Beauty and Sacrifice

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    The air was thick with smoke's blackened plague. From the tops of the forests it could be seen, billowing darkness reaching up for heaven's insatiable purity, desperate to be cleansed of the disasters in its wake. Fire licked and slobbered over homes and farms, over families and livestock, rampaging over dried grass and shattered bails of hay littered throughout Millscreek's pride. The Greene family farm had provided bountiful crops and flowers, a great source of income and lodgings for passersby. Now it was ashes. Now it was nothing. Screaming men and women sloshed through rippling ponds and filled their useless buckets, hoping to douse the intruder that had so suddenly destroyed centuries of toil and fruitful labor. Evangeline stood on the brink with courage in her hands, tossing the pail's contents atop what remained of the barn's affliction, blackened wood sent steaming as the pressures of fire were relieved from it. The entire village had emerged from their homes and offered their assistance in quelling the flames that threatened them all, and dangerous though it was the people of Millscreek had always known such horrors awaited at their doorstep. The Darkwoods held more than wild animals and greenery within it's shadowed grasp. Each citizen of the simple village remained solemnly aware of that fact.

    The final batches of water were dispensed among the last remaining destruction. For a moment, each of the villagers shared a moment of silence and collective exhaustion, panting and observing what The Monster had left behind in his rage.

    Such temporary quiet was disrupted by the shriek of a woman.

    All rushed to the area of concern where Annette Greene, the woman of the lands that were burned wept and shuddered over a small mound of unrecognizable something, charred and discolored beyond identification. She knew what it was, though. The woman scooped up the ashen remains of a child and screamed to the skies, holding close to her chest what little the fires had left in their vexated wake.

    "Elizabeth," she cried, "my sweet baby girl..."

    Evangeline clasped a porcelain hand over her mouth and stifled her own tears, stepping backward from the scene in sheer disbelief and unwillingness to face the grim reality before her feet. The Monster had burned down homes in his rage, looted goods, slaughtered livestock and halted trade routes, instilled fear and terror in any who lived on the outskirts of Paladia and stolen gold and income for his own. But the death of a child was something different altogether, another type of sin unforgivable and offered the most extreme of punishments. Evangeline clutched her chest and allowed a sob to burst forth, her face drenched in tears and sweat.

    "Something must be done!" shouted the Elder, slamming his great walking stick into the ground. "We need to satisfy the beast for longer periods of time than weeks or months. He expects too much, and now one of our own has perished!" He gestured to the corpse of the small child and the weeping mother looming over her.

    "What does he want that we have not already given?!" shouted a man in the crowd, the florist from what Evangeline could see. "We have offered food, ore, gold, valuables, necessities, weapons..."

    "There is nothing more we can do," said another.

    "Perhaps we should move on. I hear Ravenscliff is safe."

    "The people of Ravenscliff are depraved, we can't go there!"

    "No, he has a point!" came a fifth voice from the crowd, an elderly one laced with the stress of his years. "Ravenscliff has a good treaty with the creature, if we could strike a similar bargain--"

    "But we have nothing to give! He has burned or stolen all our resources and he cannot be killed."

    "Move!" shouted one.

    "Move!" shouted another, and when the disease of unity had spread through the crowd the Elder offered up a hand to silence them all.

    "We could move," he stated. "That would mean forsaking what we've built here."

    "It's not worth livin' if we can't even protect it."

    "Why move when we can sacrifice?" This was the final voice that came through, dark rich tones that made the hair on Evangeline's neck stand straight in sudden alarm. She looked not to the Duke DuBois, not a noble despite his title, only a fierce drunk who owned Millscreek's brewery. "In the old legends, people sacrificed virgins to great beasts who terrorized them. It kept them safe for many years, saved lives even, all for the price of one. I think this is what would benefit our little community most, don't you agree?"

    The immediate demands of the situation tipped the odds against Evangeline's favor. She studied the faces of her peers to see whether or not they agreed with the nasty implications of Dubois's words, only to find chills shooting down her spine as she noticed the expressions on the faces she observed.

    All of them were looking at her.
    #1 moffnat, Dec 17, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014
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  2. When I was a child I heard voices
    Some would sing and some would scream
    You soon find you have few choices
    I learned the voices died with me.

    When I was a child I'd sit for hours
    Staring into open flames
    Something in it had a power,
    Could barely tear my eyes away.

    All you have is your fire
    And the place you need to reach
    Don't you ever tame your demons
    But always keep them on a leash.

    When I was 16 my senses fooled me
    Thought fire was on my clothes
    I knew that something would always rule me
    I knew this sin was mine alone.

    When I was a man I thought it ended
    I knew loves perfect ache
    But my peace has always depended
    On all the ashes in my way.

    All you have is your fire
    And the place you need to reach
    Don't you ever, tame your demons
    Always keep them on a leash.

    A murmur flowed through the crowd. A small child had died today. What was one more life if it were to save the entire village from death? If the terror continued like this there would be no food for winter and they would all starve. What if the beast in the forest accepted their gift of companionship? Would it sate the creature long enough to keep them safe? Perhaps no one else would die.

    But who would go? Who would give themselves, sacrifice their happiness, their family, perhaps even their life, to such a monster as the one that was willing to burn fields and homes?

    The village was small but there were a few unmarried, eligible women. One could go and save them all. There were angry murmurs, outraged at the idea. There were nods of agreement. Solemn faces, some with a saddened glint of hope. Was this their only option? Offer a life to save them all?

    "If we do this, it should be on a volunteer basis," said an older woman, anxiously glancing to Evangeline. Another man nearby snorted.

    "Who would volunteer to offer themselves to the bastard who did this? It's suicide!"

    "But it would save us all!" The woman insisted.

    "We don't know that for sure! He might just kill whoever goes!" the man insisted back. The crowd began to grow noisy, everyone voicing opinions, or looking to the few women in the crowd who might be possible tribute.

    "What other choice do we have?" the older woman asked, desperation tinting her voice. "Dubois is right. We could give him a woman, it might...soothe his temper..."

    Liam did not fear fire. He was quite enamored with it, even with all the reason he had to fear it. How could one fear something so powerful? So destructive, so wild, so untameable? Humans bowed and trembled before such power, but he could not fear it. He admired it, he worshiped it, he kindled it in his palm and stared enamored and entranced. He longed to be like the flame, powerful and wicked, wild and moved only by the wind. His relationship with fire was a complicated thing. Like any proper romance, there was great pain and sacrifice involved in order to keep such a love alive. He could have died by the flames, but instead he was reborn.

    Fire had once been his downfall, his doom, his impending death. But now? He held it in his hand, he gave it life, and he fed it's insatiable hunger. Today he had gifted Millcreek with the flame's demanding embrace. The 'donations' as of late left something to be desired, and in all honesty, he had been growing bored of wandering village to village to collect his due. Someone had to be made example of to remind everyone of who he was and why they did what they did to appease him. These pitiful people were complacent and obedient, comfortable in thinking their support was appreciated. Where was the fun when people regularly dropped tokens at your doorstep? There was no fear on the air, there was no hurry to please him. He missed the glint of terror in their eyes.

    There was a distinct excitement trembling through his bones as he wandered the edge of the forest. He smelled the smoke heavy in the air. He breathed it in deeply, closed his eyes, and let it out with a sigh of delight. What would Millcreek offer today? Would they flee? Part of him hoped they fled. He had yet to make a village uproot and was delighted in the idea of what might happen if such a thing happened. Would he give chase and punish them? He wasn't certain. He leaned against a tree and looked out across the charred field and the smoke-laden horizon. A road wound through the blackened, sizzling field. To call it a road was a bit of an overstatement, for it was little more than a beaten path through the once golden hay field. It wove towards him and disappeared off to his left into the forest. The villagers followed that path to a marked rock within the forest where they left their offerings.

    He settled and waited, a figure cloaked in black. He watched the billowing clouds of toxic smoke fade into the sky above him and waited to see what happened. Would he see figures in the distance, bringing him gold and grain, silk and spice? Would he see an angry mob, villagers with pitch forks and torches? Or would nothing come, and would he get to descend upon the fleeing cowards, a dragon cloaked in a fiery mantle?

    Every option was exciting.​
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  3. The continuous bickering of the people of Millscreek gained in raucous volume, ringing in everyone's ears while the woman continued to weep for her perished daughter. Edward Boudaire, Evangeline's father, wrapped a protective arm around her and held her close to keep all suspiciously glancing eyes away from the possibilities each of them were pondering. There was no way he could be convinced into considering his child as an offer to the monster that had gripped a nation in steel fear for centuries, the beast that had killed so many and stolen so much. The arguments continued until the Elder slammed the stick so hard against the rock beneath him that the people fell silent in mere moments. He looked each and every one of those near him in the eye, reading their intentions and what their decisions would be, before his eyes finally fell on the gentle Evangeline.

    "...Human sacrifice is something no one has tried as of yet," he admitted in defeat.

    "No!" Edward shouted, gripping his daughter tighter. "Not my little girl, not my daughter. You can't, you can't take her to that thing!"

    "She's the most beautiful maiden in Millscreek," interjected the florist with a look of grim approval. "He will take it as an insult if we send anyone else."

    "How do you know that? How do you know any of this will work?"

    "We don't." The Elder wore a deep frown. "But we must try, Edward. We must try for the sake of everyone here."

    "You would let Evangeline walk into the hands of fire instead of bothering to uproot and move away? How many times has she helped you, all of you?! Please, it's not--"

    "Father, stop." The girl pressed a firm hand against her father's chest in soft reassurance, though her fingers trembled with the weight of the unknown. "They're right, it's the only thing we haven't tried and I don't want any more of the little children to die. Not when I can stop it."

    "This is madness!" Edward's eyes dripped with tears, refusing to face the reality unfolding before him that stated he may never see his firstborn again. "Evangeline, please, why don't we just speak of this later--"

    "No, he will want his rewards now. I have to go." She bit her lip and eyed the thickness of trees, knowing the clearing just ahead was where her new destination rested. Not to dinner for the night at the Carmot's residence or the tavern where she worked, not to the comforts of her bed or the soft jingle of money well-earned. Death rested beyond those trees. Death and torment, painful and neverending, but if she could save the lives of those in Millscreek she knew it was worth an honest chance.

    Think of Steven. I have to protect him, too.

    Slowly, like the will of one walking to their grave, she turned to face the Elder.

    "I'll go."

    The small meadow was a blemish on the face of the forest, a clearing of boggy ponds and swamps with croaking frogs and singing insects. The setting sun reflected off the water to cast an eerily green glow over all her eyes touched, including the great stump of a giant tree thousands of years old which marked the center of the small field. Legend said that this place was once the world's most beautiful garden, and at the center rooted the largest tree in the world with pink leaves and a great alabaster trunk that never changed throughout the seasons. Legend said that the gods lived here.

    Now, it was a place of offering to a much greater evil.

    Evangeline stepped up on the surface of the massive stump, clutching her father's brown cloak about her shoulders for warmth and some sense of hopeless protection. The fabirc covered little of her sky blue dress or the metal belt that hung around her waist, which begged the question as to whether or not the monster would be pleased with her current state of dress. I'm not here to please him, Evangeline reminded herself as she walked further across the splintered wood. I am here to save lives. He could be anywhere. She looked nervously at each inch of the forest wall, trying to make out any shape in the creeping shadows but coming up pathetically empty.

    She knew it was best not to antagonize him. Evangeline stood at the center of the offering trunk and clutched her father's simple gift close, trying to keep the tears at bay.​
    #3 moffnat, Dec 18, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014
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  4. As the day dragged on the smoke from his fire began to fade and fizzle. The fire consumed it's meal and was content to take it's well deserved rest now. The scent of smoke lingered on the air for a few hours before the scent of the forest began to fill Liam's nose once more. Pine, birch, decaying leaves, earth, and animal all filled the air. It was quiet around him, however. Distantly he heard the caw of crows, the chirping of sparrows, and the chatter of squirrels. They fell silent when around him, like any good animal did when in the presence of a predator.

    Liam began to wonder if the village had gotten his message. Were they hurriedly packing and fleeing? He grew bored as he patrolled the woods, shredding leaves, peeling bark from trees, and even napping. He checked the small road that led into the forest often and had yet to see his prize. Perhaps the village was fleeing. His leather clad feet found the packed dirt pathway leading into the forest and he followed it. He kicked small stones or branches from the path, ensuring it was clear. He wasn't rude to his poor peasants. He would ensure that if they did chance upon the path, it would be clear and welcoming. It was almost a reward in his mind, to let them have a nice little path into his beautiful forest clearing. The clearing was empty when he arrived. He pet the stump fondly as he passed it and moved into the trees on the other side.

    He hovered around the clearing for the rest of the evening. The sun was beginning to fill the sky with orange when he started to consider heading home or looking for idiotic villagers. If they were not fleeing he would just have to burn down more houses. If they were fleeing, perhaps he would send fire directly at them. It wasn't as if he hadn't done that before.

    A sturdy oak several yards into the forest offered him something to lean his back against as he settled on his bum, legs crossed. He pulled the cape of his cloak off, and ran his hands idly through his ragged mane of black hair. He picked out knots in boredom. His thoughts and mind drifted for the gods knew how long and then he heard it. The faintest of steps, clicking on wood. He lifted his head and then pulled his cowl on, casting his face into shadow. He listened again. The clicking had stopped, but it had come from his clearing.

    A gift?

    He grinned, a white-toothed smirk from beneath the cowl as he rose quietly to his feet and oozed through the trees, more shadow than man. He stopped behind a tree to peer beyond the bark into his sunset-lit clearing. His eyes widened and his lips parted as he stared.

    No one had ever offered him a woman.

    She was not just a woman. She was a stunning creature, carved of ivory and draped in skylight. He stared for a long while, only closing his mouth when he realized it was dry. A woman. A woman was his gift. His heart began to beat uncommonly fast, and he felt that rare flash of panic. He had not spoken with another human in ages. Did his voice work still? She would be terrified of him. He was a hideous sight to behold. Would she cry out and cover her eyes? Would she scream and grow feint? He would not tolerate such dramatics if so.

    Nevertheless, he could not peel his eyes from her face or body. When had he last stood so close to another living, breathing soul?

    Are you a fifteen year old boy? he scolded himself, breathing deeply and scorning his fluttering heart. She was only a girl. A beautiful girl, but just a girl. There were uses for a second set of hands, he supposed. His mind briefly toyed with the other uses a woman had to offer a man, but he felt a flash of shame even as it excited him. Such things were trivial and he was above such human desires. At least, he told himself he was. It helped keep his mind off the fact that such uses for a woman had not been enjoyed in far too long.

    She could clean. His home could use some organization. There was dust and it made his nose itch but he refused to be bothered with it. Perhaps she could cook. He hoped to the gods she could cook. His mouth watered at the idea of a proper meal. He knew how to cook meat until it no longer poisoned him, and he could cook grain so it was soft, but his skills for pleasing the palate were not extended beyond that. A cook and a cleaner. A beautiful decoration in his home. He had gold. He had jewels. He had a hoard any dragon would be proud of. But this woman was a gem in her own right, and she could join his collection of pretty things.

    The idea was pleasing and he felt a warmth spread through his stomach as the idea caught hold. Yes. She would be his. This was a good gift from Millscreek. He adjusted his hood, pulling it low over his face. He did not want his treasure panicking and running from him. Catching her would be tedious and annoying. He stepped from his tree, and strode into the clearing. His stride was even and smooth. Though the well-made cloak obscured his features and body, it was clear he was of a more slender build, but tall and strong as a young birch. He stopped not too far from the tree. My, but she was even prettier close up.

    "I have never been offered a woman before," he spoke, and he was pleased to hear that his disused voice had not lost it's smooth, deep texture. It was like dark velvet, silky and gentle on the ears. "Is this some trick of your village or are you truly mine? What is your name girl, and tell me why you are here. Best make it quick," he warned. "I do not have an infinite amount of patience. I have been waiting all day for something, and now here you are. You do not even have a bow upon your head. It's almost upsetting."
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  5. A chill breeze, the harsh breath of the icy mountains above came barreling through the small meadow, and for a moment Evangeline was convinced she would freeze in the crossfire of frigid whispers from the gods. It became a hopeless endeavor to clutch the thick woolen cloak of her father's make and scent closer to her fragile body, as the protection it offered from the winter air was minuscule compared to the comforts of the hearth and a warm meal. As pitiful as it was to dwell on such thoughts, she couldn't stop herself from traveling there in the confines and the privacy of her gentle mind. Sitting with her brother while their mother hooked away at a blanket she was making for the Hildon family next door, her father telling some ridiculous hunting story or describing in rich detail the benefits of smithing iron and steel, all the reasons why Steven should carry on the family business when he came of age. The smell of cakes and pies from the bakery downstairs lingered in the air mixed with the fresh scents of vegetable soup and stuffed duck, and for a moment Evangeline could taste the perfection of sweetwine on a greedy tongue.

    If I tuck those memories deep within my heart, the creature will never touch them. They are invincible and they are mine to keep forever. Evangeline closed her eyes a moment more to revel in the fabricated thoughts that brought great comfort amidst a paralyzing tragedy, feeling a small sense of relief flood over her anxious skin.

    It was ripped from under her like an earthquake.

    "I have never been offered a woman before," came the voice, silky and smooth like dark chocolate, and just as bittersweet. Her graceful head snapped to attention as she came face-to-face with the devil in disguise, the figure of a man draped in shadows an smothered in secrets. I see no claws, were her initial thoughts, no fierce teeth or long snout, no deep scarlet eyes. But as he was dressed in mystery she supposed there was no ruling out a beastly physique quite yet, and the panic that settled in her heart began to fester.

    "Is this some trick of your village or are you truly mine? What is your name girl, and tell me why you are here. Best make it quick. I do not have an infinite amount of patience. I have been waiting all day for something, and now here you are. You do not even have a bow upon your head. It's almost upsetting."

    "I--" Evangeline stuttered upon hearing the rest of his words and demands, struggling to swallow the growing lump in her throat. "This--this is no trick, sir. The village hopes to offer me to you as a t-treaty of peace, so that as long as I live, they may remain untouched by your..." Your what? Your destruction and your turmoil, your mercilessness and your murder? She couldn't think of a final word that would spare her a lashing, or whatever monsters did to toys that insulted them, and instead she settled for a small bow of her head as to not offend him further.

    "Evangeline," she stated at last, not daring to lift her head until told to do so. "My name is Evangeline Boudaire, sir. And I beg your mercy upon my home."
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  6. Liam's brows rose beneath the hood as he pondered what the woman - Evangeline - told him. She was being offered as a peace treaty? He pondered this for a moment, and then could not stop the stream of laughter that burst out from his lips. It was a hearty laugh, one of true mirth. Several moments passed and he lifted a hand to wipe his eyes. His hands were slender and pale where they peeked from the black cloak. He chuckled even as he wiped the moisture from beneath his eyes.

    "Oh. Oh, that's good," he snickered, breathing in deeply to catch his breath. "What peace could a woman bring? Women nag and annoy. They are hardly peaceful creatures. So your village sends you," he gestured at her, "thinking you can tame the beast? Stop me from doing unspeakable things? For surely, they must be unspeakable. You can't even find the words to describe what I did," he grinned. His feet began to move, and he strolled around the tree stump slowly, admiring the woman from all angles. His feet were silent as they moved over the grass and leaf litter that had blown in from the nearby trees. His shoes peeked from the hem of the swaying cloak, shiny and dark oily.

    "Evangeline," he breathed, tasting her name on his tongue. "A sweet name for such a sweet face. Tell me, did they send me the most beautiful woman in their village?" He pondered aloud, rubbing his chin. He came full circle, standing about five feet from her. He had to look up to her where the stood on the stump, and some of the fading light caught and illuminated his slender jaw. His skin was smooth and pale, and his mouth was full. She could just make out the tip of his nose.

    "So the deal is I take you and the village is spared for as long as I live. What if I killed you? Is the deal off then?" he asked, and as terrifying as it sounded, he was just pondering the possibilities. He had no strong desire to strike the woman down. She was rather pleasant on the eyes, and his thoughts earlier about her usefulness still stood. He sighed and tapped his chin.

    "Perhaps you will have some usefulness, Evangeline. I will make this deal," he decided. "You will keep my home and possessions in order. You will cook my meals and obey whatever other demands I have. You will not complain and you will not weep. I won't tolerate tears. Do this, and I will leave your village alone. Am I understood?"
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  7. The sudden laughter startled her into a terrified jump, a fright that rattled her bones and did nothing to soothe the anxiety rising in every atom of her body. Already, his teases and taunts bit and clawed at Evangeline's resolve like a feral animal, which perhaps he was under the shades of his cloak, no matter how distinct the few human features she witnessed seemed to appear. There were so many rumors and legends and tantalizing myths surrounding the mysterious being--some claimed him to be a great dragon with leathery wings and fiery breath, others said that he was a powerful wizard who discovered immortality and defied the gods themselves, while some stated he was neither winged nor magic and used demonic powers to infiltrate the peace of surrounding villages. Was there truly a way to differentiate? His crimes were terrible and his threats even more-so. Still, he was certainly no physical beast. That much was clear. He had no wings nor did he appear dragon-like, and there wasn't any fire in his breath. Was he truly a mage, then? A wicked man cursed by the gods for his proud and callous ambitions?

    She would crack the enigma that her captor embodied so well. She had the rest of her life to do so, after all.

    The way her name rolled off his tongue in such a pleasing manner sent violating chills down her spine, and Evangeline averted her eyes from him to save what was left of her dignity. So caught up on the thought that he would rip her into a hundred pieces, it hadn't crossed her mind that the person or creature before her could harbor more perverse afflictions and desires. In truth, she would rather be ripped limb from limb than made to suffer the abuse of a lustful murderer for the rest of her time spent living, but perhaps there would be another moment in the near future to ponder her fate with more dedication. There would be no short supply of lonely moments of silent reflection, wherever he was taking her. He was speaking to her currently and weakness would displease him.

    If I give an unsatisfactory answer, he will not like his reward. She wanted very much to be a thorn in his side and cause immeasurable problems, raising hell for the killer of many she loved and cherished, but in doing so her village would be left compromised. Evangeline clutched the cloak and adjusted it for further protection from the cold, looking up to the being that stood before her with a stronger gaze.

    "I do not know what would happen if you killed me, sir, nor do I think I am the most beautiful in the village, but the general consensus agreed that I am so." The girl swallowed hard. "I will do what you ask and when, I will endure whatever demise or personal hell you have in store, but please. Do not harm any more of my people." Her fist clenched under the cloak. "Spare the children. I will cook and clean or organize, whatever task you set before me. No more death or destruction, until I am old or you have tired of me, and then...I'm not sure."

    Evangeline couldn't resist a final glance at the south-facing forest, knowing home lay less than a mile within her reach, where her mother was undoubtedly weeping and her brother would fight for her life. Her father would cry and the village would mourn, and they would move on, and they would be safe.

    She turned her head back to her captor.

    "It is done, then?"
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  8. Until I am old or you have tired of me. Liam snorted another chuckle at her words.

    "It is ironically amusing how people lose their worth when age has withered their beauty. Does someone have to be beautiful to be useful?" He shook his head. She could be hideous and still be as good a cook as any. But he supposed having something more pleasing on his eyes would not be a horrible thing. She would be a pretty living treasure in his home. He regarded her for a long moment before nodding.

    "Yes. I will leave your little home alone for as long as I have a use for you. What a pretty little martyr. I wonder what you had to do to deserve this," he snickered. Perhaps she was vain or had scorned some upstanding village elder when she denied his affections. Surely villages didn't just toss beautiful, kind young women to monsters? Or maybe they did, just to save their own asses. It almost warranted attacking them again if that was the case.

    "Come along then," he gestured. "Off the stump. Let's see your new home. You will have your work cut out for you." He turned and headed across the meadow for the trees. A glance behind him confirmed that his little treasure was following him. He bound into the cover of the trees. It was starting to grow dark now that the sun had sank beneath the horizon. The remaining light was even more dim within the cover of the trees. He paused, letting his eyes adjust to the growing dim, and turned to wait for his prize to catch up. He doubted her eyes were as good as his in the dark.

    "We have a bit of a walk ahead of us," he warned. "I hope your pretty little feet don't grow weary." He lifted a hand to offer them some light. The black robe sank down his arm, pooling in the crease of his elbow as his slender hand became doused in orange and yellow flames. The fire licked around his flesh as if it offered fuel. To him, it provided a warm tickle across his palm and finger tips. Light cast out from the small flame, shedding flickering light over the forest floor and trees. The light also illuminated some of his features. There was a patch of swirling, shiny skin running down his arm. In some places the shiny scars puckered and the faintest outline of pale green scales, about the size of a thumbnail, were scattered throughout the scar on his arm.

    His face was also illuminated from the shadows of the cowl on his cloak. He had pleasing features. A long face, with fine dark brows. A slender jaw but not too feminine, and a full, pleasing mouth. His cheekbones were proud and high, and the fire cast shadows in the shallow hollows of his cheeks. His eyes were a fierce mixture of green and brown, staring out of the cloak at the woman who was now his. There was a shiny patch of skin and a narrow ribbon of scales running along his cheekbone under his left eye. There light began to fade around his temples, the shadows more powerful than the light, but there was a hint of more scales and shiny scars on his left temple as well. Part of his mind was aware that she might see some of his features. It would be inevitable now that they were going to live together. Still, he was mildly curious about her reaction, but not in the angry sense. It was a sick sort of curiosity really.
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  9. The flame cast brilliantly down upon the tree bark and shadowed leaves around them, bringing light to what was once smothered in night's creeping darkness, and the sight of it shocked her initially. Seeing the fire refuse to burn his pale skin brought doubt seeping into her mind like a poison, a brutal hesitation that would cause some to run and abandon the safety of the people that threw her to this beast. The magical ability he was no doubt keen to was accompanied by yet another realization of how inhuman he was, how immortal, how dangerous. There wasn't a single doubt in her mind that she was walking to her death with each step of delicate feet--he knew it, she knew it. There wasn't any escape for her now.

    I bet he used that same fire to kill the little girl today, Evangeline thought with a rising hatred. I bet he used it to smother the fields and ruin the crops, to destroy houses, and now he uses it to light the way to my damnation.

    The anger would have exploded within, had she not been caught so off-guard by the scales on his face.

    Dragon, was the first thought that came to mind, though the stories did not match the face--he had no tail or claws, no long snout, no wings, and he was much smaller than a dragon ought to be. But the scales were ever-present and the hunger for treasure obvious, and with the combined evidence of fire magic she was beginning to think this mystery might be solved much sooner than she originally anticipated. Perhaps the tales she had been told of ancient dragons were inaccurate or untrue, or misconstrued with the passing of time. Either way, this being was one of the fabled beasts, or at the very least a descendant of one, and that made him all the more unpredictable.

    Evangeline stood frozen, her eyes locked on his longer than they ought to and shrouded in fear. It took several moments to catch a grip on herself and ground back to the crippling reality that had become her future and present. In the neverending gloom that was gently illuminated by his magic, the girl fumbled nervously with her fingers and continued to meet his piercing, clouded gaze.

    "My crime was beauty," she told him in earnest. "And I will suffer for it until the end of my days."

    With that, it was clear she no longer wished to hold conversation. She followed him forward through the thrush of trees and bushes and beyond, holding the slowly fading memories of peace in her heart.
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  10. "My crime was beauty. And I will suffer for it until the end of my days."

    Liam almost laughed at the girl's words, and for a moment, his mouth curved into a smile. But a moment later it soured and his gaze darkened, two single sparks singing out of his flaming hand. They crackled and blazed orange as they whirled up into the air before darkening and crisping to gray as they fluttered down towards the ground as ash.

    "Such a pity, to be born beautiful, Evangeline," he muttered, turning to continue leading her away for his home. Perhaps it was a good thing that she wished to remain silent because her words had soured the playful mood he had been in. It was always a thrill to receive offerings from the villages, and to be offered such a beautiful young woman? Perhaps her beauty was what got her into this mess and perhaps she might consider her future life to be one of suffering, but to honestly despise beauty? Oh, if only she knew what his face had once been like.

    They walked in silence as the sun finally finished its descent beneath the horizon. The stars began to peek above the trees, and Liam's hand continued to be the torch that illuminated them down their path. They walked deeper and deeper through the forest, the brambles growing taller, the trees growing thicker. Eventually the yellow flickering light of his hand cast a shadow on a crumbling stone wall coated in ivy. Beyond it was the remnants of a long forgotten keep. The stone structure might have once been grand, but two of the four corner towers were fallen, and bits of the roof had caved in as well. The large wooden door was gray with age and patched roughly with new planks of wood.

    "Welcome to your new home," her companion growled under his breath. They entered through an empty space in the small wall into the circular yard for the home. It was overgrown with weeds and bushes, but there were the remains of what might have been a lovely garden.

    "It was once the Keep of Lord Bernard Travaine, but that was a time so long ago that it has been forgotten. The road that lead through this forest is now filled with trees, and the houses that surrounded this keep have been claimed by the earth. But this keep has stood, and it is mine." Leaf litter crunched beneath their feet as they approached the nearly ten foot tall door. Liam used his normal hand to grasp the heavy iron loop and pull the door open. The light from his flaming hand spread across the space, illuminating the once magnificent entry and main hall. The light of his hand sparkled off cob webs and old benches. There was a small wooden table, piled with old dishes against one wall. there were crooked shelves on the walls, old tapestries, random tables and stones bearing all sorts of odds and ends. Sacks of grain, fine porcelain vases, barrels of wine and whiskey, silver spoons and ivory carvings. You name it, and it was probably tucked somewhere in the cluttered room.

    "That is the only safe stairwell," he nodded to the left, where a set of stairs disappeared through a wall. "The rooms are up on that floor. I do not recommend exploring past that hall. That tower is the more secure. There is another that is standing but even such a slight weight as yours and..." he shrugged as he looked to her. He gestured across the room with his flaming hand, and the flame left his skin to fly across the room and land in the hearth. The big stone hearth blazed to life, tearing away all the dark corners and shedding further light to the chaotic main room.

    "Home sweet home."
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