The body was a whisper against the oak floorboards as it was gently lowered. A halo of red hair flamed about her crown, accenting the creaminess of her pale skin. Eyes, glassy and empty, the color of the sun through a blue mosaic, watched endlessly, aimlessly upwards. They had been pretty when life still pulsed beneath the surface, if life was what one could call it. As far as Kietsayl was concerned, the woman had been a mere husk before he’d even touched her. No passion, no concern, no troubles, but no joys either. There was only air within her mind and hardly a soul to fill the thing. His hunt had been a mercy killing. Normally, he did not pity to the prey, but Kietsayl could not help but place her empty shell carefully amongst the dust. It was a kindness that was not warranted, but he tried not to think too much of it. Gathering his clothes, he hid a muscular body, weaved with slightly translucent skin, beneath the cotton and leather of shift and trousers. As silent as death, he pulled on his boots, and climbed out the window of the tavern. He knew every crevice, every sill with which to bring him down to the first level, and he was gone. Slinking into the night, shadows consumed him fervently. Despite gently pallid skin, his short, black hair and matching outfit blended well. A hood was pulled up, masking - or framing - angular features, complemented by dark lashes, eyes that held a rushing, deep river within them, and plump lips. A gentle rain struck his cheeks when he glanced up at the trees that had begun to surround him, gracing him with a sense of cover. The forest, the night, the rain - all of them were his allies during the hunt, and tonight he knew that more than ever. A man in the Dancing Dryad had suspected him, perhaps tasted the lake water in the back of his throat. Kietsayl had felt his peculiar sense of perspective and had taken care to avoid him well, but he had the growing feeling that they would be on his trail tonight. He marked that thought, remembered not to return to this exact time and place. Best to be careful. With a gaze that was used to the murk and gloom of the deepest parts of a lake, the unsure darkness that clouds, Kietsayl trekked his way down the deerpath that he had used before. When he was halfway there, he heard the dogs yipping in the distance. The remains had been found. Quickly stripping off boots, trousers, and shirt, Kietsayl’s human facade began to pour away like water down a rocky ledge. Something else entirely replaced it. What appeared to be the skull of a horse, stretched with a veil of light skin and faceted with small, pearl eyes, topped a muscular human torso, and dipped into a long, serpentine body, sprayed with patches of black, blue, and white. Things in one hand, Kietsayl moved with purpose in his true form, the snake half far outriding the strides of a man or dog. By the time he’d reached the lip of the lake, those chasing after him had stumbled on the change in the trail he left and puzzled over it. Kietsayl did not pause to see if it was the man at the Dryad or what he had suspected of him, but instead sunk into the lake. The waters poured over him as ravenously as shadows, welcoming him deeper, as though in a lover’s embrace. Tail undulating, curling as he traversed its depths, he tucked his things under a sturdy boulder and left them there. The lake, its bottom touching the River that Pierced the Worlds, would keep them safe until he returned. Leaving them, Kietsayl swam deeper. Deeper. Deeper. Until he passed through a darkness so thick, and so oily, it blocked out the sky filtering through the waters above. Joining with the River, Kietsayl let the waters rush to meet him, hold him in a caring embrace so unlike that which the red-haired girl had given him or even the lake he had left behind. Instead, it was like the embrace between a god and their constituent. A parent and their favorite child. The physical worlds washed away, and he let himself drift in the serenity that enfolded him.