Fable - Ask That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Punching Bag

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Elliot Aldmar

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Elliot just glanced at the griffin-talker when she gave her own answer. Looked for a moment with a face that betrayed nothing. Made no comment aloud. And then looked back to Maranae.

He listened as she answered his question. And he suspected as much, or something like it--the use of the word "broke" was of particular interest. It was of Elliot's opinion that the griffin-talker was wildly mistaken about the nature of the "girl" before them, attributing to her that which should not rightly be attributed. There was at least one damn good reason why those hunters were after her, and it was one of the same reasons why the Dornites were after him.

They both were dangerous.

"Yeah. They will come back,"
Elliot said in agreement. "And they will keep coming if you let them."

Those words, again, holding true for Elliot as well. He'd time enough to stab and wound both Hardy and Ommar, but not enough precious seconds to finish them off before he had to flee from Graniteholme's market and out of the town. They would certainly come again. And beyond just those two, the who behind them. The grand, massive who that loomed large to the north, in the Steppe. It would never be done until he finished it.

"Do you want to be free of them, Maranae?"

Nahlah Maranae
 
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Nahlah

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"Some, she...she hit them, and they broke," the girl said, obviously uncomfortable in her words. Nahlah tilted her head a little, wondering what that meant. They broke? Like… into pieces? She wondered as the girl continued. "Some did not continue, ran from Maranae , they will come back."

Nahlah looked to Elliot as he spoke, wondering what he was getting at with his words as she spoke them. She continued to clean her sharp talons as Elliot spoke.

"Yeah. They will come back, and they will keep coming if you let them. Do you want to be free of them, Maranae?"

She stopped grooming at the question. She tilted her head, looking between the two, very interested in the answer the girl would give, and also very curious as to what Elliot Aldmar would say in response. She drug her tongue over her beak slowly, moving to stretch out on her stomach, kicking her hind legs out behind her nonchalantly as she soaked up the sun and listened. She would refrain from chiming in as she had nothing to say thus far. The discussion could go so many different ways that there was no point in her saying anything yet.

She pondered, if Elliot said he would stay and help to protect the girl, would she as well or would she continue living her normal life free of the chains of other beings to watch over. That was an interesting question, she said to herself. Her curiosity made her want to stay with them if they opted to stay together. Curious as to more about them both to be honest.
 

Maranae

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"They keep coming," she repeated, absently wetting her hand and wiping the blood off her face only to lick it off and repeat the process, in much the same way as a cat would clean its face. The similarity was striking, really.

Do you want to be free of them, Maranae? She had to think hard, parse those words through her limited vocabulary, try to get some meaning or sense out of them. It was difficult, but she thought she knew what he was asking...and she did want it. She wanted to be left alone, like so many others in the world. Left alone to actually find her home, wherever that might be - some broken, disjointed memory that flitted every time she tried to capture it, to hold it, to examine it.

"She does," she said slowly. "Want to go...to a place called 'home', and find her..." But there was no word for what she sought. It was mother, but that word had not been taught to her, any more than father, family, or any of the ancillary words that went with it.

She looked to Nahlah, and then back to Elliot, cocking her head to the other side. "But...but how? She cannot escape, they always come, always find her."
 
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Elliot Aldmar

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Wanted to go home. Wanted to find something that belonged to her. Goals any person might rightly have, and ones sure to be impeded by the intrusion of hunters. Elliot had the benefit of not wanting to go home, to keep on the move across the lands rather than working toward settling in one place--it gave him an edge against his own hunters pursuing him. Yet even so--and as it likely was with this girl now--staying on the move was not a permanent solution to the problem, as he was about to address.

Elliot rose up from his squat. Stood straight with his arms at his sides. Said, "You already know what to do. If you want them to stop, then you have to break them. All of them."

He dipped his chin down, and regarded the girl from under his brow. "A battle of wills inevitably follows when two men--" He paused and rephrased, "--when two people come into conflict with one another. This battle can be fought with discourse or it can be fought with violence, but it will be fought. Whoever's will is stronger prevails, and they'll see its enactment upon the world. Running, hiding, these can buy you time and opportunities, but if the will of the hunters pursuing you is strong enough--and you had best believe that it is--then it will never be enough."

His gaze deepened with stern intent. "So I will ask you this, Maranae. Do you truly want to go home? Are you willing to commit to this action, to see it through, no matter what it takes?"

Nahlah Maranae
 
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Nahlah

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Nahlah watched the pair quietly as she remained laying on her belly, forelimbs crossed before her. She watched as Elliot stood, tilting her head slightly as he spoke, his arms rigid against his sides. His tone, stance and words actually sent a slight shiver through her. Such a dark statement he bestowed upon the world.

"You already know what to do. If you want them to stop, then you have to break them. All of them."

The way he looked at the girl sent a second shiver through her as he continued to speak.

"A battle of wills inevitably follows when two men, when two people come into conflict with one another. This battle can be fought with discourse or it can be fought with violence, but it will be fought. Whoever's will is stronger prevails, and they'll see its enactment upon the world. Running, hiding, these can buy you time and opportunities, but if the will of the hunters pursuing you is strong enough--and you had best believe that it is--then it will never be enough."

His words held truth…. But what was he getting at in speaking thus to the child, she wondered. His gaze seemed to darken as he looked to Maranae as he continued.

"So I will ask you this, Maranae. Do you truly want to go home? Are you willing to commit to this action, to see it through, no matter what it takes?"

She titled her head… was he truely asking this girl if she was willing to do whatever it took to be free. What was he intending for this girl to do… and was his intention that she would do it alone or did he intend on helping her. She tore her gaze from him and looked to the girl curiously.

Maranae
Elliot Aldmar
 
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Maranae

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"...but that was what they wanted of me..."

The words, far more lucid and succinct, were delivered in a deadpan voice. The chimera did not look to Elliot now, nor to Nahlah; instead, she stared at the ground. Crouched, and wrapped her arms round her knees, and sat thus as her mind whirled with images from a place and a time she did not like. Not at all.

...creations of light and dust, facsimiles of people, complete with armor and weapons. With blood and bone and flesh, ephemeral and unreal, but just real enough. Attacking her with weapons that were very much real, even if they themselves were not. Cutting her flesh, breaking her bones, eliciting pain - not as much as should have been, but enough to be maddening - while they watched one.

No fighting, no bloodshed. It was against the teachings....


What teachings? Ever since she had been brought into this world there had been nothing but violence. Nothing but pain and suffering, endless pursuit. Those who grew too close to her, they were hurt in the process as well, caught between her and the ever-seeking hunters.

...against the teachings. Thou shalt do no harm...

Pain. Suffering. And no rest, and no peace. From Elbion to here, somewhere in the Falwood, distant from where it all begin and yet closer to the start than she might yet realize. She looked up, shadowed eyes regarding Elliot without any emotion. Or, no, there was emotion there. Pain. Unfathomable pain, springing from a source she could not identify. The ghost of a ghost, a remnant of a past life.

...no harm...

Why? Why did that litany run through her mind? Why did she turn aside when it came to doing what was only natural? Of all the things she did, why did she find it so hard to stand up and push back against her tormentors? A line, running from some dim place in her mind that she could neither find nor explain?

...when the lights fail, when magic fails, when rage consumes all. The taste of blood, the feel of it slick on her skin, her claws. The terror of her tormentors as they realize that they may, finally, have pushed too far in seeking their ultimate weapon...

...harm...


"Di-discourse? She does not know the thing," she said slowly, but did not pause. "But she knows violence. Knows it, knows it, but does not like. Does not like it," she said in a slow, sad sing-sing voice. There was a singular tear in her eye, and it gleamed in the afternoon light as it rolled down her cheek, cutting through the gore. She did not know why she wept, not one tear or more. She only knew that she was committing a great sin, and did not know what that sin was, or why.

Memories. Memories like ghosts, hanging round in the back of her mind. Remnants, perhaps, of who she had been. Undecipherable, only leaking through...in moments like these.

"She...does not know what you say, what you mean," the chimera said slowly, softly. "But she understands violence. It was...was what she was made for." Sick sounding, as though realizing an unpleasant truth. Not for the first time, either; every time the beast woke within her, she fled and left it to rampage with her flesh as its weapon.

"She....wants to go home," she said slowly, quietly. Somehow, though, she felt that turning to face her tormentors would forever deny her a home. There were no words to describe, no words to comfort. In fact, she had no reason to believe it so...but something unspoken, unseen, and unheard whispered to her that it was so. "How?"
 

Elliot Aldmar

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Elliot listened to Mara's response. Regarded her demure posture and movements distantly from above the bridge of his nose. His were not eyes of sympathy, but those of the stern teacher looking upon a learner. The same gaze he himself had been met with when first he had come upon the Dreng'toth. And though the monks of the Dreng'toth would be aligned with Mara's view on violence, Elliot would adopt their methods in passing on knowledge that he himself had come to gain through experience. The girl's greatest enemy was not these hunters who pursued her. It was her own misapprehension.

She did not know precisely what he had said, what he had meant, the word discourse in particular and likely most of it in general. And that was alright. Truth stood irrespective to one's understanding--a certain cold patience in that, in how the world was structured around it.

She...wants to go home. How?

"'That is what they wanted of you. Violence is what you were made for,'" Elliot repeated. "Good. You already have the skillset available to you, whether you know that or not. So I'll tell you again how to get home. In a different way."

He considered for a moment. Then looked to the griffin-talker. Lifted a finger and pointed it at her.

"She was going to eat you," he said flatly, "while you were all but dead laying along the bank of the stream. You got lucky--she decided not to. But what if you were not lucky. What if you as you were, broken and unable to run, had this griffin coming for you. To kill you and eat you. What would you have done, Maranae? Tell me. In this supposition someone is trying to eat you and you do not want to be eaten. You cannot run and you cannot hide and you cannot talk with them. So what. Do you. Do."

The waters of the stream flowed, and the constant splashing roar of the waterfall down the short cliff continued.

Maranae Nahlah
 
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Nahlah

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"Di-discourse? She does not know the thing, but she knows violence. Knows it, knows it, but does not like. Does not like it," the girl said sadly. A tear was exposed to the world, trickling down her cheek through the blood and muck on her face. Before she continued speaking. "She...does not know what you say, what you mean, but she understands violence. It was...was what she was made for."

Nahlah rose a brow, looking to her sharp talons and thinking about the damage she can do, and she chuckled slightly, hardly thinking this girl seemed dangerous. But, looks could be deceiving for sure.

"She....wants to go home, how?" the girl continued, seemingly forlorn with her own existence. Elliot spoke up after a few fleeting moments, Nahlah’s eyes turned to him quietly.

"'That is what they wanted of you. Violence is what you were made for, good. You already have the skillset available to you, whether you know that or not. So I'll tell you again how to get home. In a different way."

He lifted a finger to point to her as he spoke, the feathers adorning the top of her head fluffed up as she watched him, listening.

"She was going to eat you, while you were all but dead laying along the bank of the stream. You got lucky--she decided not to. But what if you were not lucky. What if you as you were, broken and unable to run, had this griffin coming for you. To kill you and eat you. What would you have done, Maranae? Tell me. In this supposition someone is trying to eat you and you do not want to be eaten. You cannot run and you cannot hide and you cannot talk with them. So what. Do you. Do."

.oO(Interesting…) Nahlah thought to herself. She did not feel bad in the slightest that she was intending on eating the child. It was in her nature, she was created as both a hunter and a scavenger and she had her part to play in the world. She was unsure where Elliot was intending on going with the sentiment but she took no offense. She was what she was, he was what he was, and the child was… what she was. They each had their roll and perhaps Elliot’s roll right now was teaching the child the way to get free.
Maranae
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Maranae

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He spoke quickly, and he spoke words that she did not know, or understand. That she had the skill set available to her to stand her ground, to fight back...well, he was not correct about that. What she had were the correct traits for the work at hand. But Elliot did not really understand her, either; he had seen her revive from near death, but did not understand the process, or any of the other traits that the chimera had available to her.

Intelligence was...not one of the, or at least not high on that list.

"Catbird....cannot kill Maranae," she said slowly, casting a glance back to the griffin with wide eyes. "Only pain. Only pain, only pain. Much pain, and darkness...but darkness not forever," she added in a sing-song voice. Looking at her ragged clothing, which only barely made covered the important bits, showed nothing but smooth flesh. No scars, no old wounds. Smooth, unblemished skin and well toned muscle, perhaps a bit more toned than you would expect from an apparent child.

But then, she wasn't really a child, was she?

She did not possess the vocabulary or the understanding to properly answer Elliot's question. She did, however, have the capacity and that would probably have to make do, all things considered equal.

"Maybe when she wakes up, birdcat gone. If not...more pain," she replied, and shuddered. Going to the abyss and coming back was not a pleasant experience, and in some way she lost a little bit of her humanity every time it happened. She could never remember what she experienced when it happened, only that there was some certainty that if she did, she would be a gibbering madwoman by now. "No strength, no strength when hurting. When not..." She shrugged. When she was relatively healthy, she was certainly strong enough to fight.

She just never did.
 
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Elliot Aldmar

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Elliot looked back at Maranae with a face of granite. Taking in her response with all due seriousness and consideration.

Like this he stayed for a while.

Until.

A slight inward twitch of his brow, the outer signal of a thought being had inside his mind. A flick of his eyes to one side in weighing this thought. Back to Maranae. Mild squinting.

Then his shoulders hitched and a stifled sound, "Ktch!" escaped his mouth. He tried to hold it in. But couldn't.

Elliot's eyes pinched shut and he burst out laughing with a force that threw his head back and caused him to stagger backward one step, two steps, then catch his ankle on a rock and go stumbling with a half-hearted attempt to save himself from the fall down onto his rear end upon the stone-filled ground but it came to nothing and down he had gone, laughing and laughing as if he had heard a most hysterical joke, and Elliot with his face turned skyward and sitting on the ground propped up by his hands behind himself endured his fit of laughter until he seemed quite exhausted and was struggling for breath amidst the last little sputtering laughs weakly dancing out into the warm air.

Nahlah Maranae
 
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Nahlah

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"Catbird....cannot kill Maranae, only pain. Only pain, only pain. Much pain, and darkness...but darkness not forever,"

Nahlah would disagree with this idea, she knew her abilities as a killer, so she figured she would be quite capable of dispatching this little thing that spoke so simply to them, but, she could be wrong. It was obvious the child was strong, no doubt she had other secrets within, only time would tell.

"Maybe when she wakes up, birdcat gone. If not...more pain, No strength, no strength when hurting. When not..."

Nahlah turned her eyes on Elliot. She had no clue what the child was talking about so she looked to him to see if he could translate. His face was blank, stern but blank and Nahlah tilted her head. She stood slowly, digging her foretalons into the ground and pulling herself up slowly. She moved slightly to Elliot, wondering if he’d fallen asleep…

She got within a few feet, opening her wings cautiously as she moved to walk around him and look at him when suddenly his shoulders lurched and he made a sound she was not familiar with.

"Ktch!"

He stumbled backwards, damn near into her. She scrambled backwards, her hind legs stepping into a hole and sending her ass over tea kettle, rolling backwards in a flurry of feathers and flailing limbs. From the child’s perspective it must have been an awkward scene of weird dominos tumbling. She scrambled to her feet as she rolled, quickly and as gracefully as was possible with the insanity of the sudden happenings.

The male was laughing.., Quite hysterically at that. Nahlah chortled loudly in utter confusion as bright, shocked eyes zipped from him, to the child, back to him trying to figure out WTF just happened.


Maranae
Elliot Aldmar
 

Maranae

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She took it all in, this little chimera, staring at Elliot with wide green-eyed confusion. The girl tilted her head to one side, blinking at his antics, and then tilted it to the other side, before looking at Nahlah and the sound she had just made.

Humans made little sense to her, and the idea of humor was the most vexing of all the things they did. Despite all the activity, the sudden movements, she remained rooted where she had been.

"Ktch?" The repetition of the sound he had made was an unmistakable question; the sound could have been a word, for all she knew. Certainly he had said enough things recently that were little more than ordered noise. Shifting her position, she sat on her haunches and stared at Elliot unblinking.

"What..." she began, but did not finish. She just sat there, flummoxed as to what had actually just happened.
 

Elliot Aldmar

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Elliot at last got control of himself. Sitting and breathing. He sat forward then so that he was propped on his arms and dragged the back of his hand across his face, his eyes. It had been quite some time since he had laughed that heartily. He glanced back at the griffin-talker--just to get an idea of where she was, where she had gone.

Then he looked back to Maranae, the girl. "You are either sorely mistaken, or I have lost a friendly wager with a mentor of mine."

So far as Elliot understood it, what the girl had said was no boast. She was not saying that the griffin--the catbird as she had said--couldn't kill her because she was equipped with some bountiful reserve of physical or magical power that would make the challenge insurmountable, that she would kill the griffin before the griffin could kill her. No. In the girl's simplistic way, she had said "darkness not forever." Death, Elliot took it to mean. Meaning thus that she was saying death, somehow, did not or could not take hold of her.

Which Elliot thought to be pure bullshit.

He had had this conversation with the mentor he spoken of, Elder Nullis, during the early months of his arrival at the monastery of the Dreng'toth. Elliot believed firmly in the Thread of Mortality, in Magic's End, both of which as integral a part of the code of natural and universal laws as the constant pull of Arethil itself. The Thread of Mortality more so, for he had seen it carried through without error in his life. Barring tragedy, it was the fate of all half-elves--he discovered--to outlive the lifespan of one of their parents many times over. And Elliot had outlived his mother. He had grown from an infant to a boy to a young man and then to a man and it was here that the dark elven blood running through him gave pause to his aging, and so it would be centuries to come until it would begin again. But it was not so with his mother, a human; she did not have the time upon Arethil that he and his father would have--certainly not centuries. The day that Elliot reached maturity seemed to be the day that his mother's strength, that strength which his father lacked and which Elliot had respected all his life, had begun to wither. Her body weakened. Slowed. Shriveled. As it was with all things of old age, and here the vast difference between his life and her life was driven home to him. He stayed by her bedside for the final days, held her hand as he heard her last breath, and felt the last vestige of her strength ebb away in the relaxing of her grip. The Thread of Mortality was law, and it had taken from him the one person he loved in Dornoch.

So his argument with Elder Nullis had been impassioned. More impassioned then than if he were to have the same argument today with another person, as he had yet to embrace some of the Dreng'toth's finer teachings. Elliot asserted the immutability of the Thread of Mortality, and Elder Nullis made his vague disagreements through noncommittal answers and suggestions that the Arts--like necromancy--were vast indeed. The conversation/argument ended with the wager, though it was all on the part of Elliot--Elder Nullis agreed to no such thing, even if he looked interested in the potential not for Elliot to be wrong, but to learn. A sporting wager, with nothing put at hazard by either man. Nothing save, perhaps, a simple nod of humbling acknowledgement to the other, should Elliot return to the monastery with an update on it.

And he didn't think he would be doing that. For all the allusions Elder Nullis had made and vague stories he told, for all his mastery of the Art, even he was not a man immortal. Neither were the other people and creatures in those allusions and stories, Elliot believed, and neither was this girl, here and now. He had intimately felt the inescapable power of the Thread of Mortality in his hand, and he knew its truth was absolute.

So perhaps something of a test, then.

Elliot stood once more. Dusted off his pants. Then bent over and secured his pack. Started to put it on.

"If I have lost that wager, then you've nothing to fear, do you girl? If the darkness isn't forever for you, then you hold over the hunters an advantage that they can never hope to match. They must respect death, and you don't." Elliot shrugged the right strap of his pack onto his shoulder. "Leverage that. Fight. And win. Break enough of them and they'll get the message."

He shrugged the left strap onto his shoulder. Got his pack seated comfortably on his back. He took a full regarding of the girl, then said, "And change your damn clothes. Have some respect for yourself."

Then he started to turn away.

Maranae Nahlah
 
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Nahlah

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“What?”

The girl asked, the look of utter confusion must have matched Nahlah’s at the moment. Elliot stood and dusted himself off and gathered his bag as he talked to the girl.

"You are either sorely mistaken, or I have lost a friendly wager with a mentor of mine."

"If I have lost that wager, then you've nothing to fear, do you girl? If the darkness isn't forever for you, then you hold over the hunters an advantage that they can never hope to match. They must respect death, and you don't. Leverage that. Fight. And win. Break enough of them and they'll get the message."

He’d gotten his right strap on… now she shrugged the left on and settled the bag upon his shoulders. He looked to the girl then spoke to her. His words were a bit on the disrespectful side, and Nahlah’s ears moved to rest against her skull as she looked to them both.

"And change your damn clothes. Have some respect for yourself."

She was utterly confused… The man had looked down upon her (or so she felt at least) for having been ready to make a meal of the girl, and yet now he was vocally disrespectful to the same girl. She did not understand what she’d missed and she shifted how she stood slightly as she looked to them both.

“Erm… What did I miss??”
Maranae
Elliot Aldmar
 

Maranae

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Again with the torrent of words, many of which were decidedly beyond her comprehension. She tilted her head to the other side again, wide eyes unblinking as she tried to sift through the words, the tone, and find meaning to it all.

"Fear?" She understood that word, even if that understanding was stunted, a shriveled thing compared to the humans she so often encountered and their understanding of it. Hers was a fear of...of the bloodshed, and the violence, and the breaking not of human bones but of some...some thing that she could neither define nor understand. "But she does....does she?" Confusion at her own question, directed to herself. There was no answer, not behind her eyes, and there could be none from Elliot or the griffin, either.

She looked to her clothes, and at least there there was some understanding - of what his concern was, at least, but not the why of it. She was, for all intents and purposes, a wild animal in human form with only the thinnest skim of sophistication and an intelligence that was...lacking. Especially in some areas.

And just like that, the fellow was leaving. There was no bond between them, and so she did not really mourn his departure. Instead, she cocked her head the other way (again), and then turned to go back to the carcass of the hog and finish eating it.
 

Elliot Aldmar

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The girl didn't have much of an answer. Didn't try to stop him and presumably wouldn't try to stop the griffin-talker if she decided to leave--no plea for aid. And that was what Elliot was trying to see, if she would do just that. She didn't. And, he had to admit, he was impressed by it. Immortal or not (it still remained to be seen if that was bullshit or no) she seemed content enough to deal with the matter of the hunters herself.

She had said that she didn't like violence. That was alright--she didn't have to. She just had to do it. And the girl had already killed some of the hunters pursuing her. Lost that fragile innocence that brought with it hesitation, inaction. Once bloodied, it was easier and easier to become more so. If she was going to be on her own, from the slain bodies of the hunters she needed to rip loose her freedom from their intrusive pursuits. No one else was going to do it for her, and nor should they. For the betterment of her spirit, she had to carry the majority of that weight--it was the only way to properly be in the world.

Elliot started to walk. Over the din of the stream's flowing water, he heard the girl eating again behind him and he heard the griffin-talker's question as he was set to pass by her.

He stopped momentarily. Said, "Nothing. You didn't miss a thing." He flashed something of a grin and added, "Maybe dunk her in the stream when she gets done. Wash that filth off of her so she can have some shred of dignity."

And he started toward the treeline, walking parallel with the stream.

* * * * *​

Graniteholme didn't have an inn--there just wasn't enough travelers through to justify one. Plenty of exports and the workers associated with that, but not enough general travelers. What it did have was a hospital--for sickness, yes, but also for injuries, of which there was a fair amount--and the hospitality of its townsfolk. Elliot hadn't stayed at the hospital, so that had left someone among the town who had housed him.

Gloria Stannis had been inquiring to figure that out. Enough people had seen him--a dark elf tended to stick out like a gray thumb among those who were near uniformly fair, if suntanned. She felt as if she was getting close. Could be. But she paused for a break to have a meal. Parked by the Graniteholme market, she ate inside of her horsedrawn carriage with the doors open to allow for a comfortable flow of air. Certainly a conspicuous way to travel, her carriage, but she stayed far away from the actual dirty business that she oversaw. It was the occupation of the brutes to deal with that--supposedly they were good at it. And yet, Hardy and Ommar...and all of the other failed attempts in the past, whether under her watch or no. Men. Oh, woe to her luck. If she could have just managed to convince the Dynasty that she should be allowed the services of a capable female assassin, like Khari, then this matter could have been resolved long ago, as it should have been. But Gloria had to make do for now, and so she would.

Robert appeared and leaned against the frame of the carriage and the open door to her left. Leaned inside slightly. Said, "Ma'am, there's someone here who would like to speak with you."

Gloria, pleased, paused in her eating and perked her eyebrows up. "Oh? Is that so? I'll receive them at once."

Maranae Nahlah
 
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Nahlah

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Nahlah just looked between the two in silence, at a loss for words as the man was leaving and the girl went back to eating. Upon her inquiry of what she missed the man’ who seemed to have done a complete 180 in care for the female stopped walking a moment and replied.

"Nothing. You didn't miss a thing. Maybe dunk her in the stream when she gets done. Wash that filth off of her so she can have some shred of dignity."

That was it… She bolted at the male and got her body in front of him, looking down to him with fluffed up feathers.

“Just a short time ago you were all helpful and now you’re walking away. So obviously I missed something.”

She huffed, ears flattening against her skull as she looked back to the girl before turning her attention to him again.

“What is the problem?” She growled slightly… her time having been wasted thus far, he’d requested she grab this girl food and now he was just walking away like she didn’t matter which was a waste of everyone’s time. She stayed put, looking down to him with a huff of hot air through her nares as she watched him.

“Is this what your kind do? Some sick twisted game of heal her then leave her to die?”

She huffed again as she glared from him to the girl then back to him. She snapped her beak in his direction as her tail lashed angrily from side to side. Her kind may be killers, but they were not sadistic.
 
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Maranae

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----
Earlier
----


It had all gone sideways.

That was the trouble with the profession, of course; sometimes things went well and it was as smooth as silk. A few days spent tracking down a target, then a couple more observing them before the final, glorious moment when the strike was made. Chained, dead, it made no difference; money was the goal, and terms set by the contract holder at the time of signing. They got what they wanted, and him and the others got what they wanted: money, exposure, and generally more clients.

This contract, however, had been one of the other kind. Things going wrong right at the start, a wild chase through the woodlands and - the key point - they quarry had not even been contacted at that point. Then there had been a brief contact in some nameless village out on the plains, and it had eluded them.

And then there had been Alyse, and the story she had to tell of the beast.

Eijin did not particularly like the woman they had saddled themselves with, and did not necessarily understand why Serras had been accepting of her. The fact that she did not desire any of the bounty on that things head raised red flags in his mind, but none to do with the mark. All of them had to do with a so-called bounty-hunter that refused payment.

And there was also the cold light in her eyes, the emptiness that had been filled with something else. Eijin did not wax philosophical often, but he had had the notion to do so then.

Should have. But the subject was different.

What is that thing? He had followed it after the others broke contact, and watched it die on the bank of the stream. Or thought it had; he had been about to go and drag the corpse back to Graniteholme so they could be done with this whole wild hunt when the other two had shown up. Even so, he'd been of a mind to eliminate them; just a couple more moldering corpses in the woods, an adventurer and his pet slain by the wild things. Neither intimidated him.

But then...then it got back up.

In the former assassin's mind, when you stabbed something it stayed goddamned stabbed. Oh, sure, if you didn't kill it it might regen, or heal over time. But once down, they did not get back up. Of course, the woman Alyse had said that it had remarkable regenerative abilities, but that did not include from death.

Did it?

Regardless, this needed to be reported on. His task, as his boss had laid it out, was to track the beast and report back in a day or two. But, with the pair that had intercepted it, he dare not wait. It might become entangled with these new beings, and that would certainly create a problem.

And so, with stealth trained into him over his entire youth, he slipped away before the griffin had even slipped away to feed the beast.

----

She paid little mind to Elliot as he walked away, instead devoting her attention to eating supper without any consideration for the beast that had killed it for her. She had no scruples about what she ate of the beast; she consumed bone, blood, flesh, and even most of the viscera as she went about her grisly work. The stomach and intestines she left alone, but all else she consumed with the voracious appetite of something ten times her size.

In fact, it was hard to understand where all of it went. She wasn't particularly large, but she had eaten a fair percentage of her own weight already.

"No problem," Maranae answered the griffin around a mouthful of bones that she chewed up like someone would chew an apple. She paused long enough to look at the retreating back of the man, then back to Nahlah. "Grey-man not stab or hurt, so no problem. Not...friendly," she added after a moment of thinking her words through. "But not mean to her, so not problem."

Magic seemed to waft off of Maranae, like a miasma, as she ate. The meat was being converted, now, into a different form of energy to be used later. She girl could feel the strength flowing through her limbs, though, the familiar thrum of power that she took for granted. The weakness of the revival had passed.

She looked up at the catbird, and cocked her head to one side. "Night soon. Not good in open, must go to trees. Safer," she said to the griffin.

----
Elsewhere
----


"Two things, boss," the shrouded man told her, and Serras waited patiently for him to disseminate what he had seen.

The one was the presence of the dark elf and the griffin with the creature they hunted, and the fact that the goddamned thing wasn't dead despite half of her subordinates lying dead and without a burial in the woodlands. Something about the elf, though, tickled at her memory, but she could not dig up the stone that she could only see one corner of. It probably didn't matter, except for the fact that they were now in the company of that monster.

"That man is a dead man," said the other woman present with them. Alyse cut an imposing figure despite her build, which wasn't very intimidating on its own. Serras turned to her, an eyebrow raised. Alyse looked back at her with hard, dead eyes. "I know of him. He was there when the monster escaped me and my brother." She was working the tip of her spear, her bow and arrows set on the ground beside her. In the flickering light of the campfire, her face had a haunted cast to it.

Great. Part of that Gordion Knot of hers, the bounty hunter thought to herself. Aloud, she said: "Your personal trouble with that man can wait until we capture the chimera." Unlike so many that had tracked the beast, Serras had a leg up on them.

She had received her contract straight from the owner of the beast, and knew in great detail what its capabilities were. There were some sketchy areas, as even the Lord Azure - a pseudonym to be sure - was not entirely sure of the things complete abilities. But enough. The beast was a terrifying thing but, fortunately for them, a coward. She knew that they needed to down it, and capture and bind it while it was down. She even knew how to kill it, if the need arose. Or, at least, what Azure thought would kill it.

So many unknowns. The job was costing that fool noble a sum that could have ransomed kings, though.

"....Stannis is camped in town right now, bold as brass," said Eijin, and she blinked.

"Come again? I am sorry, but I was thinking of some other things," she said to him. She stared into the fire for a moment, then looked up at his shadowed face.

"I said Gloria Stannis is in town. I thought you might like to know that little tidbit," he said.

And then something clicked in her head.

Dark elf. Or, rather, half elf, as it were. She recalled a posted bounty a while back for a fellow that matched, at least loosely, the description of the man that Eijin had seen streamside next to her mark. What was the fellow's name again? She remembered he had been wanted in connection with a murder in Dornoch - quaint place, that - and the sum for his capture was hefty. Not hefty enough to make her desire chasing after him over her current prey.

"Ah, that was his name," she murmured to herself. Looking up, she saw Eijin looking at her with interest. Alyse was working with her weapons, sharpening and checking bowstrings and the like. "Elliot. Eliot Aldmar. Well, that would explain that Erdenian being here, if that man is close." She turned to look back into the fire.

Thinking.

"In fact..."

----

She stood in the gathering gloom, quite at home in the darkness. The night did not hold as many terrors as she herself was capable of producing; the watered elfin blood in her veins granted her remarkably sharp vision, day or night. It was one of the attributes that led to her notoriety as a bounty hunter, especially in the Aberresai and Falwood, and in Alliria beyond.

There was no such thing as formal attire for her, though; she wore plate forged of mythril, strong and light enough to grant her an impressive amount of mobility even if she lacked flexibility as a result. Plain leather-wrapped hilt of a workwoman's sword stuck out at her waist.

She did not have to wait long. The others were back at camp, because there was no need to bring Eijin into this, and Alyse was not even one of her own. Just a useful tool, a weapon to be cast at her foe and if broken, not mourned.

The man that had intercepted her came back, and indicated that she follow him. She smiled, and followed him to the carriage.

"Ah, Gloria Stannis," she said as she approached the open door where that worthy was seated. "Your reputation precedes you. I am Serras Victoria," she said, and paused to gauge whether the woman in question knew of her as well, before resuming. "I believe I have found something you may be interested in.

Perhaps we....can be of mutual benefit to one another," she said. And then smiled.
 

Elliot Aldmar

Dornoch's Most Wanted Man
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Elliot stopped. Regarded the griffin-talker with a calm but sharp alertness. He took in the posture, the risen feathers, the flattening of the ears against her head. He did not truly know this person (or this creature, whichever was truly more appropriate). Perhaps she had a fondness for the girl (again, or the creature, whichever was truly more appropriate), but he could not assume anything of the sort for himself. Her demeanor suggested hostility, and he had no choice but to ready himself in kind.

A hand crept to one of his sheathed daggers, the other to a pouch on his belt.

What is the problem?

"There is no problem. I made a decision, saw it through, and that is all. I am under no personal obligation to help her further, and neither are you, unless you by your own agency decide to shoulder such an obligation."

Is this what your kind do? Some sick twisted game of heal her then leave her to die?

Elliot snickered lightly. Said, "If she could die, and I did leave her, and then she did just that, wouldn't that be good for you?"

He watched her aggressive motions, thinking for a fleeting moment that it would have been prudent to unstrap his Bow while he had the chance. But that chance was gone, and he had only his daggers and the Poison he could apply to them. Regardless, there was no backing down--therein lay the worst mistake he could make.

"Keep snapping your beak, if the air between us offends you so."

* * * * *​

Gloria set aside her meal on her seat. She didn't know the bounty hunter by sight, by she did happen to know her by name, and she gave an twirling, inviting motion with her hand once Serras spoke it.

"Ms. Victoria. Please, do have a seat." She indicated the seat across from her own. "You would not believe how reassuring a presence such as your own is to me at this moment."

A glance to Robert, who said nothing and who left to allow the women to attend to their business. And Serras went right to the point, which Gloria appreciated.

"Oh? Certainly I would love to hear what you have to tell, if you'd be so kind."

Nahlah Maranae
 
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Nahlah

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"No problem, Grey-man not stab or hurt, so no problem. Not...friendly, But not mean to her, so not problem."

Nahlah turned her eyes to the girl as she spoke, seemingly to her, but Nahlah wasn't too sure as the girl seemed to talk to many and yet no one all at once, the entire time she'd been around her today.

"Night soon. Not good in open, must go to trees. Safer,"

Nahlah nodded slightly, bobbing her head slightly as the looked between the two.

"There is no problem. I made a decision, saw it through, and that is all. I am under no personal obligation to help her further, and neither are you, unless you by your own agency decide to shoulder such an obligation."

Nahlah thought about this statement, it was a true one, but she'd wasted the much time so she was inclined to at least see the child witness the morning, she may leave her after night disappeared but she would at least see her through tonight.

"If she could die, and I did leave her, and then she did just that, wouldn't that be good for you?"

She tilted her head slightly then shook it.

"No, I have now supported her, be it with only one meal. I would not eat her now unless she was all that's left. It is humanoids that can look their food in the eyes minutes before they slaughter their meals. My kind do not raise their meals we hunt as nature intended. "

She huffed indignantly

"Keep snapping your beak, if the air between us offends you so."

She back stepped, letting him pass if he chose before she turned back to the child.

"I will help you get into the trees... " she said softly as she watched Elliot Aldmar .

Maranae
 

Maranae

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A tension filled the air, and even she could feel it. There was some crucial piece of the puzzle she was missing, but she fixed on the idea of being eaten by the catbird. The idea was ludicrous, of course; she was the predator, not the prey. At least, when it came to not-two legged creatures she was the hunter.

It was likely as simple as Nahlah not having seen her actually do anything but sit, passively, and let others do work for her.

"She can climb trees well," the chimera replied to the griffin, raising her hands and displaying wickedly hooked claws in place of finger nails. Had they been there a moment before? Truthfully, probably not, but only someone watching closely would ever notice the change.

She turned her eyes to Elliot, curious as to the tension between the two of them.

---

Serras remained standing, though she did offer a little bow, a concession to formality. "I would really prefer to stand, if it is all the same," she said with a smile that only touched her eyes. Her cold, hard eyes, the eyes of a trained killer and one that did not suffer fools lightly. "As to what I have to tell.."

She paused for effect, and then smiled. This time, it was genuine...genuinely terrifying. "Elliot Aldmar."

She allowed a moment for the woman to process that, then continued. "Mind, I have no interest in the bounty on his head. I have a much more lucrative mark at the moment, and it would appear that the pair of them have fallen in with one another." There was no understanding that. She did not say that, of course, but from what she knew of the beast it forged no alliances, made no pacts with others. It was truly a dumb animal. Just a strong one.

"It can not be dumb luck that one such as yourself is here with that particular mark near to hand." She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, and smiled in that vicious way. "I was thinking that we could be of mutual benefit to one another on this particular task. I do not particularly relish trying to take on him and the little monster I've been chasing at the same time. It is so very difficult to come up with worthwhile help, these days."

Happily, she didn't care if any of the assistants she brought along for the ride ended up dead, usually. It increased her cut, and in the world she existed in, it was only the strong that deserved to survive. "I think it could be a bountiful partnership," she said.
 

Elliot Aldmar

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Elliot did choose to pass. He made no comment on the griffin-talker's response--none needed to be said. Instead he stayed straight on course, walking past the griffin-talker and leaving both her and the girl behind as he entered the treeline of the uplands, following along the stream. He kept his hand on his dagger until he was well enough away and mostly by himself.

Until he set down his pack by a tree and unstrapped his Bow from the side and took it in hand and pulled his pack back on. Finally, he'd the chance to be properly armed, and he seized upon it. He was a long way from Graniteholme, but not as far into the enshrouding wilderness as he would have liked so relatively soon after an incident. Not with that trade road and that abandoned camp close by the waterfall. He didn't particularly trust the griffin-talker or the girl either.

A stealth camp tonight, one with a concealed fire or none at all. This especially prudent with the possibility of hunters still being in the general area and after the girl. He could do without unexpected interruptions in the middle of the night.

So Elliot started off again, heading deeper into those woods and upstream. He figured that he would spend the rest of the daylight hours finding a suitable campsite and adequately preparing it to blend in significantly with its environs.

* * * * *​

The name caught Gloria's attention more than anything. Elliot. Those fools Hardy and Ommar had ruined an excellent opportunity for a robust trap to be set here in Graniteholme, and this allowed for her quarry to escape and to have a considerable headstart on her and the buffoons she had to make do with.

Yet Elliot had, apparently, taken in with the target of Ms. Victoria's as well. It was not as if Elliot were a loner, but Gloria did find it to be a touch strange this time, and she could not place her finger on why. She had anticipated him disappearing into the wilds of Falwood, and for her to once again cast a wide net on every nearby town and village to trawl for information. Maybe that was why it felt strange. She felt ahead this time.

If she and Ms. Victoria came to agreeable terms, that is. And Gloria had no doubt that this was quite possible.

"Yes, a bountiful partnership indeed. You bring a certain degree of skill and competency--of which I have endured exquisite pains in trying to procure--and I bring the resources to back this endeavor." Both the kill or capture of Elliot, and the kill or capture of Ms. Victoria's mark. Whatever ensured that Gloria did not fail the Dynasty.

"Coin, weapons, men. I am very much interested in seeing this matter resolved on behalf of all of Dornoch."

There was the question of Serras's mark, however. Whom she referred to as a "little monster." Curious, that, but surely not a problem that a well-loosed arrow or a well-placed dagger couldn't solve. Emphasis on "well-loosed" and "well-placed"--this is why the bulk of Dornoch's armies were women. Though, if men were universally good at anything, it was dying. Fodder had its place.

"Might you tell me of the mark you pursue, Ms. Victoria, and share any initial thoughts on why the two have fallen in together?"

Maranae Nahlah
 
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Nahlah

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"She can climb trees well," the girl said softly, raising her hands to show off nasty hooked claws much like her own talons. Nahlah tilted her head slightly as to looked to them, not remembering them being there before, or had they? She shook her head slightly and followed her eyes to Elliot Aldmar as he headed off on his own. She shook her head again with a huff through her nares as she looked to the girl quietly, the corners of her beak turning into a frown slightly, unsure how she ended up with a girl in her charge.

“Well, it appears to be just us now, lets go find a tree we can sleep in I guess…”

She said softly as she looked to the trees, judging them for comfort, her tail lashing from side to side annoyedly as she turned her head and looked back at the disappearing Elliot. She didn’t quiet understand what happened but it was now past so it no longer mattered. She turned her eyes back to Maranae as she devoured her meal. Nahlah's own stomach grumbled slightly but she ignored it, she would be fine over night without a meal, she was more interested in making sure the girl was safe through the night.
 

Maranae

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"But of course," she said, and shifted her position to be more comfortable. She wore the heavy armor like a second skin, but she had been in it all day, chasing over rough ground and getting nowhere as it were. "A delightful creature some idiot in Vel Anir wrought. Something he called a chimera. The little man went into a lot of detail about the thing, and seemed to be quite proud of himself about it," she huntress remarked.

She could see his little body, standing head and shoulders shorter than she was, with those reflective lenses on his half-moon spectacles, black waistcoat embroidered with silver and gold. A noble with more coin than sense, which wasn't unheard of. A weapon, he'd said, that did not rely upon the Dreadlords. Well, she had to admit that he had indeed made a weapon that could stand next to or, perhaps, surpass the violence of the ones he distrusted so.

"Regardless, the little troll mentioned he had blended the soul of a human with several animals and a cruious magic artifact." Serras' eyes half closed, as she envisioned the process of doing such a thing. The morality of it did not interest her, but the results did. "Its a damnably difficult bitch to keep put down. We've succeeded a couple of times, but it gets back up after some time. Managed to have it under lock and key at one point, did one of my...assistants...but despite being clubbed in the head daily, it still broke free." Serras paused, and then smiled. It wasn't particularly pleasant. "And speaking of, one of the survivors in my group has a particular bone to pick with your Elliot, it seems. I think she will be...useful. To both of us."

"Regardless, I do not know why the two are together right now. I would say it was coincidence but...I dislike attributing anything to coincidence. Assume the worst, and all your surprises will be pleasant ones, after all."

The huntress looked back into the gathering gloom, and wondered about the man. "And of this Elliot? What can you tell me of that bastard?"

---

When all was said and done, there was only blood and the least enticing bits of the hog left. Somehow, the chimera had made the entire thing vanish, and looked no more or less stuffed than she had before sitting down to the meal.

But with a solid meal in her, she could feel all of her strength returning, and the minor wounds that had not entirely healed did so now, now that there was no risk of running low on magic. The low-key hum of magic that seemed to bleed from her muted and eventually vanished entirely as the magical regeneration completed itself and the core went silent. She stood and stretched, a bloody mess and seemingly unconcerned about the state of her clothes or person.

Or mostly. She turned and waded into the frigid water of the stream, seemingly uncaring of the cold as she dunked herself. When she rose, she was less dirty than before, but she didn't make any effort to scrub herself off, merely to sluice the worst of it off. "Ok," the girl said, stretching and yawning and displaying serious fangs as she did so. "Any tree is good, so long as sticks can hold her," she said.

Without any preamble, she went towards the woodlands, looking for a larger tree. With so many specimens to choose from, it did not take long to find one suitable to the purpose; a great oak that climbed a hundred feet into the sky with a plethora of branching trunks and branches. The redhead jumped up on the bole, and hung there by her claws with little effort. "Tree works for catbird?"
 
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Nahlah

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Nahlah watched the pig disappear, quite unsure where the girl put it all, but not surprised as she'd seen baby griffins eat like crazy and seemingly make full meals disappear with no signs of having eaten at all. The gentle hum of the magic surrounding the girl seemed to be settled by the meal, calming before disappearing all together. The girl stood and walked into the icy water, dunking herself to clean off a little, more or less just rinsing the gore from herself without much effort. She turned and stretched, yawning with some rather impressive teeth that made Nahlah tilt her head for a second.

Nahlah nodded softly at the girls words and followed her to the woodlands, her own steely orbs wandering around curiously as they walked. The girl found one she seemed to approve of and jumped up, grabbing a branch and hanging in it.

"Tree works for Catbird?" She asked and Nahlah nodded .

"Yes this tree works for catbird." She chuckled, calling herself such a funny thing. She opened her wings and lifted off the ground, waiting for the girl to get settled before settling on a branch below her protectively. She folded her wings as she settled her flank against the trunk, stretching out on her stomach as she folded her forelimbs under her chin and closed her eyes to get some rest. Her ears twisted around, listening for other sounds as she settled in.