In the dead of night in an empty field, something was brewing. It slithered in thin wisps from the shadows, gathering in coiling circles. Light flickered, smoke bloomed and writhed around the growing shape. There was a hiss of air, a hum of birdsong. The air grew cold as the inky form twisted into a humanoid shape. The figure lay upon the grass, stretching as the darkness receded into the figure’s pale skin, revealing a young slender woman dressed in soft pastel fabrics.
Glowing teal eyes opened for the first time, and a vast blanket of darkness dotted with distant sparkling lights greeted her. Her first breath was chilled, tickling her throat and lingering in her new lungs. Nightfall, a time for peace and quiet, for resting weary minds and relaxing worn limbs.
And yet, there was noise. Angry screams and broken sobs. Violent, uncaring voices. Dead voices. Exhausted voices. It clawed at something in her, called her to action.
She rose, horns heavy against the sides of her skull. Bat-like wings fluttered until she willed them still, curling them around her lower back and hips. She titled her head, listening for those horrible noises that had woken her. Birthed her? She longed to return to that nothing darkness, but a need filled her soul, pounding against the confines of her chest.
She could taste the exhaustion in the air as she drew closer to the voices, bitter and rotten on her tongue. She hissed softly. Those feelings shouldn’t exist in her presence. Teal sparks skittered across her skin, power pooling between her fingers like syrupy smoke.
She clung to the shadows as she approached, and it was only as she stood in the dark and watched, that she realized most of the noise she heard was non-vocal. The pain, sorrow and agonizing exhaustion that rattled her skull was coming from the souls of the humans, not their mouths. All save for the ones carrying whips, barking orders that dripped with the promise of violence.
They were all so exhausted. So much so that they wished for death so that they could rest. Their desire to live, to open their eyes after finally being allowed to close them, they wanted none of it. They didn’t want to keep their eyes open. They barely had enough sleep to get by, sometimes not even that. Workers – no, slaves driven to the brink and beyond.
Her magic flared, swirling around her form. Her soul screamed, louder than the masses before her. She didn’t know what she was, nor how she came into being, but she knew why she was here. What she was made to do. Exhaustion could not be allowed to exist in her presence.
She took a deep breath, gathering power in her lungs, and then she exhaled. From her lips flowed a thick teal mist that twisted and writhed. Her fingers twitched upward, and from the fog coiling at her feet burst forth the shapes of luminescent moths. Twisted ones with sharp wings and cold eyes.
They fluttered into the worksite, unnoticed, and upon each head they landed, the moths dissipated back into a mist that flew into the mouths and noses of their chosen victims. Within seconds, the slave-drivers were swaying, blinking heavily, coughing softly on a substance they could not hope to remove. A beat passed, and then they all collapsed to the earth, dragged into dreamland by her magic.
She slithered silently from the shadows, watching the slaves expressions twist with confusion and horror. Upon noticing her, they blinked and a new wave of emotions rolled over her soul. Terror. Relief. Bittersweet joy. Horror, small stirrings of anger. But mostly, as the crowd turned to her, she felt a numbness that made her fingers tingle. Painful emptiness, despair. She hated it.
“Who are you?” One man rasped, standing only because of the aid of his shovel. She titled her head again, popping the bubble of emotion these people were unknowingly drowning her in.
She paused, blinking. Who was she? What was she? She hummed, gaze drawn upwards. To that blanket of night, cool and calm. She smiled softly as she returned her gaze to the trembling man.
“I am Sloth.” She answered, voice so soft it tempted those listening to simply drop into sleep where they stood.
“Why are you here?” The man asked. She blinked again and smiled. Soft, welcoming. A smile that promised safety, warmth. Several bystanders swooned, kept upright by their tools or trembling companions. Others burst into tears, dropping to their knees. Sloth’s wings fluttered, then spread wide as she stepped up to the drained man, offering a pale, slender hand tipped with dark clawed nails.
“I am here because you are all so tired.” She answered. “I have been brought here so that you may finally sleep a long restful sleep. Without fear of being woken before you are satisfied.” A snap of her fingers, and another moth burst into life in the center of her palm. But unlike the other moths, this one was soft, with smoothed edges, glowing faintly a warm teal color.
“Will we wake again?” Asked a pale and shaking woman. Eyes bright and wet.
“Yes.” Sloth answered. With a wave of her arm, she summoned more moths, letting them fly around her in loose circles.
“Will they?” Asked a different man, gesturing to their prone tormentors. Disgust and fear waring over his face. Sloth hummed, gaze skimming over the crowds faces. She saw, and felt, the call for blood, the hate simmering just beneath the human’s skin. Just barely outmatched by their exhaustion. She wondered if the slaves would kill the helpless men who had beaten them into the ground without a second thought. She wondered if she would care to stop them.
“Perhaps.” Sloth said, flashing her own sharp teeth. “Or perhaps they might learn from their nightmares.” As if staged, the slaves finally noticed the expressions of their tormentors; pinched, furrowed brows, trembling lips. Some twitched, as if fighting unseen monsters, some wept, while others had gone pale, softly begging.
The crowd turned back to Sloth. This strange monstrous woman circled by moths, who was now grimacing with malice as she stared beyond them. In the direction of the palace. The home of their real masters.
The crowd exchanged looks, then, as one, the all turned and walked away. Marching towards their meager barracks, followed the by gentle wingbeat of the moths. Some trembled in more than exhaustion, but there was no fuss as every single person settled down to sleep. The moment they were as comfortable as they were going to get, the moths descended. But unlike before, when the moths settled, they did not burst into mist.
Instead, they simple sat, perched on heads, slowly waving their wings as the people’s faces grew slack. For the first time in a very long time, the slaves slept peacefully and deeply. And with Sloth here, they would sleep as long as they needed.
Sloth herself smiled, breathing in clean air, tasting the sweetness of relief, of warm dreams. She felt light as her moths, her chest expanding, that horrible pull on her soul easing with every breath. She watched those dreamy, satisfied faces for a moment more, then she returned her attention to the palace.
Cold eyes narrowed up at the towers of stone. Her wings fluttered, and with a single jump, she was air-born. Flying swift and silent as a shadow.
Swirling mist and moths followed at her heels as she stalked her way through the castle halls, glaring at every glimmer of opulence. Guards fell into slumber in her wake. Servants slept deeper. She gave them all no more than a passing thought, they were not her targets. No, those lied above. She could sense the nobles asleep, warm and happy. She tasted the sickly sweet tang of their greed. Men and women who had never known a sleepless night.
Higher and Higher Sloth crept, casting terrible shadows, her mouth pressed into a thin line. Only once she stood at the foot of the first Noble’s bed, the owner of the palace and the people within and outside, curled up like a babe next to his wife, did she stop and smile.
Drawing in a deep breath, Sloth once again blew out a teal mist that spilled like syrup, but this time, the moment it hit the ground it twisted into flames that raced up the blankets, skittered across covered bodies, diving into the mouths of the couple. Another breath, a wave of her hand, and her mist slithered like great serpents out into the halls. Seeking his guests and advisors, seeking the corrupt and cruel. Who slept easy while their people suffered right outside their doorstep.
Sloth smirked as her magic locked them in their worst nightmares. These ones would never wake. Would suffer in their own minds as their bodies slowly expired. Nodding to herself, Sloth left her victims. Stopping only to pillage the softest blankets, pillows and furs to build a nest perfect for her own resting spot.
She woke just as the sun was peaking over the horizon to the rising frantic voices of the maids and servants struggling in vain to wake their tortured masters. With a huff, she rose from her nest and silenced their calls, and then the louder voices of the guards. They did not question her as she summoned them all to the Lord’s hall, decorated as a throne room.
Sloth told them what she had done, what she was not willing to undo, and what was to happen now. She saw their questions, drank in their bitter fears and concerns. She did not hide her monstrous looks, the powers she only barely understood herself, though she was sure she could be forgiven, as she had only come into being the night before.
But, as the hours turned to days, as their masters continued to sleep, as all people mingled, that wariness eased. And when finally the nobles were all dead and the denizens built themselves into a community, making the castle into a real home, did the fear of Sloth fade.
She kept them safe, from nightmares, from hunger, from those who wished them harm. With time, they all learned she was gentle, understanding despite her looks. The community flourished with Sloth watching over them, a vigilance that never wavered, even when she herself appeared to sleep deeply.
They lived in peace, at least until the army came. With their rage and bloodlust. With Sloth’s Brother.
(PS. This story is the origin of the version of Sloth from my story Stained White Claws. Please check it out and let me know what you think. I’ll be writing more to accompany Sloth.)