ABBARR: Ashes and Wings


“The dead greet you, Traveler.”

The Necropolis Watcher’s voice was like a song of the northern wind: even on the hottest day it gave you shivers, which ran down your spine like frosty ants.

Esha shrugged her shoulders involuntarily, attempting to drive the shiver away, and responded with the words and gesture, customary in the Desert of Mae:

“The living honor the dead and follow their own way.”

Her bracelets clanged, as she touched her left shoulder with her right gloved hand.

The guardians of the well gathered around the black hole, lost amidst the statues of ancient rulers, heroes, and gods. They were reciting prayers to the Great Abyss, which meant that today someone had moved from the City of the Living to the City of the Dead.  

The Elving girl walked past the tombstones, quickening her pace, as she walked down the Path of the Last Journey to Abbarr – the magnificent city which had once risen in the white mountains of Enkhar, the black flower blooming amidst the golden sands.

“Old as the World itself, sweet like Life, merciless like Death,” that’s what they said about Abbarr. The black market of exotic beasts, artifacts, weapons, potions. The stronghold of pleasures for every perverted taste and a tightly-filled purse. The favorite refuge for outcasts from all around the Big Wide World. And the Necropolis of Rrabba was Abbarr’s mirror image, though smaller of course. After all, the dead were not so whimsical.

Esha had spent almost a month in the Tirkha Oasis, exploring archives. And now, after her long tedious journey through the sands, the only thing she really wanted was to return to her room, rented on the border of the Merchant and Artisan Districts. To eat, to bathe, to sleep, and to eat some more – that was her plan for the next two days. Or maybe three. Ah, for the sake of this cherished ‘Triple To’ plan she was even willing to tolerate the disapproving looks of the guards, so long as she didn’t have to make a detour to the Golden gate.

Leaving the ‘Sleeping Ones’ behind, Esha smiled in anticipation, adding a bottle of cold wine made of tart melorwah fruits to her little list. 

She could already see the stone lacey patterns of the city’s outer walls. To the right there stood the Tower of Might – the heart of the barracks’ and mercenaries’ district, and to the left – the Sinh Tower, which was the ‘petal’ point of the pleasure district. Who knew? Perhaps that’s where the Silurian Senator’s daughter, that had caused a great incident on the last Sky Race, had ended her noble life. One of the daily auctions could have easily given her a new life – that of a ruler’s concubine, a rich man’s toy, or a servant of some elite pleasure house. 

Parme Ilamille. Esha had never seen that woman, but the name was engraved in her memory. A faceless highborn Elving lady had once changed one little Poogaton girl’s life: first the loss of friends, then trials, imminent execution, life among the pirates. And when there was no hope left, the Raven of Vitalon gave her new wings and a new name, making her a part of his crew. That’s how Ashwing was born amidst the salty waves of the Archipelago… And in the sands of Mae Ashry – ‘Esha’ in local language – a mercenary and a treasure huntress, took her place. Sometimes the Elving girl really missed her dashing pirate life on board the Raven Dragon. But it was always better to leave past in the past.   

Esha stopped to behold the sunset: the sun had almost hidden behind the Blade Mountains, which separated the city from the sea. Its rays clung to the central tower of Abbarr like scarlet ribbons. Great Watcher – the city’s largest chronometer – struck the Blood Hour, the beginning of the burial ceremony.

The Elving showed her gate-token to the guard. The beast, all covered in spikes, said in a low booming voice:

“Quart of a ‘doe’ for the night entry.”

“The sun hasn’t set yet,” Esha countered, reluctant to pay.

“Quart of a ‘doe’ for the night entry,” the beast repeated, pointing at the tablet on the wall, which stated that night hours began with the Blood Hour.

After getting change for her Silurian Silver, Esha found a cabman. Listening to the gwahr’s rhythmical hoof beats, she looked through the cab window, getting a quick glimpse at the houses and the towers of Abbar’s ‘petals’. Six districts met in the triangle of the central square; there, in the main tower, Ormu ruled – the golden-horned beast, surrounded by his strongest and wisest advisors.

Esha had visited Abbarr more than once since she’d left the pirate city of Vitalon and the crew of the Raven Dragon. But in this past year she hadn’t been absent from Abbarr for too long. All this time she’d managed to keep to the shadows, not drawing too much attention to herself. Her inn was located quite conveniently between the two most ‘chatty’ districts – Merchant District and Artisan District. She’d been living there, listening to the caravan rumors, having an eye on the magical artifacts, deriving benefits from both.

But rumors of Ashwing leaked through the sand, crawled to the walls, finding tiny cracks to get inside. Quiet whispers and sidelong glances carried those rumors through the city streets, poisoning minds, like tiny tentacles of black filth, enkindling fire in the eyes of those who hungered for reward.

They didn’t fancy Elvings much around here, on the beast territories, except perhaps as slaves on the auctions; they paid rubies for a pureblood Elving there, and rubies were the most valuable currency of this world. Enmity between the Creator’s beloved children and monsters, molded from the bits and pieces of creation, bloomed both in Abbarr and Siluria. The law of Silurian Soaring Islands didn’t let this flame blaze up, but here, on the territories that were not plotted on any official maps, Elvings preferred not to show up.


The ‘Triple To’ plan worked out splendidly. Esha woke up in a great mood, with yet another hunger attack. She pulled her hood over her face and headed to the Merchant District. Her unremarkable black clothing still let her pass unrecognized. But even the most insignificant interactions, contacts, habits and connections were leading her to the dangerous line. Since Fanger – her workmate and friend – had left Maetharu continent, and embarked on a journey around the Archipelago, she had to look for new contracts by herself, trading off the artifacts she found in the ruins. Esha knew: the day she would have to leave the sands and hit the road again was just around the corner.

She could smell the fruit-and-vegetable bazar long before she could actually see it: the scents of exotic fruits, minty freshness of the cold morning tea with tart undertones of lemrah tempted her sense of smell before her eyes could see the bright medley of the merchant’s stalls.

“May the sun rays not burn you, Val Sturion,” she greeted the merchant.

“May the desert keep your footsteps, Valla Ashry,” the elderly beast with admirable curved horns responded. Despite the age he was still quite sturdy.

Esha stopped by the apple basket and picked one; it was simply perfect, the color of imperial blood amber. All Sturion’s goods were of the best quality. Every morning on the earliest hour, thanks to the hired boys, his stalls were filled with thoroughly washed and thoroughly picked fruits and vegetables. The flawed fruits and vegies were neatly put in the baskets nearby – for those who couldn’t afford the best. Esha knew, that before Sturian had become a respected merchant, he’d been through a lot of hardships. He’d known hunger and poverty, and something even worse – something he didn’t like to talk about. And as he gained his feet, became independent, and opened his own little store in the fruit district, he always remembered: good days could evaporate like a drop of water in the desert, disappearing before it even touched the scorched sand.  

Esha looked at the black pavement, the white marble columns arcs, and numerous little bridges and stairways with sadness. She’d miss this ugly city, miss the merchant’s jokes, and the songs of the little Allaty-girl who lived across the street, and joyful tournaments in the Beaten Harbor tavern, and the Great Watcher’s striking…

“Raven’s little bird…” she heard a whisper behind her back.

Fire lit deep in her eyes; her fingers clenched the apple so hard it split, spattering juice. Without looking behind her back, she heard someone’s rapid footsteps departing.

“Ah, it’s always so tricky with these fruits,” Sturion shook his head sympathetically, handing her a handkerchief. “Hard to guess the right time between plucking them unripe or letting them sit there for too long.” 

“Right you are, Val Sturion,” Esha agreed, wiping her hand. “It’s hard to tame time itself…”

“… All we can do is befriend it,” he finished the favorite local saying.

Further down the street children were playing noisily. Esha darted a glance: next to the notice board several older beastslings cackled, making fun of their younger friend. Domination and submission. Strength and weakness. The weak had no chance in this city. From an early age everyone here had to fight for their right to survive. Under the blazing sun of Abbarr everyone did that in their own way: through wit, dexterity, talent, beauty, muscle, or a powerful patron.

Having paid to the merchant, Esha approached the notice board. She wasn’t interested in work today; something else attracted her attention – a poster of the Great Arena. She reached out with her gloved hand, pilled the poster off, creasing it. Purple flame flashed in her eyes.



Two bodyguards blocked the fragile traveler’s way. But as soon as the traveler, cloaked in black, with a hood hiding her face, gave them her name, two stone beasts exchanged glances and parted, lowering their axes.

Esha came to the desk littered with papers; it belonged to the first organizer of the Great Arena – a short bulky beast with a shiny bald spot and two little horns with delicate gold painting that was supposed to compensate for their insufficient size. Tkharod was one of the most unscrupulous inhabitants of the Desert City.

All the gold of his horns came from vices, passions, and blood deals. And now he was taking the bets on the upcoming fight. Esha elbowed her way through, prompting protests from everyone who was present, pushed away the first person in the line and threw a crumpled piece of paper on the table.

“I’m buying this one, Tkharod,” the Elwing girl deliberately dismissed the polite “Val” traditional for the desert, because the only thing she felt for the organizer was contempt.

Two stone bodyguards stepped forth to take the insolent girl away, but Tkharod stopped them with a gesture. He didn’t look surprised with the Elwing’s arrival, or he simply tried to carefully hide his surprise. Or maybe, the servant, hanging around behind Tkharod’s back, had already whispered him something about her. The plump fingers with long gilded claws unfolded the paper. Tkharod bared his fangs in a filthy smile.

“The birdie seeks the birdie,” he gurgled, clearly happy with his joke.

The poster, torn off the board, showed a kai-reen – a griffin, winged beast with clawed paws and fanged beak. A fancy woven inscription promised an unprecedented spectacle on the Great Arena, a battle “to the last grain of sand” – in other words, to the last fighter.

Esha was silent. Her cross-pupils narrowed, almost turning into points.

“You know, you look much younger and prettier than they say, Ashwing. Or do you prefer ‘White Hand of the Dragon’?”

The beast licked his lips. The Elwing girl just half-arched her eyebrow. She had long learned to hide her emotions, especially while dealing with Abbarrian merchants, where the first rule stated: if you show your interest in the subject of purchase, the auction may result in considerable additional costs.

Leaning to Tkharod, the Elwing girl put her hand in her pocket, smiling at the way the stony faces of the bodyguards behind him tensed. She still had a couple of gems and some coins. She aimed to get them, while the knives were hanging on her hip, and on her belt, and hidden in her boot… In a word, these dummies head nothing to worry about, for now.

The bodyguards clanked their weapons, but Tkharod stopped them with a gesture, again.

Esha opened her hand and showed him a large ruby of excellent quality – crimson like blood, pure as a tear. Tkharod licked and smacked his lips. He hadn’t seen such gems for a while. Since the main mine of Siluria had run dry, a whole fortune could be gained for such a pebble. Not to mention the fact that the sack of bones was worth much less. To be honest, the creature was worth no more than a living gwahr or some meat scraps from the butcher’s shop, third the weight of kai-reen itself. But where have you seen an honest merchant? And Tkharod wouldn’t have gotten to where he was now if he were a decent and honest beast at least by one third.

To agree right away would have been extremely impractical and bad for his reputation. With great difficulty the first organizer of the Great Arena looked away from the gem, because the second rule of Abbarr stated: if you want to get more, don’t show the buyer your desire to part with the goods.

“Nobody will offer a better price for him, Val Tkharod,” a reptiloid Allaty – the assistant organizer – squeaked, but he went quiet the moment his master gave him a disapproving look.

“He has a fight today. And I’ll get more from each fight than your pebble is worth,” Tkharod managed a snort so casual he could actually master, but the gleam in his eyes, a drop of sweat on his forehead and the way his forked

tongue licked his lips three times already was a dead giveaway.

“Are you sure?”

Esha leaned on the table, and a pack of bet receipts got scattered on the floor. The line behind her murmured, more and more displeased. More and more necks were craned to see what was happening, and in the visitors’ whispers ‘Elwing’, ‘ruby’ and ‘Ashwing’ could be heard. Esha banished the thought that the day had finally come; holding the ruby between her thumb and forefinger she brought the stone almost straight to the beast’s face, catching the red glow in Tkharod’s pale watery eyes.

“Break for a quart!” the beast yelled and clapped his hands.

Sand was used to measure time in Abbarr. On the central peak of the Black Flower there was a huge chronometer – The Great Watcher; it was the pinnacle of the Desert City watchmakers’ craftsmanship. And since time literally flowed, citizens of Abbarr used the same way to measure it as they did while measuring fluid volumes. Well, Esha had quarter of an hour at her disposal, though three times less would have been enough.

The bodyguards hurried to push out all the onlookers and shot bolts on the heavy doors. The Death Pavilion became unusually quiet.

“Show the goods, Tkharod.”

“If you ask… Ashwing.”

The beast gestured to his assistant, before leaving the table, and walked slowly to the far door. Esha followed him. The organizer’s bodyguards walked behind them.

As they passed the corridor and the adjoining room, they found themselves in twilight of a long gallery; on both sides there were numerous cells and pens of various sizes and degrees of protection. As soon as the doors were opened a wave of sounds rolled over Esha. The room was filled with hundreds of voices, growling, bleating, screaming. Dozens, hundreds of animals were making all kinds of sounds, merged into a single cacophony of death. Esha closed her eyes for a moment, shielding her consciousness from the agonizing screams. Many of the creatures had long lost their minds, gone completely mad; only rage and hunger for blood and battle could be heard in their voices. Others pleaded for deliverance, howling of their suffering and hunger, of pain in their tormented flesh. Esha separated herself from one voice after another, until only silence and the sound of the beasts’ steps remained. The mental barrier echoed with every sound. If someone dropped a needle in the distant corner of the gallery, Esha would have heard that ringing.

Tkharod and his servants stopped near a large cage. Behind the thick rods a beast lay silently. Asha came close. This was the kai-reen – tormented, exhausted, and crippled, as one of his wings was underdeveloped. He looked nothing like the poster promised. He’d been through many arena battles, and was still alive.

Strength and weakness. Despite his flaw, the animal fought for his life, stubbornly refusing to die even after getting severe injuries. Esha looked at his old white scars and the gore on his feathers, at the swollen eye, at the brown crusts at the sting of his tail and the tips of his horns, at his ragged ear. The griffin was looking back at her with his one remaining eye, orange, like flame. He watched her without a single sound, a single thought. Today’s fight would be his last, and he knew that.



Esha heard rumors that Tkharod was the organizer of some of the most brutal “games” on the Great Arena. They always ended with the death of one of the participants. The winner was allowed to devour the loser. The fighters weren’t given any other food. Regardless whether it was monsters fighting or gladiators, conditions were equal for everyone. However, the Allaty and the Beasts also received their pay as a reward, and slaves could earn their freedom. But for animals there was only one way to freedom – death.

Esha caught the gaze of the amber eye and looked away, unable to peer into the abyss.
Inside the Elwing girl a wave of rage was rising. It seemed the animals felt her hardly restrained anger and fell silent, hiding deeper in their cages. The gallery became unusually quiet. And the griffin still lay motionless – just heavy breathing, spasms of pain, and a blazing eye.

“You know, griffins cannot participate in the Arena battles.”
“Nor can they be a subject of trade,” the Beast grinned.

Tkharod spat on his fingers – a traditional merchant gesture for the money to “stick in” – and wrote the bill of sale reluctantly. He glanced at the Elwing girl, giving her a crooked grin, and put a personal seal on the deal. He then handed her the document and, looking into the Elwing’s eyes, spat out in disdain:

“This thing will die soon anyway. He is too skinny.”
“We will all die anyway,” Esha smiled wickedly and, grabbing the receipt, tossed him the ruby and turned to the cage.

Tkharod nearly fell down, trying to catch the precious gem, and, having hidden the coveted treasure under his belt, he shouted:

“By the way, two more ‘dragons’ are due, for the cage and chains with a collar.”
“I won’t be needing these,” the Elwing girl responded calmly, easily picking the lock with a masterkey.
The door creaked, and Esha sank down by the griffin’s muzzle.
“Let’s go. You don’t have to fight anymore.”

The organizer and his servants backed away. The stone Beasts held their axes ready, but also retreated a couple steps.

“You’ve lost your marbles completely, Djinn take you!” Tkharod yelled.

Esha paid no attention to the great organizer’s screams. She was focused on the beast before her. The Elwing girl knew the griffin had heard her. Esha reached out to him. The beast snarled, baring his fangs, and rose a bit.

“There-there. Calm down, I’m not your enemy. Maybe not a friend yet, but definitely not an enemy.”

His hackle feathers were still raised, but the growling grew quieter, turning into dull grunting.

Esha carefully unfastened the shackles on his paws, then reached out for his neck. The griffin lowered his head slightly, watching her warily with his orange eye. His feathers, fur, blood – everything was matted and glued together in a mush, covered by a thick crust of dirt. Here and there bald spots of scars showed up, cuts and festering not yet healed traces of his fights… Today’s battle, indeed, would have been his last. Touching the beast, Esha sensed his thoughts. His weariness. He was tired of killing. Today he was ready to die. He was angry with the hope of freedom which showed up out of nowhere. The Elwing girl sensed his wariness, his distrust. But somewhere deep, deep inside she also felt a faint impulse of light amidst the darkness of his despair – his wish to believe her.
And this time Esha peered into the amber abyss, and did not look away, only smiled, mentally extending a helping hand.
The griffin stiffened and rose, staggering, then shook his head. The unfastened collar clanged, falling onto the floor.

“Heeey, what do you think you’re doing!” Tkharod jumped back. Such swiftness was truly amazing, taking into account his complexity.
“Taking my property,” Esha growled. “Any objections?”

The Elwing girl pulled a leather cord from her pocket, adorned with white feathers and purple stone beads – exactly like the one that was braided in her own hair. She tied the cord to the griffin’s horn so it could be seen, therefore securing her right of ownership, warning off those who might dare to claim her “property”.

“It’s necessary. Trust me.”

The griffin paused, then took a careful step out of his cage, held his muzzle close to the girl’s face and sniffed. The Elwing smiled.

“Now let’s go,” Esha said, putting her hand on the griffin’s beak, and added mentally: “Don’t show them your fear. This city never forgives one’s weakness.”
Esha turned around and took a few steps toward the merchant, who was taken aback. She took off her glove and extended her hand.
“Thank you for the deal.”

The organizer patted his belt, where the gem was hidden, and grinned, accepting a handshake.

“Fly in again, Ashwing, with your rubies and ‘dragons’.”

But as soon as the Beast touched the Elwing’s delicate hand, his face was distorted by pure horror. His fishy eyes bulged out, as he stared at Esha, unable to utter a word. He tried to pull his hand out, but could not. His own body didn’t obey him, and his mind frantically thrashed in a cage of helplessness. The girl looked into his eyes and smiled. Her eyes were burning with purple fire.

“Remember, my name is Ashry of Poogaton,” the girl whispered in his ear. “And I will show you the Abyss.”

A couple of moments, and the Elwing let go of the Beast. Tkharod recoiled, pressed his hand to his chest, as if he had just touched a kiln. The Elwing girl buttoned her glove and headed for the exit, calling out to the griffin to follow, both with a gesture and with her thought.
As she was leaving, Esha was still smiling. She knew that from now on, whenever Tkharod would close his eyes, he would see his worse nightmares embodied. A nightmare where his beasts lacerated him on the Arena. Although, even with his eyes open, he’d always stay in his nightmare. Neither wine, nor potions, nor caresses of his favorite concubines would help. The Abyss’ Handshake was what made Ashwing a legend – the Raven’s White Hand. But few knew how it worked, until they actually became acquainted with it.
The griffin and the girl walked past the great organizer, crouched in fear, past his bodyguards, past the owners of living killing machines and the blood-thirsty spectators. The Elwing and the kai-reen paid no attention to the fear of the crowd.
Esha sensed the difficulty with which the griffin was taking every step. But she knew he was walking with his head high, and she could only believe in his strength. The beast was walking forth despite his weakness.
Slowly they were moving forth through the crowd of onlookers. A hot afternoon wind played with the white strand of Elwing’s hair and the snow-white feathers adorning the cord tied to the griffin’s horn. These feathers belonged to an ashwing of the Archipelago – a small but tenacious bird of the Free Islands. Legends had it, these birdies were born from the ashes of last hope, when the Abyss was so close they couldn’t fly out to the light without staining their tails with ashes of darkness.



The Elwing girl and the griffin left the Great Arena quarter, turned to an axial street, then reached the Caravaneers’ Square. Esha was grateful for the fact that the beast was stronger than he looked. Finally, the midday heat made the townspeople disperse; only the children followed Esha and the beast stealthily. The majority decided they’d seen enough and vanished just as abruptly as they’d appeared, but one small flock tailed Esha from the Death Pavilion. There were three or four beastlings. The larger one was clearly in charge.

Once the Elving girl had reached the street water fountain, she stopped. In Abbarr such places were not uncommon. Underground wells pumped water from the depths, turning the whole city into a blooming oasis.

Esha had always admired Abbarr, the way the city was built and organized from within. Even an ordinary water fountain with a small pool was a little miracle of great engineering thought and skill of builders, mechanics, and architects of the Black Flower. The water pressure was automatically regulated, and the excess flowed down the grooves into the underground drainage system, watering numerous park areas. The source of water was hidden deep underground; with the help of a fancy mechanism, invented by the Beast engineers, whom Abbarr was famous for, the life-giving moisture rose to the surface. And it cost just three “gears” per quarter hour. Sometimes Esha was really irritated by this passion to measure everything in quarters.

The drinking fountain always worked and was available to anyone, while those who wanted to refresh themselves and give water to their cattle had to pay a fee. Unlike bath-houses and pools, this place was popular among those who wanted to make their goods more attractive. On hot days fountains were in demand among the city children. Esha and the griffin were lucky this time: the square was empty. Even the smell of the draught gwahrs had already weathered. The filigree pattern of black-and-white tiles was dry. “First we need to get you washed,” Esha told the beast, taking her cloak off. “And to feed you. And give you water. And treat your wounds. In any order, but as soon as possible.” “Feed Fravy to the monster,” someone said from the side.

Cursing viciously, Esha looked back at the group of teenagers, who laughed, pushing out a thin floppy-eared fox Allaty.

“Great idea. But just one won’t be enough for him!” Esha cried to the kids, who were already running away.

Only a kid they called Fravy stayed. He was hiding behind the column, but he stayed nonetheless.

“Your ears give you away,” Esha laughed and added softer: “Just like mine give me away.”

The ears, sticking out from behind the column, twitched, and a small muzzle showed up instantly. Then the little fellow himself took a couple of timid steps. In his hands he held a leaflet with the announcement of the final battle.

“You’ve bet on him too?” Esha nodded at the paper and frowned.

Fravy – a small and feeble Allaty with overly big ears which gave him a comical cute look – shook his head so hard the Abbarr’s hot air seemed to ring.

“Oh no! Of course not!” the boy chattered, and finally had the courage to come closer. “This is a Royal Griffin!”

Esha remembered she’d already seen the Allaty boy earlier this morning at the vegetable market. He was the one bullied by the kids who’d just run away.

“Well, so far he is far from being royal,” the Elwing girl glanced at the griffin, who tried to drink from a small fountain. “But if you help us, we’ll get him into shape. Or at least we’ll do our best.”

Esha promised Fravy a coin and sent him to an apothecary shop to get ointment, then to the butcher to get a piece of meat – as large as the boy could carry.

“If you run away with my money, this beast will track you down and eat you.”

Flashing the soles of his sandals, the boy vanished around the corner.

As it was common in the city of merchants, you had to pay for everything. Esha threw a coin and pulled the lever. There was a noise, as water rumbled in the pipes, and after a few seconds, the stream poured.

The griffin stepped back and bared his fangs, lifting feathers on the scruff of his neck.

“Calm down, buddy. You’ll feel better, don’t be afraid. We need to wash you a bit.”

And Esha touched the animal, calming him mentally.

In the middle of the pool there was a small platform where one could leave their clothes and belongings without worrying someone might steal them, or they might get wet. The locals and city guests often had picnics on such platforms, or spent time losing money playing cards or sharkhs – a local board game similar to chess, that was so thrilling it often ended in a fight. And the blood from broken noses could be easily washed off here, just like sweet puddles left of the fallen ice cream.

Esha threw her vest on the platform, scooped some water and washed her face. Her white hair with subtle purple hue gleamed slightly in the sunlight. A silver cuff flashed in her ear – the mark of the Black Dragon of Vitalon crew. The Elwing girl took off her boots, unfastened her bags and her knives before going to the edge of the platform. The griffin stood in the water, clearly enjoying the coolness. His muzzle was lowered – he drank eagerly, greedily.

“Those fiends didn’t take care of you at all,” Esha said sympathetically. Suddenly, the beast froze, closed his eyes, and tumbled to the side, raising a wave, spraying Esha from head to toe.

Esha jumped from the platform into the pool; the water barely reached her knees, but it was enough for this griffin to drown. Fatigue took its toll, and the beast lost consciousness, having breathed in the burning wind of freedom.

With difficulty Esha lowered the griffins head on the platform – this sack of bones was heavier than he looked.

“Just don’t you lie around for too long,” Esha whispered with sympathy. “I’m afraid they’ll start their hunt for me soon. And we’d better get out of Abbarr as soon as we can.”

Carefully she started washing his wounds, cleaning his horns, fur and feathers. It was amazing he had even lasted so long. Esha couldn’t hear his thoughts, but she sensed the might of his spirit.

The Royal Griffins were special creatures. They were around long before the Elwing and Allaty. They were sentient, and it was impossible to take their mind under control. Strong and fast, they’d later become friends of the Elwing people, defending the borders of Siluria high in the sky. Many of them had died in the last war.

In the Big World, catching and selling Royal Griffins was strictly forbidden. Yet this one was out of luck. Esha examined the defective stump which hung on the beast’s side instead of a wing. Maybe he was born that way and raised on the arena. Or perhaps he’d been caught in the mountains of Siluria and smuggled away. One day he might tell her his story, but for now, she just needed him to survive.

“Don’t let Tkharod be right,” Esha stroked the kai-reen’s forehead between the horns. “Fight!”



Esha attached “void bugs” to several columns and activated the barrier, completely blocking the drinking fountain from prying eyes. Now only she and that funny lanky Allaty boy could pass through the barrier. She was almost done when she heard some noise. The noise was getting louder, and then Fravy appeared. He wheeled a small barrow before him, from which a huge ham stuck out. The foxling was panting, squeezing out every bit of his strength, but smiled contentedly.

“How clever,” Esha smiled; it was highly unlikely he could actually carry such a huge piece on his back.

Once he saw the griffin, lying limply, Fravy put his wheelbarrow down, pressed his little hands to his chest. The smile slipped off his face, his ears dropped down, and his big round eyes glittered wetly.

“He’s alive,” Esha nodded encouragingly. “Bring the ointment, please.”

Fravy’s ears shot up, as he ran up to her and held her the can, with both hands, so as not to drop it. As soon as Esha took the medicine, the kid whisked behind the closest column; yet he was still craning his neck, watching the griffin and the Elwing girl in turns – both looked curious and outlandish to him.

“I could use a little help here,” Esha beckoned the boy, then pointed at the griffin.

The foxling pulled off his gloves, embarrassed. Bashfully he rubbed his hand on his sides, not knowing where to put his hands. Esha smiled, held out one of the rags her cloak had turned into. Hiding after what had happened was pointless – a kai-reen was not some owlcat one could hide in their bag.

One look at Fravy was enough to realize, why he was being bullied. A mudblood, first-generation under-beast, and that was a stigma of an outcast. Even in the city of beasts he became an object of ridicule and abuse. His hands were covered with millions of tiny hairs, like those of a gecko, granting him a unique ability to climb any vertical surface or wall. His huge fox ears gave him excellent hearing, and his reptile eyes enabled him to see at night, and his beautiful golden fur, shimmering in the sun… Only his huge lizard mouth spoiled everything. The Elwing girl noted a large scarf tied around the boy’s neck, clearly for disguise, as well as his gloves. Esha remembered Saphy, and her heart sank. The echoes of war would keep haunting the innocents for many years to come, ruining their lives.

Esha was looking at the child, who was gently and carefully washing the griffin. The boy’s face was like an open book, reflecting a whole kaleidoscope of emotions: pain, compassion, delight, admiration.

Under the crust of dirt and blood, the Elwing girl and the Allaty boy found that the griffin was the color of moon steel, with small specks. All the large winged cats were called griffins or kai-reens in Abbarr, no matter if they had a beak, feathers, or membranous wings. However, only the royal griffins were distinguished by their especially large size, and belonged to the order of Muzzlerosts[1].

The kai-reen had a leonine muzzle, but with a fanged beak. Two lines ran down from his eyes, as if from tears. He had big ears and four horns – two larger, and two smaller ones. One of his eyes was damaged and swollen. One of his wings was feathered, while the second stuck out like a huge ugly finger. His long tail ended in a spike. He could have been a magnificent beautiful creature, but the ugly flaw and years had taken their toll. Only a shadow remained of his former might. Or perhaps, he had never known freedom. Esha sighed. She recalled the words of Raven, the pirate king of Vitalon: “To take flight, you need wings and courage.”

Well, this creature had almost a complete set. And she would somehow figure out how to get him a second wing.


The sun had set, and lanterns lit up. Water had long flowed down through grooves. The clothes managed to dry out, just like the griffin’s fur.

Esha was looking at the lanterns cast of desert glass, at the charged gas flickering inside. She recalled the living lanterns of Poogaton, the artificial sun of the Rock, the magical garlands of Siluria, the oil lamps of Vitalon. Out of habit she reached for a coin which used to hang around her neck, but the coin was no longer there, replaced by a small ocarina of the winds. And beads were no longer in her hair, and her hair was cut short. All that remained of her past was a cuff earring and a hairpin on a small braid by her left ear.

She recalled the words of the elder from the Northern Lands. “Power is never given for free. And yet sometimes we find out about the price far too late…” Esha looked at her hands, put her gloves on and called out to Fravy, who was sitting on top of a stone arch, admiring the city lights. Deftly the foxling came down, using his paws like sucker cups.

They were sitting on the platform, sharing dinner. Fravy was extremely talkative, as Esha herself once had been.

“So, I’m helping Val Sturion with vegetables and fruits until dawn. And then Val Maidu trusts me with the morning papers. Val Caruon and Val Patry like to sleep late, that’s why I’m usually right on time to unload their bales. Valla Maritta Kritarou sends out flowers – expensive white Silurian lilies – for the table of Great Ormu himself, so my wheelbarrow then rushes to the Spire of Time.”

“The Great Ormu is fond of flowers?” Esha asked, alarmed.

Fravy laughed:

“Oh yes! But living flowers. In his Gardens of Love live the most beautiful maidens, and the most beloved of them all is the fair-haired Valla Ilamille, with her skin as delicate as silk, and her green eyes bright like emeralds. She is a noble Elwing, and these flowers remind her of her home. I’ve seen her once,” the Allaty boy closed his eyes and said dreamily: “So beautiful… Well, and then I have plenty of time to go about my business,” he finished his story.

“And where do you spend such an awful amount of money?” Esha smiled, thinking over what she’d just heard.

“I’m living with my aunt and uncle. I’m their burden and shame,” Fravy continued carelessly, munching his jerky with cheese. “So, I’m giving them two quarters of my earnings. I’m spending one quarter on goodies and toys, because I still have several little sisters and brothers. And one…”

Fravy hesitated, pondering if he should tell or not.

“And one quarter I put aside for something very important.”

Esha guessed that Fravy was talking about a bank account. In Abbarr anyone could open an account, regardless of age. Yet the foxling refused to tell, what he was saving up for.

“I have to go home. Thank you for dinner.”

Fravy rose to his feet and glanced at the griffin. The creature was sleeping all this time. Together they had treated all his wounds they could reach.

“May I stroke him one last time?”

“I think he won’t mind.”

The boy gently touched the undamaged part of the griffin’s skin.

Fravy then pressed his hand to his chest and smiled slyly:

“My friends will be so envious once they find I was washing…” Fravy thought a bit and corrected himself, “was stroking a royal griffin.”

“Downright royal, eh?”

“Of course. Only the royal guard of Siluria has such griffins. They are equipped with armor, and they guard the borders. Each one of them has their own personal griffin. They are paid a salary, and they can fly. All the sky is open to them. Their names are carved in the Griffin Hall, and the girls faint at the very sight of them… Though I’m not sure of the latter. How can one be so stupid as to faint and miss all the interesting stuff? Oh, and do you know that anyone can become a royal guard? Any resident of the Empire, Siluria, and Archipelago? Regardless of their race and social class.”

Esha smiled. Looked like now the knew what the little Allaty boy was saving up for. Anyone could become a guard, but not everyone could afford to pay for the training in the Academy.

Fravy threw his wheelbarrow on his back, which made him look like a turtle, and ran home. Esha called out to him.

“Your pay!” she tossed him a golden ‘dragon.”

“Oh wow!” he said from the dark.

“And you know what? You’ll become a great guard,” Esha said. She couldn’t see Fravy, but she could have sworn: the foxling was smiling from ear to ear.


A couple more hours passed. The nights in Abbarr were cool. Esha buttoned her vest, put on what remained of her cloak, still thinking about the mysterious Elwing maiden and the white lilies.

The griffin stirred, rose to his paws and growled, flashing his good eye. “Happy awakening,” Esha yawned. “There you go.”

She tossed him a piece of meat.

“You need to eat, and then sleep all you want. Though I recommend to move away from that stone bottom, otherwise you’ll freeze your kidneys and start urinating every half and hour.”

The creature grunted, swallowed the piece, and peered at the remains of the ham.

“That’s your dinner, don’t be shy. By the way, I thought of a name for you. Swarg. Far away in the North this word stands for “wing” and “flight. So, what do you think?”

The griffin squinted his orange eye at the Elwing girl, crunched a bone. He still did not answer her. Well, one thing at a time.

As he dealt with his meal, the griffin rose, shook himself, took a couple of steps, then drank from the fountain.

Esha got up, fastened her bags, pulled her hood down.

“Come on, it’s time to hit the road. Perhaps you are exactly the reason

I’ve been stuck in these sands for so long.”

She looked at the exhausted kay-reen and added:

“Let’s have a deal: while I am responsible for you, don’t you dare to die on me.”



The white stones of Sea Gates flashed ahead. Esha filled out passes both for herself and her “property” and went outside the city walls. Keeping away from others who wanted to leave Maetharu, the girl and the griffin slowly walked along the gorge that led to the coast. Behind them the Black Flower of the Desert remained – the city where strength and weakness were intricately intertwined. Stars spread above their heads. Guards, hiding in the rocks, watched the travelers silently. Only a couple of times a sentinel riding a pteryx flew over them.

Water, sleep, some food, and a healing ointment clearly had done the griffin good. He was still weak, but no longer looked like a living corpse.

After several miles of walking through the “stone sack” of the gorge, they dived into a tunnel under the sands and by morning arrived to the Stone Port – a hidden lagoon in the Blade Mountains, with the only access to the open sea. Only the Great Ormu’s ships docked here, and only onboard one of them was it possible to get to the port of the neutral island of Lanthra.

Ferrying the griffin cost Esha another couple of “does”. Cool breeze ruffled the white feathers braided into the Elving girl’s hair and tied to the kai-reen’s horn.

Esha stopped and took a deep breath:

“This is the smell of freedom,” she turned to Swargh. “Well, disregarding the fish stink.”

“Some smeller you are, kid!” she heard hearty laughter from behind.

Before Esha got a chance to look back, someone’s huge arms grabbed her, lifted her off the ground, and the world around her spun at incredible speed. And even when her feet found support at last, the surrounding objects were still spinning.

“Hello, Ashry! I’m headed to Abbarr, and you’re already leaving, eh?”

“Fanger!” as Esha came round, she smiled and hugged her friend; together they had once walked through many dunes and ruins of Mae. “How’s the catch?”

“So far, so good. And it looks like you’ve forgotten my advice completely: take the most valuable. Something small and compact. Something that wouldn’t go bad.”

The Beast looked the kai-reen up and down, then glanced at Esha suspiciously.

“Everything’s legal,” the Elving girl waved the bill of sale under Gravv’s nose. “Can you help me get onboard some ship?”

“I wish I could answer ‘no’, just so you’d stay, but apparently it won’t work.”

“It won’t work,” the Elving girl smiled sadly. “Apparently, that’s our fate: to leave when we want to stay.”

“I wanted to tell you about the Archipelago…”

Esha stopped him:

“It’s not worth it, Gravv. It’s all in the past. I am happy you’re alive and still under the Tigerwolf’s protection,” she nodded at Fanger’s medallion, then looked into his eyes. “If fate so wills, we’ll meet again, and maybe then we’ll talk.”

Gravv chuckled, crossed his arms on his chest:

“Make no mistake: the fate wills it so.”

“Well, do we have a bargain then?”

“We do. But I won’t shake your hand,” Gravv laughed.


Esha and Swarg were standing before the ramp of the ship heading Norgh.

“Go ahead, it won’t be a long sailing trip,” she encouraged the kai-reen.

The griffin took a step, then another, and finally they were onboard.

Fanger was not there for their departure. Till the last Esha was looking at Lanthra, vanishing in the distance, but she knew she wouldn’t see the Beast. It was their little unspoken rule – never to say goodbye. If Fate did not hear the words of parting, then it would not know their paths had parted.

Esha’s memory carried her into their past. Gravv the Fanger, whose full name was Gravvmohl Pravy, got his nickname not just because of his own protruding fangs, but also because of a number of strangers’ teeth he had knocked out in drunken fist fights. Fanger had always put his heart into fighting and really enjoyed it, and whenever he lost, he did it with dignity… which he expressed in loud healthy snoring. The rest of the time Gravv earned his living by retrieving various healing and not very healthy ingredients in the Archipelago and Maetharu. The list was impressive, just like the Beast’s ability to find pretty much anything and to survive in the process. Fanger was slightly older than Ashry. In the past they were often taking contracts for two. Otherwise, two teenagers could not have managed on their own. The little Elving girl felt safe with the Beast, and the Beast was happy with the company. It seemed that fate had brought them together ages ago. They had spent more than a year back to back. Gravv knew of Ashwing’s curse and her special skills. He did not know everything, but whatever he knew was enough. And if the Abyss’ Touch was nothing but rumors for others, Gravv had witnessed flames burning in Esha’s eyes and on her hands. And he knew the power of that flame, which had saved them both more than once, and once had burned the bridge between them.

The blood running through Gravv’s veins was Elving blood, albeit diluted by that of Allaty and Beasts. He had gotten to Abbarr after fleeing either from Siluria, or from the Rock. The absence of horns betrayed him for a northerner, but any Beast was always a friend in Abbarr, especially a Beast with talents. Well, Gravv had more than enough various talents. Fanger had never asked Ashry about her past, nor did he like to talk about his own. It suited them both. However, if one spent enough time in each other’s company, sooner or later one would know the other’s secrets… Nights in the taverns, where wine flowed like a river, and one’s tongue could barely shape words, had played a large role in that too. In the morning they had never spoken of what they’d been discussing at night. Esha of Poogaton and Gravvmohl Pravy had become history. In the white walls of Abbarr each of them had built a new life.

Esha smiled. For some reason, she was absolutely certain this was not their last encounter.


Esha and Swarg were accommodated in the very belly of a merchant ship, on the only free patch among the countless bales and barrels. Having agreed with the captain for a couple of “dragons” on a full meal for herself and her “cat”, Esha climbed into the hammock and fell asleep, muttering:

“My previous pet was much more compact.”


In course of their journey Swarg clearly cheered up and gained some weight; most of his wounds healed. During the day he enjoyed sunbathing on the deck. The sailors did not risk messing with an overgrown kitty who was completely covered with scars. They did not pester Esha with questions either, mostly due to the fact that this kitty was always hanging around nearby.

In the evenings the Elving girl loved sitting between the kai-reen’s paws, watching the sun go down. Sometimes she played her ocarina, retreating into herself. And sometimes she just watched the stars – painfully familiar and unchanging constellations, an anchor, holding her in the reality of this world.


After changing a couple of ships, having spent for about a month in their trip, they finally reached the Isle of Thunder. They were lucky to land without attracting too much attention – there were always enough various creatures on the island of mechanics: some got their equipment adjusted, others were calibrated to synchronize with their mechanisms, and some were kept to guard the warehouses.

Finding an inn on the outskirts, Esha got a room, a lunch, a barn, and some answers to her questions for a reasonable price.

Satisfied, the Elving burst into the barn, where Swarg stretched out on a haystack, gnawing at a lamb’s shinbone.

Esha put the bucket of water on the floor and said in a mentoring tone:

“Stay here. I’ll be back soon. If someone other than me comes in, you may eat them. If there is trouble, run to the forest, I’ll find you there.”

The griffin just snorted.


To be continued…



‘Doe’ – one of the five types of coins in the Big World. One hundred ‘does’ equal one ‘dragon’.
Val/Valla – a respectful way to address a man/woman in the lands of Maetharu.

[1] This made-up term comes from the combination two words: “muzzle” and “rostral”.

ABBARR: Ashes and Wings