Category: image prompt

(WP) A Little Rest

He’d been waiting all day for this.

               The
sunlight streamed through the window like liquid gold, illuminating the chair
in which he longed to sit. As a smith, his hours ran early and late; he didn’t
sleep much. But he hardly minded. The work was hard, but it was satisfying. Decades
of patience had taught him that you just couldn’t rush something into being. It
had to be nurtured, lovingly so.

               His
forge had birthed many weapons, and he was proud of them all.

               But
every so often, he would feel the stiffness in his bones, that stubborn crackle
in his knees, brought on by a storm or a strange shift in weather. As much as
he liked to pretend that he was still in his prime, his body reminded him of
his age.

               An old
man like him surely deserved a little rest, didn’t he?

               At
last, he sat, with a bottle of sweet, chilled wine. It was odd; his appetite had
only begun to dwindle as he got older. But his tolerance for the finer things
in life had only deepened. If he didn’t love his work so, he would’ve retired
years ago, with an attractive paramour on his arm.

               He
opened the wine and took a quick swig, luxuriating in the sunlight like a cat. He
savored the flavor of it, dark berries and chocolate and a hint of something he
couldn’t name. He licked his lips, putting his hands on his stomach. The wine
warmed him from the inside out, and all he could think about was how much he
wanted to nap.

               Indeed,
he’d been awake since before the sun goddess Raeiel spread her skirts and
welcomed the day. He was certain that he’d earned it. With that decision
finally made, he pulled the brim of his hat down to shade his face. Feet
propped up on the barrel opposite him, he dozed off.

               **

               The
smith was awoken by a series of loud, rather insistent knocks, and he opened
his eyes, grumbling to himself. He’d been in the middle of a good dream, and
try as he might, he could not remember what had happened in it.

               “Just a
moment!” He called gruffly, lowering his feet to the floor.

               The
knocks ceased, as if the person on the other side of the door had heard him.

               He
shuffled to the door and opened it, slowly.

               “My
apologies, I’m afraid I dozed off. What seems to be the problem?”

               The
person waiting on his doorstep was a girl, scrappy and small and fifteen at
most. Her face was dirty with soot, and her hair was cut so short that it was
impossible to guess at its color. She was tiny, just barely over five feet, but
her posture and the determined look on her face endeared her to the old, sleepy
smith.

               “Um…
The people in the village told me that this was your forge, and that I was to
see you.”

               “Whatever
for, lass?”

               “I want
to make weapons, like you. So, I want to be your apprentice. Please, sir, I’ll
do anything! Sweep the floors, clean and cook, and I can read and write, too!
Please, I want to be a great smith, just like you.”

               “Well,
child, I suppose you should come in. We’ve a lot of work to do.”

               So much
for retirement.

               **

(IP) Punishable by Death

               The
scarlet glow of the lanterns that hung in the trees suddenly looked too bright
for the explorer’s eyes, and she swore under her breath.

               But
when she looked up, seeing the portal yawning open, and she saw a small cluster
of wood houses, and a chill wind swept around her, lifting her braid off of her
shoulders. Had she finally done it? She’d spent years training in the magic of
opening portals, and warm blood dripped down her hand, staining the earth a
darker brown.

               Had she
finally become successful?

               She’d
tried so many times over the years that she’d lost count.

               The
world above her glowed a white so bright it looked almost blue, and she
shivered; she wondered if this was a dream, but the gentle, fat flakes falling
upon her upturned face were melting, sending a shock of cold on her cheeks.

               Samira
knew that she should go back to the village to report her success, but
something kept her rooted to the ground. A crazy, absurd thought came to her. What
if she could climb into that portal and explore it for herself?

               From
the time that she’d been a child, she’d served the village and The Elders,
happily so. But that had been before she’d found the books, hidden in the
larder, of all places. They’d told impossible tales: mountains that pierced the
sky, canyons that contained black, yawning chasms, magic of all kinds and
secret doors to worlds that Sam could only dream of.

               First came
the wonder, and then the betrayal. Why had this been hidden from their people?
They deserved the truth; however tangled and strange it was.

               Sam had
found herself at a crossroads. Despite jeopardizing her role working as a
trusted explorer for The Elders, her curiosity would not be doused, no matter
how she tried.

               Insubordination
was made punishable by death, but she no longer cared. Her world was more than
just the village and the forests that surrounded it. She’d always suspected, but
to have proof, undeniable evidence that they’d been lied to; it had almost been
enough to shatter her and everything she’d ever known.

               Defiance
roared in her heart like the flames within the lanterns, and before she could
question herself further, she walked over to a tree and began to climb,
ignoring where the sharp, prickly bark cut into the skin of her palms. The
portal above her loomed ever closer, and she gritted her teeth against the
cold, howling wind.

               Whatever
happened next, she was determined to discover something for herself, for once.

               At long
last, she reached the top branch of the tree, and she hung tight, wincing when
she felt the branch buckle and sway. She was so close.

               But her
foot slipped, and she gasped. It was a long way to the ground, and she swore
once again.

               But
then she felt a hand grip the back of her hood, and the fabric started to tear.

               Before
she realized what was happening, she was pulled off of the branch, and when she
landed in the snow, she gasped at its cold wetness seeping into her clothes.

               “Who
are you and how did you open the portal?” A gruff voice asked, and Sam had no
idea how to answer it.

               **

(IP) A Mother’s Love

               It had
been years since she’d heard anything but the songs of the waves. So, the tiny,
mewling cry that sounded jolted her out of her thoughts.

               She
almost missed it, she recalled with a twinge of guilt. If she hadn’t been
paying attention, she would’ve gone about her day as usual. But somehow, someone
had found their way here and left an infant—another human—at her doorstep.

               Nothing
about this situation was familiar. It had been years since she’d raised
children; hers were long grown, and gone off to live their own lives. Their
leaving had given her the opportunity to learn about herself; she’d learned to
be content with solitude.

               “Oh,
hush, little one, I’m sure we can find some milk somewhere…”

               The
child was swaddled in a blanket that was already damp from seawater, but her
bright eyes were green, and intent on her new caretaker. One arm had come free
from the wrapping, and instinctively, the woman took it. The infant’s feet and
hands were webbed, translucent even in the bright morning light.

               But
Hattie found a jug of milk in her fridge, and she found a clean rag. Dipping it
in the milk, she gave it to the child to suckle.

               “Now,
just where have you come from, child?” Hattie asked the baby, smiling down at her.

               This
child wasn’t completely human, clearly; but Hattie wasn’t the type of woman to
be prejudiced.

               After
all, no child could choose their parents. And for whatever reason, she’d been chosen
to raise this child, as the gods saw fit.

               **

               Years
passed, and Hattie’s baby, named Emerald, Emma for short, grew. Whatever her
parentage, the webbing between her toes and fingers became more visible. And no
matter how Hattie pleaded, Emma would not consent to wearing gloves or shoes to
hide her differences.

               “Why
does it matter, anyway? I have webbed fingers and toes. It can’t be that
unique, Mama Hattie.”

               The
child had called Hattie that from the time she could talk, and her mother saw
no issue with it.

               “I don’t
know, sweetheart. Soon you’re going to have to go to a university, or at least
learn a trade. You need to be able to take care of yourself.”

               Emma
groaned. “I don’t want to think about that right now, Mama Hattie.”

               “Very
well. But eventually, we’re going to have to talk about this, whether you feel
ready or not.”

               **

               Hattie
was sitting in front of the house, on the porch, when her daughter came home.

               “Mama!
Mama Hattie! One of the blacksmiths in town just came to me about having an
apprenticeship! He said that I can start as soon as I finish school. Isn’t that
wonderful?”

               Hattie,
for her part, had had no idea that her daughter even had the slightest interest
in blacksmithing. But she was happy for her child nonetheless.

               “Yes,
it is, my little Emerald. I’m proud of you, and will be, no matter what you
choose to do with your life.”

               It was
time to finally tell Emma the truth of her origins. This day had come all too
soon.

               **

(IP) Children of a Forgotten Age

               Though
the building had long since been abandoned, it nonetheless had an air of being
haunted. It was hidden in the center of a dead, barren forest, leaves of every
color imaginable blanketing the ground. It was said that a group of demigods
had used the church, hidden away from the rest of the world after the war.

               Alongside
the mice, flies, and other unsavory things that used the church for a home, only
two demigods yet lived, a brother and sister. Twins but opposites. One had been
born of the night, the other of the sun. And they stayed hidden for years after
the war; the last thing they’d wanted was to end up like their siblings.
Murdered, burned at the stake, all for godly parentage none of them could help.

               They
were remnants of an age long since passed, of an age no one wanted to remember.
An age where gods and goddesses of terrifying, unearthly power ruled over all,
human beings’ mere pawns in a battle that had been raging before they’d so much
as taken breath.

               They
were despised and reviled, but at least they still had each other.

               “Do you
miss them at all?” Aurora crooned, laying down on the cold stone floor, using
her fingers to make shapes of pale pink light on the vaulted, expansive
ceiling. “It’s gotten so quiet, since things have died down.”

               Her
brother knew what she was talking about, the them she was referring to. Their
parents, capable of destroying whole civilizations with a mere glance or word.
But truth be told, Nox didn’t know how he felt about their parents, even after
all of these years. He and his sister looked to be young, in their early twenties
at the most, but they were much older than they seemed.

               “I don’t
really know,” He said at last, poring over old books in languages lost to the
tide of time. “It gets a little bit lonely, I guess? But you know as well as I
do that they had to go.”

               Aurora
frowned at him, but she nodded. The gods weren’t the only ones at fault for the
war, though they’d certainly started it. Blood was needed for revolution and change;
her mother had always been fond of saying. But for all her wondering about the
future, she and Nox were the only ones left. They’d lost count of how many
days, months, and years had passed; as they didn’t need to eat much, it had
been fairly easy to hide. And everyone said that the forest surrounding the
church was full of ghosts, monsters, and beasts. This was more a rumor to keep
any curious people out.

               “Aren’t
you bored; with the way the world is now? Everything is changing, no one
believes anymore. I mean, what do we do?”

               Nox had
to admit to himself that his sister had a point. They’d been born with a
purpose, to rule what was life of humanity after the war was over. But here
they were, doing the same thing they had yesterday, still living in stasis.

               Perhaps
the worst punishment for the child of a god was ennui.

               **

(IP) Cherry Picking

               The
first time I spot the little creature, I think I’m seeing things: a trick of
the light, or a figment of an overworked, overactive imagination. Tiny but
capable of great power, I have no intention whatsoever of pissing off a wyvern.
Gods know the stories that have been passed down have told of the wrath of
these hybrids, and though I don’t put much stock in old wives’ tales, I leave
it alone.

               What’s
a few dozen cherries from the crop? I make a modest living, and I’m not about
to begrudge a starving animal food. It’s wrapped around a branch now, eagerly
sticking its teeth into the juicy flesh of the fruit. It’s so absorbed in its
meal that it doesn’t notice me, watching it. I turn away, leaving the picking
for the next day.

               **

               When I
wake next, the moon is high above in the sky, surrounded by the rich navy of
the night, stars sparkling like jewels, and there is a muffled crash and a
muted yelp. When I get out of bed, I throw on a nightshirt and some loose
pants, wondering just who is in my cherry trees. I walk outside, my skin covering
in goosebumps when a breeze picks up.

               What I
find below my cherry trees isn’t a tiny dragon with bright, beautiful scales;
it’s a girl, a little one, with bright red curls and somber eyes, with little
tiny horns poking out of her hair. But her mouth and cheeks are bright red,
stained with fruit juice, and I smile down at her.

               “Child,
why not ask for some fruit when I take it to the market? It’s not very good
manners to hide in someone’s fruit tree, you know.” I make sure to keep my
voice mild; strange and extraordinary though her appearance is, I’m not going
to scold her.

               But the
kid must hear the laughter in my voice, but she looks up at me, cheeks blushing
red with shame.

               “You
never minded when I was hungry before,” She replied, frowning, her brows
drawing together in confusion. There’s something familiar about her, but I can’t
quite put my finger on it.

               “In
fact, why, just this morning you—”

               Then it
clicks. My tiny visitor is this girl, after all; this is just her human form.

               “Why don’t
you come inside?” I ask, smiling down at her. “I can make a pot of tea and have
a bed made for you inside. Then, in the morning, we can find your parents.”

               The
child stands up and smiles, slipping her hand into mine; I take that as assent.

               **

               After a
hot cup of tea with milk and sugar, as well as the leftover cherry tarts from
market day, I put the little girl on the couch, tucking her in tightly.

               “We’ll
find your mom and dad in the morning, love. Just right now. May I ask you your
name, before we go to sleep?”

               But the
girl doesn’t answer; tucked under a quilt and full, she’s fallen asleep, and I
resist laughing again. All of the excitement must have worn her out. Either
way, this surprise visitor certainly made my night interesting. Now, if only I
could get her to stop eating my cherry crop…

**

(IP) Monster’s Ball

               This
was the culmination of everything she’d ever worked for. Yes, she was a woman,
but she was more than that. She was a conduit, a vessel for the music to flow
through. Everyone had doubted her, laughed at her, scoffed when she played
until her fingertips were raw, ragged, and bleeding, the nailbeds shining ruby
with her own blood, would hear her call, and they were listening.

               They
were merely waiting for her signal.

               She’d
tried to fight it, tried to become something different. Something other. Until
Violet had realized it was impossible, that her destiny was a prison she would
never escape from.

               Instead
of being dragged to her fate, she would meet it proudly, with her head held
high.

               Violet
put the violin to her chin, covering up that distinctive, bruise-like marking
on the lower half of her face, and played a song so sweet, so seductive and compelling
that silence reigned under her. All the people below stopped, entranced by the
sound, but she knew that wasn’t enough.

               There
could be no bait and switch if there wasn’t a switch, but she was working up to
it.

               The
music eliminated all but one thought: Why have I tried to fight my purpose
for so long? This was what I was made for.

               She
could feel the truth of it settling into her bones, and she kept her arm taut
over the instrument, moving the fine, thick black strings with the bow. All Violet
had ever wanted was to be noticed, to be loved, to have a friend.

               That
friend, until recently, had been her music. Then someone had come to her,
saying that they saw her future and that it was as brilliant as the stars; she
only had to be aware of it to take it. But the thing no one ever tells you
about dreams is that to make them come true, they require sacrifice. And the
bigger the dream, the larger the price to be paid.

Violet had wrestled with this dilemma
extensively when first presented with it, but the way she saw it now, opening a
door to a different world was but a small price to pay when the end result was
fame, fortune, and power. She’d been so naïve: how she’d thought with hard
work, she’d be playing in concert halls across the globe.

Why waste years in obscurity when
she could just take a small shortcut and still get the same payoff? It made
sense to her, even if it wasn’t the most moral of things to do.

She had the rest of her life to
think about the consequences of her decision: Her music could open doors into
worlds unknown, and she simply didn’t have the patience to wait for it. Everyone
had something (or someone) to sacrifice; she was just moving things along
faster, with the mysterious, hooded helper in her corner.

When the last sweet, sad note of
the song hung in the air, at first, there was only silence. But then a rip
opened in the sky, bleeding rainbow colors at the edges. It was both terrible
and beautiful. People began to run, but Violet stayed where she was on the roof,
eager to see what she had wrought.

**

(IP) Do You Miss It?

               “Mama? Do
you miss being a soldier?”

               The
question comes as we explore the castle’s grounds, and my little girl runs up
to a small pond, leaning over it to grin at her reflection. Holding a wooden
sword in one hand, she growls at the image, holding up her free hand and
curling her fingers like talons. I smile down at her, stroking her hair.

               “War
isn’t something to be taken lightly, my love.” I begin, and she snuggles in
close to my side. “And honestly, sometimes. It depends on the day. But I’m your
mother, and that will always be my most important job.” She smiles up at me and
gives me a kiss, then runs off toward the wood to play.

               It’s so
strange, thinking about my past. Born to a noblewoman and a squire, I was
considered an orphan, at first. But then my mother insisted I be brought to the
palace, to be raised and educated properly, to be a lady. I was grateful for my
education, but I could’ve done without the gowns, jewels, and ‘noble responsibilities’
of my mother’s social class.

               No, my
abilities leaned toward battle and combat. At the pleading of the Royal
Knights, my mother gave in; when I came of age at seventeen, I began officially
training to protect the Crown.

               On the
night I was to officially be inducted into the Queensguard, they attacked.

               They were
astride giant beasts, smashing windows and demolishing doors.

               My
mentor, Sir Matthew, gave orders to his subordinates: get the Queen to safety
at all costs. Then he turned to me, kissing my forehead. The sadness in his
gray eyes made me want to weep; he was telling me goodbye.

               I don’t
remember much after that; screams, blood, and carnage. The Queen made me the
captain of the Queensguard, replacing Matthew after he died in the battle that
began the war between the dissidents of the queendom and those who served her.
The people were furious about rumors that the Queen had been speaking to the
creatures of the sea, in hopes of entering a peace treaty.

               But, as
it turns out, war and bloodshed pay better than peace ever could; this thought
has not left me, even after the war was won. My training was cut short, for it
had been up to me to lead Sir Matthew’s people into battle. I can still smell
the blood and see the crows and ravens feasting on the carrion after the battle
was over.

               “War
may be how I’ve made my living,” I whisper, more to myself than my daughter, “but
a life of bloodshed isn’t for me anymore.”

               She and
my lord husband are the only good results of the war; the Queen had given me
leave to marry whoever I wished, and to leave the knighthood. Weary of war and
bloodshed, I accepted, choosing to become a chambermaid for my monarch. I
devoted myself to becoming a wife and mother, all too happy to leave my past as
a war hero behind.

               I had
another purpose now.

               **

(IP) Hungry Hearts

               When
she reached the clearing, the only sounds she could hear was the snow falling
and the vicious, lonely howl of the wind. Her chest heaved, and her fingers
loosened on her blade. She’d come so far, and she was so tired.

               “Have
you come to kill me? Make me pay for my crimes?” A dry, deep male voice sounded
over the wind, and when she leaned around the rock to identify the source of
the voice. Everything the stranger said was true, but the assassin didn’t know
how he knew. It had been kept in complete secrecy, or so she’d thought.

               But the
speaker wasn’t a man, not exactly. He was a strange hybrid of both wolf and
man, something other, someone caught between two worlds. But the law was the
law, and she had her orders. She couldn’t disobey without facing the possibility
of death herself.

               Still,
she found herself shaking her head, dropping her weapon in the snow with a
muted clink.

               “I
just want to talk to you.” She murmured, and before she could blink, he’d
crossed the snow and stood in front of her, squinting as if he didn’t quite
know what to make of her.

               He
laughed, the sound bitter and full of regret. “Would you blame me if I thought you
were lying?” He murmured, and the hunter stared at him, shaking her head.

               “Why
did you do it?” She asked, looking up at him. “Why did you kill them?”

               The wolfman
lowered his head, his voice thick with emotion. “It was an accident. I didn’t
mean to. I was in the forest, trying to feed, and they’d stopped to set up
camp.”

               She
nodded; ever since she’d found the bodies, she hadn’t been able to get the
carnage out of her head. Blood in bright stripes, staining the pure white snow,
various body parts and viscera scattered about, the canvas of their tent
shredded. The river that ran through the forest seemed black to her then, full
of secrets, death, and menace. Perhaps it too had run with blood.

               “What
happened next?” She murmured, looking up at him. She didn’t dare look away; at
the very least, this man deserved last words and rites before he was sent into
the afterlife.

               “I’d
lost the bear that I killed; because I was distracted, it got away from me. And
I was… I was so hungry that I couldn’t see straight. Something in me just took
over. I was so hungry. I didn’t mean to. If I could, I would take it all
back, but I can’t. I know I deserve punishment. I just wanted to explain
myself. I don’t expect you to understand; you’re human, and so are your superiors.”
His voice turned bitter now, and his eyes flashed up to hers.

               “Pray
to the gods that you will never have a beast that lives inside of you, vying
for control. Even on good days, it’s difficult to keep it… sated.” He spoke of
this entity as though it was separate from him, even though it had brought his
ruin.

               The
girl had come all this way to fulfill a task: She had to bring his head back to
the capitol city. But after hearing him speak, she felt herself hesitating.

               Even in
the name of the law, could she truly end another person’s life? Even if that
person was a monster?

               **

(IP) A Dark Bargain

               She lay
among the grasses and wildflowers, surrounded by their sweet, heady scent. She
was supposed to be happy; she knew that. By all accounts, she should’ve been.

               But
marriage was supposed to be a blessed union between two lovers. Not a prison
sentence. No, calling it a prison sentence was far too mild. A death sentence,
perhaps. Freya was named after the goddess of love, but that wasn’t what she
wanted. No, the thing she craved more than any other was her freedom. And she’d
thought her desire had been granted.

               The
last two days flashed across her mind in fits and spurts: her parents
whispering that they had a surprise for her, the long wooden table set for twelve,
even though it was just her, her parents, and her fiancé. Freya had never
expressed the desire for love and a family. She’d been certain that her destiny
laid in wait elsewhere.

               But Thomas
was grinning at her, dark eyes gleaming with lust and ownership. The way he’d
clamped his bear’s paw of a hand over hers had felt like shackles.

               Freya
had cried so much that she was certain there weren’t any tears left, but a few
stray ones dripped down her face, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to
stifle an awful, terrible sob.

               Freya thought
she was alone, but she was disabused of that notion when she heard a deep, dry
voice speak out from behind her.

               “Why do
you cry so, child?” She sat up, her breath leaving her in a sharp inhalation. A
tall figure stood in the shade of the trees in the clearing, shrouded.

               “Who
are you?” Freya hiccupped, wiping her tears from her cheeks. “What do you want
from me?”

               A quiet,
sly laugh was the figure’s reply, and Freya squinted, trying to get a better
look at the stranger.

               “Only
to help you, little one. What ails you?” The figure melted out of the shadows,
and it lowered its hood. Bright violet eyes gleamed ghoulishly, and the thing
grinned, showing off a mouthful of sharp, poison-tipped teeth.

               Revulsion
reared up in Freya, thick and hot and slimy, before she could stop herself.

               “Just
leave me to my misery,” She whispered, looking down at the flowers. She noticed
the ones ringing her mysterious visitor were dying, petals wilting and sickly.

               “Are
you quite sure, my dear?” The creature purred, tilting its head, still staring
at Freya. “I don’t know why you’re so melancholy, but I can certainly help.”

               Quicker
than blinking, the thing stepped so close that Freya could see her reflection
in its eyes, smell its rancid breath. It took a deep breath and buried its head
in her neck, practically purring. It was almost like a facsimile of a loving
cat.

               “What
is the price of your assistance?” Freya asked finally, after she was able to
find her voice again.

               “Oh, my
dear. Nothing you will miss too dearly. A treasured memory, perhaps?”

               Freya
stared at the creature, her resistance beginning to crumble.

               Was a
golden memory worth the price of freedom?

               **

(WP) A Quick Getaway

               He had
no idea how a human had been born from such darkness; the only thing he knew
for certain was that he had to get the infant away from his brothers and
sisters, who were raging blindly at the disturbance.

               The
child was wrapped in a thin, tattered blanket, and its squalls echoed throughout
the caverns. The dark tufts of hair that crowned its tiny head blew as Sorin
flapped his powerful bat wings, preparing to launch himself and the child
through the hatch at the top of the mountain.

               A tiny
pinprick of light shone through the hole: he would have to shove them both
through unforgiving, sharp rock before making it to the outside world.

               The
infant was clearly other, clearly human, and Sorin could not silence the questions
inside of his mind. What humans would be so cruel as to leave one of their
young in the heart of their kind? Few beings of their race were gifted true
sentience and free will; Sorin had been lucky. Even as a child, he’d been
certain that he wasn’t meant to live in a dark cavern, knowing naught but
hunger, rage, loneliness and loss.

               With
the arrival of this child, Sorin was more certain than ever before of his
purpose. No, he was not meant to waste away. He would live in solitude, raising
this human child to adulthood.

               With
one beat of his powerful wings, he flew upward, toward that tiny point of
light. The wrathful cries of his kin echoed through the emptiness, and Sorin
felt a tiny whisper: of guilt, regret, he didn’t know. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter
now.

               Turning
his body so it was curled around the child, he used the force of his body to
break through the top of the sharp stone of the peak. Snowflakes beat down upon
his head, and he clenched his jaw to keep from shivering in the sharp, cold
air. The wind seemed to roar around him, obliterating all other sounds. Buffeted
by the cold, he could hardly hear the child’s cries anymore, but he could sense
his heartbeat.

               Sorin
remembered that a string of villages surrounded the mountains like dark beads,
and though he was a monster, he hoped that at least the humans that dwelled
inside would take pity on the boy. He had to try; he’d risked everything and
betrayed his own kind so that the boy might live.

               He
couldn’t give up now. Whatever forces drove the elements had seen fit to make
him different, and he had to do his best to use that gift. His kind loved
violence, reveled in it, and it was something of a miracle that this child hadn’t
ended up harmed, or worse.

               Bolstered
by these thoughts, he flew downward, the child tucked up against his chest. Its
heartbeat slowed, and Sorin realized that somehow, in all the chaos, it had
fallen asleep, burrowing into him for warmth.

               He
descended when he began to see golden lights and smoke from cook fires, drawing
a hood over his face to conceal his true form. He walked toward the lights and
the warmth, and left the child on a doorstep. Knocking sharply, Sorin did not leave
until he heard the door creak open, a gasp of surprise, and the child’s
answering wails.

               He was
a monster, to be sure, but it did not mean that he was truly evil.

               **