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By the Fire

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The girl had fallen asleep. That…

It was not wise for a normal human to fall asleep in the presence of an Apostle. It was not wise even for a weaker Apostle to slumber in the presence of an Apostle of greater power. Prey wasn't supposed to let its guard down in front of a predator. To break this rule was to invite death. Anyone familiar with the way of the world knew this. The world of men could not have changed so much since last he had been a part of it.

Irvine was content to dwell in the deep forests where men had never tread and most Apostles never deigned to walk, for lack of satisfying prey. If there was no one to talk to or listen to, that was fine. No one to share songs or stories or fears with, no companions in the dark? He could not remember when last he had longed for such things. It was not for an Apostle, who had cast aside humanity, to long for human companionship. Better, instead, to forget.

Instead, he heard silence and the wind howling over the canopy of trees, to be interrupted by the keening death knells of prey animals and the notes of his lute. The world was gray and green and brown, except when it was stained with red blood. The days and nights blurred together. It must have been years, at least, since he made the sacrifice, but sometimes he wasn't even sure of that.

"…And then?"

"Before you know it, you yourself have become a beast as well."

It was a life he would have continued to live, whether or not it was a happy one, if not for the interruptions that had drawn him away. When the Godhand called, it was not for an Apostle to refuse to answer. If Griffith, or Femto (whatever name he used for himself in his own mind) called upon the Apostles to follow him, than it was not the right of any Apostle to refuse him. Irvine was only one of many who had come down from the forests and the mountains when the Godhand sent their summons.

Being amongst humans again… He had forgotten the noise, forgotten the tumult, forgotten how incredibly frail they were. Humans were prey for Apostles, for monsters, for desperately hungry animals and even for other humans. They shed blood and died easily, and if it wasn't the sword by which they died it was by plague, or the Sweat, or by other illnesses. Humans were forever too busy fighting one another and striving against what they could not defeat to come together. It was only under Griffith that they had even begun to grasp the idea of standing united and putting their grief aside long enough to look for the future.

If he thought about it for long enough, Irvine thought it was like looking into a mirror.

There was a tale in the village he had hailed from, a year or ten or fifty or even a century old. In this tale, there was a man who lived in the forest with his family, around a half-hour's walk from the nearest village. One day, the man came home to find his wife and daughter gone. He didn't think much of it at first—there were other homesteads scattered throughout the forest, and the nearest village was close by, after all. He assumed that they had gone calling on neighbors.

However, night fell and neither the man's wife nor their daughter returned. The man began to worry and went first to the other houses in the forest and then to the village to search for them. No one had seen them.

The man and his brother began a search the next morning. The forest was vast and there was only one road through it; the rest was tall trees and dense undergrowth. During this time, there had been sightings of a strange beast lurking in the woods and attacking travelers. Both the man and his brother were accomplished hunters; they neither feared this beast nor were they daunted by the vast area they needed to search.

After a week of searching, they finally found something. They found a severed arm belonging to a grown woman down by the river bank, and a large pool of blood around it.

For nearly a month after that, the man continued to search the forest, hoping that even if his wife was dead, he might still find his daughter alive. But there was no trace of her anywhere. It was as though she had vanished into thin air.

Finally, the man wandered deep into the forest one autumn morning, his brother following. No one ever saw either of them again.

Irvine had played some part in this tale. He was sure of that. But what had it been? The man, his brother, or the beast who had come for them all, in the end?

Sometimes, he wasn't certain. He could remember if he tried, but memory was such a self-serving thing that he couldn't be certain.

"Daddy! Look what I found in the creek!"

In her small hands there was a strange greenish object, the size and shape of an egg. It had two eyes, a nose and a mouth scattered across its surface.

And then, there was that.

The girl, Sonia was her name. Irvine had heard it spoken when first he had joined with the Band of the Hawk. The curious child who served as Griffith's seeress showed no fear, no matter what horror she was confronted with. Irvine wasn't sure whether to put that down to bravery or extreme innocence. He was inclined to think it the latter, given her youth and the sheer lack of genuine knowledge she displayed concerning those who fought alongside the human troops. Considering that she had fallen asleep in front of a creature belonging to a race that fed on human flesh, there was a yet more compelling argument in favor of extreme innocence.

On more than one occasion, an unwary human wandering away from the camp would vanish, never to return. By Griffith's order, Apostles were no longer to prey on humans, not even the Kushan prisoners, but you still had those who just disappeared. Children were especially vulnerable to such a fate.

…Better to ensure nothing like that happened to her.