Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 55
Stories
Collecting Jessup
by Allison Mulder
The Sea of Ghosts
by Anna Zumbro
The Five Stages of Grief
by Michelle Ann King
A Century of Princes
by H.L. Fullerton
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Inferno
by Laura Anne Gilman
Bonus Material
The Cold Eye
by Laura Anne Gilman

(Note: This story takes place several months before the events of STAYING DEAD.)

Inferno
    by Laura Anne Gilman

"Breathe. Breathe, damn you!"

The pile of fur on the wooden table lay still, inanimate.

"Damn." A world of frustration in that one word, frustration, and anger directed both outward, and in. The temptation was too great for the third figure in the room.

"This would be a bad time to say I told you so?"

"Yes."

"I shall refrain, then."

There might have been a faint smile on his face. Or perhaps not. "You are a pestilence and a plague."

"As you say, master."

The man shook his head, reaching down and drawing a sheet over the motionless form.

"We'll try again tomorrow. Ensure that the blood is fresh, this time."

The other speaker looked down at the dark splatters on the leather apron wrapped around his squat body. "Yes, master."

P.B. had woken that afternoon in a foul mood, the sheet tangled around his legs and his thick white fur damp with sweat. Restless dreams he didn't want to remember mixed with the sound of jackhammers hard at work on the sidewalk outside his one-room basement apartment. The whites of his eyes were scratchy from exhaustion, and his claws ached from a lack of calcium in his diet. Only the fact that he had two jobs pending and no payment due on either one until he was done got him to consider moving at all. Life in the big city cost big bucks, even living in a dive like this one. Time to get up and at 'em.

The demon dragged himself out of bed and went to rummage in the pantry for something still edible. Nothing appealed. A note tacked to the empty, non-working fridge reminded him that he had a third job that evening.

"And the excitement just never ends, does it?" His voice was harsh, raspy, and self-disgusted.

He poured a cup of cold coffee out of the coffee maker and washed it down with a pumpernickel bagel, tearing chunks out of it with determined bites. A little dry, but not bad. He really needed to go food shopping at some point. Or stop by Valere's and mooch off her. But for now, the work. Or what he would be able to accomplish, seeing as how one client had been avoiding him, and the other didn't seem to know his elbow from his teakettle when it came to binding contracts . . .

Humans. Bah.

Grabbing his grey trench coat and snappy-brimmed hat from the coat tree by the door, P.B. slipped his sunglasses out of the pocket, adjusted the arms so that they would stay up on his decidedly not-designed-for-sunglasses nose, and went out the door into the afternoon sunlight to see a man about a package.

Despite his lack of optimism, the afternoon had been surprisingly productive, closing out a week of frustration on a much better note. Having a check for the remainder of one job in the pocket of his trench helped, too. P.B. supposed that was what was making him so uncharacteristically mellow when he arrived to take on his third and last job of the day.

"Tell us a story!"

The demon settled himself more comfortably against the tree he was leaning against, overcoat folded underneath him to make a rough sort of padded seat, and snorted, his flat black nose perfectly designed to make that noise. "Why should I?"

"Because if you don't, we won't settle down and go to bed. And mom'll be pissed if we're still awake when she gets back." The speaker had a squeaky, self-confident voice, too confident for something that weighed about as much as one of his toes.

"Jailhouse lawyer." P.B. grumbled with no discernable affection, and the speaker giggled, despite not knowing exactly what the term meant. He shifted a little further, allowing the seven piskie pups he was minding to rearrange themselves comfortably around him, their tiny wings catching in his fur and tugging free, more durable than they looked. "All right. "What do you little monsters want to hear this time?"

The eldest, who had been acting as speaker for her siblings, rested her fuzzy red head against his arm. "Tell us about the first demons. Tell us about your people."

There were low lights around the lab, illuminating glass beakers and tubing, strange metal objects. Ivory-white long bones hung from wooden beams. Acid-washed lumps of cartilage and stoppered jars of gray marrow rested on shelves along the wall.

A figure moved out of the shadows and stood by the table. Its length matched the height of his shoulder, the wood dark and polished by years of use. Years of blood and flesh soaked into its grain. "I'm sorry, little brother. I told him it was a bad idea, but he's not one for listening on a good day."

"Hurts." A whisper, vocal chords relearning their use in this new, uncomfortable form.

"I know." One hand reached down to touch the prone form, black, hooked claws fully extended, like a dog's. "It will all be over soon." One way or another. They either lived, and went off where master sent them . . . or they found release in death.

"Didn't want this." Its claws were sheathed under thick skinned pads, attached to over-muscled arms now resting limply on the table, held down by wide leather straps and buckles. Like, and unalike, the method of birth was still the same.

"Nobody ever asks us, little brother." Irony, there. He had many brothers. And no brotherhood at all. "We don't have a choice."

"They're asleep?"

Unlike the pups, momma piskie had no charms, winsome or otherwise. Wraith-thin, famine-thin, with pointed ears and a mane of dry red hair running down to her tissue-leather wings, her triangle-shaped face reminded P.B. of a documentary he'd seen once on cobras, and the lidless stare of her sky-blue eyes merely reinforced that. But what she lacked in physical appeal she more than made up for in sheer stubborn doggedness--one of the reasons why piskies had not only survived in the big bad city, but thrived enough to qualify as one of the major communities living in the greenspace of Central Park.

"After four stories, a pint of ice cream--you owe me seven-forty--and at least one threat of demonic violence on their still-tender bodies, yeah. Sleeping like the innocents they aren't."

Einnie laughed, the sound like wind on cold water, and settled on the park bench next to him. "Thank you again for taking them on such short notice. Nobody else will watch them, any more."

"I can't imagine why." His tenor growl was dry. Of all the members of the Cosa Nostradamus, the supernatural world, piskies were the worst: annoying, unaesthetic pranksters with no sense of personal boundaries and no concept of loyalty to anything other than their pups, and even then only until they were out of the nest. That said, they could take a prank as well as play one. That covered a multitude of sins, in his personal ledger. And they seemed to like him, with the same sort of casual affection he could give them. It was a fair balance.

"They're handfuls, all right," Einnie said in acknowledgement. Understatement of the year. "But they adore you. Gods only know why."

"You don't think I'm adorable?"

Einnie gave him a thorough up-and-down, the morning sunlight making them both squint. Piskies were nocturnal by nature, P.B. a night owl by choice and circumstance. "I think you need to take yourself home and give yourself a thorough brushing-out." She reached over and snagged three tiny pine cones from a rough matting of hair. "You look like hell, P.B."

"Always the charmer. Go sleep with your offspring, you miserable creature, you."

Einnie dug her thin claws into the matting, holding him in place when he would have moved away, and combed it out with surprising gentleness.

"You're a good friend. Thank you."

"What are we?"

"We are nothing." His own voice, flat and factual. "Always remember that."

Two days later, the memory of her words still puzzled him. He could count on his four-fingered paw the number of times someone had called him friend, much less a good friend. It wasn't deserved--if there was one thing he had perfected over the years, it was a merciless self-evaluation--but he supposed that her standards weren't all that high to begin with, being a piskie.

"Hey, short stuff, move it!" He barely had time to sidestep before the cyclist was past him, blithely ignoring the bike lane set aside for him in order to put his lycra-clad body in the way of innocent pedestrians and baby-carriage-pushing nannies. It was only April, but the winter had been a long one, and just the hint of warmth in the sunlight caused humans to flock to the greenspace, spreading blankets and baring occasionally unfortunate amounts of skin.

P.B. took one look at the sea of bodies and skirted around them, not wanting to deal with any more people today than he had to in order to finish off the job. He knew some humans on a social basis, but they were Talents, magic-users. They could see beyond white fur, black claws, eyes that were cat-slitted and the color of dried blood. He had no such faith in these human Nulls to do other than scream and point. Or point weapons. Idiot humans.

Not that the Talents were any better, overall. Humans were all annoying creatures.

"Morning, master fatae."

P.B. barely had time to nod in response to the greeting before the teenager was past him, dodging around him and speeding down the track on bright yellow rollerblades, the magic-energy humans called current snapping around him with the energy only the very young have. In his wake, people smiled and raised their faces again to the sunlight, infected with his joyous celebration

All right, he admitted, letting the Talent's energy reach him as well, he was being particularly cranky this morning. Babysitting the piskie pups while Einnie was out hunting had left him uneasy, somehow, in a way he'd not been able to shake. No reason for it--but being a demon meant that you learned to listen to your instincts. It was how you survived.

So why this unease? Don't be a moron, old man. Think it through. When did the unease begin? Not just this morning--you just finally had enough food in your stomach to think about it today, is all. When did the need for babysitting begin?

The short, plush fur on his face wrinkled like a shar-pei's as he thought. Six, no, ten months ago. He had just finished a job for Valere, the one where her partner almost spit blood on the cop and that storefront window got shattered, but before he did the courier gig from Chicago to Miami for the Council.

Why? And why him? All right, that was easy enough to answer--the piskies wanted someone not a piskie, someone who would be enough of a sucker to put up with their impossible offspring. In a word, him. Not that he had any objection to doing a favor now and again--favors were as valuable as currency, in the Cosa Nostradamus--but that fact itself weighed against so many favors being given out. Imbalance bothered him. Owing bothered him. Being owed bothered him more.

And why did they need to go outside their own community? Would another piskie even be willing to watch the pups? Piskie males were flighty things, even with their own offspring. Piskie mommas needed to hunt for their own broods. Unmated piskies . . . P.B. realized that he didn't know any unmated piskies. Had never thought of it, before.

So why were the mommas so worried about their nests being unprotected at night while they hunted? What had happened ten months ago, to cause that worry? While someone with a grudge over a prank might go after an adult, pups were considered off-limits in just about every case. There weren't enough fatae that they could afford to let their children become pawns in any kind of fatal arguments.

The only thing that would really be a danger to a pup would be a feral dog, or some other four-legged predator, and even a newling piskie pup could outwit an animal. No need to bring him into it.

P.B. shrugged the question--and his unease--off. Not his problem. Reaching into his overcoat pocket to make sure the cash was still there--his kind of job didn't take personal checks or credit cards--he calculated how much time he had to finish this gig and still get to the bank. He had meant to make the deposit yesterday, but then things got busy, and he preferred to use the ATM when nobody else was around. It wasn't the risk of being seen--he walked through Times Square on Wednesday matinee afternoons and nobody even blinked--but too many of the damn machines were above his head, so he had to climb up on the machine in order to use it. Humiliating.

In the meanwhile, there was a handoff to be made. And he'd earned a treat, for jobs well done.

"Double scoop of pistachio, please," he said to the clerk behind the ice cream cart. The human blinked at him, but whether it was from the sight of a four-foot tall figure wearing a trench coat and slouch hat, or the fact of someone asking for ice cream this early in the morning, or if it was the white-furred paw that handed him the money, P.B. didn't know.

He used to be self-conscious about going out among humans. That wore off long ago.

"Thanks."

"No problem, man. Enjoy."

He was, to paraphrase Lord of the Rings, no man. But the ice cream still tasted good. So did the fact that he had been able to move the envelope from his other hand into the side panel of the ice cream cart without the human noticing.

Moving away with a casual slow walk, a shadow caught the corner of his gaze, and he made as though to adjust his hat, keeping his gaze carefully averted. He did not want to know who was making the pickup. That wasn't his concern: he was just the courier.

Maybe his unease had nothing at all to do with the piskies themselves, and more to do with the stories they asked for. He had no shortage of stories: the Cosa Nostradamus had more than its share of characters, from the snoots-in-the-air angels to the sea creatures no land-dwelling piskie would ever encounter except second-hand. If nothing else, he could tell the wee bits about humans, the non-fatae strangers they saw only as shadowy figures passing beyond their nest. But for some reason the eldest had become fascinated by him, by his kind. He was the only demon in Manhattan right now; as far as he knew, perhaps the only one on the East Coast. They were few and far between, and not prone to socializing with each other. Too many memories, and none of them good.

Taking his ice cream, he followed his whim and wandered off the main path, weaving his way around the youngsters playing some sort of game with chalk and sticks.

Of all the things in the world he never understood, it was the concept of play. No matter how often someone tried to explain it to him, they might as well have been speaking in a foreign tongue. But others seemed to enjoy it; need it, even.

Fun, he understood that. He could and did have fun. But sheer physical release for no purpose other than to laugh . . .

Valere tried to explain it once. Lots of chemistry and biology and brain stem stimulation. He'd nodded, and listened, and kept his thoughts to himself.

He wasn't human. He wasn't truly fatae. He was demon.

And none of his earlier thoughts explained why he had woken up every morning this past month with nightmares echoing in his head.

"Good morning, demon."

P.B. looked up and grinned without humor, showing an array of sharp-edged teeth. He had molars better suited for grinding and crunching, but they were set back, away from the tearing and rending tools. An intentional design, for fearsome first impressions. The small, gray-tailed creature sitting on the tree limb above him didn't seem at all fazed by it.

"Good morning, you mindless little meatball."

The creature merely grinned back at him, nonplussed by the insult. Even if P.B. had been in the mood to chase up a tree for such a small mouthful, it would outrun him faster than thought. Easier to order a pizza. Safer, too. You tried not to eat a fellow Cosa member. Terribly bad manners.

"You've not been to a Gather recently," it accused him.

"Been busy." Pizza cost money, unless you were willing to mug the delivery guy. P.B. was law-abiding, within reason. So if he wanted to eat, he had to work. He was, as he had just so deftly proved, a damn good courier--objects or information, carried safely from one place to another. A lot of demons did that, the ones who didn't go in for bodyguard stints. He wasn't much for violence, so that career path was out, but he was no slouch either. He also had excellent vision and a better memory, so the person who robbed him did so at their peril.

His memory was his real asset, though, even more than claws or muscle. Couriering paid well, but not so well as his secondary career--gossip. He made a habit to learn who and how and where and why, for as wide a range of questions possible. It might not seem important at the time, but you never knew what someone might be interested in. So the past few weeks he'd been spending with his ear to the ground in and around some of the less reputable places where gossip hung out, hearing what there was to hear. But, from the way the creature was still grinning down at him, he might have missed a bigger story. Something someone might be willing to pay real greenbacks for.

"All right, pleasantries out of the way. Spill."

"Spill what?"

Innocent eyelash fluttering worked better when you didn't look like the misbegotten offspring of a squirrel and a squid. And had actual eyelashes to flutter.

"Okay, if you don't have anything of interest, I'll be on my way, then."

The fatae leapt from one branch to another with annoying grace, keeping pace with the demon as he walked along the shaded path. It took all of seven paces--P.B. was counting--before it let out a heavy sigh.

"You're no fun any more. Spending too much time with humans."

"They're where the money is. Spill."

"You'll share?"

"Have I ever not?"

"Anchovies, this time. I like anchovies."

P.B. kept from shuddering, merely nodding gravely and making a complicated gesture with the claws of his left hand. "With anchovies, just for you."

"There's something hunting piskies."

P.B. stumbled on a non-existent tree root, catching himself awkwardly before he fell. His form, which a human had once not-unkindly described as an ape crossed with a polar bear, was not made for graceful.

"Einnie didn't say anything to me about it." Like the thought had never occurred to him, like he'd not been judiciously contemplating exactly that possibility. Like he hadn't thought about breaking protocol and asking Einnie, flat-out, if something--someone--was bothering her. He would never have done it . . . but he had thought about it.

The creature shrugged, tossing an acorn in the air and catching it in its impossible wide-opening mouth with a loud crunch. "Maybes they don't know? Maybes they know and don't tell demon."

That was possible. Being known as a seller of information meant that you had to ferret it out; people didn't just hand stuff over if they didn't want it on the market. Although P.B. would think that having something hunting you would be something you'd want known, so others could keep an eye out . . .

"Why are you telling me, then?" If the piskies didn't want to share, who was he to insist? Protocol was there for a reason. Nobody wanted another species up in their business, Cosa or no.

The creature pointed one tiny clawed finger at him. "Piskies are being foolish. Clannish. What hunts them, it may not stop there. You walk all worlds. You talk, listen, hear. Are listened to, on occasion. If this is more than piskie-hunting, you will know."

"And do what?"

"Stop it."

"Yeah, right. Look, I don't--"

P.B. stopped mid-scoff. The branch above him was empty.

"Well. Damn."

There was a way to gather gossip, and a way to do research. They might look the same, to casual observers, but one was much harder than the other. Gossip, everyone wanted to share. Information? Not so much. It took P.B. three days--three days he should have been scouting out real work, paying work--to discover that there wasn't anything to discover.

He wasn't even sure why he was bothering. Cosa was Cosa, sure. In theory, all fatae were united. Practical application had always been a lot shakier. And there wasn't anything in this for him, far as he could see.

"You sure you don't know anything?"

The angel gave him the most supercilious eyeballing imaginable, one delicate brow climbing all the way back into its slicked-back blonde hair. Wasn't an angeli existing that didn't think its sweat didn't stink . . . and that all that stink had washed down into demonkind. "I know many things. None of which I would share with you."

Right. Like that was a surprise.

A real detective, now, would slip a reluctant snitch a twenty, or do something to ensure future info would be sweet. He wasn't a real detective. He wasn't even a faux one. And he knew no matter how many twenties he folded into anyone's palm, that was all they were going to give him; nothing.

It was time to go back to basics.

"A piskie? I should care about them, why?" Andolf made a rude noise, particularly spluttery through his sucker-like mouth, and P.B. thought about just stomping the shizida--a narrow, snake-like creature from the deserts of the Middle East--flat under his foot. It wouldn't even take much effort, because the thing was as dry and fragile-looking as the ecosystem it came from.

And the thought was as good as the deed, his clawed foot lashing out and knocking the foot-long fatae onto its back, three black claws almost but not quite puncturing the unpleasantly oily skin of its stomach.

"Hey, ow!" The shizida was a new immigrant to the city; P.B. didn't think much of its survival chances if it caved this quick under a little physical coercion. "Why me? Do I have sign, stomp on me like worm?"

"Only because you look like one." P.B. could produce the elocution of an Oxford don, when he chose to, but the inflection of a Brooklyn slugger always seemed to produce better results. "Come on, Andolf, ya wuss. I'd say show a little backbone, but you don't got one, do you? If I step a little harder on you, you'll just go squoosh, won't you?"

"Bite me, demon."

P.B. hated that, the way other fatae made his breed into some kind of title, and not one of respect, either. He'd been hearing too much of it lately. Time to make it pay for him. Widening his eyes and opening his mouth slightly, the demon allowed the streetlamp overhead to catch the glint of his sharpened teeth and blood-red eyes. "You wouldn't even make me an after dinner mint."

"Ow! Look, demon. If I knew anything I'd tell you. Just get offa my neck!"

Stretched out on its back, seven tiny arms waved madly, the seventh, in the middle of its thorax, paused long enough to make a rude gesture, while the seven legs kicked helplessly. The main defense of the shizida was a noxious fume that was reputed to strip the gloss off chrome. P.B.'s leathery black nose wrinkled in anticipation, but the assault didn't come.

Interesting. It didn't want to piss him off. Which meant . . . something. Or nothing. Damn it, he couriered information, he didn't interpret it. All he knew was that the fatae was lying to him. About something.

But one thing the demon did know was that when everyone was singing the same song--don't know a thing, can't tell you a thing--the lie usually hid a truth, somewhere. P.B. didn't believe in conspiracies. Too few people, fatae or otherwise, were capable of holding a secret that long.

"Talk to me," he suggested, trying for a more reasonable tone, letting his lips cover his teeth again. "Or I might--oops, y'know, do that squoosh. Just 'cause I don't know my own weight." He was pretty sure he wasn't going to put any more weight on the thing's belly. Pretty sure. Not positive. And if he didn't know, himself . . .

"Come on, you little fishhook bait. Talk to me."

"Don't. Know. Nuthin'." But Andolf's voice shook in fear far in excess of maybe getting his innards rearranged, and something an occasional employer had said to P.B. once resurfaced in his memory: It's not when they're telling you something dire that you should be nervous. It's when they won't tell you anything.

The Park at night was a scary place, even for a demon. Cop cars made random patrols, their headlights cutting through underbrush, sweeping the tree line, but never penetrating very far. Not even drug dealers came this far into the park, not this late at night. They weren't scared; merely cautious. Things happened to people who wandered alone in this part of Central Park. Things that never made the evening news.

"Hoogaboo--"

P.B. turned and snarled at the goblin, who turned an interesting shade of puce and fled back into the underbrush.

"Yep, I still got it," he said in satisfaction, mock-polishing his claws against his fur and walking deeper into the brush. His white fur glimmered even in the moonless dark, faintly luminescent at the tip of each strand. The overcoat had been left at home tonight, as had the hat.

Overhead, he could hear the faint chitter of the occasional squad of bats, or a solitary piskie, hunting in their wake. Underfoot, the soft whisper of grass, or the crunchier snap of twigs. And that was it. Contrary to popular belief, most of the fatae were daytime-dwellers, going about their 9-to-5, shoving for a seat on the subway, and standing in line at the coffee place, bitching about whoever was mayor at that particular moment. Every law-abiding fatae, and most of the ones that weren't, were in whatever passed for their bed right now.

Or, if they were sanitation workers, getting up and going on their rounds. He'd been told once that their union was almost 60% fatae, but nobody had ever paid him to verify it.

Why he wasn't in bed as well was something he'd given up trying to understand.

"Screw this for a rotten lark," he said, finally, after an hour of patrolling the underbrush had netted him nothing beyond a lot of twigs in his fur. P.B. could see quite well in the darkness, but he had been up and working for almost 24 hours now, and supernatural creature or no, his feet were beginning to get tired. So were his knees, his shoulders, his back, his . . .

"Right. Fine." He spotted a rock set into a small hillock that could double as a seat for a large child--or a demon of average height. And it glimmered like dirty marble, so he would blend into it, to the casual observer.

As good a place as any to watch the area from, he figured. And try to figure out why he was doing this in the first damned place.

"Why?" They all asked that. Once. Maybe twice. Never a third time.

"Because he is curious. Because he can." The only answer there was to give.

"You call him master." Accusing. Hurt. Disbelieving.

"He made us. We owe him our breath."

"We owe him nothing!"

"Hrmmm?" P.B. opened his eyes even as he was questioning what had woken him, coming to awareness the way his kind always woke; quickly, silently, and assuming the worst.

It was almost dawn, the faintest grey-pink touching the sky overhead. Something moved, off to his left. And behind, no, over him, on top of the rock he had fallen asleep on. His muscles tensed, but other than a faint flexing of his paw-claws, he didn't move.

"Cheeeechachachcha . . ."

A piskie, finishing up her night's hunting. And pleased about it. That was in the coming-closer distance. Overhead . . .

"You take the left quarter, Dobson's on rear. Set?"

"Yeah. No worries, this winged bitch won't get past us."

P.B.'s nose twitched, taking in the flavor of the air wafting downwind from them. Humans. Not Cosa--they didn't have that extra tang, like buttermilk, that marked a magic-user from a Null.

"Stinking animals. Disgusting things."

"We'll take care of them. First this one, then its nest. A good night's work."

Nulls, talking like they knew about piskies. Were planning to harm piskies. Was this what had been hunting them? Humans? Nulls?

Unlike most of the fatae, P.B. had never discounted Nulls simply because they had no magic. Lack of Talent did not make a human harmless.

Hate-mongers. Vigilantes. Oh, he knew about those: from his earliest days, he knew about those who hate. But piskies? Annoying but hardly offensive, unless you've annoyed them, and even then you mostly have to look out for the rude practical joke. They can't afford to be aggressive; their claws are too soft, their wings too weak, their bodies--

Too easy to damage.

Easy targets. Not human, no magic, no real defenses other than their wits. Exactly the kind of target cowards like the humans over him would look for. Something to make them feel like tough hunters, mighty monster-killers, Big Bigots on Campus.

And P.B. had a sudden flash of understanding.

It wasn't that none of the fatae he questioned didn't know. It was that nobody wanted to know.

The Cosa Nostradamus thought that by looking away, it wouldn't happen to them. As though these hatemongers--fataephobics--weren't just getting warmed up.

The fatae in this city were shit out of luck. And any human Talent who stopped to help them, likewise.

P.B. has been there before. Holland, the land of his birthing. Transvaal. Armenia. Germany. He was older than he looked, and his memories carried the weight of all those years, the past decades in America doing little to lighten them. All he had done was shove them down, under the skin and into the bone.

His bones ached, now.

Master, why your kind must destroy as well as create . . .

What he should do is go back to his apartment, throw whatever he couldn't live without into a bag, and head for the city limits. And then keep going. Somewhere there weren't many fatae. Weren't any fatae.

He owed them nothing. They cared nothing for him, had never done anything for him.

He owed no one anything.

Blood. So much blood. Who would have thought the old man--stop. Don't think. Don't hear echoes of anything anymore. This is not a place of civilization. This is Hell.

Hide. Down. Cover. Branches over his head. Mud on his fur.

"Over hier! Zij zijn over hier!!"

Feet, pounding. The weight of humans, carrying guns, the blades once sharp and glinting fixed at the ends.

"Master! Master we must go!"

"We go nowhere. This is my home. My work. Stand at the door, and let no one pass."

"Master! I will not die for you!"

Silence.

Blood. Blood everywhere. His fur, his eyes.

Blood on his claws

And the soldiers go past him, hunting other prey.

This thing, this hatred. It always starts with the weakest.

The demon's eyes glittered red in the pre-dawn light. This was nothing to do with him, nothing he could do anything about. He was a courier, a go-between. A neutral party.

But, unlike some, his claws were hardened, and his teeth were sharp.

And he was, he decided, so very tired of sitting out the fight.


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