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Thicker Than Water

How long had this been coming? I wonder as the voices of the mob continue to rise. Not quite in a cheer, the sound ringing with too much righteous fury. Too much sick and twisted pleasure.

But what else would one expect from a crowd waiting to watch someone be burned at the stake?

I cough. Blood dribbling from my lips to splatter against the small wood platform that separates my feet from the piled wood beneath. But the silver chains that bind me and burn my flesh will not give, even under my impossible strength. The timbers that will be set on fire to burn my body to ash. Yet I cannot muster the fear for my approaching death. I am so thirsty. I dimly wonder how long it had been since my last meal. Two weeks? A month? I suppose it doesn’t matter now.

What a cruel way to go. I think, my gaze drawn to the flickering torches held by the weak men standing with false bravery a few feet away. They could have just cut off my head or pierced my heart. There wasn’t any point binding me and dragging me to into a spectacle.

But then, I think, as my keen ears pick up the sound of approaching footsteps. Justice wasn’t the point. After all, lesser men always have to make a show of their “victories”. I watch with wavering vision as my would-be executioner comes to stand before me. Torch in hand, sword at his side. He hadn’t even bothered to wash my blood from the blade. It’s almost funny, what with how I ache to drench the weapons in my own mouth with his.

“Do you have any last words, demoness?” The unfair so sickeningly human man sneers. The man who had gotten so lucky. Who had demanded this public horror instead of simply ending me back in those woods. The man I have to thank for my second, and likely permanent, death. I meet his gaze, and revel in the way he flinches. In the way fear drains the color from his face. Even bound as I am, even as death hangs his scythe above my head — even still, they are afraid.

Good.

“I am -!” I begin, the sudden sound of my voice hushing the assembled crowd quicker than a King’s command. Yet I stop. If these are to be my last words, I will choose them carefully. Leave no room for anyone who hears to change even a single syllable in their memory of this moment.

“I am a monster, in every sense of meaning you have given that word.” I admit without hesitation. “I have fangs and claws and am more that any human will ever be. I have killed. I have stained the ground with the blood of the cruel and innocent in equal measure. And I have drunk that blood to keep my impossible power. So if it pleases you to put me down like a rabid dog – like the monster you claim I am,” I pause, swallowing the gathering blood in my throat. I gather my strength. I will not appear weak to these mortals. “Then do it. Kill me.” I hiss, watching as the people flinch under my cold gaze.

“But know this – ” I shout, standing as tall as my bindings will allow. “You will never find peace or justice for this act. Kill me if it will appease your anger, your hatred. If it makes the memory of those you lost ache a little less, but know that when you do so, that you will be putting yourself down on my level. Know that when you take my life, drenched in horror and blood as it is, you become a monster as well.” I hiss, slumping back against the wooden pillar they’d bound me too. Silence reigns, and the sudden desire to explain — to tell my story rises in me.

“You can hate what I do, what I let myself become, but my reason for doing so, should you care to know it, will haunt you more that the trial of massacred corpses I left behind.” I do not want to die with my tale unheard. To be remembered as a bloody curse, than as a warning for the future. Though the assembled are unlikely to repeat it as such. Still — still the words rise in my throat like a pack of rabid dogs. I let them loose.

“I used to lock my knees when a brother or sister fell because I knew that if I didn’t, I would rush to their side, and we would both be beaten for the offense of being so weak and fragile. So human.” I growl. “Men of power are only so good at insisting others are nothing when they cannot see the familiar, if distorted, reflection of themselves and the people they know and love in those they hurt. Or perhaps they do, and inflict the unjustified punishment anyway. Perhaps they don’t care. I’ve certainly known men like that.”

Another cough rips through me, and dark spots flash across my vision. My thirst grows, and I feel the prick of my own fangs against my lips. But my will is stronger than my thirst. It had always been the strongest part of me. The part that had called him that night so long ago. I continue.

“I was a slave a long time ago.” I croak. The crowd shifts closer, interest drawn across their faces. I smile bitterly. “I was beaten down for wanting the bare necessities that should be afforded to every single human being. I was cursed at and punished for speaking up for my fellow brothers and sisters, and even worse for those who were not. I had every reason to hate, to be unkind — but I was kind anyway.” I chuckle. “I patched up the scrapes of children no matter what color their skin. I spoke clearly and politely regardless of where I was or who I was speaking too.” I pause again, coughing once again.

“Unless they gave me ample reason not too.” My vision swims again. I close my eyes. “I have a firm belief that no single person should ever be above everyone else. Not one person, or a small collective, should ever hold all the power.” I whisper.

“The night I “fell”,” I say, raising my voice once more, even as every word burns my throat. “The night my Lord came for me and changed me, was the night I’d finally had enough. The man who owned my life was cruel and unfair, even by the standards back then. He asked too much, and accepted nothing less than perfection. And when you’re as worn down as we were, perfection was as unattainable as holding the sun in your palms.”

“I found him beating a younger female servant.” I whisper, fists curling behind my back. “And when I saw her on the ground, blood pooling under her twitching form, her dirty clothes ripped in ways that made me understand immediately what she had refused — I snapped.” Several in the crowd gasped, and I opened my eyes to see their enraptured and terrified faces for myself. It was almost a heartwarming sight.

“There was a shovel by the gate.” I said. “My limbs were sore and weakened from a long weeks work, but I managed to heft that shovel all the same. My owner was so absorbed in his task of slowly killing that girl, that he missed the heavy fall of my feet until it was too late.” I pause, almost delighted by the intense attention of the crowd. “It took two swings to bring him down. And a third to cave in his head.” I pause again, spitting blood from my mouth.

“It took about an hour to patch up that young girl, and to gather the rest of the staff. None of us had ever given that man a second thought. We barely gave him one. But we were all so terrified of what would happen next.” I growl. “We didn’t have time to think that night. A scream alerted us to the discovery of the body. I told the rest of the staff to grab what they could a flee into the night. We all had an idea of what kind of horrors awaited us when the police arrived. They agreed, and while they bustled around the house, fleeing in small groups, I sat down, and stayed still. Blood, both my former masters and that girl, drenching my clothes and skin.”

A bitter laugh fell from my lips as I gaze at the blood drenching my remaining clothes. My exposed dark skin. It was funny. This all began when I killed a cruel man, and now another cruel man I had tried to kill would kill me.

“They tried to get me to run with them, but we all knew having me stay, having the killer stay and accept punishment by the authorities would give them more time. So I waited, siting in the parlor room, trembling, eyes burning as I waited for my executioners to arrive.” I smiled, my first real smile since I had begun this tale. My eyes fell shut again as I lost myself in the memory.

“He came then, silhouetted in the moonlight. He stood waiting in the doorway for my permission to enter. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.” I breathed. “I don’t know how anyone could have refused him.” I whispered. “He said he saw what I had done. And asked why I had not run? I gave him the same answer I had given the others. He nodded and said nothing. I asked if he was Death.” I chuckled. “He laughed and said no. Then he asked me if I wanted to die.” I pause once again, spitting out another glob of blood. The crowd flinched.

“I said no, but that there would be no other option. Not if I wanted to keep the other’s safe. He asked,” I lick my lips, shivering under the memory of his voice whispering in my ears, “If I could offer you a third option, would you take it? If I could take you away without even the smallest chance of anyone coming for you, if I could promise you would know a better life, would you come with me?”

“I said yes.” I breathed. Eyes prickling. “I said I would do whatever he wanted if I could live another life. I had already killed a man, and freed all the kin I had ever known. And men were coming to kill me, what could be worse?” I laughed, bitter, flashing my fangs. “Well, I would come to know there were worse things then caving in a man’s skull with a dirty shovel.” I spat more blood and slumped further against my pillar.

“But still, I don’t regret my choice.” I tell the crowd. I crane my head, and stare up at the stars. “I was caught. I was killed. And then my Master brought me back.” I smile. “He drew me from the cruelty of the light, and welcomed me into the sheltering darkness.”

“I am a monster, I will not claim otherwise.” I rasp, dropping my head. “But at least I am willing to admit my monstrous nature. I don’t hide who I am with false smiles and promises. I am willing to admit to my mistakes, and bear their weight without compliant.” I tilt my head, turning my crimson gaze towards my executioner. “Can you say the same?”

The man sneers, throwing down his torch without hesitation. He runs from the quickly spreading flames, leaps over the pile to safety as the heat and smoke rise to meet me. The crowd explodes in noise, mostly negative, but no one comes to save me. To beat down the flames. Still, I smile. Even as the flames lick at my feet, catch on my clothes, my hair. I smile, because I realize I am ready to welcome death, as the night had welcomed me. As he had welcomed me, so long ago.

Of course, that is when the pain hits. I scream and thrash against my bonds. But even through all this noise and all this agony, I cannot miss the deep encompassing voice of my Master.

Not yet, my dear. You will not meet death this night. And I smile, weeping as my mind fades to black. Not tonight. Not by these pitiful mortals. My last sensation, the feeling of those familiar powerful arms encircling me.

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