“Don’t touch that Little One. You’ll be itchy for the rest of the afternoon.”
The child turned his head, his mop of black hair hanging in his oddly coloured eyes, his pointed ears perked forward in fascination. “I no touch?”
The man smiled softly, folding his hands into the sleeves of his long black robes. “Preferably not. I know it’s pretty, but pretty isn’t always good.”
The boy looked back at the fiery red flower bearing orange speckles then back up at his uncle, his pointed face scrunched in confusion. “But...”
“But nothing.” The half-Elf’s own delicately pointed face relaxed as he watched his nephew grapple with this new information. “Remember what happened the last time you didn’t listen.”
A tiny hand came up and scratched at his head where his horns had just started poking through his hair. “Itchy like this?” He looked up at his uncle, red eyes wide and questioning.
“Don’t scratch your horns. I told you you’re going to damage them and it will be even worse, much worse, like a hundred times worse.”
“Not more itchy!” He gripped his stubby horns and ran towards the man and clung to his leg. “I no want more itchy!”
The man bent slightly and picked the boy, resting him on his hip. “Then don’t touch it. Try listening to me for once.”
A soft touch on the half-Elf’s face, his nephew brushing a strand of hair from his cheek then petting his head. “Where is Uncle Kil’s horns?”
“I don’t have any, my Little One. You got them from Daddy, I look more like Mommy.” The man, Kil, walked down to the small stream running past their house where the water trickled slowly over the rocks, calm enough for his half-bred nephew to play in.
“Daddy had horns?” The child held onto Kil’s leg as he set him down. “Mommy didn’t?”
“Yes. Daddy had horns, and a tail and wings. Mommy was an Elf. You know what Elves look like.” He gently pushed him forward.
“Elves are pretty,” the little boy stumbled forwards, still learning to walk on his long-toed feet that he’d inherited from his father, “like Uncle Kil.”
“I’m not pretty, child. I have an ugly Human jaw.” He sat down, sticking his toes into the water.
The boy turned around slowly and dived into his uncle’s lap, bringing up a hand with short black claws to pat Kil’s face. “No. Uncle Kil is pretty. You have a face like an Elf.”
“And so do you.” Kil pinched his nephew’s cheek. “Just like your mother.”
The child giggled, grabbing a fist full of his uncle’s soft black robes and hiding his face in them.
Kil blew gently on his nephew’s head, ruffling his ebony hair. “Lift your pretty little face, will you?”
The child squealed and peaked over his hand that was still twisted in the soft black velvet. “Will Uncle Kil make the water dance then?”
Kil lifted his hand, using minimal energy to pull a small orb of water from the stream, bringing it to float in front of the little boy. “Why don’t you make it dance?”
“No Calgin, you can. Remember, we’ve been practicing?”
He watched as Calgin reached out a little hand, concentration written over his soft features. Kil gradually released his energy on the water, watching as it quivered and warped under the child’s practice. It hovered perfectly still for a minute, then exploded into millions of droplets that dusted them with a thin layer of damp. Calgin sniffled, wiping the water from his face.
“Uncle Kil...” He looked up at him tearfully.
The Mage laughed softly, wiping his own face dry. “That’s quiet alright my boy. You did fine. Nothing wrong with that.”
“You’re only young, it’s going to happen. Don’t worry about it.” He stroked the young boy’s hair, careful not to touch his growing horns. “It was better than last time.”
This warranted a giggle from him. “Cause last time it went like shoooo!” He clapped his hands, indicating a water fountain.
“Something like that.” Kil waved his hand slowly, the water coating both of them racing over their skin to collect into an orb again. This the mage tossed back into the stream.
A high pitched yapping had the youngster looking over his uncle’s shoulder and into the forest, his ears twitching slightly. “Uncle Kil, I play with Espie?”
“I suppose you can, but where I can see you. I don’t want you wondering off again.”
The child made as if to stand but was pulled down by Kil. “Wait till they get here, it’s only manners.”
“Yes Uncle Kil.” He looked down at his little hands, a light blush creeping over his pale cheeks.
The older half-Elf hugged his little nephew, watching as a small Werewolf puppy galloped out the trees, a hulking male trotting after him. The puppy hurtled full speed towards the pair sitting on the grass, bowling the boy right off his uncle’s lap.
“Esperious.” The male Werewolf morphed back into his human form of a bearded man with warm brown eyes. “That wasn’t very nice, now say sorry.” The puppy looked up from wrestling with the young half-Elf, his body rippling as he struggled with the change from beast to boy.
Kil blinked his light blue eyes, a pleasant smile spreading across his face. “He’s getting better at it, Daveth.”
Daveth rumbled a laugh. “He’s getting there. We just need to work on those manners.” He cast a glance back to his son as he managed to complete the change into a boy with scruffy chocolate brown hair.
Esperious shuffled his feet, kicking at the grass. “Sorry Mister Aress.”
“It’s okay, child. Now why don’t you and Cal go play? I’ll be right here.” He watched as the two children ran towards the simple house in which they lived, giggling at the simple joys of life. Then he turned his attention to Daveth. “Hunting I take it?”
Daveth nodded. “I was trying to teach him, but one whiff of your boy and he was tearing through the underbrush like a rabbit.”
Kil shook his head slowly. “It doesn’t bother me. If you have hunting to do, I’ll be right here. I’ll keep an eye on these two.”
“I don’t want to trouble you...”
“Shhh North Lander,” Kil held up a finger, “you do not wish to annoy a Westerner like me.”
Daveth laughed loudly at that. “Oh Kil, you never are going to let that one go, are you? Do you despise living in the South so much that you feel you must flout where you come from?”
“Hush. You do not speak to such filth as myself. Be gone foul canine, leave thy child with me and go hunt.” The conversation was playful and friendly between the two of them.
“I never quite understood how I can find a Mage so humorous.” Daveth flexed his shoulders, casting his eyes towards the house as the two young boys ran outside again, apparently having decided upon a game.
“And I can’t understand how I’m speaking to a flea-riddled bone-chewer.” Kil leaned back on his elbows, the sun shimmering off his ash blonde hair that hung loose over his shoulders.
“I’ll be back to fetch him before nightfall.”
“Do not thank me, Wolf. It is what I do for a friend.” Kil looked towards the boys, Esperious holding Calgin’s wrists as the halfling struggled to hold his balance in the water. “You know how much I love the kids in any case, it is no trouble.”
Without another word, Daveth turned on his heel, back rippling with muscle as his beast form took over. Kilgar slipped his elbows from beneath his body to lay flat on his back in the thick grass. His Elven ears were sensitive enough to keep track of the children as his eyes slide shut, allowing him time to relax. He’d been looking after the boy ever since his parents had been murdered two years ago. He’d warned his sister when she agreed to marry the Demon. It was a bad idea. It was a doomed fate, totally unheard of for an Elven maiden to marry a Demon. The result? Their son Calgin. Half-Elf, half-Demon, with powers undiscovered and blood much sought after. He’d never be safe, always hunted...
The sound of frantic footfalls on the ground had the mage sitting up so violently that a wave of dizziness washed over him. Esperious was streaking up the small hill, dragging Calgin along by the back of his shirt, the half-Demon having hard time keeping his balance.
“Mister Aress!” Esperious shrieked, skidding to a halt and hiding behind the mage’s leg, taking Calgin with him.
“Wha-” He fell to silence when the sound of flapping wings and low barks reached his sensitive hearing. “Get inside. Now.” He scooped Calgin into his arms and pushed Esperious towards the house.
The sounds grew closer with every footfall as they made their way towards the house. Kil shut the door, sliding the lock into place and placing his hand against the wood, the humming feeling of the magic in his blood setting his fingertips tingling. The air around the door rippled as a ward of protection was activated. Then he set his nephew gently on his feet, crouching in front of him and putting his slim hands on the boy’s shoulders. “I want you to go with Espie,” the small party flinched as a loud pounding resonated through the house, “you know that necklace with the claw on that you like so much? I want you to take it.”
The boy’s bottom lip quivered. “Uncle Kil isn’t coming with?”
“No my child,” the wood of the door began to crack under the weight of some great beast, “I must stay here. I can’t come with you.”
“No buts,” the Mage reached into his robes and pulled out the thin strip of leather from which hung a claw, this he slid over his nephew’s head and settled it on his neck, “keep it safe and it will do the same for you.”
The child lurched forward, wrapping his arms around his uncle’s neck and burying his face against his shoulder. “But I need you.”
“No you don’t,” Kil dropped his voice to barely above a whisper so he wouldn’t be heard, “you never have.” He closed his arms over the child and held him a few seconds. Savage snarls rent the air, the ward on the door pulsed, it was barely holding, time was running thin.
Calgin took a step back and scrubbed a little hand over his eyes. “Uncle Kil will come see my horns?”
Kil squeezed his eyes shut to keep his own tears at bay, his throat clenching tight. He hated to lie to the child, but it was the only thing he could do that would get his nephew away from this place. “Yes my child, of course.”
“I’m scared.” Calgin looked at him with shimmering red eyes, his pointed face taught with distress.
“I know my, Little One,” he took the child’s face between his hands and placed a kiss on his forehead, “but I need you to be brave, for me?”
Calgin closed his hands over his uncle’s wrists and nodded. The ward on the door spluttered and died, time was up.
Kil shoved Calgin towards Esperious who’d been standing quietly. “Take him, run. Go home.”
The Werewolf pup took the half-Demon’s one shaking hand as the other had closed over the claw. The children escaped through the back door, the sound of wood splintering and howls of pain echoing around them. They didn’t look back. They ran. Through the woods, deeper and deeper, Esperious dragging a sobbing half-Demon behind him. Calgin may be young but he knew what was going on. He knew he was probably never going to see his uncle again. He tightened his grip on the claw Kil had given him, clutching it so hard it cut into his soft flesh as he raced through the forest with this best friend.
At the house, the mage looked up from the forced kneeling position on the grass, just in time to see everything he owned and loved go up in flames. His body was exhausted, his magic spent and wasted. Head bowed, he watched his tears drip off the point of his elegant Elven nose, mixed with blood from a gushing cut over his eye, to splash onto the seared grass. He’d failed. He’d failed his sister, he’d failed her husband. Failed himself. But most of all he’d failed Calgin. He’d promised he’d never let anything happen to him. Said he’d keep him safe. All of it was for naught. The last thing he felt was a sharp pain in the back of his neck, then nothing but the sweet embrace of darkness.
But that, had been 15 years ago... A time almost forgotten by many.