Thunderhead Peaks, a battlefield he wasn’t anticipating to see, one he never thought he would if only by virtue of his apathy. Yes, he knows there’s a war on, yes he knows that life, death, the messy bits in between hang in the balance. He knows a lot about it, and it’s all been a distant care, a passing story and disconnect. Until now, that is.

A wound lays out before him, he watches it through a scope that keeps the distance between him, it. The blood spilled between here and there. And up here, snowblind and safe, he can keep that distance to a maximum. With the sea, there was only the ships, the monsters below the waves that never rose, the sun that circled high above like a hawk. Day in, day out. Night in, night out, and the boats between to liven up the day. He had routine that kept him busy, he had people who kept him busy and a love of that depthless blue to keep him afloat.

Here? A portrait of a boy, now a man, and the misery that molds him.

He misses those days, in truth. He misses his arm, mostly, but that manifestation of something good in his life… well. It got a bit too philosophical for him. That’s when the drinks came out and the smoke lit up and he was off again in this doldrums of nostalgia. It’s all he thinks about anymore, really. It’s all he could think about at these distances, with just himself. Other scouts and outriders existed, sure, but this over-watch suited him just fine. A lonely perch, a crow’s nest for a captain, securing landing space for the rest of them.

He does, however, miss the company of others a little, if only because that meant a warm fire and a lesser risk to catch his furs on fire. Ugly things. And the distance becomes smaller there, where he can pretend that for once, he doesn’t need a front that deep and wide.

A flicker of movement to the right, he shifts his eye-line away from the scope to readjust to a full distance. From the sky, a streak of blue and black and purple, stark against the growing mist. The rifle raises. He finds the trigger, and his target. A griffon and rider, crashing down and into the snow below– Exhale, aim. Squeeze between breaths, between heartbeats.

But he watches, for a moment, the frantic laps of this thing in panic, tiring itself to the point of stillness — still alive, still unbranded, and that was more than could be said for its rider. And he scowls. It’s impossible to tell from this distance, but any pact troop (he’s been told more than once) is an ally in the cause, and should be aided at any point. He almost resents this mandate but it’s one that… he must abide by.

Ironwood disappears into shadow, and finds his refuge at the base of the peak, keeping his rifle level as he approaches. The griffon, a striking sapphire, black and white accenting across its wings and feathers reacts with a hiss, a skirting of it’s hips away.

“Easy, easy” he mumbles, and cranes around t try and get a glimpse of the rider. Hands up, easing the beast. “Hello? You okay back there?”

No response.

“Soldier”

The crystals sparking around the arm and chest confirm his answer, when he gets to that angle. A corpse upon its back, twitching. Mimicking a life it once had. This one had precious hours by the looks of it, moments, even, before the dragon’s influenced took over entirely, and the force at hand claimed the animal as well.

There’s a grimace that never quite leaves his face as he pulls the stirrups from the human’s feet and ankles with the clicking framework of his hand, and heaves the body to the ground. The griffon skitters away briefly, skirting the scent of death, rot, and ozone that the newly branded give off. A swift decapitation later, and the threat is dispatched.

As it should be.

There’s an awful pit that forms in his stomach in the process, a sinking and empty gap where something close to sympathy lies. He crouches, and watches the parking crystals carefully, eager to leave, yet rooted by that pit drawing him deeper into this spiral. A hopeless cause and case, an unwinnable war.

There’s a piercing little pain in his shoulder, and he shouts, shoving off the attacker with a gun drawn.

The griffon stares back with large, intelligent eyes down the barrel of his pistol, unmoved.

A sigh mingles with the wind that whips around them, and he stands, shoving out his hand towards the beast — and it reacts in kind, stepping back and clacking its beak together in warning, hissing. “Okay, not that then” he grumbles between gritted teeth, dropping his hand as it backs up.

Slower, this time. “Hey there beastie, I ain’t here to hurt you”

A step in the snow

There is a thought that springs to mind, a moment of inspiration that saddles him with the idea that just… maybe… No, no he couldn’t. That’s already another mouth to feed, and there’s more of those appearing every day. More people, things that counted on him and others, another weight to bear.

But what a weight to bear.

And no matter what this takes, how long it will stand to be here, there is a possibility of ‘if’. Possibly ‘when’. There’s always that possibility….

Something to their immediate left crackles and sings with an otherwordly hiss, and for a moment he thinks it the griffon itself. That warm force presses up into his hand, stringy, fur-like feathers and muscle and he almost thinks he understands. Almost, but he’s no druid, no ranger, nothing… interesting. But he can read that body language with some degree of competence. The body on the ground twitches.

“— Alright, Feathers, get us out of here”

He grabs the edge of the saddle and heaves himself up with whatever grace he can muster, but this beast isn’t a raptor — even that was a might easier when she was eager to get him mounted quickly, and whatever work had been done with her previously had proven well-used. This is different. He situates himself into the saddle and grabs for the reins but finds them lacking, and only two handles at the swell of of the saddle give any indication on what to do. He grabs a hold with one hand, and the griffon begins its loping run towards the edge of the cliff face.

“Woah — woah I thought we could talk about what this means before we got going–!”

The griffon plunges into the ice-storm that’s growing, and the good Captain’s screams are lost to the wind.

Seconds later they’re rising, climbing against it with the flailing of limbs and an effort that seems all too easy, and the pirate is plastered to its back. He’s breathing hard enough to make the griffon’s exertions look like kettle steam with how he’s billowing, enough to create a trail of vapor from their exit.

They soar, for a long while.

And when the panic subsides, when the fear of it disappears, there is only the ice cold wind against his face, the squinting, blinking light of a world in sunset. The beating of wings in a steady rhythm, a pulse that keeps them aloft. Below, a world unfolding in pink and purple and blues that mix in a scar that spreads down these canyons, off to the south and into the mists that obscure Kourna, Jahai, the lands further still touched by the brand.

And yet, a sea of clouds. The unsure turbulence of a world above the ground below. An open frontier, dominated only by ships and dragons.

And he thinks, just for a moment, that he could get used to this. 

Author quorgi
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