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leave all your love and your longing behind/you can't carry it with you if you want to survive

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Graham encounters the Knight, once. 

It happens when he’s still a newcomer, nervous and frightened and unused to Hallownest’s ways, struggling to survive from day to day to day and trying not to think too much of home. He’s wandering without much of a destination in mind, looking for something, anything that could be useful to him. When he takes a wrong turn in the Fungal Wastes and finds himself practically face to face with the Knight - the first and only time he’ll ever be fated to meet them.

As first impressions go, it’s not one of the best.

Were he more self-possessed, perhaps conflict could have been avoided. But Graham is a mess of nerves and terror and a cutting, vicious homesickness, fueled by adrenaline and paranoia, and in his panicked, sleepless, desperate state he turns not to diplomacy - which has always failed him in this place - but to violence, which is becoming less of a novelty and more of a habit, an instinct. 

Before he even knows what he’s doing, he’s lashing out, swinging the nail that he’d purloined from the corpse of a moss knight; aiming to wound, disable, kill. The Knight is swift to retaliate; dodging before swinging their nail at Graham’s throat. And from there, it’s a natural progression to a circular pattern of brutality that culminates in combat.

It’s combat of a different sort than what he’s used to. This is Graham’s first real fight since he's arrived here, with an opponent that is sane and sensible and sharp - not an infected being relying on muscle memory of past training, or a feral, senseless creature - and it takes him all of half a minute to realize that he’s in over his head. 

Graham is capable enough when it comes to ordinary enemies, driven by his need to live; but he’s untrained and unskilled, and no amount of determination and innate cleverness can replace proper, organized training. He’s been learning, but not quickly enough: the nail is still heavy and unwieldy and unfamiliar in his hands. Being too used to an ordinary dagger or sword, he can’t figure out how to balance the thing properly. His swings are wild and uncontrolled and use too much strength with too little benefit.

The Knight, by contrast, is competent and swift and deadly, and intent on defeating Graham by any means necessary. They’ve been playing the survival game far longer than Graham has, going toe to toe against stronger enemies than him and winning. They’re simply better than Graham, more powerful, with more spells and tricks and training on their side.

For the first few minutes, they positively wipe the floor with him. Graham tries to be careful, to stay out of reach of their swings, but they’re simply too fast for him, darting at him from every side, harassing him into making mistakes. And panic is quick to set in when he finds himself overwhelmed, outdone; he feels trapped, cornered, terrified. There’s only one direction this can feasibly go, and it’s not in his favor; and this knowledge is driving him into a slow spiral of dread that gradually has him taking leave of his senses.

But there is one advantage he has, and in the flurry of battle he realizes what it is, when a minute into the fight their nail slashes into his forearm and splatters blood over the grass and has him crying out in terror and pain, and he’s going to lose, he’s going to fail, he’s going to die-

-And then he sees a way out, sees it with sudden, perfect clarity. The same clarity that saved him so many times back home in Daventry. Except then it was pacifism that guided him, and now it’s just a better, more intelligent form of violence.

The bugs of Hallownest are creatures made mostly of magic, more fae than insect. It’s this which allows them to be almost as tall as humans, ranging from the size of a small child to a particularly tall adult. Their world, their culture, is centered around magic; so saturated is their land in mana that they practically breathe the substance. And when they’re injured, or killed, mana likewise leaks from their bodies like blood. 

It’s something that Graham has exploited a couple of times. There are charms, items, that can absorb the released magic and direct it to heal your own wounds. And though the process is uncomfortable at best and downright painful at worst - his body isn’t made for this - it’s saved his life more than once. It’s something he can depend upon in any fight - a typical enemy could be leeched on, their lifeforce used to heal him.

But Graham isn’t a typical enemy. He’s human, not fae - make of blood and bone, not magic. The rules don’t apply to him.

He can benefit from injuring the Knight, can harm them to help himself. 

The Knight? 

They don’t have that luxury. 

~=~

It’s not easy - far from it. Graham’s strategy calls for reckless aggression, for him to wound the Knight as much as feasibly possible; the Knight, of course, doesn’t make it easy. But they’re operating at a distinct disadvantage, without any way to recover from their wounds, and with patience and unrelenting antagonism Graham is able to slowly wear them down. It’s painful, and bloody, and his nerves are raw with how many times he’s forced to heal himself and he very nearly faints...but it works. It works by half a hairsbreadth, but it works.

By the end of it, he’s bruised and bleeding and more exhausted than he’s ever been in his life. His clothes are torn and bloodstained; his nail is cracked; his cloak is ripped so it’s barely hanging off one shoulder, trailing on the ground. But all those details pale in the face of his victory, when the Knight finally turns tail and flees.

With little ceremony, they dart down a tunnel and vanish into the darkness; in their wake, they leave something that sparkles and glitters in the dim light of the cavern, that instantly capture’s Graham’s wavering attention. Graham’s vision is shuttering and flickering, spots of darkness dancing in front of his eyes, but that doesn’t stop him from pouncing on the object, snatching at the folds of what seems to be some sort of shawl. He’s not entirely sure what it is - it’s shimmering and ethereal and it looks like it’s made of gossamer - but there’s a chance that it’s useful, and that’s a chance he’s willing to take.

( When in doubt, or in trouble, pick up anything that is not nailed down. The memory leaves an aching feeling of loss - yet he clings to it like a lifeline. His father’s advice has saved his skin more times than he can count; even in this hellish place he makes a point of following it)

And then exhaustion is tugging at his limbs, and he’s stumbling away, to find a bench to rest upon. He feels strangely jubilant; though he was beaten to an inch of his life, he survived, and the realization is almost...almost…

... Thrilling, even.

And the thought of being exultant at harming, nearly killing another person should be abhorrent to him, but he’s far too tired to feel appropriately guilty.

~=~

(...Tired, dazed, triumphant, he doesn’t notice when his cloak catches on a sharp rock, when it slips off his shoulder, when it tumbles silently into a fluttering heap on the ground and is left behind. Abandoned)

[Later, he’ll realize what he’s done in his carelessness, and he’ll search for the garment in a panic. But he won’t find it, no matter what he tries. Certain things, when lost, are gone for good]

{He won’t see it again for a very, very long time; by that time, it'll have already lost everything that made it significant}

~=~

…..

~=~

Red has encountered the Knight, once.

He doesn’t remember it too clearly, the memories long muddled into a confusing soup of fear and pain and the sound of blades clashing. He knows enough, however, to realize that the Knight is foe, not friend, and as such Red gives them the wide berth they deserve. He hasn’t survived this long by recklessly seeking out danger, after all.

Rarely do they ever cross paths - Red thinks he’s seen them two or three times at the most; then again, with how spotty his memories usually are, one could never tell. Usually Red leaves the area as soon as he catches a glimpse of them, and the Knight never tries to seek him out. It’s a truce of sorts, and one Red has no desire to break.

But, the handful of times he’s seen them, there’s always been something that bothers him, that feels important. Painful. Raw. Like an injury that’s never been properly healed.

He just can’t figure out what it is.

.

.

.

.

(The Knight wears red)