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His arrival is heralded by a bloody sunset. Sloth knows he’s coming long before she lays eyes on him. Long before the villagers she’s sworn to protect feel the weight of his power. There is another soul like hers, marching towards her, carrying feelings she does not want in her home.

His presence is so heavy, clogging the air with the thick phantom taste of copper and ash. The violence nearly cuts her tongue. Her humans feel it too, the oppressive weight of something stronger than anger, crueler than hate, even if they don’t actually understand. Sloth has to break up five meaningless disputes that end up in bloody fistfights before the first scout informs her of the approaching army.

She orders the people back to their homes, sending her moths after them as precaution. She doesn’t trust the figure to pull back his aura when she asks. She won’t have anyone disrupting her work. The navy blue of the night is just clawing it’s way down the sky when the army arrives on her borders. She meets them, teal magic curling around her hidden hands.

She stares into the multitude of blood-thirsty gazes. Trembling forms hiding hunger, exhaustion, and regret behind wicked smiles. Sloth frowns, eyes narrowed as she finally turns her attention to the soul leading the poor helpless soldiers.

He stands above the rest, easily seven feet tall, not including the sweeping red horns, covered head to toe in sharp crimson-stained obsidian armor. A sword in each hand, glowing orange-red with heat. He bares two sets of wings, large at the top, smaller at his waist. She can’t see his face, hidden by a helmet, but she sees his eyes; a deep crimson, burning with bloodlust and a hate so intense her eyes water.

Sloth closes her eyes, their marching thundering in her ears, and draws in a deep breath. She gathers her power, more than she’s ever dared to before, and breathes out. Her magic rushes across the field as several soldiers break formation to rush her, falling to the earth within seconds of touching the mist. Some soldiers falter, but most push on, rushing into the danger they know is there. She hears the screams of their souls, the call for death, but she doesn’t know if the sentence is meant for her or themselves.

Her kin snarls, rising into the air, far above the mist, arms trembling as his army falls to her power. She stares back, longing for a nap, and smiles.

Her kin screams, rushing at her. Unfurling her own wings, Sloth darts up and over him. His blades hiss, singing as they slice through the air. She flies low as he swings around, growling.

She frowns, watching as each powerful flap of his wings keeps her rising magic away. Mist wouldn’t work, her moths would likely meet the same fate, or be sliced to ribbons if they managed to get close. She didn’t want to fight, couldn’t really, not against him. She couldn’t dodge forever, and with how much power still burned in his form, she couldn’t hope to outlast him.

He rushed again, Sloth dropped, pulling her wings close as she dodged again and again. Swing, stab, swing. Down came his blades over and over as she danced around him, their movements blowing away the mist, his strikes leaving deep gouges in the earth. They skipped around the fallen soldiers, careful of splayed limbs.

She watched those crimson eyes dart to the fallen, saw them burn brighter before he pushed harder against her. Still, despite his efforts, he could not catch her, his blades not even managing to graze. Sloth, despite her reputation of always being sleepy and therefore slow, was in fact quite fast when she needed to be.

As her kin opened his mouth, likely to scream again, arms swung wide open, Sloth rushed him. Before he knew it, Sloth had scaled him, hooked her legs over his lower set of wings, and had slipped her hands under the edges of his helmet. Crimson eyes widened, frozen as she wrenched off the helmet, throwing it aside, and pressed her bare fingers against the sides of his skull. Hard.

Teal eyes burned as her magic fought his. He stumbled back, dropping his swords to claw at her. He got as far as lightly pressing against her sides before his eyes drooped. He swayed on his feet, eyes full of hazy teal light. He breathed out, filling her nose with heat and ash, before his eyes rolled back.

Sloth released her legs, just barely keeping hold of his head, catching herself as they fell. She turned his head, pointing those sharp horns away from herself as she made him comfortable in her lap.

She hummed as she brushed back his black hair. Black to her pale blonde, earthen skin to her porcelain. She smoothed her fingers against his furrowed brow, smiling as his features settled, aura finally dim and confined to his form.

She looked over the sea of new bodies. What was she going to tell her villagers when they woke?

(This story is a continuation of Somnum.)

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