The dark streets of Silvadill had grown cold with snow and bitter wind – nothing that Mir couldn’t shake off her thick fur. Her charge, however, wasn’t as fortunate. Sprawled now across the dim alley’s filth, her human pup rattled a cough.
Sickness, Mir had smelled days ago. She pressed her wet snout against the boy’s forehead and felt heat creep inside her nostrils. If her previous charges were anything to go by, these would be the last hours of this pup’s short life. All she could do for him now was remain by his side, and wait, merely wishing she could do more.
But had there not been a time that she could? As Mir lifted up her paw before her eyes, images struck – irreality deforming her paw into long, twisting appendages, and tearing the fur from her thickening leg. The instant lasted but that, yet it sufficed for Mir’s mind to crack and for her head to violently ache. Thrashing, Mir howled into the night, crying out for pain and for suffering and for a life no longer quite hers. She howled, seeking answers long dead in her mind – a mind that snapped back as she heard her charge whine.
Instinct returned her to the rational present, to the cold and the dark and the sour stench of sickness wafting from her shaking human pup. He was trying to get back to his feet, mumbling.
Of course you’re not, Mir thought, her wide ears perking up to the chime of his frail voice. She laid herself down next to her human pup, licking the heat off his forehead, and the blood from his nose. It would not be long anymore. Yet another human child, she thought, about to pay the price of his kin’s indifference. Though she knew this was the way of their world, Mir couldn’t help but lay her head down and whimper out her regret.
Until a sound nearby caught her attention. Her head snapped up, eyes and ears boring into the darkness of night. She heard it again – a clicking sound, like the heels of noble females parading. A strange sense of relief filled her heart… till the wind carried to her the prowler’s scent.
The fragrance of dry flowers, barely concealing the stench of fresh blood.
Mir arched up onto her paws, fur bristling, fangs bared as she growled her warning towards the beast in human skin. Heels clicked against pavement, slow and steady, undeterred even when Mir began barking out the threat of death. Every echoing step brought closer the stink of gore and arrogance. Mir realized that she would have no choice but to fight for her life and that of her dying pup. She growled and coiled, ready to strike.
Her nightvision caught sight of the prowler’s dress first, an extravagant bloat of fabric and trimmings coated in fresh stains. The prowler took another step, and then another, and as the human-like face appeared before her eyes, Mir felt her resolve waver.
This sort of expression, Mir had seen it before. The day she had, a child had been splattered to death by a rushing carriage. Its mother’s howling grief had been engraved in Mir’s memory.
Mir frowned. The Blood-eaters do not feel. This human-like female, all clad in aristocracy and unarmed, could not be merely human. Why, then, was it crying?
“You poor little thing,” the Blood-eater said, its voice quaking just like a heartbroken human female’s. “I will take good care of you.”
Mir’s fangs bared on instinct. Fur rustling, she growled her way in between the Blood-eater and her human pup.
The Blood-eater’s expression hardened, twisted. It bore its own fangs in affronted disgust, hissing a threat of immediate death if Mir didn’t stand down. In response, Mir barked her refusal and stood, defiantly, head low as she growled a final threat.
In an instant, the Blood-eater’s stance warped. Eyes wide, fingers tense like claws, the Blood-eater let out a blood-curdling screech that, unexpectedly, trailed off into human screaming.
“You will not take my son from me!”
One heartbeat’s confusion was all it took. When the Blood-eater pounced, screeching its madness, Mir hesitated. What if it spoke true? What if it had been her pup’s mother before becoming a beast? Even as the Blood-eater’s hands strangled the life out of her, Mir questioned. With the last minutes of her breath gurgling away, Mir remembered…
A rainy day; the stampede of small feet escaping, and a moment later children struggling to outrun enraged human men. Some were caught and beaten; others fled into adjacent streets. And one, a single one, had run up to her and caught her by her neck fur, instantly pulling her head up towards his pursuer. His words she’d long ago forgotten, but not his defiant tone, nor the frantic beating of his tiny heart. Why she had played along and frightened away the human pursuer, Mir had never known, nor had she ever cared to know. From that moment on, when first he’d latched his frail little arms around her neck, he had become her child.
“Mine,” Mir croaked, her paw latching onto her murderer’s wrist. Her tongue licked her teeth, now flat and harmless. Endlessly long tufts of thin fur curtained her face, obscuring her hazy vision. She could smell but the cold anymore.
Mir laughed, right before her neck was snapped.
To be continued…