By David Mumford
Outside the House of Ashe, thunder roared overhead. Thunder always roared overhead, outside the Eyrie.
Despite all the locomotion behind , Ysselde continued reading her book. Her piercing eyes purposefully never moved away from the tiny copperplate, dancing in the candle light.
Junther breathed through his beak. Anger slowly built behind his tired, noble eyes. The Hawk on each side of him grasped his arms tight, wrestling desperately with his great white wings despite the Eagle's stony-stillness.
His eyes kept moving towards the tapestry parallel to his throne. It depicted a Monstrous beast, all claws and fur and muscle and beak, roaring at the moon. A breeze swayed it from behind.
Burstrum took a dagger to the leather straps on Duke Junther's breast plate. Whatever passed for steel in the Dream clashed to the stone floor, ringing beautifully for a moment before faltering. Talons tore at Junther's shirt, revealing a network of delicate scars on his white breast. Ysselde let out a small cough, and turned another page.
Burstrum chuckled to himself, his uncombed brown plumage falling over an eye. He reached down and tried to lift his Lord's colossal sword one-handed. Unsuccessful, he applied both hands and dragged it across the cobbles to the rest of his fellow hawks. Junther ground his beak, watching sparks fly as his grandfather's blade was mishandled by a peon.
"Well." began Junther, his deep calm voice resounding around the stone throne room, "I cant say I'm entirely surprised Burstrum. You've always been a parasite."
Burstrum's glee faded instantly, replaced by slow-boiling fury.
"You must admit, your Highness," his lucid, sibilant tones spilled into the room without guilt or reservation, "That this is your own un-doing. You always told us Hawks that... what was it... The Strong Are Nothing If They Are Not Strong...?"
"It was an honest Duel. I lost. It was Noble. Something you wouldn't understand Burstrum." Junther's eyes kept watching the tapestry.
The Hawk laughed, cruelly and in spurts. Without accompaniment, he suddenly stopped and pulled a stern look at his hangers on. They laughed too. Pressure and fear cracked cracked through their raucous roars.
"Noble!?! The Great and Noble Duke Junther Of The Most Ancient House of Ashe Lost a Fight! To a Moorhen! A Bloody Moorhen!"
Junther didn't flinch. "I really don't know what you're laughing at Burstrum. I seem to remember a certain young Hawk running scared from his first encounter with a Goo--"
The clatter of Dream metal. The quick stalk of feet. Talons slashed across the Eagle's face.
Ysselde winced, but kept her Owl eyes on her text.
Burstrum's sneer broke into unbridled rage. "Do not mock me, Duke of Nothing! I am not scared of Geese! One Incident! One! Nothing! See this around you? Nothing Also! This is Over! Finished! Now stands the House of Lord Burstrum Accipter!"
The Hawks roared approval. They didn't feel like they had much choice.
Junther shook, blood trickling down the triplets of rending s over his left cheek. Wary, he lent slightly around the bustling Hawk. The Tapestry still did not reach the criteria he was after.
The Hawk laughed, grabbing the Eagle by the chin. With one hand he flicked open a silvery hip flask, something fluid running down his beak, and shut it again. Burstrum seemed bloated on something, his eyes wide and engaged.
"You can forget about Your Bloody Idiot-Savant Secretary emerging from that woven shit-piece! I sent him off Auditing the number of stained glass windows we have in this primordial heck-hole of an Eyrie hours ago. He wont hear your screams. Not in these Patron forsaken caverns beneath the Eyrie. Damn them. Creepy, monstrous things. Wouldn't see me living in the past, hauling my way through them."
Junther broiled. "Grent's not an idiot. He's my valet. And that's not a "shit-piece". That's Our Lord Gryp--"
As if on cue, one of the other Hawks, in pince-nez and brown waist-coat, tore the weave off the wall, and rent it in half between his claws. Behind it, a terrifyingly narrow corridor blew a chill, whispering wind into the room.
Junther roared at the cloth-divider. "Stayn! I will forgive you if you land yourself on your blade this instant!"
Stayn, a young Hawk, shrugged. More laughter.
Junther winced. "Vespix. Dame Vespix. Where is she?"
"Your Kestrel Bint?" Smiled Burstrum, cruelly, "Oh you know. Out on the moors. Hunting. Arranged for a small Rabble of Green-Bastards to come over here for a trade deal. Of course, now they're in our territory and, well, you know how she feels about territory."
Another Hawk laughed, inappropriately and croaking. "You know Burstrum - Haw! - you could say - Haw! - you could say she's on a - Haw! - Wild Goo-"
Burstrum turned, glared, pointed and spun back round. The Haw!-er shrank in size and silenced.
The inciter adjusted his cravat and plumage. "Anything else, your worship?"
Junther glared, the realisation of weight gathering on his shoulders visible in his eyes. "Ysselde? My closest. My oldest friend."
Everyone turned to look at The Owl. Moments passed before she realised she was being watched. A hand waved hurriedly in the air, still facing away from the commotion.
"Don't get me involved," the prim Scholaress snapped, "I'm just here reading my book.Notes on Inter-species Mating Habits of Birds of Prey 1801-1861. Fascinating Stuff."
The Hawks laughed. Burstrum slapped Junther again. The disheveled Eagle stared out aghast at his scholar, his closest friend. Bloody tears weighed him down as he collapsed to his knees. His two restrainers complained at their sudden task. The one on Junther's right was dragged down with his Lord. The other just swore.
Burstrum drew a blade. "This is the End of Your Dynasty, Eagle..." He murmured half-dreamily, peering at the blade of his sword. The other Hawks gathered.
Junther burst with emotion, all life pouring out him. "Ysselde?" He half croaked again, half-blind with crimson tears.
The Owl put down her book suddenly, and peered over her shoulder. Her huge, round glasses couldn't hide the tear-filled eyes behind. She bit her beak.
"I'm sorry," she mouthed, "It's just politics and power and shit. I'm just so sorry..."
Behind her eyes, something smiled. It was going to work...
"...and you, Junther." finished Burstrum. His small-sword rose-high, then stabbed low into the prone Eagle. Junther didn't flinch, scarlet drops littering his white plumage. The other Hawks roared and joined in.
Junther buckled, the weight of everything bursting from within. Birdsong. "Ysselde!"
The world slowed down around him, the hawks turning grey and insubstantial. Burstrum's manic eyes turning into so many grains of sand in a breeze. The room faded away.
It was just Junther and Ysselde within a swirling mass of emotion. Despair ran deep within it, matching the grey stone work. Ancient Voices rose through the blur as chorus, Grey faces of long dead Raptors, their memories as much part of this place as the "stonework". They sang as one, both enraged at death and enamoured with the emotions springing forth.
She stood up, tears falling onto her velvet dress to confront him. Talons clicked together fervently beneath long sleeves, cuffs tattered and stained.
You know what I want. She lilted at him, half-whispered.
Ysselde! Help Me! Junther roared, clouds of dissolving blood erupting from his pallid form
You know what I can do... A step forward
I am slain without your hand! He beckoned.
You know what I yearn for... Memories of time spent together pushed her onwards.
I will give you anything! He stared longingly, red falling down his beak.
No More Foolish Trinkets... She stroked his gifts of jewelery around her neck.
What I... I do not understand... His Confusion made hesitation roll through his song.
Their voices overlapped and swept over each other. The chorus lifted to a crescendo. She touched his cheek and whispered in his ear.
Slowly Junther looked up. His blood stained eyes met her cold, tear-stained ones. Slowly, he opened his mouth.
You've had it all along.
Something monstrous within her roared triumph.
Everything was falling into place.
Everything was paying off.
Still in the space between moments, she kissed him gingerly on the cheek, his sanguine tears staining her beak.
The Chorus silenced and waited for her to make her move. The spectral music faded. She stood up straight. Beak parted. Birdsong.
Look I'm Standing Defiant Before You...
But you want far more than my flesh... Added Junther. A sudden blast of pain from material blades came out as a scream.
I can love louder than that last scream... She leaned forward again...
But you can't claim Innocence... Another blast. Another scream. Gryphon! he exclaimed.
Will you be my tether? she asked.
Another blast. Gryphon! Why Do I suffer?
She leaned closer again, arms swept to embrace. If Love is Forever. Your Choice, Now or Never.
He looks into her a last time. I'll be Your Tether.
Arms wrap. Mouths meet, Shadows collide, moving jerkily and freely of their physical anchors.
Something slipped from within her Birdsong into Junther's throat. It slid down all barbs and screams. The Pain was unbearable, but his old friend's tongue was convincing him there were worse things.
She felt the Striikz leave her and enter Junther. Good. It would do him more good than harm. As long as she could keep her Patron pleased. A heart, a soul was needed now. Junther's was out of the question. That was hers.
The Chorus Breaks. The Grey Fades. The World rushes back as the ancestors fade away...
Burstrum hadn't notice her get so close. He exclaimed, shrieking, and drew his blade high.
"Interfering, backstabbing bint! Feel my Wrath"
She looked up, her tongue still in Her Lord's mouth. Terrifying Owl eyes had little on the angered buzzard that was Burstrum's addled rage.
Still, he never saw the Talons.
His body snicker-snacked through the air, collapsing in a bent, red heap against the ancient wooden doors. It rolled around, arms loose and unresponsive, red gushing from it's throat, legs haphazard and wrong-wayed from impact.
The other Hawks stopped and stared. Junther unravelled himself from the ground and Ysselde. Two blades still stuck in him, as inconsequential as buttons on a jacket. He looked the same. Apart from his eyes. Blood red, with the impression of swirling liquid. He lifted his red hand to Ysselde's beak, who started sucking on his talons feverishly.
Burstrum rolled to face his Lord, laughing wetly through his throat. His hipflask had undone, spraying silver fluid, fast evaporating into the room.
"Ad-adventure," he croaked hoarsely, "I'm addicted to it. Got it from a Fa-Fa-Falc-Vulture. Gives you ide-deas. No f-fear. No p-pain. F-fu-fuck Y--"
"Language." Snapped Ysselde, inbetween licking fingers, turning to Junther. The Hawks stared at their risen, should-be-dead Lord with nothing but Terror, "You do not feel complete; Correct?"
When Junther spoke, there were two voices; His Own, proud and strong, and a foul whisper from somewhere very far above, as if it had taken a long time to get there.
"No. There is a void... here..." Junther touched the centre of his chest.
"Good," Ysselde gave one last suck, and let her Lord's fingers drop, "You deal with the upstart junky, I'll sort you out. Go on." she pushed him forward gingerly, briefly revelling in the feeling of his stained plumage beneath her talons.
The Hawks let their Duke pass. They stared dumbfounded, then dropped to their knees, bowing, their faces down. Junther reached Burstrum, and ably lifted his own huge sword from the ground.
"ad-Adventure protects me from your bl-bl-bloo-fuckin' sword" spat Burstrum, pathetic and un-ravelling fast.
"Really?" smiled the new, exhilarated Junther, scarlet eyes flashing, "well, lets see how it protects you..."
The Eagle pressed his thumbs against Burstrum's eyes.
"... from these..."
Ysselde ignored the gargled screams, biting her lip and undoing the neck of her dress. She was getting into this. The chamber was hot with violence and anger and blood. Her dress was hot. But things needed to be done before she could sate herself on what she had desired for years...
"You. Stayn." She grabbed the young Hawk by the shoulder and lifted him to his feet easily. He stank of fear, "What did the Duke ask you to do earlier?"
"Err.." The boy hesitated, Ysselde's hand taking his sword from his belt, "...Fall on my Blade, Ma'am?"
"Good. You remember." Ysselde smiled cruelly, turning the small blade around in her hand, "Do So."
With terrifying ease, she placed the blade at his groin, inserted it, and tore upwards. Stayn shook, life falling from him. The Wrath of Gryphon.
The other Falcons shook with Burstrum and Stayn's screams, but kept their low-bows. They knew their place.
Ysselde casually whistled, turning her torture into Birdsong. Lyrics emerged as she casually dropped the blade and started removing Stayn's bones from his gurgling, shrieking form, filleting him on the spot. More of her song.
I could just pretend that you love me
The night would lose all sense of fear
But why do I need you to love me?
Junther turned, red all up his beak, making him appear as some upstart Robin who had dressed in a hurry.
For I can be All that you hold Dear.
Ysselde beamed content, ignoring Stayn's death rattle, tearing his heart and glistening soul freely from his wet chest, dropping him to the floor. She payed no heed that Burstrum had stopped screaming too, replaced with a fading, whining gurgle.
Junther turned and rose, moving towards her. He flicked his wrist in the air. The Hawks rose, assembled as a group, and started chatting jovially, leaving the Chamber as a happy, if not squabbling bustle. They paid little heed to the numerous red stains on their clothes. They marched out, closing the great doors behind them.
Junther took his scholar in his arms, vermilion stains running into her velvet dress. They necked, her hands roaming his torso, leaving lines; his hands tearing her dress from the neck down. Together, they fed on the soul, sharing it between mouths. Ysselde chewed feverishly, Junther with furious great bites.
"How do you feel?" She asked seriously, inbetween kisses.
Junther paused to think, Ysselde leaving kisses down his chest.
"Alive" he said. She jumped at his mouth, leaving nothing between their bodies as she loosened and discarded what was left of her dress onto the floor.
"That Book you had," he broke kissing to address her, "Had you considered applying it's knowledge in physical practice?"
She grinned, a devilish dark smile, and dragged the Duke of Ashe back onto his throne...
What was left of Burstrum cried. He could move nothing. He could see little. Something twitched on the floor and went silent. Two figures (Fuckers!) engaged directly with each other. In the candle-light, he could see one had no shadow, and the other had two - one proud and tall, another monstrous and hunched, flickering and torn. The pain was getting too much to see. The Adventure was wearing off. He was sure the shock would eventually kill him. He swore their names in what noise he could make.
From the dark, narrow passage way, a tall hunched figure exited, huge talons scraping at already colossal gouges in the passage left by generations of Secretary wanderers. Grent moved silently despite his ungodly claws, the red around his small eyes making him seem far less awake than he ever was - stains littered his old grey robe-suite, torn and ragged, his hands clutching a small ragged book held close to his face, chuckling at it's pages. No-one had ever pointed out the book was upside-down. Grent knew the Eyrie's every passage and hole, and knew parts of the castle old enough that no-other winged had possibly ever seen them. These parts gave even the fearless old bird chills.
One talon landed on what was left of Burstrum. The hawk winced a burbling cry. the old Secretary looked down, staring pointedly at the mess below him.
"Ah." He enunciated slowly and deeply. "2167 Stained glass Windows Lord Accipter. Everyone accounted for. Just give me a moment to pass this report to..."
The old bird looked up, moments passing as it took in the fire-light scene in front of him, face unmoving.
"Ah. It seems the Duke and Advisor are busy discussing Personal Politic. Well, let's not burden them shall we. You appear as to be needing something of a rest, Lord Accipter. Let's find somewhere nice and secluded in the Catacombs, shall we?"
Burstrum gurgled an argument, but Grent simply took it as acceptance, carefully dragging the torn, twisted form into the caverns with him. Moments passed as they faded into the shadows.
"Oh. One thing, Lord Accipter?"
A groan of affirmation.
Moaning trills faded into the passages. Slow, deep, cruel laughter was drowned out by cries of passion and union.
From it's place in The Eagle's shadow, The Striikz watched, all ragged edges and torn darkness. This was a good start.
Outside the House of Ashe, Thunder Roared overhead. Thunder always roared overhead, outside the House of Ashe.