's voice trailed off as Griffyn raised his eyes and met the shocked gaze of the Vel Aniri mercenary. Rych's wide eyes flickered to the stained blue band around Griffyn's arm, to the girl holding him steady, and back to the young man's eyes.

"What... the fuck happened to you... lord?"

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Hahnah

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It should have been a time to be pleased. It should have been exactly what she wanted. The humans of Menura and the humans who were called the Red Riders were killing each other, or they were very close to killing each other. The lights and the bells and the Menuran spearmen running past and altogether there was a certain kind of commotion that was ample evidence to a coming battle far greater than the one Hahnah and Griffyn had left behind them. The opportunity to slay humans, the Reds, just as she had hoped. It should have been a time to be pleased.

But she was not.

She was troubled. She was concerned for Griffyn and his wounds and troubled further by this very concern. And then there was the elf. His presence alone among the humans who had attacked Griffyn, and then what he had said. These troubles left no room for the worry about her own wound, of its small strangeness being witnessed beneath her tunic, and it fell from her mind.

Hahnah walked and helped Griffyn walk. He led. She knew the layout of some of the city, the foreign landscape of civilization with its rigid corners and strict orderliness, but Griffyn would know where aid could be found for his wounds.

And then he stumbled.

"Griffyn," she said quickly, some of that concern leaking through in her tone. She looked from the street ahead to him and bent her legs to kneel, coming down mostly level with him. She would have tried to help him stand again.

When someone came.

Hahnah snapped a defensive gaze to the a man with the torch as he rushed to approach. But he was not hostile. He was not a Red. The intensity in her eyes lessened.

What... the fuck happened to you... lord?

"We were attacked by Reds. They are dead." She had not counted the bodies nor had she seen anyone flee, but in that past moment she had not been trying to do either. "Can you show us the way to someone who can help?"

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Griffyn

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Rych stood above the pair, aghast, for longer than his pride would later allow him to admit. His wide eyes took in the unfamiliar Hahnah, the wounded Griffyn, the blood on the paving.

"Uh... r-right." He put a hand through his hair, glancing around the street and blowing out his cheeks. "Help. Yes... Uh, oi!"

Rych raised his voice as another squad of three men jogged towards the walls, and they stopped, faces mirroring each other with questioning expressions.

"We got one for the sawbones!" Rych explained. "Get the Commander over there!"

They approached, but the lead soldier frowned at the growing mob before the wooden city gates. "We ain't even started yet!"

Rych narrowed his eyes at Hahnah, the blood on her clothes, before answer. "Reckon you're wrong about that. Come on, get his feet."

One soldier took Griffyn by his legs, another tucking his arms under the Commander's shoulders. They lifted on a count of three, and wordlessly made their way east, along the thoroughfare. Griffyn's head lolled weightlessly.

"Gentle, boys." Rych cast his eyes over his semi-conscious Griffyn before turned back to Hahnah as they walked alongside the group. "All dead, you say? You sure of that? How many we talking, here?"

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Walking among them was not easy. It likely was never meant to be easy. Each interaction with those of Humankind was taxing, draining in the way of trying to perform a task where the goals were unclear and the methods uncertain. It was so prior to the present moment with Rych and the men he summoned to help carry Griffyn. Even with the amounted experience Hahnah possessed now in navigating such interactions, still a subtle longing for the simplicity of being a human slayer and nothing but that. Matters of trust and to whom to give it--the source of the terrible taxing feeling--were uncomplicated then.

But she walked with Rych and the men who carried Griffyn. Trust need not be extended for that, and their goals--so far as she could tell--were the same.

All dead, you say? You sure of that? How many we talking, here?

The question of surety made her reconsider. What of the one she Provoked? She did not see the outcome of the fight between him and the his fellows. It made sense that he likely won, given that she nor Griffyn was attacked in the back while they were escaping. But her sorcery would wear off quickly--the stronger the impulse to make the victim act on their hatred sooner, the shorter the total duration of the spell. When it did wear off and the blinding cloud of rage and hatred left the spearman, would he have fled? Maybe he had wounds from the fight. It was not certain.

"There were five humans, and there was one elf," she said. "One of the humans may have escaped. I do not know for sure if he was wounded and if he has in our absence died of these wounds."

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Griffyn

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They arrived at what was charitably referred to as a park, with its low hills of faded grass and carefully placed trees. The centre of this patch of cultivated nature had been given away to bedrolls, boxes of twine and bandage fabric and ponderously pacing medical personnel. All in anticipation of the coming battle, which was certain to exact its toll, even if these men and women saw the end of it. Griffyn was laid in one of the bedrolls by his carriers, and immediately the medics clustered around.

"...already? ...so badly hurt ...anything left..."

Rych pointed at the men as they lowered the Commander to the ground. "If there's enemy lads about, we need to find em. Start questioning everyone you see, look for something suspect, or for any bodies in alleys. Off with you."

The men frowned, clearly frustrated at being robbed of their chance to fight on the front, but shuffled off about their duties. Rych sighed, looking down at Griffyn.

"Sorry we won't be seeing any of his tricks in this next one," he said. "Gonna make it tough on us, that's for sure. Listen, you're his..."

He hesitated, eyeing Hahnah. His eyes went to the blue band around her arm.

"You're with him, right? Keep an eye on him? Make sure he doesn't try to hero off to the battle in this state."

He nodded at her, and without a second glance back jogged away from the park towards the growing sounds of strife coming from the main gates. The circling medics moved in, turning Griffyn's limbs to better examine his wounds. One rolled him onto his side to view the pierce wounds in his back, and this awoke him.

Grimacing, Griffyn opened his eyes. He looked up at his rescuer, however, and he expression softened into a smile.

"Hannah..." he murmured, content for now with just the sound of her name.

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Hahnah

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The park was a pleasant and welcome change of environs. In the wake of the tumultuous day and especially tumultuous last hour, it helped to put Hahnah's mind at ease, this despite the company of humans both wounded and unwounded.

Listen, you're his...

Rych had Hahnah's attention. The trailing off, the unfinished answer, was akin to the passing of a torch whose embers hinted at a flame to be alighted with only the right effort. The true answer she did not know. But, strange as it was to her, she knew for a fair certain that the answer was not enemy.

Keep an eye on him?


"I will watch him."

And Rych did not stay long and he went with haste from the park and to elsewhere. A couple of other humans, those better versed in the ways of remedy and aid, came forward to examine Griffyn. Hahnah knelt down and then sat back onto her heels and watched Griffyn as she said she would. Him as well as the humans tending to him. One moved him and this turned him on his side such that he was facing where Hahnah was sitting.

His eyes opened. He saw her. Smiled.

Hannah.

And a small, inevitable smile was returned. She raised a hand, tentative at first. Then reached forward to touch his arm.

"I am here."

There were great uncertainties that had arisen here in Menura, none greater than those that had arisen today, but Hahnah quietly knew one thing: if those medics hurt Griffyn then she would kill them. She did not need to know why she would do this for him and for no other human to know that it was indeed true.

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Griffyn

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Griffyn's back ached as a length of salve was placed against his skin. He winced, stretching his spine out as his shirt was rolled down to cover him once more. It had been a while since he had felt this rough. In fact, he wasn't sure he had ever been so beat up. Even his swordsmaster had gone somewhat easy on him, he suspected, out of fear of his father.

But Hahnah was watching, so he put on a brave face.

"You're not hurt?" he asked, voice strained. "You look well for someone who was just in an eight-man melee. Did you..."

He stopped, hesitating. Hahnah had done something in the battle that had looked an awful lot like magic. Not that he had been able to sense anything, not without really focusing on it, and he had had other things on his mind. Still, to have the enemy fighting themselves, it spoke to him of sorcery.

But he couldn't say so, not now. Hahnah was still very much an outsider here, without a title to fall back on. To reveal to these medics that she had some sort of arcane ability might push someone to do something rash. So he shook his head. "Nevermind."

He rolled onto his back and raised his arm at the command of a matronly woman, who got to work binding it with a simple splint. The arm didn't feel broken to him, but he wasn't a doctor.

"I should get up," he remarked. "They'll need me at the gate."

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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You're not hurt...did you...?

Hahnah knew that she had been slashed and she also knew (and feared) that the sight of the wound would be upsetting and perhaps even outright inciting. Humankind did fear what it did not know. And where there was supposed to be blood there would be none, only the small fibers of her internal Living Armor--each no longer than a fingernail--suturing shut the wound. It was the hint that she was not as she seemed. It was the hint of her old form, the one reviled. It was the hint that she was what the humans called, a "monster."

She wished not for Griffyn to see it and turn aggressive. She wished to continue this facade of being a half-elf, closer to being a true elf than she had ever been, for however long it might last.

Hahnah made ready to lie that small, necessary lie, No, I am not hurt. But Griffyn said nevermind, and she welcomed the opportunity to simply not speak on the matter.

She glanced at the matronly woman and pulled back her touching hand into her lap so that she could work. Hahnah scrutinized her movements. Took their measure and was ready to kill her without hesitation if she did harm. But the matronly woman did not.

Then Hahnah looked back to Griffyn.

"You cannot go to the gate yet. You are not ready to fight," Hahnah said. And then she flicked her eyes back to the woman tending to him and assessed that she would not hear and Hahnah leaned forward. Down. An arm over on Griffyn's other side to steady herself. Her lips were against his ear, strands of her hair on his face.

She whispered, "There is something I must tell you in private."

And Hahnah leaned back to sit on her heels again with her hands in her lap and she looked with a serious and beseeching manner into his eyes.

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Griffyn

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Arm bound, Griffyn sat up to allow wrappings around his forehead. The crusted blood ground against the fabric of the bandage as he scowled.

"Ready or not, those men need my talents," he said. "I'm not much of a Commander lying here on a pallet. I'll stay at the back, so..."

He made to rise, and a combination of factors forced him back. One, a jolt of pain in his back as resting muscles cried out a protest against the sudden motion. Two, a severe hand on his shoulder from the healer at his side. Last, Hahnah's eyes, heavy with disapproval. So he sat back to the ground with a soft growl.

"A few moments' rest, then..."

Hahnah's next point, spoken softly against his ear with a degree of intimacy that took him by surprise, gave him cause to wonder. Had she read his mind as he worried over her use of magic in the battle, or was she speaking of something else entirely? His brow tensed as he worked through the implications, but as Hahnah sat back on her heels he nodded to her. He would hear her concern gladly.

With his wounds bound and slowly healing (very slowly) the woman tending him began grinding a series of identical-looking green plants into a mortar. No doubt a restive, since he had proven that he was intending to be obstinate. He nodded to the healer.

"Might we get a moment alone?"
he asked. "If I'm not going to participate in the fighting, I at least could do with sending out orders on my behalf."

The healer watched him with narrowed eyes.

"Military secrets," he added with what he hoped was a winning smile.

After a moment she bowed stiffly, handing the mortar and pestle to Hahnah.

"See that he drinks that in some boiling water before trying to win the war for us, love."

She rose and left as a force shook the ground nigh-imperceptibly, a giant's footfall on the horizon. The gate was no doubt breached. And all Griffyn could do was pray.

Still scowling, he turned to Hahnah. The rest of the gathered healers were standing, watching the west with clasped hands and tight expressions. He leaned close to her.

"This do?" he asked.

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Hahnah

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Hahnah gave the mortar and pestle and the contents thereof a dubious regarding, but accepted it anyway. Thus far the common cause of the belligerent Reds kept the humans of Menura banded together, and the woman had aided Griffyn well enough, so it was unlikely that she would visit cruelty upon him now. A peculiar push and pull, Hahnah recognized: that she had initiated the drive to seek out aid for Griffyn, and yet she had a difficult time trusting the ones who were providing it.

Griffyn did convince the woman to depart, granting them the best sort of privacy they were going to get in the park: an area, however small, to themselves. Quiet voices would see their secrecy kept.

That, and things like the far away rumble and thunder of battle. It had fixated the attention of many of the other humans in the park, they of one company now looking in unison toward that great and distant clamor, toward the direction of the city's gate.

This do?

Hahnah nodded. Set the mortar and pestle beside her on the ground. Leaned toward him as he leaned toward her. A lock of hair came loose from behind her ear and dangled lazily as she did.

"The elf that shot you with an arrow," she began. Then came an impulse, a need to say something, and she interrupted herself, "I am sorry that he did that."

She started again. "The elf that shot you with an arrow said something to me. He thought that I had escaped from somewhere. He asked also, 'Where are they keeping the others? My sister?'"

An arresting pause. And with it came a certain degree of fear for the answer that she might receive to the question she was about to ask. For something that she did not wish to be true.

"Griffyn..." she said, "...why would he say that?"

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Griffyn

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Griffyn's head hurt. He hadn't realised until the pain in his limbs had begun to subside. But now the distraction was gone, there was a definite grinding sensation against his cranium that scrambled his thoughts. When was the last time he had eaten? His blood must be drained of vitae to the point of decay, all the magic he had been recklessly firing off today. Perhaps it had finally reached his brain.

It would make what he thought Hahnah said a little easier to grasp, if this was all delirium.

"He was an... elf?"

Memory assailed him. The man's silhouette, the slender form of Hahnah beyond him... The scent and heat of his blood as Griffyn ran him through. Death. Griffyn had finally caused the death of another man. And he had been an elf. Nausea wracked his stomach suddenly and he grimaced sourly as he pulled himself together. He would... he would hurt later.

"I didn't think to see an elf in enemy ranks," he said, smiling sadly through the writhing in his gut. "I thought this was about human kingdoms. But Hannah, I don't know why you would need to apologise to me. He no doubt ha-... had a reason for doing what he did. If anything, I should apologise for... for ending his life."

But the fact added an extra layer to the complex map of the siege, which had at first seemed so straightforward. An elf Commander in the enemy ranks made this less likely to be a play for political power or land, and more likely to be an idealogical conflict. Perhaps the Reds came from no one land at all. Perhaps they were joined by...

But through his grief Hahnah's next words slowly found their way to him.

"He said... what?"

He scrowled, mind whirring. The elf he had killed had been searching for something here in the city. Searching for someone. Someone he believed trapped. A prisoner, then, in the local jail? That was worth investigating. He would take Hahnah, and they would ask some questions of Lady Sunderland and her staff, if any of them survived the night. He opened his mouth to answer, and looked up into Hahnah's eyes.

Twice before, Griffyn had looked upon the half-elven girl with genuine fear. Now, despite all they had been through, he felt that same twitch of mortal anxiety again. Her eyes begat the tension of a jagged, coiled spring. Their colours swam. And behind that, an odd, predatory light. The word, if he was forced to describe it, was 'alien'. Though he had no idea why.

"I..." he said at length, syllables catching against one another, "...don't know." And that was all he found he was able to say.

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Hahnah

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The impulse to apologize was strange and something Hahnah did not fully fathom in many ways. On behalf of all Elvenkind she had done it, so was her primary belief. Yet she was not of Elvenkind, not truly, despite what she had inherited from Zael and what she may have sincerely wished. It as well marked the first time in the whole of her life that she had ever apologized to a human for anything.

Strathford. The roadside tavern. The happening in Alliria. And now Menura. Troubling and upsetting instances all, where some elves acted like humans, and some humans appeared...oddly bereft of sin. Her world was not turning upside down this one sole night. It had been turning slowly upside down ever since her transformation. Ever since walking among them.

Could it be turned more so? With this revelation about "the others," about the elf's sister, possibly here in Menura in captivity? Or had he been lying, as the elf in the roadside tavern with the humans had lied to her?

Hahnah did see the tension grip Griffyn. Was it that he feared giving the answer as much as she feared hearing it? Was there cruelty here in Menura of which Griffyn was a part, keeping hidden his participation through a deception so thorough that Hahnah had not yet seen through? There was a reason he was tense.

Hannah.

He was human. He was with sin.

Hannah.

He was human, but he had also not yet shown cruelty to her.

The elves. There were elves, possibly. And she still clung to the tattered belief that Elvenkind was altogether good, all lacking sin and all without evil in their hearts...the dissonance with her recent experiences subconsciously stifled. Yet this stifling was eroding away--had been eroding--with the steadiness of a jagged rock being rounded by wind and water into a smooth stone.

Griffyn said that he did not know. And this would not do. He knew. Someone knew.

Closer into his personal space. Looking at him from under her brow. "I need to know the truth."

Upon this answer teetered the stability of a worldview whose foundation was flawed and whose structure was damaged. A yawning maw of terrible discovery rested at either end. Her beliefs about Elvenkind were at stake. Her beliefs about Griffyn were at stake. And the fear she felt was the silent knowing that both, as she currently held them, would not survive the answer.

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Griffyn

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Griffyn was inches from death. That thought, seemingly from nowhere at all, pervaded his heart and sank its way in deep. He could feel it in the rush of his blood and at the edges of all five of his senses. Moreso than facing bared steel, more than standing atop a city wall as soldiers moved in, he was forced to look deep inside himself for the iron required to answer her.

But how could he explain? It was clear to him that Hahnah did not understand the world that he came from, the world that gave context to his perspective. But it was clear to him now that this world held the answers to her questions. To his own, as well. He proceeded carefully.

"I..." He swallowed. "I suspect. I suspect there is... something here in this city that proides an answer to this whole sordid situation. But..."

He held her gaze as best he could, and continued, his voice low.

"But if there is, it will be protected. And not by soldiers or beasts. By powerful people. Men and women with strength behind them. I don't want to promise you something that I, with my limited power, can offer. And..."
His hand twitched.

"I don't want you to do something brash. I don't want you to... We need to be careful, is what I am trying to say. Do you understand?"

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Hahnah

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Hahnah listened intently to his answer, the fingers of her right hand subtly flexing. She took the measure of every word, of every little gesture.

There were captive elves. Or there were not. If there were, Griffyn was involved, or he was not. And both things she needed to know. Despite her troubling instances with elves in recent months, she would without question see them freed if they were here to be found. If the elf had not told the truth, it would be good that there were no captives at all but upsetting that she had been lied to once more. Strange again as it was to think, it would be...good...if Griffyn was not involved.

But if he was, she would not hesitate to kill him on the spot. No matter how it would make her feel.

He suggested that other human masters were involved. Men and women like the one named Eloise. Humans who commanded other humans in a hierarchy. There was merit to this, by Hahnah's lights. Though she could not discern if his caution was prudent or if it was a way to stall and obstruct, and she had no method by which to find out. Yet.

I don't want you to do something brash...We need to be careful...Do you understand?

"I will do what is necessary."

To save the good from the profane. And to kill those who have brought further cruelty to Arethil.

An awareness of the Reds she kept in her mind, of the faraway and muted battle, how it provided at present amble distraction that could be capitalized upon. She asked the question anyway, flat and without inflection, and her gaze was unblinking.

"How will we find the answer."

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Griffyn

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Griffyn took a breath, eyes locked on hers.

"We ask,"
he said simply. "That is one way. We give the leaders of this city reason to trust us, and we give them reason to hand the answer over to us. Then we can act."

He nodded to himself. It would take time, care and precision, but he was well trained for such conversations. And he had learned well from his father the ways of mercantile business, and how to sell yourself before trying to shift a product onto someone. Lady Sunderland, should she indeed harbour any extra-legal prisoners, would need good reason to trust him. But he was confident he could find that reason, given time.

But he doubted Hahnah would have that sort of patience, and the next words slipped out reluctantly.

"The other way would be to investigate for ourselves," he said. "With the siege around them, the halls of Menura will be lightly staffed. We could... We could just check the rooms below the Lord's manor. That would be the most likely place to keep... secret prisoners, if I know the nobility. But they won't just let us in there."

He shook his head. Was someone in Menura truly to blame for all this bloodshed? Coming from the republic of Alliria, he had heard stories of the monarchies of other lands, usually told with noses held high and smiles fixed with a smug cast. Tales of mad kings enacting foolish rules, of national leaders at war with themselves over land and wealth. But he had always assumed such stories to be tall tales. He shuddered at the thought of now being in one. And that gave him cause for his next words.

"Please remember that I could be wrong," he said, brow knitted. "That's why we must take care in this. I could just be wrong.

"In fact, I desperately hope that I am."


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Griffyn laid out two possibilities. One that Hahnah liked. And one that she did not. It was an easy answer.

Yet she opened her mouth to speak and found that no words came out. A new thought arrested them, stopping their march and their leap from her tongue, and her lips closed and pursed slightly as this quiet consideration entreated her for but a moment's time.

Yes, it would be far simpler to investigate for themselves. Yes, not only was there an opportunity for it now with the fighting but it was what Hahnah would normally do. But this was not a normal time or place, was it? She would relish the chance to kill humans if something were to happen, but if too many came? It was not as if she could retreat into the dark of the woods, as was her normal tactic. Even though this option cut through the concerns of deception--either of Griffyn deceiving her or of the other human masters deceiving him--this danger was still present.

But what else was there, if not for this option? She could not--

A tiny widening of her eyes, an equally tiny spike of her brow, as if she were surprised by her own thoughts. And indeed she was. No. No. There were elven lives at stake. It...of course it didn't matter about Strathford, the roadside tavern, the happening in Alliria. It didn't. Elves were of the good people of Arethil. They did not...always engage in cruelty. They were...mostly without sin. These very thoughts brought with them a physical pain in Hahnah's chest, as if to admit them was to drive a dagger through the center of her breast. But to...

But to...

...trust one of Humankind?

Hahnah closed her wincing eyes and canted her head off to one side. Yet more of her very own thoughts, from a deep and black part of mind that was unconcerned with the conscious happenings above it, surfaced. Had Griffyn not offered her food, freely and without prompt or apparent catch, when she was starving? Had he not spoken her true name for her? Where was his cruelty? Where was his sin? All humans held evil in their hearts. That is what she told Pretty Boy in Strathford and that is what she knew to be true. But the dark-skinned elf in Strathford, the liar elf in the roadside tavern, the elven murderers of Idreth in Alliria, all of them held more clear and present sin than Griffyn, a human. How??

A moment of calm in the storm of thoughts. And then one as stark as the breaking through of a brilliant shaft of sunlight in the brief parting of gray clouds. She had been bidden to walk among them, and so she would. To its bitter end, if one was to come. To do this meant that she could be betrayed--

(the Living Armor within Hahnah stirred subtly...with approval...and she did not notice)

--by Griffyn. And if she was? Would it not confirm her most sincerely held belief? Would it not please the Dying God to slay him and all else involved? Was this the true purpose in walking among them? To discover something, either the strongest reaffirmation of her belief possible, or something of Human and Elvenkind which she could not have known through any other means?

And so, despite the searing pain of the memory of her caretakers, slain before her eyes by humans with the weapons in their hands and the evil in their hearts, turning directly against her own self-sworn purpose as a human slayer, a cleanser of profane things, Hahnah opened her eyes halfway and with a sidelong glance to Griffyn said in a quiet, heavy, but resolute tone.

"I trust you."

A moment's passing.

"We will try your way. We will ask the other human masters of the elves."

Then her eyes, sliding down and away.

"I hope that you are wrong too."

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Griffyn was not aware of the full extent of Hahnah's turmoil. Indeed, the dark abyss of her eyes blocked all but the faintest glimmer of her thoughts from his understanding. But he saw pain, and he saw frustration. And when she spoke, he recognised sacrifice. Without truly realising what he was doing, he reached up and brushed a loose strand of hair hanging in front of her face behind her pointed ear.

"Thank you, Hannah," he said. "I don't rightly understand what is occurring here, but I am committed to ending it. I shall endeavour to be worthy of your trust."

He glanced over his shoulder, where the sounds of battle were roaring above the scant trees and squat buildings of the city. His hand brushed his hip... he'd lost his sword again. His wand, too. And his body was aflame with bruising and the insipid dryness of overspent vitae. And yet... the Lord and Lady of the city would no doubt be more willing to trust him, more willing to share their secrets, if he took part in the fighting. If he really sold himself as invaluable to their defenses, they would have no choice but to pay the cost for his loyalty. But to fall into battle once more would mean pain and death, and likely not just for him. With the true intentions of the Reds in question, could he really stand against them as a soldier?

He sighed heavily. They still had days before the reinforcements from the capital were due to arrive, even if they did so by air. The Red leaders no doubt knew this as well - their testing of the walls and their ability to sneak soldiers into Menura's ranks showed martial cunning and ability. That meant they would only commit heavily if they were convinced of victory, or if they had time against them. Neither of those were true, though Griffyn admitted that was a guess. He was no general, after all.

He looked around, spotting a clumsy pile of wooden clutches near the centre of the medical camp. He waved at a distracted orderly and gestured at the staves. One was brought to him.

With some help, Griffyn staggered to his feet. The wooden pole gave him enough balance to travel, and the flame of decision was bright in his heart. He would not fight. He would not kill. But he would discourage and dismay. For that much, at least, he was still useful.

He looked to Hahnah.

"Do you mind?" he asked, nodding towards the fighting. "I don't want another arrow in my side for my troubles."

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Hahnah followed with minuscule motions of her eyes the track of his hand as Griffyn reached and brushed a lock of dangled hair behind her ear. She allowed for it. More than that, she did not mind.

I shall endeavour to be worthy of your trust.

A slow and steady nod from her. And a recognition that there would never be another day like this one. The point at which the ground and the sky, turning as she had reckoned, had fully switched places after a long and subtle process. So simple was the world--beautiful, and full of cruelty--only some fading months ago. Yet it was still beautiful. Yet it was still full of cruelty. But the delineation between the two, once clear, had become blurred at the edges. They bled undeniably into one another now. And with this the death of simplicity and the rise of a frightening complexity. The surety of truth, of knowing it, had receded from her grasp, and she was struggling to catch it and hold it dear once more.

Griffyn got some aid in standing, with a stave and a helping hand from one of the attending humans of the park. He was still wracked with injury, despite a salve here and a bandage there. Yet he was enacting his spoken commitment--he would not lay idle while there were elves potentially suffering somewhere in Menura. That, Hahnah hoped, was a truth that she did have clasped securely in her grasp. She did not want to think of the alternative, of an elaborate betrayal, of a confirmation of her long held beliefs.

But she did not yet consider the catastrophic collapse that would come if her worldview was finally broken. The truth, of all she had done, that would be terrible to grasp and devastating to reckon with.

For now, she focused on the present.

Hahnah rose to her feet, and stood close to Griffyn should he need with his other hand to hold onto her shoulder when they started to walk.

"I will stay by your side this time,"
Hahnah said. She took a second, as the implication of this particular phrase struck her in reference to what Griffyn had said. "I suppose that means any arrow will strike me instead. If I am quick enough, I will kill the enemy before they loose the arrow. That would be best."

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In the end, the battle was short. Though to Griffyn, it felt like an eternity.

The mass of battle had quickly descended from ordered lines of soldiers into a writhing, roiling melee of sweat and blood. The gates lay cracked and gaping along the western wall, and the walls themselves were dotted with figures, many of which bore red armbands. Arrows flew where the red soldiers held sections of the wall, adding a second front to the already chaotic conflict. Griffyn and Hahnah stepped over the bodies of fallen men from both sides as they approached the battle.

The sounds of clashing steel, breaking bones and cries of fury and anguish rang heavily in Griffyn's ears, but as they reached the back line of the battle he raised his voice above it as best he could, arm stretched high.

"Menura stands!!" he bellowed. "Menura yet stands!!"

Mustering his strength, he fired a bolt of flame from the palm of his hand up into the air. It crackled beautifully in the atmosphere before fizzling out above the heads of the throng. With out his wand, the effect on the blood in his arm was immediate and painful. Griffyn's stance faltered.

And yet... Before them, the soldiers on the back ranks turned at the sound of his voice and the heat of his flame. Their eyes caught on the blue of his armband, and a light shone brilliantly where before there had only been dark, undirected rage. And when they turned back to the fight, they held their swords high and raised their voices with that of the Commander.

"Menura!!" they cried, "Menura!!"

Atop the walls, some of the Red soldiers were pointing their way. Bows were raised to bear on him, but Griffyn had no time to think of his own wellbeing. He focussed his mind, held his arm steady, and fired again and again into the air. His goal was set, and all else he would leave to the men around him and, most importantly, to Hahnah. He yelled into the battle.

He was dimly aware, some time later, that the Reds were in retreat. Caught off-guard by the failure of their surgical strike in killing Griffyn, the arcane advantage he brought to the battlefield pushed the fight against them. And, with days left to plot their conquest, they saw the value of biding their time and saving some bloodshed.

A roar of victory rose up around them, and the mob rushed to finish off their enemy. The mob moved as one furious, predatory beast as their tired legs pushed them out of the town and towards vengeance. Griffyn's voice was hoarse from shouting, and there was nothing he could do to stop them. There was nothing he could do. Menura would lose yet more men before it was sated.

He realised he was leaning heavily upon Hahnah's shoulders as he looked about, only dimly aware of the pins and needles in his arms and throbbing headache in his skull. Breathing heavily, he looked down at her.

"S-Sorry..."


Then he fell.

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Hahnah

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If nothing else, Hahnah would see more human blood spilled this night. It was the familiar. It was the old way. It was the steady rock upon which she could find purchase in the turbulent winds of change and uncertainty. She disabused herself of the notion that they, the Reds, could in whole or in part be fighting to free elven captives within Menura. Upon her old thoughts she steeled herself. That these Reds were profuse with sin, its presence manifest by the crossing of her path and theirs, this the only evidence required, as it was the workings of their cruel gods to lead them to Hahnah, they knowing well what would happen when if they abandoned these humans to her. And in this reasoning Griffyn sat in sanctuary on an island of near-perfect dissonance.

They reached the back lines of the battle, the fighting humans of Menura before them. Griffyn knew what he was doing here in the battle, however removed from the thick of it. He would gain favor with the other human masters by being in it, by slaying--or helping to slay--their enemies. It was the language they knew well and the currency they valued above all others.

The flame--Griffyn's magic--cast orange light and long shadows as it burst in the air. And Hahnah beside him manifested her own sorcery, Knives of Elemental Hatred this time, a halo of five of them from shoulder to shoulder. She eyed some of the Reds atop the walls, standing in stark relief above the melee at ground level and armed with bows. She narrowed her brow. Pursed her lips. Raised her hand and pointed her finger and launched Knife after Knife at them, each fired Knife in the halo replaced soon thereafter by another. She near-missed plenty at the distance they were at, struck harmlessly the walls or the light armor of the Red archers, but some Knives found flesh or indeed filtered through clothes to find it. But her barrage helped keep the archers more concerned about their own lives than standing still and returning accurate fire. She caused an indefinite number of wounds, and at least two kills for certain: one toppling from the wall and down into the melee, the other's head falling over to the outside of the wall while the body collapsed on the ramparts.

Blood dribbled from Hahnah's nose. The palm and fingers of her pointing right hand became splotched with bruises. The cost of her sorcery, when leveraged too much too quickly: internal hemorrhaging. Yet she bled as well from a long gash starting at the base of her left ear and running diagonally down the side of her neck. Not the cost of her sorcery, this. A parting gift from the arrow of an archer. She hadn't even heard the sharp whistle of it as it zipped close to her ear, nor had she yet registered the pain or the feel of blood. Blood which, with the location of the wound, the Living Armor within her could not staunch.

The Reds, soon enough, were in retreat.

The roar of victory went up, and the humans of Menura did what humans did. Hahnah dispelled her remaining Knives with a flick of her wrist. Breathed and felt then the warm sensations of blood on her skin. A tinge of worry from this.

And she felt as well the weight of Griffyn leaning on her shoulder.

S-Sorry...

"Griff--?"

He fell.

Hahnah crouched down. Hands pressed to his shoulders. "Griffyn!"

This time there was no one to help carry him. Not yet. The Menuran fighters were pushing out against the routing Reds, and here so close to the breached gates the city was devoid of civilians. It would surely be some time before the Menuran fighters, not daring to stray too far outside the walls, would come back in, or someone within the city would venture toward the battle's aftermath.

Hahnah would not wait. To the healers. To the barracks. To the quarters. Anywhere but remaining among the copious dead. She hooked her arms under Griffyn's and sat him up and started to drag him backward. Slowly. Very slowly. He was larger than her, heavier, and she lacked the physical strength to effectively pull him along.

But there was one among the dead who was not so. An assassin, feigning his death after his attempt to slip through the battle to reach the Menuran mage had gone awry. His wounds made the charade quite plausible, but he'd enough strength to finish his mission. And now, with a certain quiet among the aftermath, he had his opportunity.

And one of the "corpses," this assassin, lifted ever so slightly his head from the ground. Saw Griffyn, his target, being dragged back by Hahnah.

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In the haze of his magic-addled mind, Griffyn dreamed. The path was dark and cold, but he was carried slowly along it by something he couldn't see. But then in the vivid colours of his hallucination he was outside himself, and saw that his captor was a great, ebon-black cat, the kind that he had heard stalked the savanna to the west and the edges of the Falwood beyond them in the south. But so much bigger than a beast had any right to be. The cat had a sense of gravity, a flickering discorporate quality that suggested it was just one small part of itself, and that the rest existed just out of sight. As though he himself was just a child, small and helpless.

The cat's eyes were bright lanterns of yellow light, and its teeth caught in his coat like ivory razors, slicing through the thick weave as though it didn't exist. In his dream and beyond it, he felt a pause in their travel to wherever this great beast wanted to take him. He saw its gaze glance down at its quarry. And words formed at the edge of his mind, whispered by the part of his brain that dared think of such things.

If this were anywhere else, he thought, this terrible creature would slay me.

So what made here so different? Griffyn's eyes flickered open briefly as the question roused him to relative wakefulness. He had moved east from where his tattered memories recalled him before, towards the grassy park. Around him lay the bodies of people who should have been standing. Time had passed.

One of the bodies was twitching slightly, which Griffyn immediately discounted as a trick of his mind, which still felt submerged in treacle. He felt nausea spring to the forefront of his senses as his mind tried to wake itself. The dim flashes of pain which while asleep were mercifully distant now started to assail him. Frowning, he urged himself back down into himself, away from the weary aches of his body. Unaware of the approaching danger.

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