Demons! Demons! Everywhere!
It wasn’t easy being different. Savros knew this only too well. People had a tendency to do one of two things when they came across him for the first time; they ran screaming, or they tried to do their best to kill him. What weapon they chose depended on the person’s skill and profession and varied from sword to crossbow to the occasional lump of scavenged wood.
This one was different, however…It was smaller than the usual hunters that roamed the ancient forest looking for things to torture and sometimes kill when they grew bored of the poor creature’s screams. Plus, Savros looked the fragile creature up and down, this one was very quiet. Maybe, it was paralysed? Savros scanned the area. Nope, couldn’t be that, none of the usual culprits were lurking about and this area was free of those poisonous leaves that had caught him out on occasion, leaving him limp and boneless until the effect wore off.
Tilting his head slightly, Savros hung from the lower branch of his favourite oak. It was a sturdy tree and unlike some other things he could mention, it had never let him down.
The two-legged creature standing at the base of the tree, just out of reach, took a shuddering breath and finally spoke. It’s voice high-pitched and quavering. ‘You’re one of…them? A Skratti? A real life Tree Demon?’
Savros hissed through his teeth. ‘I am no Demon.’
The small mortal flinched, but still it hadn’t run, yet.
Pushing long strands of dull brown hair out of its narrow-boned face, it spoke again. ‘I need you to do something for me.’
Savros cackled. Not the most pleasant of sounds, he had to admit, but he couldn’t stop it. That a mortal had come asking him for help was indeed an event worth laughing over.
The fragile little creature pursed its lips and its brow creased. ‘You think this is funny?’
Sobering, Savros considered his words very carefully. ‘Get lost,’ he commanded.
Taking a step back, he honestly thought he’d managed to exert some control over the pesky little mortal, but when the thing didn’t turn around and stumble off into the trees, Savros twisted his body and landed lightly on the ground. The small mortal stayed very still.
Its eyes were very round, though. Savros took comfort from the fact that his greyish skin and long talons were enough of a threat to instil a level of fear. Enough that the mortal made no move to unsheathe the thin blade attached to the leather belt looped several times around its tiny waist. It would be so easy to snap its neck and carry on with his day. However, something about the mortal before him gave Savros pause for thought, or at least some consideration before he tore the idiot’s throat out and left it to bleed. A perfect lure for any local Stymphals.
The mortal cleared its throat. ‘I am Mia.’ She paused. ‘And…you are?’
Savros halted his menacing pacing. He must have heard wrong. A mortal asking for his name? What next? A twilight picnic in Demon’s Wood? Dancing nymphs, perhaps?
Savros narrowed his eyes. ‘Why?’
The mortal shrugged. ‘Just making conversation.’
‘No. That is a lie.’
That got him a hard look. Oh, this one was a fighter. ‘I said I wanted your help. The least you could do is ask what the favour is before you eat me.’
Squinting against the fading light, Savros noted the fading bruises on the young mortals face. The rigid stance, with that slight tremor that shook her limbs ever so minutely.
Nostrils flaring, Savros scented the foul stench emanating from the mortal’s skin…musk, sweat, salted fear…It…No, wait, this one was a female. A girl-child. She was hurting, still.
Dying. The strong odour of blood filled the narrow space, overriding the damp earth and wet bark.
Looking more closely, Savros saw something in this wounded girl-child.
She was angry. She was scared. She was afraid. It was such a beautiful tapestry of emotion.
Tasting the air as if it were the sweetest nectar, Savros smiled. ‘You offer me a sacrifice, then?’ He fixed her with his stare and she had the sense to hesitate, to think very carefully.
She nodded. ‘Yes. I want you to take my sacrifice.’
Licking his lips, Savros lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘Show me and I will take your pain. I will do your bidding.’ He stepped closer. ‘And I will make it quick.’
Standing tall, the girl-child nodded again, this time more stiffly. ‘Do it.’
Moving in front of her, Savros laid a gentle hand behind the back of her head, his ragged talons tangling in her rain-wet hair. Savros looked deep into her eyes. When she first appeared they’d been a faded green, now with the deepening twilight they were almost black.
Pressing his skull against her brow, Savros closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The girl-child went limp in his grip as he pulled the darkness from her mind, the memories, the screams, clawing hands, ripping of cloth as her shirt was torn away, the coldness of the air on her exposed flesh, the sharp pain, the plunge of the blade in her ribs, the twisting of the sharp metal inside her body, tearing her apart from within.
Letting the girl-child’s body fall to the ground, Savros opened his eyes to the full dark of night. Glancing down at the young mortal’s corpse, Savros regarded her for a moment before the full force of her memories soaked into his thoughts. He stepped over her then. And started at a walk that quickly became a loping run. It was uplifting to be the hunter for a change.
He had their scent now. The reek of the tiny mortal’s attackers. Savros grinned. It was hunting season and this time around his hide wasn’t on the menu.
The night gave him strength. Her death, her sacrifice gave him power.
They’d never know what hit them, or rather what made a meal of them.