Completed The Butterfly

Hahnah

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The heavy doors of the church did not budge inward or outward. Inside the church, a thick wooden beam barricade laid across U-hooks on the backs of the double doors held them in place. A number of pews had been piled up in the doorway as well.

And over a hundred men, women, and children--humans and elves alike--collectively held their breath in sheer terror.

Griffin had come back. Shouted to them through the barricaded door for them to stay put and stay quiet. Told them that everything was going to be alright. And even as the doors rattled, they still believed in him.

* * * * *​

Hahnah limped after Pretty Boy. The points of all the Knives arrayed in the halo behind her head slowly oriented themselves in unison toward the church. Her Living Armor began to sway and quiver like blades of grass in a light wind.

She regarded the church as she approached. A tall and large building, made of blocks of stone. A monument to their cruel gods, whom they worship and pray to as they are themselves abused by them. Pretty Boy was right. It made sense that they would take refuge here. They would take shelter and pray. But none of them knew that they had been delivered by their very own gods into Hahnah's path. They never did.

Hahnah held her hands down at her sides, the Tendrils of baleful magic writhing with the twisting, languid motions of an octopus's arms.

Pretty Boy tried the door. It did not work.

"I want you to break it down," Hahnah said. Her eye slowly rising from the Devourer to the doors.

Pretty Boy
 
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Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy looked back to Hahnah, then to the doors. He was exhausted. He was hurt. Hahnah had to be reaching the end of her rope. He tugged mightily, and then backed up. Thick doors? If they barricaded anything behind it he would have a hell of a time getting through. His back burned and he turned to try and lick at it, which only made it worse. Pretty Boy backed up and took a deep breath. He hoped the doors held. Please, let the doors hold until Hahnah grew tired. She was wounded. They needed to leave and regroup.

Pretty didn’t like it, and he knew it was wrong. There were pups in there. Maybe even the pup he saved. He didn’t want to hurt them, but Hahnah had gone mad. He understood killing the three they had; they’d started the fight first. But people who were unarmed? Pups? He didn’t like it.

His shoulders shivered like the withers of an exhausted horse, but he put his head down and charged. A loud bang, and the doors bucked but held. They’d blockaded it, and Pretty hoped it held. He backed up, and hit it again. This time he sat down, panting, and looked at Hahnah. He slowly walked to her and gently touched his nose to her cheek. Enough.

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Hahnah

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Hahnah turned her cheek away and indeed turned her whole body around when Pretty Boy failed to breach the doors. She did not know if those doors truly were so sturdy or if Pretty Boy intentionally did not try hard enough to break them, and she was angry that she did not know. That she did not have unquestionable certainty in what he was doing. In her caretakers she had complete trust. And it had felt good. After their deaths and in her wanderings she searched for others in whom such absolute trust could be placed.

She glanced back over her shoulder at Pretty Boy.

That search would continue.

"We came here to kill them. We came here to kill all of them. And they will not escape. HE will not escape me this time! I will sit here and wait for as many days as needed. They will open those doors, or they will starve. And when they open those doors I will slay them. I will spare none. I cannot. Every human and every elf who loves them will be killed. All things which carry their profane sin will be eradicated. This place will all be blood and ash when I am done. It will be blood and ash..."

The flickering orange light of the sputtering torches on the ground behind her caught her attention. She shifted her gaze.

"...blood and ash."

Hahnah, no longer limping as the sermon-like frenzy of her words had stirred her injured body back into numbness, walked from the church's doorstep to one of the discarded torches in the square--one with a strong flame. She held out her palms and the Tendrils slithered back into them, the magic dispelling. Then she reached down and picked up the torch. Turned. Walked back toward the church's doors.

She stopped briefly by Pretty Boy. Looked at him.

And made reference to why he told her about the mercy he showed to Reginald, and to other humans. "They are all guilty. They are all armed with evil weapons," she said. She lifted her free hand to her chest. Tapped her finger over her heart a few times.

Then she looked back at the church's doors as the torch's flame crackled.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty looked at her, looked at the torch in her hand. He had hoped she would stop. But she didn’t. He knew there was at least one pup inside that building. Hahnah wasn’t right in the head. There was something wrong here. Not all of the humans inside were evil and they were definitely not all armed. If they were they’d be out here fighting them and not cowering in a church!

Listening to her words he caught something. He won’t escape. He. She had become angry when she’d seen the elf and not for the reason he thought. Something was missing and he had to find out what. If a man had wronged her he would help her. But when he had heard baby Michael’s cries they had been frighteningly close to the squeals of his own pups. There wasn’t a chance in hell he would let her burn them alive. He couldn’t let her do to those families what had been done to her, and him.

He would have to be quick. He had to knock her out and get her to a healer. He knew of one, out this far. He gave no sign. He was good at that. He stood behind her as though to watch her. He lifted himself a bit and slammed his chin into the back of her head. Hard. As hard as he could, and that was considerable given his bulk. He had to knock her out! He had to stop this! If she stumbled, he’d hit her again. He had to get her out.
Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Stars once more exploded into Hahnah's vision. A hollow ringing replaced the world. The torch fell from her hand and the halo of sorcerous Knives flickered and dissipated asymmetrically. Her legs couldn't keep her standing and she fell down onto her stomach, incredibly disoriented and briefly incognizant. The Living Armor across her body began to writhe and twist frantically, aware that there was an enemy nearby to guard against but without knowledge siphoned from Hahnah's mind of who or what it was. The strands twined together and elongated to form several arm-length tentacles, which flopped and undulated about this way and that, searching, searching, searching the area around Hahnah. They needed only to touch.

Hahnah gasped, her breathing hitching violently. More blood from her ear. She did not know exactly what had happened. Not yet. But her hands began to shake with a rising fury.

Her hatred was mounting.

Ready to be aimed.

The world was coming back to her.

And it would leave her with only one possibility.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Thanks be, she was down! Pretty dodged her Living Armor, writhing like snakes, and swatted her once more with a paw. More like clubbed her. He didn’t want to kill her but he could see her shaking in rage. She needed to be out! Out now! He was panicking at this point. She was injured, and he remembered how to fix that, but what would it take to get her out cold? He looked like a big cat, darting in between the tentacles and giving her a sharp whap. Claws in, of course.

Pretty whined in distress and panic. He felt like he was hitting a dear friend. He didn’t want to hurt her but she was hurt, and mad with pain, and he couldn’t let her do the horrid thing she’d set out to do. Hunting humans for food yes. Maybe even a spree on the town. But not this! This was too far!

He darted in again and whacked her against the temple, retreating to a safe distance.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Again she was struck in the head. Her nose fractured and her lips were pressed between her teeth and the cobblestone of the walkway, cut and scraped on both sides. Hahnah's grasp on the world was there in the palm of her hand and then it was wrenched away, as the ringing came howling back for another round and a brilliant flash of white clouded her vision and dispersed slowly.

(why does he protect the profane?)

Her Living Armor learned. They did not touch and find the enemy but the pain from the second strike was understood by the gestalt intelligence among them. Twice in the same spot, the pain of their host. The amalgamated tentacles whipped over and made a defensive cage about Hahnah's head. Lacking any other information this was all the Armor could do to protect.

(he has broken my trust.)

Another strike, but this time one shielded to a degree by her Armor. The strands stiffened unnaturally once contact with Pretty Boy's paw was made, but still there was some bend and give. Some of the force of the blow jostled Hahnah's head again.

(he is killing me.)

Her hatred simmered viciously.

(their sin has tainted him too.)

Hahnah flopped over onto her back. Tried to stand and stumbled away and back down and immediately tried to stand again and could not just yet. The tentacles formed by her Armor shrank and slithered back to their normal size. Hahnah sat up, still dizzy, the vision of her sole eye not quite focused. Far and away from her, across the cobblestone walkway leading to the church, was Pretty Boy.

And her hatred now overflowed at the sight of him.

"You were my friend...and now you wish to kill me...for them," Hahnah said, and the malice in her tone became palpable. "You are...profane. And of profane things, I am the cleanser."

From her palms long Tendrils of Elemental Hatred squirmed out, short ranged but defensive here. Around her head the halo of sorcerous Knives reappeared, all of their points menacingly aimed toward Pretty Boy. The magic of both the Tendrils and the Knives now fully capable of harming and killing Pretty Boy, of consuming any and all organic matter of his that they came in contact with.

Blood ran down violently from her nose, dribbling over her lips and down off of her chin and onto her lap. This not from the fracture, but from the internal hemorrhaging worsening from her use of sorcery.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty Boy backed off at her words and shook his head violently. He wasn’t trying to kill her. No pups! He had told her before that he wouldn’t kill children and she had agreed! How could he let her set them ablaze? He shook his head and backed up to the church. He extended his claws and wrote on the stone. No pups. He underlined it, praying she recognized the symbols from the previous discussion.

He simply stood there, shaking his head and whining. He didn’t want to do this! He wanted to be away and he wanted to get her healed. He’d just meant to knock her out. He wasn’t trying to kill her. Would she really flip so quickly? Without even trying to understand?

Then again she had always twisted things to what she saw as right. After all the times he’d backed her up over the last few days, did she truly not understand she was attempting to save the young? He couldn’t give a damn about the men and women hiding like cowards. They should have known better than to corner themselves. He wasn’t going to let her burn pups alive. Not after witnessing his own be killed.

Pretty was tired. His shoulders were shaking and he was hurting from the burn on his back.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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He backed further away. He feared her, like Griffin feared her. They feared her because they feared their own sin. In seeing her, Pretty Boy and Griffin both knew that they would be held to account--it was no different. Her very form was the manifestation of their inevitable divine punishment. They could run, as Griffin did years ago when he and his other humans killed her caretakers, but they could never escape. They could never escape because they would always, always carry their sins with them.

Hahnah tried to stand again. But her legs, even with the burning fuel of hatred coursing through her veins and numbing her, could not comply with her wish. So she collapsed back down onto her rear end, growling in frustration.

Her head still swam with dizziness and her vision was close to, but not quite, settling, but she could aim. Not well, but she could. She could aim with more certainty once he came charging at her. She pointed the index and middle finger of her left hand at Pretty Boy, and the points of the twenty Knives in the slowly swirling halo oriented their points dutifully with the trajectory of her fingers. Her outstretched arm and thus her fingers swayed uneasily. A full barrage at his head when he got closer could slay him. If she missed too much or if he endured then she still had her Tendrils and her Armor to protect her. The elves, the sinless elves, of Falwood needed her.

But he did not charge at her.

He scratched at the stone wall of the church. Even if she could read, she was not close enough nor was her vision settled enough to do so from where she sat.

"What are you writing?" she said. And her frustration became her as the futility of it sank in. "What are you writing??"

As it had been with Reginald, when she did not understand his actions, his lack of fighting or running, so was it here with Pretty Boy. Her curiosity spun like that downhill wheel again, the difference being that her curiosity then was placidly blue and calm and inquisitive, here now it was flaring red and angry and demanding.

She did not understand. Pretty Boy killed Willem and Fiora. Willem had a weapon and Fiora did not, but to Hahnah this difference did not matter and it was good. He did not kill David and Andrea and did not tell her that that was how the small human had escaped--with their help. He brought harm to Sparrow before Hahnah even considered it, and though Hahnah was shocked by it then it was good that he had, for Sparrow and Falcon were always planning to betray them to Griffin anyway. But then he had written "No fight, no kill humans, find truth." But then he had saved her when she was falling, and that was good. But then he decided just now to try and kill her. And now he stopped trying to kill her. She did not understand and it was maddening.

"Why do you protect the profane?" she said, her frustration boiling and her hatred searing. Yet the question--despite having occurred to her more than once tonight--didn't encompass the core of what she wanted to know, because he didn't just protect them, he cleansed them too. Through the ravaging fog of rage and hatred in her mind she had to find a way to rephrase it.

She tried.

"You are my friend at times and you are also not my friend at others," she said. A bubble of blood formed beneath her nostrils and grew and popped as she breathed heavily. "They killed your mate! They killed your babies! They killed my caretakers! They did it with evil in their hearts! Is there evil in your heart too??"

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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The writing confused her. He wished she could read. He wished to hell she could read! Thankfully she sat down hard on her rear, and he had a few minutes of thinking what to do. He went to one of the exhausted torches and picked it up in his teeth, and began to draw. When he’d drawn eyes she understood. When he drew words she didn’t. So he didn’t use words. The black charcoal showed up easily in the church walls.

He drew a crude version of the church. Then inside of it, an even cruder version of a baby in swaddling. It looked...kind of like the human baby looked when he’d been bundled up. It would have to do. He pointed an arrow to it. They’d agreed not to kill children, and there were children in there.

Pretty sat still for a moment, looking at his work. He drew a dwarf and drew a line through it. Then depictions of Falcon, and Eagle, both with lines through them. Then how he imagined Griffin to look, with a question mark. He wanted to know. He had to adjust the stick in his mouth and began drawing again. An elf and a human, with a circle. Then a human with a weapon, scratched out.

How to..?

He scribbled a crude drawing of her on his back, then an arrow to trees. A bandage. Healing. Help. He dropped the stick and looked at her, hoping she would understand.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah again tried to stand when Pretty Boy moved. And again her legs failed her, less so now from a lack of strength and more so from the utter swooning of the world when she set herself in motion. She fell back down onto her rear end. Scooted around (slowly, lest she go too fast and cause more dizziness) to keep Pretty Boy oriented in front of her, to keep the shoddy aim of her fingers pointed in his general direction. Again she scooted when he returned with the blackened torch to the facade of the church.

He drew on the wall. The black specks of charcoal stood in stark relief to Hahnah's eye in the pale starlight and moonlight against the gray stone of the church wall.

She did not trust him--kept her fingers pointed at him, Knives ready to launch, Tendrils undulating from her palms. But she looked anyway.

A shape. Rectangular. Another rectangle, long and slender with a pointed top. She recognized the steeple of the church, knowing it by visual association even if she knew not what it was called. An oval. A circle. Dots. Another association. Humans and elves wrapped their small ones in cocoons of cloth. An arrow. Pointing.

Hahnah thought of her one exception. The small ones. They were beneath her consideration, because they were not big and strong enough to sin yet. Pretty Boy had told her about how humans had killed the small ones he cared for, and she had thought about no longer making this exception, about treating humans as they had treated Pretty Boy, about preventing their small ones from growing up and being able to sin. He had said no. So she had kept her exception, and beneath her consideration the human small ones remained. When she burned down those doors of wood and metal and entered or when they opened them from desperation and she entered that way, she would kill every human and every elf who loved them inside. And to Hahnah, everyone did not include the small ones. She did not think of it as sparing them; she thought of it as waiting until they inevitably grew into sinners, and until their sin inevitably led them back to her.

"I do not care for the small ones; I will leave them to their cruel gods. They are too weak to yet sin. I care only for those who are big enough to sin, and for those who are complicit in their sin."

(like you.)

Pretty Boy drew more. People. People with the long, slender things on their forearms. The hunters. The short one. The tall scaled one. The elf with the black skin. Lines like swords through them. Griffin--this she knew through process of elimination. The question mark she did not understand, but she did not need to.

"I know that human," she said through teeth newly clenched again. "I will kill him. Whether you protect him or not, I will kill him."

Griffin came this way. He came this way and there were humans hiding here in the town center. He had to be among them. He had to be. She could not let him escape again. Not again. For her caretakers, not again. Of all the humans she wished to kill in the world, there was none that she wanted to kill more than Griffin. Nothing matched her hatred for him, the last hunter, the one who got away then...and who was inevitably led back to her. She had the chance now.

There were many pictures on the wall. Depictions of an elf and human, and a human with a weapon and a line scratched through that one. It did not matter to her if they had spears or swords or weapons of metal at all; the deadliest weapon they had was beating in their chests. Pretty Boy drew himself--that was easy to figure out. Something on his back. One eye. That was her. A pointing arrow. Trees. Something she didn't understand precisely. But she understood enough.

And said simply, "No."

The strands of her Armor bristled.

"I will cleanse this place of sin."

The strands of her Armor bristled more violently.

"And you did not answer my question."

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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How the hell did one draw evil? Pretty reared and drew his claws down the depiction of Griffin. Yes. They could kill him. But leaving babies to starve was an even crueler fate. Hahnah was not sparing them. She was giving them a crueler death than she had the adults. In a way, she was torturing them by taking their parents away. How to show that? How? He stared at the wall for a moment, then drew more.

He drew himself, and a spotted female...his Cassia. Then their two puppies, and humans with spears next to them, poised to attack. Next to it he drew the humans inside the church, holding a baby. He drew a circle around the humans that had killed his family. Then a circle around Hahnah, poised with her tentacles to kill the family with their baby. He linked the two circles. Could she see now? He drew her, with the two elves that had helped her, then the humans who had killed them. He drew a circle around the last, and linked it to the other two.

Could she see now?

He looked at her and whined.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

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Hahnah braced and nearly launched a Knife at Pretty Boy when he reared. That would not be good. It would likely miss, and she needed many to kill him if he came at her again. His claws raked against the stone and the noise was shrill.

Pretty Boy drew himself. Then he drew himself again, with spots. Then he drew two small versions of himself. Humans with spears. No, it was not himself again and two small versions. It was others of his kind, the babies and the mate (still she did not understand what that word truly meant, but it was something like friend).

Humans inside the church. A small one. A circle around the humans with spears. Hahnah again, and a circle around her. A line. Hahnah yet again. Two elves. Humans. Another circle and another line. And the abstract idea represented by the lines and circles eluded her. The lines through depictions of people she understood, because they looked like weapons stabbing through them. Arrows she understood, because arrows loosed from bows pointed at things and arrows on signs looked like arrows used with bows.

To Hahnah, it seemed like a reiteration of what she already said. That humans killed Pretty Boy's mate and small ones, that humans kill her caretakers, and that she was going to kill everyone in the church. Her question remained unanswered. And she let it be. Formed the answer for herself.

"I will kill him, and I will kill all those suffused with sin," she said. "You will not stop me."

Her outstretched arm was beginning to tire from being held out for so long. She shook it, trying to jostle the weariness away. It did not work so well, but she kept her fingers pointed at Pretty Boy at present. A feeling of coldness was seeping into her hands and feet as well--this from the mounting blood loss and internal bleeding--and she quietly became aware of it.

Pretty Boy whined.

"I trusted you. I trusted the tall scaled one. Both you and the tall scaled one broke my trust," she said. "Humans treated you with cruelty. I treated you with kindness, and then you treated me as humans treated you. They have evil in their hearts, and they have given you this evil too. You make that noise at me because you see what you are now. They have made you forsake your mate and your small ones, and they have made you sin with them. Look at that picture you drew of them. LOOK AT IT."

She continued.

"I will never become like you. I love my caretakers, and I love the God that I feel within my heart. And I will cleanse Falwood of sin and the profane. That is my purpose."

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Pretty Boy

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Pretty yelped and sidestepped the blade, looking at her. He’d only wanted to stop her, stop her madness. But even drawing things hadn’t helped. She was angry at him for trying to stop her, and she wasn’t going to stop. But she was getting shakier, and the magic was beginning to overwhelm her. If he didn’t do something she would die. If he stalled her, she would die. If he let her loose upon the church, she would die and so would all the rest. He shook his head angrily. He hadn’t sinned. He wasn’t bad. He hadn’t let his mate die, and it was the fault of specific humans, not all humans.

He laid down in front of the church door, shaking his head. He was hurt, and tired, and out of torches. He put his head on his paws and watched her. He wasn’t going to let this happen. He would be happy to help her kill Griffin, that was clear. But not these humans. He knew he’d gotten through at least to Reginald, hadn’t he? What proof did Hahnah have that they’d hurt elves at all?

Implying he didn’t care about his mate because he wasn’t blindly killing all humans...he hissed at her for that. That wasn’t true. He had loved her. Hahnah, clearly, only bonded with people she could use.

He grabbed one of the lit torches and rubbed it against the ground until it winked out, going to the church door. He drew Hahnah with a spear in her hand, and himself, and a circle around the spear and himself. Was that what she thought of him? A tool? Something to use? She hadn’t been much of a friend.

He tapped the picture of them together, then the picture he’d drawn on the doors. Which was it? Was he a tool she was going to use? Something blindly following along? Or a real friend?

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Hahnah

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Pretty Boy put himself in front of the doors. Shook his head.

He was protecting them. He was protecting a building full of the profane, a building gorged to fullness with evil. He hissed at her. He would attack her again soon. He had chosen his side, and he sided with the killers of his mate, his babies, and Hahnah's caretakers. He sided with the scourge of Arethil.

Another torch grabbed. Hahnah once more tried to stand, a much slower and more controlled attempt this time, but she sat back down. Not yet. The ringing in her ears had stopped entirely, and her vision had settled, but still her head swam. She needed to rest a while longer. Then it would clear. Then she could stand. Then she could close in and end this. Pretty Boy was not like the dangerous armored men she sometimes encountered--he did not wear metal to protect him. Her sorcery, her gifts from the Dying God, would tear through his hide, his fur, his muscles, his bones, his organs, consuming all.

She did not want him as an enemy. She did not want the elves who lived in Strathford as enemies. She never even wanted humans as enemies. But each had done this to themselves. Each of their own sins had brought them to this, and they made her the slayer that she was.

He drew Hahnah. Hahnah with a spear. Himself. Circles. Why did he keep drawing circles? They did not look like anything she knew nor were they anything that would make sense--not the sun, moon, stars, or other circle things.

"I do not use spears," she said.

Still her curiosity churned and spun as she rested defensively on the ground. Still she did not understand why Pretty Boy acted both for humans and against them. He had said before that he killed guilty humans, but he did not see the truth that Hahnah saw: that they were all guilty. He had said before that he killed humans with evil weapons, but he did not see the evil that lurked in all of their hearts.

But there was one exception to this. Fiora.

"Do you remember the humans you killed at the pond?" she asked. "Do you remember the female? She had no weapon, she did not attack you nor me like the male did, and you did not even eat her as you wanted to with the old man. You saw her as I did. You saw her guilt and her evil heart and you killed her. You did good. You did good, Pretty Boy. If you think that she was neither guilty nor that she held evil in her heart, and nor did you want to eat her, then why did you kill her?"

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty listened, setting the exhausted torch down. He was confused. If she was right why did it feel so wrong? Why did he feel as though no elf would have wanted this? Her caretakers would never have wanted this. He was sure of it...or maybe they had taught her this hatred. He didn’t know. He wanted to communicate with her better but he didn’t know how. His drawings misinterpreted or ignored, her attempts to stand and kill him. He couldn’t do this alone. He’d been so close with the Komodi. Why had that other man messed everything up?

Hope sank in his heart. He got up shakily and walked to the square, leaving the door clear for her. He hadn’t known why he killed Fiora. Blood lust? Maybe Hahnah was right? Maybe he had seen something bad in her? He laid down against the cool stones, resting his chin against his chest a moment. He hurt so badly from that burn. He was so tired. Pretty whined, more to himself than anyone else. He had no more answers for Hahnah. All he could do was rest.

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He did not answer her. He made no attempt to answer her.

He was inscrutable to Hahnah, and without someone to read his letters to her it seemed that her curiosity would go unsated. Maybe it did not matter. He had sided with the profane, tried to keep her from breaching into the church and tried to kill her. She did not know why he moved from the doors, but there were now a great many things that she did not know about Pretty Boy.

She dispelled the Tendril in her left palm, the sorcerous appendage slithering back into her hand and winking out of existence. Then, slowly and carefully, she began to crawl with one hand and scoot toward the doors. She kept her eye on Pretty Boy the whole time; he had done what Griffin had done, and struck her when she was not looking. Twice she had survived. She might not again. She had to be cautious.

Hahnah sat in the small corner made by the leftside door and the protruding leftside jamb, her back up against the wood and metal of the door. Her halo of Knives glided up from behind her head and danced now in their lazy spiral above her hair (and partially exposed scalp). Her legs she splayed out and her left arm she draped across her stomach and the sorcerous Tendril manifested in her right palm swayed like seaweed in a light current in front of her.

She could recover here. Let the dizziness in her head settle.

As she sat and breathed and watched Pretty Boy, the sharp pain from her fractured nose joined the chorus of agony slowly rising above the tide of numbness in this relative moment of peace. Hahnah winced. Squinted. Then opened her eye fully.

"You did good," she called to him, speaking of Fiora.

Moments passed.

"You did good," she said again.

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

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Pretty rested, his eyes on Hahnah. He hoped the people in the church had some way to leave. Some back door they could sneak out of. Something. He sighed heavily. Whatever he did now, he couldn’t stop her. He was as helpless as he’d been when Cassia was killed. Now other families were waiting to experience the same thing. Hahnah was so blind she didn’t see she’d become the very thing that killed her caretakers. Moreover, she didn’t want to see it.

Pretty rested his aching muscles. He could feel his back crusting. Hahnah didn’t care one whit for him or even herself. Just revenge. He sighed and rested. He wanted sleep but he couldn’t. Not with her around. She had gone mad.

He didn’t know how long she would insist on this. Or if he had any way to fix it. He didn’t know, so he laid on his belly and tried not to focus on the agony in his back.

Hahnah
 

Hahnah

Human Slayer
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144
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Curious and fearful eyes were upon Hahnah and Pretty Boy. Watching with great care and great trepidation from couple of the second floor windows of the mayor's manor. The barest of peeks from the sides of the windows, slow rising heads from below the sill that would dip back down once the two monsters were seen. Seldom and mostly concealed, these dangerous glances.

Questions asked in hushed tones among the townsfolk taking shelter in the barricaded manor. What were they doing out there? Were they going to just wait there all night? What if they wait longer? No, why would they wait longer, they're like animals, they have to get hungry or thirsty and leave sometime...right? Well, what then? What if they didn't? Should everyone try to sneak out through the back? What if they heard though, and came running, then everyone would be dead. Dead! There might not be any choice. So, what, we should all just run? With those things on our heels? The next town over is miles down the road! We'll never make it! We're safe here for now, just stay put, like we were told.

Stay put. Alright then, answer this: Where the hell is Griffin? Where is he? Those things have been outside for a while and he hasn't done anything! Not him, not any of his hunters. He told his stay here, but where is he? Where??

* * * * *​

Time passed.

Hahnah did not let her guard slip. She'd settled into a kind of embattled comfort from sitting and resting, despite her numerous injuries. The pain was distracting, endlessly gnawing and clawing at her, and there was no adrenal numbness from being actively engaging in slaying to mask it.

Her sorcery she could sustain for a long time like this. It was the manifesting of her Orbs, Knives, and Tendrils that took a moderate toll, and the actual consumption of organic matter on contact with them that took the greatest toll. Yet still, sustaining the magic would be draining over time. But she had to keep it ready. She had to stay awake. If she closed her eye, even if for a second, she would be dead. Pretty Boy would kill her to protect the profane humans hiding in this church.

She had to slay him. She had to slay him first. Once she started, she needed to make sure he was dead. Or he would be like Griffin. He would come back at some other time, come back when she was not looking, and try to kill her again. And if that happened, he might just succeed in crushing her head into the ground. She could not let that happen.

"Hello." A muffled voice, young and male. Behind her. On the other side of the church doors.

Hahnah turned her head but did not move her eye from Pretty Boy. A mild surprise filtered through her.

"We heard you. Talking," said the voice. A brief pause. "Mister Reginald said that you could talk."

Hahnah said nothing.

"Do you have a name?"

Hahnah said nothing.

"We know the name of the bear." There was a slight pause, something indistinct said within the church. "The devourer. His name is...Pretty Boy." Another pause. "Do you have a name?"

"...Hahnah."

A longer pause.

"My name is Zael...and you killed my father."

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

Man’s Best Friend
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Pretty Boy perked up when he heard Hahnah speak. She was talking to the door? He tilted his head, and approached gingerly. He gave Hahnah a wide berth but he wanted to hear what the man was saying. He could hear muffled words, and his own name. He wagged his little tail. Reginald had told them his name! Perhaps there was still hope. He wished he could speak. He hoped the puppy he’d revived was alright. He sniffed at the opposite side of the door, and lowed at them through it. His body language looked more confused than anything, but Hahnah was talking. She had said her name.

He crept back away from her, not wanting to raise her ire, and sniffed. In his opinion the humans weren’t particularly bad. He’d done a bad thing killing Fiora and he knew that now. But he’d done a good thing saving Reginald and Michael, and Michael’s parents.

Pretty wandered to the back door of the church, away from Hahnah, and sat down in front of the smaller door. He lowed at it, and scratched. He wanted to talk to Reginald. Reginald was able to translate and knew things. Maybe he could explain.

Hahnah
 
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Hahnah

Human Slayer
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The points of the Knives in Hahnah's halo tracked Pretty Boy as he moved. She lifted her hand and pointed her fingers and paid far more attention to the motions of the devourer than to the voice on the other side of the door. She watched him back up and watched him go, disappearing around the corner of the building, but she did not feel safe. If she could stand she would have pursued him. Once the dizziness in her head and the nausea it caused in her stomach went away, she would be able to slay him.

A drop of blood fell from her nostrils and straight down into her lap. She sniffed, and a flare of pain in her fractured nose made her wince.

"Where is he?" Hahnah said to Zael on the opposite side of the doors. She kept looking and listening for Pretty Boy.

"My father? Dead. Back at the Pond. You ought--"

"I do not care about the human you call father. I want the hunter. He is a human, one with yellow hair and slender metal things on his arms."

There was a noise on the other side. A scoff, or gasp, or laughter--unclear. "Griffin? Maybe you'll see him soon. I hope you do."

"So that is his name. His name is Griffin."

"Yeah."

"I hope that I see him soon too."

"Good." A brief lull in their talk. "Are you going to stay out there and wait? Huh? That it? Just wait for him to come and kill you?"

"I will wait, but he will not kill me. Pretty Boy will not kill me. You will not kill me."

"I've got a boar spear with your name on it. Hahnah." Her name he said in a highly disdainful way.

"Your gods have abandoned you to me. You will see. This place that you think is your refuge will be your grave."

"Maybe your gods abandoned you. Where were they when the devourer attacked you, huh? We heard you yelling about that. And where are they going to be when you see Griffin again?"

"I do not have gods. I have one God. And He is not cruel."

"Yeah. You're cruel enough for the two of you."

"I have never once been cruel."

An incredulous, angry laugh on the other side of the doors. "You are a monster. You don't even know what you've done. You don't. Even. Know."

* * * * *​

The back door of the church was smaller, less impressive, than the double doors at the front. Inside it was similarly barricaded, but with a thinner wooden beam across the portal and only a couple of pews that could fit in the immediate confines just beyond the back door.

There was a delay after Pretty Boy made his rumbling noise and scratched at the door.

A moment later, some hushed voices saying inaudible things too far from the door to be properly understood.

A moment after that, the voice of an old man on the other side. Reginald. Speaking with the assumption that it was Pretty Boy on the other side, for he did not have a way to be completely sure.

"I will be honest with you," he said, a quiet solemnity in his tired voice. "I did not truly think that I would be here. That I would live to see Strathford again. My grandson...my daughter..."

A female voice on the other side said something. Her words indistinct but the tone with which she said them thin, taut, and full of dread.

"What else are we to do, Andrea?" Reginald said. Then his voice a touch closer to the door, talking again to Pretty Boy. "I do not know if you are able, but...can you write with a quill? Do you know what that is?"

He pondered for a second. Kept it simple. Said, "Tap on the door twice if you can write with a quill. Tap once if you cannot."

Pretty Boy
 

Pretty Boy

Man’s Best Friend
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Pretty Boy listened to Reginald. Hah. He’d told him he would see his pup again. That was what the other male got for not listening to him. He knew what a quill was. He’d seen humans using them before. A long feather dipped in ink. It was monstrously delicate, but he’d do his best not to drop it. He tapped twice with a claw. He didn’t have much time until Hahnah came back, but he was grateful that Reginald wanted to talk to him.

The older human was tired and Pretty couldn’t blame him. He was probably in a lot of pain from those broken fingers. Humans needed their fingers for a lot of things. He wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about betraying Hahnah, but...he’d already done that hadn’t he? Maybe he could distract her long enough for the humans to escape like he had at the Pond?

A plan began to formulate in his head, but he’d need the humans’ assistance, and they couldn’t freeze like deer this time or flop down and wait to die.

Hahnah
 

Hahnah

Human Slayer
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"I know that you are profane, and that you are profane because you sin, and that you sin because you are human."

"Human?" said Zael. "No. Half. I'm half-elf. You'll see when I run you through with my father's spear."

The low current of contempt swirling inside Hahnah came to an abrupt standstill. She was bewildered. "You lie. You are either an elf, or you are a human. There are no living things which are half of one thing and half of another. That does not make sense."

"Wrong. My mother is an elf. From Fal'Addas. It's funny, because you sound like you're from there too. But you can't be. Monsters like you live out in the dirty wild--where they belong."

"I do not care if your friend is an elf. That does not make you an elf."

"I didn't say friend, you horse's ass. I said mother."

"A mother is a special kind of friend. But what difference does it make what you call her?"

Another incredulous scoff on the other side of the door. "Because she gave birth to me. That's a big damn difference!"

"I do not care if she gave you something called birth. That does not make you an elf."

"...What? You don't know what we're talking about right now, do you?"

"We are talking about why you are not an elf."

"Do you have a mother? A father?"

"I did. Their names were Kylindrielle and Elurdrith. They were my caretakers."

"Did they give birth to you?"

"They did not give me this thing you call birth."

"Well who did?"

"I have never received this thing. Kylindrielle and Elurdrith just found me."

Zael let out a sigh. "You're a monster. But you're also an idiot."

Hahnah was vaguely familiar with that word through her observations. It was a word said to infuriate others, but sometimes it was a word said when everyone was laughing and playing. She was not infuriated by the word, and she also was not playing with this human who thought he was half of an elf on the other side of the doors.

* * * * *​

Some more murmuring behind the back door of the church. Get what...? ...Yes, just do it.

A minute went by. There was some light noise on the other side of the back door. Another minute passed. More noise--it sounded like someone was right up against the door, brushing against it.

Then something peeked out from the thin crack between the bottom of the door and the floor. Slid out bit by bit, the front end of it curling slightly as the back end was still being wiggled out. It was a long sheet of parchment. At the end of the sheet was a quill, recently dipped in ink.

"That is the best we can do," Reginald said. "Trust is...difficult."

A voice, male, a bit further from the door and deeper inside. Stern and succinct. Reginald, replying, "Yes, I know. I saw it too."

Andrea, raising her voice, "That beast killed them! Killed them! They're working together!"

The other male, with a sharp shush.

Pretty Boy
 
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Pretty Boy

Man’s Best Friend
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Pretty slowly and carefully pulled the parchment out with his paw, leaving a filthy stain on the bottom part of the parchment. The quill he carefully picked up with his lips. The feather was swept into his mouth, and settled into the groove in his tongue for more control. Clasping the nib in his lips, he wrote.

Hahnah gone crazy. Pretty try knock her out. No work. Thinks betrayal. Can sneak out? Will distract Hahnah.

He set down the quill and nudged the paper back through with his lips, the slimy quill half-pasted to the paper. He could hear little snatches of the argument raging. They would have to move quickly. He caught the edge of the paper with his paw and used the dirt from a claw to write a post script.

Mikale okay?
 

Hahnah

Human Slayer
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The curious sidetrack lost its appeal. Hahnah said, "Is Griffin hiding in there?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Zael said, lording his knowledge over her and loving it. "Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't. You're stuck out there so fuck you."

"You should open the door," Hahnah said. Inviting. "You can take your chance with that boar spear of which you are fond."

"I'll get my chance."

"You will not if a door blocks your way and you die inside this church because there is no food."

"You have to eat too, don't you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Hahnah said, mimicking Zael's tone when he had the same to her.

"Heh. You think you're some kind of clever hen, gettin' loose from the coop, huh?"

"I am not a hen."

"Pfft. Do you know what that is."

Hahnah said nothing.

"I thought so."

"Your words do not change anything. I am what I am."

"That so? And what are you, exactly? Other than a murderer?"

"I do not murder."

A spiteful laugh from the other side. "So a court jester, then. Because you tell all kinds of jokes."

She ignored that. "I am a strange elf."

"Maybe you're half-elf, half-murderer. I'd believe that."

Hahnah ground her teeth some, irritated that Zael had not only brought up the nonsense about half-things again, but had implied that she was a half-thing, and that one of the halves was something which she knew for certain that she was not and had just said as much.

* * * * *​

The parchment was pulled in when enough of it came through. A moment, passing slow, as it was read.

The first one to speak on the other side was the voice of the other male. Firm in tone. "Reginald, come here."

"David, I--"

"No, away from the door, Reginald. Come over here. And bring that damn parchment with you."

"One moment," Reginald said to Pretty Boy. There was that brushing sound. Wood creaking lightly as he climbed over the barricading pews inside. Then quiet.

A minute went by. Then another. And that bled into another. Whatever they were doing inside, it was taking some time. Another minute. Then, Andrea's voice, further away than it had been before, yelling as if vindicated, "...THANK YOU!"

Movement inside. Someone close to the door after the creaking and brushing. A new parchment was pushed out under the door, the quill refreshed with more ink.

"Alright, Pretty Boy," David said--he had taken Reginald's place at the door. "That is your name, right? Answer this for us. There were four people outside protecting the town, everybody else came back. There was a human, a dwarf, a komodi, and a drow. What happened to the dwarf, the komodi, and the drow?"

Pretty Boy