Completed The Butterfly

Pretty Boy

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Pretty did not like this. He crept as quietly as he could into the town but, admittedly, he was a creature who got through life on brute strength and not stealth. He tried his best not to shy at the banging; it was likely these people were doing the same thing to them as he intended to do to them. They wanted to spread fear and make them act irrationally. Pretty was determined not to make that mistake. He crept quietly between the two houses and lowered his head to let Hahnah off.

He flipped up his lip at the sound of rattling gear, but stayed his growl at the sight of Hahnah telling him to be silent. The point was not to have this explode into chaos. He was silent but close by her side as she peered around the corner. Were they safe? He flared his nostrils and tried to catch a scent.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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The smell of humans and elves greeted Pretty Boy, along with other staples of town scents: water, woodsmoke, a tinge of excrement.

Hahnah peeked around the corner of the rightside house. Saw no one at the front as she was expecting. The ends of her hair began to lift and stand on end. She saw only the dirt path, the houses adjacent and the houses across the path. Doors closed and no lights. The air became heavy with the charge of electricity. Someone had made that noise. Where had they gone? She wasn't--

It all happened nearly at once.

A streak of yellow lightning struck Hahnah from behind and there came with it a thunderous CRACK and she yelped and stumbled down onto the dirt path in front of the rightside house, a singed patch and live embers on her back where the lightning hit and the fur-like strands of her Armor had been destroyed.

Eagle the drow stood atop the roof of the leftside house, Thunder Pike in hand, grinning down at Hahnah and Pretty both. "Welcome to Strathford, assholes!"

A BANG sounded, and jets of wind erupted from the long tubes attached to his vambraces and sent him sailing high up into the air and away, further into the town for a brief time before he started to circle around, another set of bangs as he changed direction and to keep himself airborne.

Meanwhile, Falcon the komodi, from the opposite corner of the rightside house, glanced out and chucked a Froststone from around said corner. Hahnah's Living Armor lashed out at it, the strands around her shoulders and chest whipping out and batting the Stone away before it made contact. An icy explosion of cold magic rocked the dirt path and sprayed dust and frost and as well froze solid the front door of a house across the path.

Another BANG, and it wasn't Eagle. Sparrow the dwarf sailed up high from behind a house across the dirt path. She hummed the opening tune from a theatre production in a specific and niche Elbion district and clapped her boots together, the crystals inside the thick soles activating and slowing her descent dramatically. She aimed her Repeating Crossbow down at Pretty Boy. Fired a bolt. And the Earthen magic lacing the loosed bolt transformed it into a large and jagged stone the size of a dwarven skull--the massive projectile rocketing down toward the Devourer.

Sparrow still in the air.

Eagle coming around for another go.

And Falcon, coming out from around the corner, bardiche in hand, deliberating standing in the dirt path and waiting. Ready.

Elsewhere in the town, one last unique series of bangs. Approaching.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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The air was tense. Pretty’s fur stood on end, flesh bunched around his shoulders. There was something wrong. The air felt wrong. He knew this feeling, because he’d been in lightning storms before...but there were no clouds. No rain. Just the oppressive feel of thunder with no sound. The crack of lightning caught him completely off guard and he backed up away from Hahnah, bellowing in surprise.

The origins became clear as the black skinned elf shouted down at them. Pretty saw him leap away with gusts of wind attached to his arms. That was what the hopping had been! The banging! That heralded the lightning. A sudden blast of chilled air as a lizard chucked something at them.

Yet more noise. The humming of a tune. Pretty looked in its direction and saw the crossbow aimed at him. He hated quarrels. While they couldn’t get through his tough skin, they definitely stung. However most of their assailants seemed to be in the air, and not on the ground.

When he saw the man with the pole arm come around the corner he charged him. He lowered his head and felt the burst of rock behind him, teeth bared. He was going to take out this one first. Hahnah was already injured and they didn’t know when the lightning one would return. They had to get some cover.

After he tore Falcon’s head from his shoulders. He leapt at the man, claws extended. He meant to either bring him to the ground and crush him, or rend him with his hooked claws.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah's muscles trembled with shock and pain. It felt like a burning hand was laid upon her back, grabbing with fiery fingers into her skin. She didn't know what had hit her from behind; she had only heard the loud CRACK and then the pain had come and she had fallen. She wasn't even aware that her Living Armor had deflected the Froststone away from her.

But then she looked up. Saw Falcon at the other corner by the front of the house and on the dirt path.

And she gasped. "You are not human. Why are--?"

Pretty ran past her. Lunged at Falcon. And though Falcon had been anticipating the Devourer to act just this way, he did not expect Orange to yell, to plead rather, "No, Pretty, do not harm him!"

Falcon, taken aback by surprise, nevertheless canted his forearms back. Jets of wind magic burst from the slender tubes with that now familiar BANG, blowing in Pretty's direction like a sudden and brief gale of a storm and as well launching Falcon straight back some thirty feet along the dirt path--creating space. Falcon planted the shaft of his bardiche back down on the ground and shouted, "Eagle!"

"Lined up!" Eagle, overhead, shouted back. Where Falcon went gliding back along the ground, Eagle went sailing forward in the air. Eagle strafed the dirt path, his Slowfall boots keeping him aloft, and he aimed his Thunder Pike down at Pretty Boy. The air bristled with electricity once more.

Meanwhile, Sparrow landed on top of one the rooftops of a house. Held her Repeating Crossbow and cranked the lever back and forward to reload. Hahnah had stood up. Looked back to see the dwarf up there. Said with a bewildered disquiet, "You are not human either!"

Sparrow raised her chin. Quizzical. Then she smirked. Quoted, "'What else makes life grand other than a series of surprises?'"

And Sparrow took aim at Hahnah. Careful not to look her in the eyes.

Lightning sparked to life from Eagle's Thunder Pike, a single strike as he passed by overhead and accelerated with an twin set of BANGs and jets from his vambraces.

Falcon, in rapid thought as he considered what Orange had said and the possible implications, drew in a big gulp of air regardless. He knew he would have to be careful with his Fire Breath while they fought in the town.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty’s bulk couldn’t be slowed easily. The blast knocked the other back more than it did the devourer, though he dug his claws into the soil to slow his backwards slide. There was that oppressive feeling again. His hairs rising up on his back. The lightning was above him and he needed to move.

Hahnah was hesitating! She’d even cried out for him not to attack that one. He ran back toward her with a hiss at the polearm, and this time he didn’t hesitate. He lowered his head and rammed the corner of the building that Sparrow stood on. The mud daub building was only held in place by timbers, and Pretty had struck true. The building groaned and shifted mightily, throwing off any good aim Sparrow might have had at Hahnah.

Somewhere off in the distance came a terrified scream. Pretty backed away, shaking his head, and looked up at Sparrow. He had to strike again before she regained balance. He reared up and stiff-armed the weakened support, like a bear knocking over a weak tree. From the terrified shrieks coming from the other end of the town, the roan female was appreciating their distraction. His kind were nothing if not opportunistic. She’d go after the villagers and hopefully not press her luck.

Hahnah
 

Hahnah

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Hahnah brought an arm up to her face when the lightning strike from Eagle missed Pretty and struck the ground. Eagle soared by overhead, his passing punctuated by two BANGs from the tubes on his vambraces to hop further up in altitude and away in the air. Hahnah turned when Pretty struck the support of the house, Sparrow's transmogrified bolt-turned-stone sailing narrowly past Hahnah's head and striking the door frozen solid earlier, shattering the ice and leaving the portal open.

The black-skinned person was not human. The tall scaled person was not human. And this short person was not human, even though she looked the most like one. Hahnah did not understand. What was happening? Why were they here? Did they not know the danger that they were in, here in a human settlement?

"Why are you doing this? I do not wish to harm you," Hahnah called to Sparrow. Going so far as to dispel the Orb she held in her hand, the sorcery winking away with a flex of her fingers.

Yet Sparrow had not a moment to reply, even if she was willing. The modest home buckled under Pretty's assault, causing the roof to slant downward at a sharp angle as it dropped toward the compromised support. Normally it would be a trivial matter to launch herself up into the air and cleanly off to another rooftop. But the crystal in her left vambrace miscast, and no jet of wind came bursting out. This sent Sparrow not straight up as she had intended but spiraling off at a shallow angle to her left. She rocketed across the dirt path and smacked into the edge of the roof of an opposite house, not quite making it on top and falling down to the ground on her back.

"Sparrow!" Falcon cried out--terribly alarmed and worried. Orange could say whatever she wanted, but the Dev was a ravenous beast, whether it was under her direct control or not. Darn! A miscast now? Did she not think she needed a recharge from Griffin? Maybe the crystal in that vambrace needed replacing?

Didn't matter now. He needed to get over there. If only the Dev had come after again like he thought it would. Gah! Just go!

B-BANG. Falcon flew forward, about ten feet high in the air--his angle had to be shallow so he could move quickly. Get past Orange, and get Sparrow off of the ground. That was what he needed to do.

Hahnah turned around again at the sound of Falcon launching forward. Held up her hands. Called to the komodi, "I am not your ene--!"

Falcon breathed fire on the approach, casting the flames down as he sailed overhead. Hahnah, with only a split-second available, leapt for the recently blown-open portal of the house with the frozen door. Flames scorched briefly the dirt path before Falcon ran dry.

Hahnah's rolling form disappearing inside the house.

Sparrow getting back up to her feet.

Falcon in-flight toward her.

Eagle, last seen jetting away, perhaps soon to come back at another angle.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy watched his quarry launch off the roof and go careening into a wall, lunging after her. He had a limited amount of time before the others came for her, and indeed the lizard cried out for her. He was attacking Hahnah but they needed a bargaining chip. Pretty grabbed the dwarf and stripped the vambraces off her arms with his teeth, none too gently.

The Devourer turned to face the komodi emerging through the smoke with her in his jaws. He was holding her, firmly. If they struck him, he’d do his best to make sure they hit Sparrow. He faced down the komodi and snarled, tightening his jaws on the female a little. He hadn’t even broken skin yet, but they had hurt Hahnah. There was no way he was releasing her unless they backed off.

Sparrow was their bargaining chip. She couldn’t do much with her arms and legs pinned in his powerful teeth, her head clasped gently by the bone plates in his throat. A flex of his throat, and they would flatten her skull.

Pretty lifted the girl to show Eagle. If he struck him with that lightning, his entire body would flex...including the vice she had her head in. He kept his throat open so she could breathe, but she was pinned. Pretty growled and stepped toward the house, trying to see whether Hahnah was okay. He stepped gingerly around the scorched earth, snorting and waggling a back paw.

She seemed to be alright. He extended a claw and wrote in the ash.

Talk, or eat dwarf. Messy. He warned, and slapped the ground next to the words for emphasis.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Sparrow did not cry out in pain as her vambraces were brutally ripped from the rest of her armor, nor as her arms bled furiously from the savage effort. Still that serene look on her face, eyes half-closed and lazy smile.

Falcon gasped when he saw the Dev with Sparrow in its ugly, misshapen mouth. When the beast turned her toward him like a shield. He had no choice. Falcon jerked his forearms back and bursts of wind and accompanying BANGs brought him first to a gut-wrenching halt in mid-air, then sent him careening backward until he landed on the dirt path amidst the blackened streaks his own fire breath had made. He held his bardiche but it would be no good. There was no way he could save her. Yet, gods, he wanted to try. He wanted to tell her--

The Dev was moving forward. Holding onto Sparrow in that terrible maw, halfway eaten so it appeared. Falcon steeled himself, though nonetheless worried and unsure. "Sparrow..." he called out, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Pretty, no! What are you doing?" Hahnah said. She stood at the frozen doorway, hand on the icy side, aghast at what she was seeing. She regarded him in a wholly different light, seeing the limbs of the non-human sticking out of his mouth. A look not so common to her. Shock. And horror.

Falcon only noticed the words on the ground once Pretty Boy slapped for emphasis. He was too far away, thus the angle too shallow, for him to read them properly, yet he could see that they were indeed words. A breathless, bewildered question quietly escaped his lips. He looked to Orange (avoiding her eyes) and back to the Dev. He didn't know. He had no idea what was going on. They'd come here exactly as Griffin had surmised, had roared in the night and then tried sneaking into the town, and now a Devourer of all things was purposefully holding Sparrow hostage while Orange seemed to disagree? Was this some kind of trick? All part of some insane plan? Was it all Orange's doing?

He just didn't know. All he did know was that he wanted Sparrow to live.

Falcon gingerly went forward. One cautious step at a time, ready to gust off at the first inevitable sign of devious treachery. He saw the words clearly. Read them.

"Talk? T-Talk?" Falcon sputtered, holding his bardiche with a frustrated tension. "What do you mean talk?"

Hahnah glanced at the words--noticing them now too--and then over at Falcon. Realizing. Stating her realization in a rhetorical question, "You can read?"

Falcon ignored her. "Talk about what!? What difference will it make? What are you even doing here?? Sparrow! I'm--!" He shook his head. Failing words on his tongue, too hard to say aloud.

* * * * *​

Eagle was not around. He had been sent to check on the townsfolk and the torch-wielding sentinels in the center of town, holed up inside the mayor's manor and the church.

This, while someone else moved into position.

Pretty Boy
 
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Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy shifted her in his jaws enough to show that Sparrow was alive. The implication being that it wouldn’t be the case if everyone didn’t stop. He sat down and wiped away his words as the mercenary shouted at him. Not bird. Dwarf. Was he blind? That would make this even harder if he thought he was negotiating for a damned bird.

Pretty looked at Hahnah and gestured to her with a paw. Talk Hahnah. He wrote for the mercenary. He had a suspicion that this happened because the mated pair and their pup had returned to the town. How to phrase this in a way they could understand?

He struggled to remember the humans’ names. Would it even matter here? He growled in frustration. Hate humans. Not you. He wrote, and stamped next to the words again.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Falcon saw Sparrow (beautiful Sparrow) there in that disgusting creature's jaws, saw her face, serene even in the face of imminent death, and thought it certain to be the last time. He caught a glimpse of her eyes, looking out at him.

"''Tis a monster, a vile thing, through and through,'" Sparrow said.

"A Templar's Choice. Albin Frescin," Falcon said, swallowing and naming the play and the playwright with a heavy heart.

"We do not mean you harm," Hahnah said to Falcon. She saw that Pretty was writing, but she also thought that the scaled man would not be willing to read his letters to her.

Hearing that, and seeing the written words hate humans, not you, Falcon couldn't help but to gasp in an incredulous manner, a sort of malformed and singular laugh expressing his exasperation. He found that difficult to believe, what with the account of the slaughter at the Pond of the Goddess and Sparrow here now in that creature's jaws.

"We can help one another. Before the humans kill us all," she said.

"It's just like she said. Through and through." Falcon, with a hand trembling with grief, grabbed a thin roll of firepaper off of his vest. "You want us to help you with your massacre? That is what you intend to do, isn't it? Another Pond of the Goddess, here in Strathford?" He touched the firepaper to the blade of his bardiche and the rune-lined paper turned to ash and the blade became pure flame. His voice was choked with the weight of doing what must be done, "We have nothing to talk about."

"We do!" Hahnah pleaded in earnest. "We only kill humans. They are the ones tainted by sin. They are our enemy. Pretty would never kill you nor the short one."

And Hahnah looked to Pretty, seeking with wide eyes a confirmation of this.

* * * * *​

In the background, the BANGs of the monster hunters' gear had stopped. Eagle had reached his destination. As had the fourth hunter.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty nodded carefully. He hadn’t hurt Sparrow. He was currently drooling on her, and she was stunned, but she was unhurt. Well, from his actions at least. She’d taken quite the bonk to the head. She knew enough to quote nonsense, and insult him, which he found a touch unfair given that the worst she’d gotten was an injury of her own making and hair soaked in drool.

Will drop if leave. Pretty wrote, hoping the komodi wouldn’t choose the worst option. He could take him. All it would take would be crunching down on Sparrow and lunging at him. The other had seemed to have gone toward the other side of town, leaving Falcon all alone with them. He looked at Hahnah. She would have to defend herself if they insisted on defending the humans.

Not all die at Pond. I saved baby. Two human. Ask. Pretty wrote, patting a paw insistently. He wasn’t bad. He just killed men with weapons.

Hahnah
 

Hahnah

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It simply was not in Falcon's nature to be deceitful. He could have easily said that he would leave, convince Griffin and Eagle if they came back around to do the same, and then once Sparrow was free and safe immediately betray his word and resume the attack. But such an option never crossed his mind. Griffin, and certainly Eagle, could have done it and saved Sparrow in this manner, but not Falcon.

Hahnah shifted her gaze intently from Pretty to the letters he was writing and to Falcon and back to the letters. There was a lot of them. She wished that she could know what it was that he was writing, but...she could not.

Again Falcon let out a stifled gasp, a single dismayed laugh, when he read what the Dev wrote. Not all die at Pond, it wrote. That was supposed to be reassuring, somehow. That was supposed to convince Falcon to just leave the townsfolk of Strathford to the voracious and murderous whims of the Dev and Orange, this "Hahnah." He knew two humans and their child survived--maybe that was how they found Strathford, what the Dev truly meant by "saved." He also knew that the Dev killed the townsfolk of Willem and Fiora, and that Hahnah killed the townsfolk of Raphael, Valeria, Hans, and Frederick. Both of them had a complete disregard for innocent life. Both of them were intelligent enough to write or speak, but not to understand the depths of their own evil.

Falcon shook his head, his voice laden with grief for Sparrow. "I will not leave these people to your predations. We pledged to protect them from monsters like you. And we will."

Hahnah looked back to Falcon. "But why would you protect them? They are the scourge of Arethil. They kill elves and they will kill you t--"

"You are mad! Elves live here with them!"

Hahnah looked like she had been struck squarely in the gut. She heard what the scaled man said but there was a strong, fundamental push against it in her mind, an overpowering disbelief. Falcon's words entered her ears, and her mind as well as her stomach recoiled and spit them back out.

She blinked rapidly. Said in a distant way, "I do not mean harm to elves. I do not mean harm to you. I...I kill only those suffused with sin."

Falcon pointed his flaming bardiche at the two of them. Took in a breath. But held his ground. "None of whom you will find here in Strathford."

If he could keep them talking and writing, he could keep buying time. Time for Griffin and Eagle, yes, but...time for Sparrow, as well. Precious moments.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty saw it. He saw the moment that Hahnah realized that elves lived amongst humans. That even elves admitted that the humans weren’t all evil. They were close, so close to realizing what Pretty had been attempting to prove to her. Humans were petty beasts, and not all of them were good, but if even the elves thought them fit to live with then clearly they weren’t all bad.

Pretty growled at the Komodi around the dwarf in his mouth. They were close! Couldn’t he see the surprise on Hahnah’s face? Didnt he realize? She had stumbled blindly along this path, hating.

Show elves. Show Hahnah elves. Then fighting stop. He stamped insistently. Shook his head a bit (not too hard, but it would make the dwarf dizzy). How to communicate this? His writing wasn’t that good! Hahnah hate human. Think- he growled in frustration. -think human kill all elf. All. He underlined the word.

It made his head hurt! Devourers had no concept of one race above another. They didn’t view themselves as superior to anyone else simply by virtue of being born what they were. It was an incredibly complex idea he was attempting to wrap his head around. Show elves fighting stop.

He really hoped he got the concept right. He looked at Hahnah and whined.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah stood in the doorway, one hand to the jamb and one hand to the lightning scorch wound on her back. She watched Pretty write a lot of letters, and she lamented the fact that she could not read. She did not know who or what the tall scaled man was, but she knew him to be good. Him and the short one and the black-skinned (just like me) one. Good. Just like Pretty was good. Maybe the elves who lived here did not do so willingly? Maybe they were forced by the humans, and these hunters tricked? Maybe they could liberate the elves together? And Pretty was working hard on getting the scaled man to trust them.

Falcon went through a whirlwind of emotion with each new set of words that the Dev wrote. Was he making a mistake by even entertaining this; was he slowly being mind-controlled, like Griffin said had happened to those elves? But what if the creature--both of them--were actually telling the truth? What if he had a real chance to save Sparrow from that thing's wretched jaws? But they both killed half a dozen innocent people! Slaughtered them mercilessly! And the Dev wanted Falcon to take them straight to all of the townsfolk? To let the veritable wolves into the hen house? But Sparrow. Sparrow. But the life of one hunter didn't outweigh the scores of innocent townsfolk. But Sparrow. Sparrow.

Falcon slapped his forehead with the palm of his free hand, barely holding on to his bardiche with the other. Gods. Gods, no. Gods, he was going to do it. He could feel himself slipping toward that awful choice. That selfish choice. Saving Sparrow at the cost of the town. How many townsfolk would the Dev and Orange kill before they could be stopped? How many?

But it didn't matter. Because he could have her back.

"Let her go!" Falcon cried out earnestly, the hand on his forehead falling limply down to his side. "Let her go and I'll..." He let go of his bardiche, and it fell to the dirt path. The enchanted flame of the blade still burned with an orange that matched closely Hahnah's eyes.

"...I'll take you to them."

Hahnah brightened. The hand clutching at her wounded back lifted up to touch her chest in an affected way. She did not know what Pretty had written, but he had done it. He convinced the tall scaled man that they were not enemies. Now they could save the elves. Save them just as she had done with Alden in Elyr-Morath.

"I am glad," Hahnah said, looking to Falcon and Pretty Boy both. "I am so very glad."

* * * * *​

In the town center by the mayor's manor and the church, Eagle took off. He had seen no signs of forced entry on either of the barricaded doors. The torch-wielding sentinels outside swore that they had seen something, but they were jumpy enough as it was and prone to such things. Besides, they knew where both of the monsters were.

B-BANG and he was in the air.

Couldn't let Falcon, Sparrow, and Griffin have all the fun over there, eh?

Pretty Boy
 
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Pretty Boy

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Pretty sighed in relief. Thank the gods, the komodi had listened. Hahnah no read. Not write. He wrote to the komodi. Tell her. Say no fight. Pretty says. No fight. No kill humans. Find truth. He stamped a paw again, trying to distract Falcon from his distress. He hadn’t killed the dwarf! She was still breathing, and safe in his jaws. A few minor scratches from his teeth, but that wasn’t necessarily his fault. She was an awkward shape.

Pretty put dwarf in pouch. Safe. Not eaten. He wrote to the komodi. He wasn’t giving up their hostage. Not until they were leaving the town. Giving her up now was a perfect opportunity to let the komodi, or his friends, stab them right in the back. But having her in his mouth was uncomfortable for them both. She was getting scratched and drooled on, and his jaws were getting tired. Be gentle. Promise. He added as an afterthought.

Pretty settled the dwarf down halfway, backing her head out of his throat. A bit of fresh air was probably needed. He shifted her, bringing his tongue to the roof of his mouth and tipping her feet first into the pouch. He opened his mouth, and the flap to the pouch, wide so that the komodi could see she was alright.

The devourer sat back on his haunches, mouth open so she could breathe, and looked at the Komodi. As soon as he'd explained things to Hahnah, they could move.

Now that things weren’t so tense he approached Hahnah and examined her back. That was a nasty wound. He licked it clean.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Falcon's inner turmoil only worsened. How could he be doing this? How could he sacrifice the lives of the townsfolk for his own sake? And that was what it was, wasn't it? For his own sake. He wanted Sparrow back for himself. Falcon wanted to fight monsters because it was simple--they were monsters, vile things, through and through. He wanted to fight monsters because he knew he would never be tested. Or so he had thought. And now his fear had come to be, and he saw himself for who he truly was. Brittle. Weak under pressure. Ready to damn others when they needed him most.

But he wanted Sparrow back.

And so he allowed himself to believe in the charade. That the Dev and Orange just wanted to see the elves. The fantasy that they wouldn't start killing at least the innocent human beings holed up with them in the church and the manor once there.

He went along with it. Because he wanted Sparrow back and he was too weak to say no to a pair of butchering monsters.

Falcon swallowed. Looked at Hahnah, not even bothering to avert his eyes from hers as had Griffin warned. Did as the Dev demanded and meekly relayed the information, "He...he wrote 'no fight. Pretty says. No fight. No kill humans. Find truth.'"

Hahnah's hopeful expression dropped. A faltering confusion overtook it. She slowly turned her head to gaze upon Pretty Boy, her tone bewildered, "...What do you mean? We came here to kill them. And that is what we will do. We will kill all of them as we did at the pond."

Falcon, as if infected by that same confusion, spoke in much the same manner, "...But you didn't kill all of them. I know you didn't. Reginald, and David and Andrea and their baby all came back. What's going...on here...?"

And as it set in, as Falcon realized that the Dev had for whatever reason misled or outright lied to his own partner (and what that meant for him and Sparrow), Hahnah stared at Pretty. Disbelieving.

"You ate them," she said. "I saw you eat..."

(a realization. the way Pretty carried Reginald. in his mouth.)

"...them."

Falcon looked down at the new words written as if to do so would bring about death itself upon him and Sparrow and all of Strathford. Pretty put dwarf in pouch...promise. He looked back to Hahnah. Saw her face. That look. And Falcon pinched his eyes shut. He knew it was over.

As her arms and legs disappeared into that thing's maw, Falcon knew he would never see Sparrow again--that she was never coming out of that "pouch." The Dev would lie to him as easily as it did to Orange. He was never going to let her go. And Falcon's own weakness blurred the simple truth from him.

He made a heavy, wheezing, grief-laden sound. And said, "I knew you wouldn't."

B-BANG.

* * * * *​

Griffin had taken his time getting into position. Finding the right house. Being covert about it. He overheard some of what Falcon and Orange were talking about, but in his focus could not pay much of it true heed. He had no idea how or why he was talking with Orange anyway.

Then, once he was inside the house and had eyes on Orange from behind, he heard why: Falcon making a plea to "let her go." Sparrow. Something happened. Griffin had been at the farthest side of town when the flare over the crop field was launched, and hung back in the town center by the church and the manor until he heard the fighting start--just in case. But damn! How did Sparrow get grabbed? It didn't matter. Falcon was trying a long shot. He was always the most diplomatic among them, but Griffin doubted that he would get far with the two monsters.

And when he faintly heard Falcon say, "I knew you wouldn't," Griffin knew the long shot had failed. Godsdamn it. Rest in peace, Sparrow. He made a resolution to keep one of the monster's heads and lay it over her grave as tribute to her valor.

* * * * *​

The bangs didn't come from Falcon. They came from inside the house Hahnah was standing in.

An arming sword burst out of her gut as she was impaled upon it, Griffin's weapon plunging in through the scorch wound on her back where she had no Living Armor. Both Griffin and Hahnah, skewered upon his weapon, came rocketing out of the house. Griffin held onto her and canted his forearms up and two more BANGs sounded and launched the two of them high up into the air.

"GRIFFIN!" Falcon shouted, aghast. The komodi was veritably torn asunder by distress. Frozen in inaction. He didn't know whether to grab his bardiche or to leave it be, to keep playing into the selfish fantasy that Sparrow might live.

There was a brief struggle high in the air between Griffin and Hahnah--the strands of her Living Armor flailing madly.

It ended with Hahnah being dropped.

And plummeting down.

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Pretty was getting through to them. He was! He was so sure. Hahnah finally knew that he hadn’t had the guts to kill a mated pair and their child. Even Reginald had made it back. He was probably being treated by their healers. He’d tried, but devourers were not capable doctors. Hahnah was good, he knew she was good, she just had to understand that different races could live together. That somehow not all humans could be painted with the same brush.

But the minute he tried to show Falcon that Sparrow was alright...he heard the blade. Turned to see Hahnah impaled upon it. He pushed Sparrow out of the pouch and shoved her at Falcon; if she was still conscious, anyway. She was very much alive. As strange as her experiences in the past five minutes had been, all she had from the devourer were a few scratches from where he’d squeezed her.

Pretty had told the truth.

He ran after Griffin, bellowing for Hahnah. Any houses in his way he merely barreled right through, his massive bulk shattering mud daub walls to powder. He saw her fall, and he raced to catch her. He threw himself onto his shoulder and twisted around to catch her on his belly, clasping her to him with his forepaws to break her fall.

It felt like a small meteor had struck him. Small as she was, she knocked the wind right out of him. He slowly let her down on the ground and nuzzled her, whimpering. He couldn’t fix this. She was wounded, maybe dying, and he couldn’t fix this. He stood over her, whimpering in distress.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Time seemed slow for Hahnah the moment she was ran through by Griffin.

(why?)

Up into the air.

(why did Pretty protect the profane?)

She smelled him. Human.

(they killed the babies he cared for. they killed my caretakers.)

Hahnah looked back over her shoulder at him.

(they killed them.)

Her eyes widened furiously.

(they are all drowning with sin.)

It was him. The last man among the hunters. The one who got away. He who was there when those hunters killed Kylindrielle and Elurdrith. Her caretakers. The only family she had ever known.

(THEY KILLED THEM!)

* * * * *​

Hahnah fell as her legs flailed and her arms reached and her eyes blazed and her teeth clenched hard together in a supreme, hateful fury. She felt not the pain from the lightning's scorch nor from the impaling wound left in her gut by Griffin's sword nor did she feel the fear of falling from such a height down to the earth. She was completely consumed with one desire, and one desire only. TO KILL. Such was her loyalty to those she loved. She would see them avenged in a tide of blood spilled from their murderers. She would drown the entirety of the world in this sanguine sea, and her life in this gnawing, gnashing moment was dedicated to this sole cause.

Hahnah landed hard on Pretty's stomach. The world before her eyes exploded into a bedazzling array of colors, draining away slowly before the normal night sky and the up-facing surroundings of the town came dripping back in. Pretty was up by the time this happened. Nuzzling her. Whimpering.

Elongated strands of Living Armor stretched and pushed Hahnah straight back up and onto her feet, as if she had suddenly and temporarily sprouted another set of lanky, writhing arms for just this one purpose. Indeed, all the "fur" that was her Armor wriggled and squirmed as if a slinking and sliding and crawling colony of worms and ants and centipedes were all marching to war across her body.

She snapped that teeth-clenched gaze to Pretty, the fury in it burning intense and untamed. She did not hate him. Not yet. But there in that swirling maelstrom of searing anger in her eyes, some was indeed reserved for him and what he did.

For Pretty Boy, yes.

But more so for Falcon. For Sparrow. For Eagle. These three, in league with Griffin, had earned her hatred.

Tendrils of Elemental Hatred whipped out of her palms. A grand halo of not five but twenty Knives of Elemental Hatred manifested about her shoulders and head, the points of the ethereal, sorcerous weapons all aimed forward in terrifying unison. Her Living Armor palpitated with what could perhaps be an intense anticipation.

"WE ARE GOING TO KILL ALL OF THEM."

She didn't wait for an answer. She didn't want one nor did she need one. They were the profane, and the protectors of the profane. All of them she would slay. All of them. Human or not. All. Of. Them. To side with humans was to side with sin. To be complicit in their cruelty. Pretty had brought harm to the short one. Hahnah thought it was wrong, but she was wrong. They--the short one, the scaled man, the black-skinned lightning wielder--were all complicit. They defended humans, and not just any human, but one of the men who was there when her caretakers were killed.

Hahnah stalked back out to the dirt path. Falcon was there where Sparrow had been spit out by Pretty Boy, sitting and holding her and checking her and altogether in complete, joyous incredulity.

Griffin, above, hovering with his Slowfall boots activated, shouted something. ("Falcon, MOVE! Get Sparrow out of there!")

Hahnah twisted her hand, and a Knife flew from her baleful halo of sorcerous weaponry.

And it struck Falcon in the face. Blew out the back of his skull. The komodi's grip on the dwarf slipped away, and he fell collapsed backward. Dead on the ground.

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Pretty Boy

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Pretty shied with a snort when she rose up. Actually got up from such a mortal wound! His first reaction was one of concern, but she turned those burning eyes on him. She was angry with him for what had happened. She intended to kill everyone in this town. He had been so close to proving it to her. To show her that elves and their ilk lived with humans in peace. Perhaps if that damned Komodi had listened, and prevented his fellows from betraying them...he might be alive.

Pretty held no pity for them anymore. He had come to them in good faith, he had negotiated. How had he been repaid? By the hunters striking Hahnah when she had finally begun to listen. It was their fault she wasn’t walking peacefully with him right now, to see the falsities in her thinking with her own eyes.

Moreover, Pretty had been raised to be loyal. Devourers were loyal. Not all of them found companions to serve beside, but those who did were fortunate. His own mother had told him so. It was a devourer’s greatest calling in life to serve in war or protection, and Pretty had failed her when she needed him.

He didn’t feel too bad then, about grabbing the dwarf in his jaws and shaking her like a rag doll. This time when she went down his throat, the plates grabbed her and crushed down, and blood burst from his mouth. He swallowed the body and snarled at Griffin.

That was the one who had stabbed Hahnah and ruined eberything! He roared at him, unable to do much from the ground. There were still two left to kill.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah kept walking forward. She ignored the pain of her wound, ignored the blood seeping out of both ends of it. Strands of her Living Armor around the entry and exit wounds probed at them, stretching and searching and feeling autonomously. Some of the strands began to filter inside of the wound. Others followed. Hahnah snarled and limped slightly as pressure built inside of the wound like a tightening fist. The bleeding slowed to a trickle.

Hahnah approached the short one and the slain scaled one. The short one said something. ("'One last--'")

Then Pretty Boy rushed past. Took the short one in his maw. Shook her and slid her into his mouth. Hahnah glared fiercely at Pretty Boy, but then blood burst from his mouth and she turned her attention back down to the scaled one's corpse. Both Tendrils of Elemental Hatred from her palms lashed out and squirmed their way into the komodi's ravaged skull, racing down the inside of his throat, flailing and tearing at organs inside his body and ripping at flesh from within, any and all organic matter touched by the swirling sorcerous energy were consumed. The strands of her Living Armor bristled in unison. Blood and ichor stained the komodi's clothing and armor from the inside out.

She mutilated his body. Griffin above shouted something. ("Eagle! It's...it's just us now!")

Griffin threw a fire potion down at Pretty Boy. When the glass of the bottle shattered, whether on the Devourer or on the ground, a gout of sudden flames would erupt.

Hahnah heard those familiar BANGs behind her. The hairs on Hahnah's head began to rise. She turned--

And a streak of yellow lightning struck her. She stumbled backward, struggled to stay on her feet. But she recovered. She did not fall. The right side of her face was singed and blackened, kin now in a scarred way to the skin across the rest of her body; the orange glow of her right eye had gone out and fluid leaked down her cheek; the dangling hair on the right side of her face had all but vanished, and steam rose from exposed scalp; live embers clung to her right shoulder, her Armor there burned away, steam rising, and the black bone of her shoulder lay exposed where a thumb-sized portion of flesh was missing.

Hahnah glared up at Eagle as he glided overhead. Aimed and gauged as best she could with her singular eye. Pointed up with the index and middle finger of her left hand at him.

Then let loose a barrage of Knives, each malevolent weapon flying free from the halo around her one at a time in quick succession. Some of the Knives struck against the metal of his vambraces, the hard vest of his torso, winking harmlessly out of existence. But some filtered through the cloth of his pants and sliced his leg. Some tore at his face, narrow grazes instead of direct hits. Eagle swore and lifted his arms to boost up and away. And that was when a Knife of Elemental Hatred filtered through his arming doublet via his exposed armpit and severed his right arm, the now loose limb held limply in place by the sleeve of his doublet and the full assembly of his vambrace and rerebrace. Eagle let out a cry and accidentally clapped his Slowfall boots together as his legs clenched from the bursting pain, disabling them. He tumbled from the air and his forward momentum carried him further down the dirt path and he hit the ground hard and rolled and came to a dizzying stop.

Hahnah turned around slowly. The blazing hatred in her eye finding the crumpled Eagle down on the path. He was groaning and muttering in an agitated manner, trying to stand. Trying to orient his working left arm skyward.

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Pretty felt the fire potion burst on his back. He roared and pitched himself on the ground, rolling violently to try and get the substance off of himself. He was scorched, and the fire made short work of his velveteen fur, but he got up. Shakily, covered in dirt. He’d rolled in some of the blood left behind by Hahnah mutilating the scaled one’s corpse.

He was shocked at seeing her. No creature should be able to stand after being struck by lightning twice! She was blinded, one eye melted in a way that made Pretty’s skin crawl. He’d thought her a normal, if hateful creature before this. Now he realized he hadn’t known her at all. This went far beyond any definition of hatred he was familiar with.

Pretty did know enough to grab Eagle’s arm when he lifted it skyward. There was no way in hell he was getting away again. He crushed the vambrace in his teeth, the twisted metal flattening the arm inside of it. He dropped Eagle and looked at Hahnah. This was her kill, and he wasn’t going to contest her for it.

That left the one who had thrown a fire potion at him.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah stalked after Pretty Boy toward the fallen hunter. More Knives of Elemental Hatred manifested to replace those launched from her halo, and a tiny trickle of blood seeped out of her right ear as the internal hemorrhaging from overuse of her sorcery began.

Eagle swore and yelled as his vambrace and his arm were crushed. Griffin shouted something down to him. ("Hold on, I'm coming!")

Hahnah, numb to the howling pain screaming through her muscles, kept her hateful gaze locked on Eagle and lifted her right hand and pointed up and behind herself, and the circling halo of Knives behind her head turned and one by one Knives fired up at Griffin. Griffin grunted and Hahnah heard another B-BANG as he had to fly and dodge the Knives. Another fire potion he had thrown went widely off course and struck the thatch roof of a house instead of her or Pretty Boy, flames spreading quickly along it.

Hahnah stopped at the foot of Eagle. Single eye glaring down at him.

"You are an elf," she said.

"Yeah," Eagle spat, cocky even in the face of death. "And what the fuck are you?"

"I am the slayer of humans."

Hahnah flicked her arm and whipped a Tendril at Eagle's head and his head from his nostrils up simply disappeared, as if erased, as the writhing sorcerous appendage consumed the very flesh and bone and blood it touched. The loose strands of Eagle's long hair dropped to the ground, and his tongue flailed visibly inside of his mouth and tried to say some last words and failed. He dropped back and lay still.

"And the slayer of all who aid them."

She heard Griffin above and heard the noises he made to fly. She looked skyward toward him, his silhouette now against the night sky and its stars. She watched until the homes and buildings of Strathford blocked her view of him. But he had dropped down somewhere deep inside the town. Those BANGs had ceased.

Hahnah looked to Pretty Boy. The fury in her eye unquenched even as her body was ravaged from the fight. She said in a low growl, "We are not done yet."

And Hahnah started along the dirt paths toward the town center, the white, black, and maroon energies of her Tendrils and her halo of Knives glowing balefully in conjunction with the burning beacon of her sole eye.

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Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy watched her kill the other elf. He didn’t question her, but he did keep the burning building in view. He didn’t like fire...and those potions had been horrific. His back ached and burned, and he was beginning to develop blisters under his skin. It would hurt to have anyone riding him for a little while. He saw Hahnah heading toward the town center, and he walked beside her.

Pretty roared, baring his teeth and pulling his lips back. Hopefully the people cowering within would know what it was and run. They had to run! What was it with humans and refusing to give ground? They froze like deer instead of following the instinct to survive. Perhaps Hahnah was right in cleaning them up, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t wasteful. After all, pups who didn’t learn didn’t survive their first winters.

Pretty looked at Hahnah. She was hurt. Deathly so. She was in pain, her eye looked horrible. He had seen predators work through injuries like hers. His own father had lasted months before succumbing to a shattered tusk that had rotted in his head. He was built to withstand, as was she, but he couldn’t help but be concerned.

She was also angry. Angry with him, in part. Maybe killing those who didn’t run or hide would slake her bloodlust.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah walked. Fine at first.

(they have been placed in my path.)

Her stride normal and purposeful.

(because they have sinned.)

Pretty Boy roared. Hahnah did not care for intimidation. It did nothing. Only slaying satiated her.

(they have sinned because they are cruel.)

She stumbled slightly. Clutched at the exit wound in her gut.

(they are cruel because they are born that way.)

She felt the pain in her gut and on her face and elsewhere ebbing back into awareness during the peace of the walk to the town center.

(they are the profane.)

But she did not stop.

(who must be cleansed.)

She could not stop.

* * * * *​

The town center of Strathford looked deserted. A statue of Astra with her hands splayed out benevolently marked the very center of the town square, with the mayor's manor to the north and the town church to the west and shops and stalls enclosing all the rest.

There were some discarded crude wooden shields strewn about on the ground. Some discarded torches, most snuffed out but some still sputtering flame at their ends.

The stars and the moon above were brilliant and clear, their pale light a soft illumination of the silent town.

Silent.

But the fresh smell of humans and elves here in the town center was pervasive.

* * * * *​

Hahnah walked into the town center. She stumbled as got close to the statue of Astra and reached out and steadied herself on the cold metal. Her shoulders slouched and she bent forward until she was close to doubling over. A small half-cough, half-gargle came from her, and a few drops of blood fell from her mouth and splattered down to the cobblestones of the square. She took in a breath. Another. And another.

She did not dispel the halo of Knives nor the Tendrils. Not yet.

Hahnah straightened her posture. Looked to Pretty Boy. Then scanned around the town center with her eye.

"They are here."

And perhaps he was among them.

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Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy watched her. Watched her stumble and offered his tusk to her so she could catch herself, or throw an arm over his thick neck. She needed to find a healer. It was a miracle she was alive...how long could she sustain this? He was worried her hatred would burn her up inside. He didn’t even know where her elven family was. She had told him about them, but he had no idea where they were. What healers were nearby? Were there any?

He watched her catch the statue and looked up at it briefly. He knew this goddess. The name escaped him, but she was queen of the stars. That much he knew. He looked at the discarded shields and nuzzled one, turning it over. Where had the humans gone? He could smell them. Their scent was thick.

Pretty approached the church and nuzzled at the door, snorting. Maybe here? He butted at the doors and grabbed the handle in his teeth to pull.

Hahnah
 
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