They could say what they would about his aging weakness, his fading hearing and his faulty memory, but damn them all, his eyes were still sharp as ever. In truth he hadn’t been entirely certain at first, but sure as fire was hot, a lift of his latern revealed a pale form huddled silently a few feet away. She was crouched beneath a tree, knees pressed up against her chest and appearing as much alone and lost as any young woman he would expect to find this deep in the woods. Damn but it was dark, and despite the aid of his lantern, it was, as ever, threatening to flicker out. He had meant to pick up oil, he’d forgotten. In truth he had been rushed. Damn but she was paranoid. She had wanted him home quickly, too many rumours as of late about this or that, blah blah blah… he had become accustomed to tuning her out. In that, he was thankful for his fading hearing. Well, she’d have to forgive him this one. He wasn’t much for heroics but he also wasn’t much for leaving young girls to be lost in the woods and weigh on his conscience either.

He moved the lantern closer, dim light casting over dirtied skin, dirtied clothes and dirty hair. His expression soured at the sight and thought perhaps his smelling must be going to, for surely this tattered urchin stunk to the heavens.


No movement. He cleared his throat.

"Miss, ya’lright there?" he ventured louder though it came more as a froggy croak in his equal effort not to startle her. By the gods he hated when women screamed.

A moment more passed and finally the dirtied girl raised her head with the same sort of expediency one would expect from a groggy school-child roused reluctantly in the early morning. She murmmered something unintelligable, though he thought that perhaps that was his own fault, and her head wobbled back into her folded arms. He looked her over and his frown only deeped. Was she drunk? He didn’t smell that either. He gave her a cautious sniff to be sure. No, only the smell of earth and…

His lantern swung closer. What he had thought to simply be the lengths of the matted red hair spidering across her arms and clothing was what appeared to be, and smelled like, blood. He cursed inwardly that perhaps his eyes weren’t so keen afterall.

"Aye, girl, hey now, what happened here?" He did his best to project a fatherly sort of tone, but that too came in an awkward throaty croak, sounding more curious than concerned. And really that was the truth of it. How could he not be? He looked her over, what little of her flesh he could see, and for the life of him could not pinpoint a single wound from which that much blood would spring.

She murmmered something again. Damn but if she would just lift her head to speak. He set the lantern down and kneeled into the sticky mud beneath them, calloused hand reaching out to place tentatively on her shoulder. She didn’t recoil, and so he pressed onward.

"Hey now, I need’ya to speak up, girl, I’m an old man, ears ain’t what they used to be." He wasn’t quite sure what he’d do even if he got an answer, but well, he had to start somewhere. Nearest town wasn’t too far, if nothing else, he could heft her onto the cart and dump her at the closest inn. Leaving her to the woods was one thing, leaving her to a city where, surely, some altruistic soul might take pity on her, was another. She shifted under his hand and her head raised again, no more quickly than before.

Bright green eyes stood out in startling contrast against the dirty, bloodcaked face that rose to meet his own. He reflexively tumbled back from the surprise of it, his already shameful balance failing him and sending him arse backwards to plop sinking into the sticky mud. He groaned with exasperation and upon opening his eyes after having shut them against the pain of the fall, quickly noticed the lack of the lantern’s light. It, and the last dregs of its oil, had been knocked over and decidedly snuffed out. Damn but he’d wished he’d-

And yet, they were not quite as engulfed in the darkness as it had initially seemed. Those green eyes stared over at him, unblinking and unnatural in thier brightness, as if illuminated by some otherwordly light. Had he not been near pissing himself, he might have been fascinated by them. But as it were, he was alone in the dark, arse deep in mud, and faced with what was seeming less and less like a helpless young woman.

It felt like they sat there for eternity, enough time passing that he started to feel awkward, stupid really, sitting and staring as he was. He thought about all the stories he’d tuned half-way out from his wife, all the tales from when he was a boy. What had that thing been called? Wasn’t this when the monster lunged at him, tearing him limb from limb? Maybe he was wrong, maybe it was some trick that did that to her eyes.

He worked his tongue nervously over the dried surface of his lips, letting out a weak laugh. He made some self-deprecating excuse as to his fall and attempted to lumber back up and fish about for his lantern. All the while those green eyes watched him, and so he felt the fear creep back into his spine. Did she have to stare like that? He let out a muttering curse as he knocked a knuckle against the lantern’s edge, plucking it from the mud forcefully as if it held some burden of blame for his perdicament.

He fiddled with the oil well in the darkness to no avail, frustration prickling his already frayed nerves. Just as he was about to toss the damned thing into the woods, the lantern ignited with a bright and all-too intense flame. He squawked in surprise, nearly dropping the lantern and tumbling back into the mud again. But, only to add to his confusion, something kept him upright and the lantern in his hand.

It was the girl. When had she moved? Damn but she was fast. She stood before him, eyes fixed intently upon the brilliant flame, one hand atop his that grasped the lantern and the other gripping hard under his elbow to prevent his fall. He could do nothing but stare at her though the firelight. Magic. It gave off no heat, no sparks, did not flicker or falter. As sure as fire was hot, it was cold. It was as cold, and as lifeless, as the creature that stood before him.

With the glint of fangs revealed beneath the unnatural light, the word came unbidden from his shaking lips.


At that her gaze flickered away from the aether wreathed about the fuel-less wick and into the eyes of the terrified man. He had been there for some time, of that she was aware, but had paid little head to his presence in earnest. He was too old and her thirst too sated for him to draw her eye, or her ire. But at that word…

"Where did you hear that?"

He was visibly shaking now, her voice seeming to have brought some measure of the reality of the situation to him.


"’Strigoi’" she repeated, affecting an accent she had far from mastered and was, in truth, somewhat still ashamed to attempt. However, she felt it might ease him. "Tell me where you heard that word."

He looked utterly baffled, as if she had asked something more perplexing than the world’s greatest minds could riddle out. But his words came soon anyway, they usually did when faced with what many saw as their last moments. What had they to lose? Perhaps in their jabbering, they might spit out something worth more than their life and stay the visit of death for yet another day.

"T-tales! common… common tales!" she wrinkled her nose in disgust, his words punctuated with the slow but thorough wetting of his trousers. Having must thought her unsatisfied, he carried on in a more desperate voice. "The R-Romani! Come ’round, every now and then, tellin’ stories!"

She released him with such suddeness that he once again he found himself arse deep in the murk, but by the gods, this time he thankful for it. Sore, but alive, his eyes darted upwards to her, one hand thrusting the still-lit lantern up at her as if a ward against evil. Though she had created it of course, damn but he was stupid sometimes. Though, she merely remained, as still as a gravestone there in all her dirtied, gruesome nature. Her eyes seemed to stare at nothing for what felt like eternity before she spoke again, voice soft, almost shakey. She suddenly seemed very fragile to him, and against his better judgement, a measure of pity welled up above the fear.

"Where… where is he?"

He turned hesitantly to look over his shoulder in the direction of her gaze. Nothing but darkness. Surely she was talking to him? He looked back to her, all confusion and uncertainty with a heaping helping of terror, but still, curious all the same. His brow wrinkled and he parted his lips, more than ashamed at the squeek that eeked out of his throat.


Once again she seemed oblivious of him, and once again her voice came in that same demanding, pleading, shaking tone as before.


He cracked his lips to question again but stopped short as something… changed. He wasn’t sure at first, but damn what else they said, he had good eyes. And so he saw them. He saw the shadows. And moreover, he saw that they moved.

They swirled, snaked, shifted and turned like a great undualting mass of everything and nothing all at once. It was there in the corners of his eyes, and it was there right in front of him. But the aetherial flame seemed to keep it abated, or did it stay back of itss own wishes? Its own wishes? By the gods, what was he going on about? He shook his head, felt like the damned fog had rolled right in and settled low and creeping in his aching head.

He looked back up to her and she seemed no less confused, no less worried than he did himself. He wondered, could monsters feel? As quickly as the shadows began to move they had stopped again and left nothing but a sort of emptiness about her. Her lips seemed to part as if to attempt another question, but nothing came except that damnable pit of pity in his stomach welling up again.

"Where…" she seemed as if to start again, but her eyes shut tight, opening again with a more resolved look, her voice losing a measure of its shakiness. She looked to him instead and he felt his blood run cold.

"Where is the nearest city?"

He hesitated, biting his tongue. He couldn’t set this creature on his family, his friends. Well, a couple he might not mind her visiting, but all the same, best to not. What he did not stop however, was the unintentional flicker of his eyes in the direction of Narrowhaven. And she, bright green gaze upon him, did not miss the gesture.

And without another word, and without a sound, she was gone.

And damned but if he wasn’t still stuck arse-deep in the stinking mud.

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