Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 46)

“All things deserve to be free, even if it is just to die.”

Astrid, 448 A.C.A.

You’re going in the wrong direction,’ Lapis tried to warn her.

Am not, Astrid said as she climbed over the fence.

Are too.

Am not.

How much you wanna bet?

Three days of uninterrupted me time, no talking.

You time?

I get to think of whatever I want without any comments or backtalk.

Oh… sure, I thought you meant something else.

My god, you have a dirty mind.

She could feel her god grumble in her head as she slowly raised her other leg over the high fence. 

Astrid was going for stealth as she attempted to sneak up on the walls surrounding the barn. If this place was where she thought it was, the need for a wall was strange. If this place had what she was looking for, walls shouldn’t mean a thing.


The sound of the pen’s occupant both confirmed to Astrid that she was where she wanted to be and separated her holy soul from her body. She jumped in fright and fell several feet with a loud…


Oww,” she groaned.

Why would they keep a griffin caged between only four walls?’ Lapis asked.

Why do people do anything? The species is a collection of fools.

You’re a member of that species.

I cannot be a member of a club that wants no part of me.

Pretty sure species aren’t clubs, but you do you.

Astrid proceeded to ‘do herself’ as she got off her own head and began to look around the high four walls. If it weren’t for the four walls, it would look like any large grazing area meant for cattle. 

But this wasn’t cattle. This had talons, wings, and the body of a lion… and it was alone. 

The grass had grown rather tall, something Astrid’s eyes noticed as she walked around the bend of the barn. Griffins were carnivores, unlike cattle, but that’s no reason to not take off a stable. 

She double-checked to make sure no staff was in her eyeliner and sneaked into the barn, where most of the stalls were empty, save for one. 

The stalls were used, recently even, still full of griffin shit and piss, in dire need of a thorough cleaning. The griffins were being prepared for auction to different parts of the Raydorn army, and more griffins will likely join them soon. For now, it appeared a stablehand decided they could be lax.

Astrid moved on, unfazed by the ripe stench that would have made the other noses burn. She came to see the griffin that was left behind all alone in the last stall. Its golden head looked over the stalled door and stood up at a normal angle and height. It wasn’t stunted or injured, moving around as any normal beast would.

When Astrid came to stand in front of the animal, she couldn’t quite place why it was there. It harbored no scars, no noticeable cists, and had all of its limbs. Why did they leave you? she couldn’t help but ask herself.

It wasn’t until her eyes drifted down towards the griffins welcoming puffs that she put two and two together.

“You weren’t perfect for war, so they’ve left you here in your own filth.”

We should free him.

That would be a crueler fate than death. He’s domesticated, he can’t hunt, can’t fend for himself.

I wouldn’t be so sure, talons or no talons, a griffin is still a griffin.

“We are not taking it home,” spoke a familiar voice behind her, but she didn’t twitch.

“Of course not,” she said, as she turned her head to face the mask of Eritusi, “he’ll fly himself home.”

Astrid,” Malum groaned, as she raised her open hand towards the griffin’s head. 

As the griffin began to back away, Malum warned her, “It’s going to bite you.”

“No, it won’t.”

“You’re cornering it.”

“Projecting much?”

Astrid’s arm fully extended before it was within arm’s length of the griffin. The animal’s head could easily snap and clamp onto her hand, her whole arm in fact, and tear it off before she would even feel it. It was one of the three great beasts that patrolled Raydorn, and it was caged and cornered.

Even without talons, all reason dictated that it could have and should have torn her arm apart.

But you are a blessed one, aren’t you, Astrid? They’ve always known that.

Malum’s arms shifted under this cloak as if to try and pull her back faster than the griffin could snap. The concept was an interesting test of speed. If he succeeded he would surely be one of the fastest men to ever walk the earth.

Too bad he would never have that chance.

The griffin took a step towards her extended hand and slowly twitched her way. Its sharp and powerful beak twitched and tilted from side to side until it gently pecked her hand. When the hand barely moved, it pecked again, and again until it finally rested itself there.

Then Astrid took the chance to stroke it, much to the beast’s chagrin. 

Soon it started to putter and tweet, stepping forward into Astrid’s hands. 

“Go ahead,” she taunted Malum, “ask how I did it.”

“Why bother? I’d never believe it.”


She smirked to herself as she petted and scratched around the griffin’s head, before tilting her own to check what lay between its legs. “Oh, you’re a good boy,” she told him, receiving a chortle in response.

With little other fanfare, she began to squeak like the beast before her. “Little Stinky, aren’t you? That’s something you can never live down. You will be known as Mr. Stinky when you get older, and maybe Sir Stinky when you have earned it.”

“Stinky? That’s what you’re calling him?”

“Little Stinky actually.” 

Malum looked up at the animal whose back hump was taller than him, and who was twice his height standing up. “Yes, ‘little.’

“Oh fuck it,” he cursed, “I don’t really care about this, I came here because while I was looking for you, I stole these.” 


Astrid stopped petting the newly named Little Stinky to see what the assassin was crinkling. Two golden embroidered invitations to the concert/party/royal-wank at the castle.

“Who did you kill for those?” she asked him.

He held one out towards her. “No one that will be missed.”

And who is he to decide that?

The one with blood on his sword.

Astrid took hers to inspect it. She skimmed over the pleasantries and instructions to find out the name of the invitation’s intended recipient but found none. “They won’t know who we are at the door.”

“Yes,” Malum confirmed, “we’ll still need disguises and a cover story, something realistic, but at least we don’t have to make ourselves look like white people.”

“Hmm,” Astrid agreed and let Malum list off different possibilities for roles they play to sneak in. Astrid made noises of agreement and disagreement, letting Malum improve the ideas himself as if she was giving input.

Why let him waste his time?

He’s wasted much of my time, why not return the favor? Besides, I’m busy freeing Little Stinky.

Malum was talking to himself without knowing as Astrid undid the straps that were holding the ‘defective’ griffin in his stall. Malum watched what she was doing, but didn’t make a sound about it until she was taking the animal’s reins.

“Should I guess what you’re doing?” he asked.

“Freeing him, what else?” She didn’t so much as a gesture for him to move. She only led the beast out, and Malum dashed back out of fear.

His eyes followed her as she led the beast out of the barn as one would a horse, and not once did she even gaze in his direction. She simply proceeded on. 

The beast followed like any other trained mount. He was quieter even, his wings gliding over the air and helping his large talonless feet quickly sink into the mud. It did not even chirp as it passed through the doors and felt sunlight for the first time in a while.

Could such an animal, domesticated and declawed, survive on its own? Astrid was willing to make that bet, so she removed him from his bridle and blankets, then stepped away. 

The griffin aptly named Little Stinky, slowly extended his wings, letting the sunlight shine on them once again. The slow outstretch of those majestic limbs made each of his feathers flex, and they rippled as a slow wind rippled over puddles below.

Then he flapped his wings once.


The wind that was once calm grew violent, sending dirt, mud, and shit flying away from the beast. The sound alerted the stablehands who were left behind to clean up. 

“What the fuck?”

“How is he out?!”

They quickly rushed to get lassos, bridles, and the like that could have held the animal down if they were but a few seconds faster. But once Little Stinky had all four feet off the ground, there was no stopping him.

They tried throwing lassos and ropes, but before any of them could get a grip, he was already taking off, nearly taking a fool with him. 

As the stablehand fell face-first into the dirt, others came around to help him, all cursing themselves for what would appear as their fuck-up. None saw the short mercenary and assassin disappear behind the barn. 

As Astrid approached the fence to climb it again, Malum stopped her with a question that could only sound simple.


Astrid looked over her shoulder back at him. “All things deserve to be free, even if it is just to die.”

Malum looked inward, thinking to himself as she began to climb the face, trying to avoid making noise as the stables fell into disarray. 

When Malum stepped forward to follow her, she held up her hand from the top of the fence. 

“We should find separate ways in.”

Malum tilted his head as he considered the idea, an option he hadn’t brought up in the time that Astrid was ignoring him. “I think… that may be a good idea, I appreciate you respecting my mask, it would be difficult to disguise myself and hide my face from you.”

“Hmph,” she scoffed.

Malum’s head raised ever so slightly, as if unsure of what he heard. 

“It has nothing to do with respect for you,” she assured him, “it’s that I don’t trust you.”


“Why would I want to be alone with a man who sets his spies on me in my own home?” 

Malum slowly lowered his head. 

“Don’t blame Sigma, she did her best. You couldn’t have sneaked up on me either.”

Then Astrid flipped her legs over the other side, and left off, away from him.


When Jack came back to the inn that had become their de facto base of operations, he found Andy wallowing at the bar. He sat down beside her and asked, “I’m guessing you got shit?”

“No actually, I got a personal invite to the celebration at the castle.”

That made Jack purse his brow. “Then… what’s wrong?”

Andy’s face looked on the precipice of tears as she held her empty mug towards him. “Still no mead!

“You have a problem.”

“It’s only a problem if I admit there’s a problem,” she said as the bartender gave her water to pretend was mead.

Jack slumped down in his seat and rested his head in his hands. 

Andy ceased her mocking attempts at sadness as she caught sight of Jack. What happened to him?

“I’m guessing you actually got nothing,” she guessed.

He turned his head to look up at her. His mouth opened, but a thousand words tried to rush out at once and clogged the hole. Where was he to start? The beginning? 

“I was interrogating some guards…”

She nodded her head as if she were nodding along with the toon of a bard. “As one does.”

“… and… I noticed something off about their uniforms. They wore the crest of the Aurora Blade in the stone.” Jack waited for Andy to say something, but she only stared, her face growing rather stiff and cold. “They said they were Black Legion, new graduates from Iron Rock.”

Andy looked away and raised her mug to her lips. Her eyes narrowed as she was starkly reminded that she was not drinking alcohol.

For the love of the gods…


“Hmm? That’s all you have to say?” Jack asked. “Someone’s taken the Black Legion, maybe even Iron Rock, and all you have to say is ‘hmmm?’”

“Well, ‘fuck’ didn’t feel like it would do my feelings justice,” she admitted. “I mean, I’m not surprised, Iron Rock is a prized piece of real estate, and now is the perfect opportunity for the crown to seize it, its instructors, and the Black Legion as a whole. It’s a smart play honestly, and even though they can’t be us, they can piggyback off our reputation.”

Andy’s rather straightforward reasoning left Jack nearly aghast. Whether it was from the callousness of the response or the logic, he could not have told you. All he could tell you about was the sinking pit in his stomach.

Andy, on the other hand, was feeling rather full of information. She had had her fill of espionage, spying, and information hunting to last a lifetime… and she still had a date to go to.

He said he knew which I swung, but guys have said that before. Ugh, and didn’t he say he would bring me something to wear? He probably got some stuffy dress to be his arm candy. I mean, what bard wouldn’t want me as arm candy but it would be nice if the bard didn’t have a beard.

She facepalmed as she dreaded what was coming.

“What’s wrong with you now?” 

“Nothing, I’m just picturing what kind of slutty dress my date is going to make me wear to sneak into this party or whatever.”

“But I thought you loved slutty dresses.”

“On other people.”

“You’d like a man in slutty dress?”

“Not like… sexually, but I’d respect the fuck out of it.”


Andy, Jack, and the rest of the mourning alcoholics spun around to see a man dressed in a three-piece tuxedo, complete with white tuff out of his neck, cerulean lining, gold embroidering, and gelled facial hair.

“Is that supposed to be your date?” Jack asked.

Andy full-on smacked herself with her facepalm. “Yup!”
Andy! I am here early to make sure we run late!” he said as he trotted through the bar carrying a case meant to carry clothes in it. 

Andy put on a brave face, but it would be incredibly difficult to fill in the cracks. Luckily for her, her ‘date’ felt up to the task.

“You must be excited to see what I’ve brought you,” he said, his smile rather infectious, making the corners of Andy’s mouth twitch. He flicked the curl of his mustache and flapped the case. “Well, if not, then you will be.”

Andy sucked in her breath as he pulled down the zipper, ready to see some extravagant dress. A hundred different memories of her mother stuffing her down a dress didn’t flood her head. Only one memory did, and the instructions her mother gave that came with the dress.

“You look pretty, don’t ruin it.”

Well, who wants to look pretty when all the boys were allowed to play in the mud?

Rather than meet Andy’s expectations, this well-dressed fiend of the heart unveiled a tuxedo to outdo them all, including his own. One with finely tailor black cloth for its jacket with shining gold on the inside flaps. The vest matched the jacket, with a puffy white tuff popping out of the neck, and throughout the embroidering, was stitching of each and every color of the rainbow. 

“A star must shine,” the man, one who might just be a gift of the gods, said with a devilish smile on his face, “and why would a Lady of the Golden Plateau do any different?”

Jack was starstruck beside Andy, chuckling at the unforeseen gift this man brought her, but she was aghast.

She held her hands over her mouth as she stood up and slowly walked through it. She looked at the tuxedo to outclass anything her brother or father ever wore. Something that her mother would die if she saw her in it. It was nobility, but her nobility, and when she pressed her hand against it, it was better than touching another.

“It’s so…” she whispered unheard words, “how did you…?”

The man waved her off, shaking his head as if such a treasure were nothing. “My tailor tried to give me a dress, but one look at you told me you wouldn’t be caught dead in such rubbish! You are not a lady who waddles but one who chases the waddlers!” He made a fist with his free hand, shaking it as he made her chuckle and emphasized that she was, “A conquistador, a challenger, a racer, only a tux fit for a lordess of starlight!” 

A lordess? Sounds better than lady, so close.

He gently laid the tux into her arms and took the moment to cross his own and lift his chin above the world. “I see I have done well?” 

“You have done… perfectly.” Andelyn couldn’t look at him as she spoke, she was too enraptured in holding the fabric.

His smirk, and the way his mustache curled to fit it, made Andy look away. He sees right through me.

“You thought I was going to bring you a stuffy dress, weren’t you?” As he asked, she looked away, and he only smirked harder. “Now, Andelyn, how could you swing a sword in that?”

“I truly did- wait,” and she turned back with a purse in her brown, “why would I need a sword?

Her question made his head tilt. There was this tension as he stared at her, waiting for her to admit she was only jesting, but she stared on. Suddenly, the question became whether or not he expected her to do more than keep him company, something that would require a blade, or was a weapon meant only for death something so trivial yet necessary to his everyday life. 

The most he could summon to answer her was a shrug. 

“I dunno.” 

He flipped his hands through the air as he spoke as if he were the conductor of a symphony. “What I do know is that you should be nothing if not mesmerizing as you steal dances and dance partners from their lessers.”

Andy’s mind was doing something it hadn’t done in a long time, at least while sober, and went blank. She couldn’t quite follow him as he spoke, as he pointed, as he seemed to talk circles around her, and for nothing more than entertainment. 

The way I speak to businessmen is the way he speaks to the world like he’s selling something, but… happy. I would call it sad if he didn’t look so happy. I didn’t expect having someone so happy to talk for the both of us didn’t give me this fuzzy feeling in the back of my head.

But truly, deeply, he must know, it’s all nonsense.

And then it dawns on her. “You… you just want chaos, don’t you.”

The smirk became a smile, and that smile felt more like a smirk than anything. 

He placed his fingertips upon his chest, and his mustache straightened to lay atop his mouth, accentuating and emphasizing its every movement. “Lordess Stella, I live for chaos, and the lords and ladies of Cloudtower deserve nothing less than that which should be absolute.”

Andy began to look up in awe as her understanding of this man fell apart, and reassembled. “I fear I have misjudged you, my friend.”

He waved it off. “Many do, no need to feel guilty, it’s difficult to see my charm coming when paired with my good looks. How could one man have it all?”

Andy rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Surely no one else.”

Then for the first time in a long time, Jack reminded everyone he was there to ask, “Why the hell do you seem so familiar?”

Another thing for this strange man with nice clothes and impeccable taste to wave off. “I’m a famous and wandering bard, you’ve likely seen me before, I’ve traveled and worked with composers, Honorguard, and nobility alike.”

“Makes you sound all the more suspicious,” Andy mumbled as she was then reminded of something that had been bothering her since their last encounter. It nearly stripped her of her awe and pleasant mood. “Especially considering you haven’t told me your name, but you’ve always known mine.”

The bard merely arched his brow, put his hand on his hip, and dipped his brow so low there was no question that he judged her with every muscle in his face. “Andelyn, dear, darling…  

“When you first walked in, your friends called you by your name no less than three times.”

Andy’s mouth opened, but no sound came out as she thought back to when she first walked in. “Uhhh….”

“Also, if your name weren’t famous enough this past year, the Plateau accent kind of gives it away.”

Andy found herself stuttering now.

May-maybe… maybe codenames aren’t such a bad idea. Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, how many other people have Andelyn as their name? Probably a lot, but there’s a wanted criminal by it going around right now, and she’s sitting in my seat!

Andy facepalmed as her doubt and worry is replaced by an even worse feeling. God, I’m ready to kill myself.

The bard looked down at Andy and lightly patted her on the shoulder. “There, there.”

“Ugh… is my accent really that noticeable?”

Again, he waved her off. “We all have lovely accents, nothing to be ashamed about, but you’re right on one thing,” Andy peaked between her fingers to listen, ironically, “I haven’t told you mine and that has been very rude of me. I am… Hennrick.”

“Just Hennrick?”

“Just Hennrick, not Henny, not Hen, and most certainly… not Rick.

“What do you have against Rick?”

“What everyone should have against Rick.” Hennrick the bard made the nastiest of looks at absolutely nothing before taking hold of the tuxedo he gave her. “But my darling, before we get too off topic, we must get you fitted. It’s not enough for this outfit to match your style perfectly, it must fit perfectly, and I have called in the tailor for an express job.”

“In one day?!” Andy yelled, only for Hennrick to grab her by the arm and start pulling her along.

“Never doubt the power of someone who needs to be the best, I surround myself with them, my tailor included. Going to say goodbye to your friend?”

Andy looked back at Jack sitting in his seat, just watching their interaction with absolute fascination. 

“Don’t make a scene getting into the ball.”

Jack gave her a thumbs up, but his words said something different. “I will certainly try.”

She stared at him for a moment, and then that moment turned into two moments. 

Then she let Hennrick lead her out.

“He’s going to make a scene, isn’t he?” Hennrick asked her.

“It was a waste of time to ask him.”

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