I sat across the fire and watched the young soldier make us dinner. He hadn’t changed out of his uniform, the blue wool studded with shiny silver buttons and insignia that caught the light. He was a servant of the Brotherhood, yes, but he also had the wet-behind-the-ears attitude that made me want to both trust him and protect him. He also seemed to know precisely what he was doing at the cookfire; the spitted rabbits appeared to be crisping nicely.
Clarinel curled up at my side and tried to stay out of the firelight, forcing me to turn half-away from the warmth to keep her within my arms. Balezor had given her his curly ram horns and she couldn’t get rid of them, so an inn was not an option and we had to depend on the young soldier’s kindness and discretion. I tried to comfort the girl while Alimore kept testing her demon for any reaction.
I watched a beetle crawl up my leg as I sat at the base of the tree. Alimore drifted content in the back of my mind and I flexed the ears that her form gave me, idly seeking movement in the still grove. She had broad vein-mapped ears, like a cross between cat and bat, covered in crystalline scales. Alimore’s scales: opalescent and butterfly fragile.
The oak, this forest of heartoak, loosened the chains with which the demon wrapped my soul and popped the stitches that tied her to my mind. I sat relaxed without having to fight her to breathe with my own lungs, and she floated disconnected.
She purred. Artificial peace, but we came here often.
My demon preferred raw meat, but the institute and my family served only cooked. I stayed civilized both places out of courtesy, a task easy enough when I did not change form.
On the odd days where I could hunt, I went for wild game - which was more about the chase than the result. I did not often give Alimore control of my body and when I did, she reveled in the permission.
I figured out a long time ago that I held something coiled around my core that spoke to me when I was asleep. Eventually the voices got louder and began to drown out the sounds of everyday life, but it was never a problem. It still would not be a problem if it was not for the girlchild dropped in my lap by a man I met once in my childhood. He remembered me for my wings and I remembered him for the shape of his pupils. The voices in my head that used to be comforting were now conflicted. Was I to help the girl or put her out of her misery? I leaned toward helping. My demon leaned towards death, but then… that’s what my demon was for me. A voice that forced me to make choices.