He was returning to his cottage after a successful hunt when he heard them. At first Stiles wasn’t sure if he’d imagined the soft cries and harsh whispers but he had enough of a sense of self preservation to duck down and let the foliage conceal him as he slowly crept towards the sounds that interrupted the peace of the woods that bordered his home. Stopping briefly to tug off his signature red cloak lest it be visible through the brushwood Stiles inched his way towards the increasingly hostile sounding voices.
Before his passing his father had often warned Stiles that his inability to stifle his curiosity and his tendency to leap before he looked would one day lead him into disaster. When he drew near enough to the disturbance to see that the angry voices belonged to none other than Katherine Argent and the school’s headmaster Adrian Harris, Stiles sent up a fervent prayer to the goddess Fortuna that today would not be that day.
As he peered through the thick underbrush Stiles tamped down his desire to angrily confront the pair and do them some manner of bodily harm. Kate stood over a little boy, a bloody knife clenched in her fist as the child lay whimpering on the ground, tiny hands clutching a wound on his stomach as Adrian edged slowly away from the carnage.
Stiles knew Kate was not one to be trifled with. The Argents were Purists and believed it their godly duty to exterminate all whose roots could be found in what they called “the dark arts.” They were, according to the bits and pieces of whispered conversations that Stiles had managed to overhear governed by some mysterious code that dictated just how that extermination was to take place and those they could and more importantly those they could not “hunt”.
Stiles knew that it had been Gerard Argent who had started the rumors that Stiles’ mother Lykaia had been a witch and it had only been his father’s position as Constable and the fact that Aleksander Stilinski’s ancestors had been among the town’s first settlers that kept the Argents at bay and allowed the family to live in relative peace.
Stiles knew his mother hadn’t been a witch but she had been…special. As a child Stiles had spent hours in the forest with her, learning to identify the different flowers and herbs and which ones could be made into potions and compounds for healing or harming, protection or defense. He had passed his days listening to her recite the stories of the various gods and goddesses of her people and learning how to properly honor and worship the deities or watching as she helped Alan Deaton heal townsfolk who would covertly seek their help after conventional medicine had failed to cure what ailed them.
Although Aleksander Stilinski had not shared his wife’s beliefs he had respected her enough to allow Lykaia to impart the wisdom of her people unto their only child and Stiles had learned his lessons well. After his mother’s death and Deaton’s “retirement”, the villagers had begun seeking Stiles out begging for his help with healing sickness or assistance in procuring a powder, charm or trinket for protection against evil in this realm and the next. Stiles had a strict policy of only performing acts that were for the greater good: healing, prosperity, protection and never for his own profit or gain. Part of his reasoning for that was because it had been his mother’s decree that his gift never be used for selfish purposes and the other part was simple self-preservation. With Aleksander’s passing Gerard Argent had grown in power and Stiles had to be careful to do nothing untoward lest he bring the Argents or the Purists they associated with knocking at his door.
Stiles knew the safest thing for him to do would be to creep quietly away and forget that he had ever seen anything but the idea of leaving the babe to fend for himself in such dire circumstances pricked at his conscience and would not permit him to retreat.
Pressing closer to the forest floor and easing forward a few more precious steps Stiles listened intently to the argument that Kate and Adrian were having and had to swallow his cry of shocked outrage when he realized they were arguing over how to best dispose of the child.
“I shan’t be party to killing a babe, Katherine. Not even one as devil born as he,” Adrian declared in a furious whisper.
“Tis not as if it would be a sin,” Kate argued back, shoving the knife towards Adrian. “He is Satan’s bastard. T’would be no black mark upon your soul.”
“Then you do it,” Adrian replied pushing the blade back to Kate.
“I cannot! Demon he may be but he is still of my flesh.”
Stiles covered his mouth to quiet his startled gasp. A few years prior Kate Argent’s fiancé, Duncan Lahey, had been killed in a mysterious accident while the two had been hunting. It had been rumored at the time of his passing that Kate had been with child but no babe ever appeared and people contented themselves in chasing down new scandals. Stiles realized the little boy bleeding in the dirt was Kate’s son and she must have been hiding him away all this time. Stiles also realized that there was no way she would have been able to do so without Gerard’s assistance, which meant the old man was in on the ruse and had conspired to hide the boy away to salvage both Kate’s reputation and keep any scandal from sullying the family name.
“Tis not right I take his life directly but,” Kate’s voice pulled Stiles from his musings. “Perhaps I do not have to if…” Kate trailed off and suddenly lunged, grabbing the injured child and making another slice across his arm and smiling in satisfaction as his blood spilled across the ground, “should such easy prey be found by a predator I cannot be held responsible for that.”
The child whined lowly, sounding more like a distressed puppy than a child and Stiles felt his heart clench. He was about to leap from his hiding place, consequences be damned when Adrian spoke up again.
“What be the difference? He’d still be dead by your hand.”
“Nay will he be,” Kate denied. “Twill be the beasts that stalk these woods that will be responsible for sending this demon down to hell, nay me.”
“Tis splitting hairs and you know it, Katherine! Whether you leave him as meat for the beasts or slit his throat by your own hand his death will still be of your doing!”
“I have yet to hear a better idea from you,” Kate hissed. “I am done here. Save the demon if you wish but I shan’t have any more to do with him,” Kate announced before casting one last contemptuous look at her son and striding away through the trees, Adrian a scant few seconds behind her.
Stiles stayed crouched in his position until he was positive that the duo would not change their minds and return to the woods. The entire time he hid he watched the little boy sob piteously. His unnaturally bright blue eyes spilled fat tears down his chubby cheeks and he fisted his golden curls, shoulders hunching forward as he howled out his misery. Stiles ached to go forth and comfort him but forced himself to remain hidden for a few minutes more. From what he had overheard it was clear to Stiles that Kate and Adrian, mayhap all of the Purists who knew of his existence, saw the boy as some sort demon spawn. So much so that Kate had been intent upon ending her own child’s life. Stiles doubted that Kate would take such a drastic step without Gerald’s approval and running afoul of Gerard Argent would do neither Stiles nor the little boy any good.
Stiles was contemplating whether or not it was safe for him to come out of the woods when the lad stilled suddenly and peered into the bushes as if he had somehow sensed Stiles near. Stiles bit down hard on his lip and tried to calm his racing heart. He knew that he had not rustled a leaf, disturbed a branch or made any manner of noise that would have alerted the child to his presence and yet the boy was staring at the spot where Stiles was concealed as if he were waiting for him to come forward.
Cautiously, Stiles stood up and slowly made his way over to the babe. When the child showed no sign of fear, Stiles quickened his steps and hurried to his side to tend to his wounds. His brow furrowed in confusion when he saw that the wounds were not as severe as they had appeared from his earlier vantage point and seemed to be knitting together and healing before his eyes.
Stiles blinked in surprise and then shook himself slightly. “Well that is as neat a trick as I ever did see,” Stiles remarked cheerfully, pushing aside his misgivings and smiling at the boy. “Now little one, I do not suppose you have any ideas as to how to make your mother and her accomplice think they have gotten away with murder, aye?”
The child stayed silent and Stiles took the moment to examine the boy and the state of his clothing. He was in little more than rags, his shirt and trousers tattered, torn and filthy. His skin was pale, almost translucent, as if he had been kept hidden away in darkness far from the healthy kiss of the sun but his eyes shone a brilliant blue, the likes of which Stiles had never seen.
The little boy remained silent as a stone and Stiles sighed. “Aye well, don’t share them all at once,” Stiles grumbled as he gave a longing look to the rabbits he’d caught earlier for his supper. “Looks as if tonight’s supper will be gotten from the garden after all. I hope you are a fan of leafy greens. Well, desperate times and all little one,” Stiles murmured to the child as he gently stripped him of his ragged clothing and tore it to shreds, scattering it to and fro throughout the small clearing and then skinning and draining the blood from the rabbits and spreading blood, bone and bits of the carcass throughout the clothes and making a trail of blood, bits of cloth and drag marks from the clearing to the woods.
“Tis not a perfect illusion but should hold up well enough. Now, my name is…well I shan’t inflict such cruelty upon such a small child as to try to pronounce that particular atrocity so how about you just call me Stiles, aye? And what be your name?” Stiles asked, wanting to confirm his hunch.
“Demon,” the little boy whispered, his eyes finding the ground.
“I should say not,” Stiles disagreed, struggling to keep his anger at bay and his tone soft. “What did your mother call you?”
“That tis what she called me,” the child replied softly.
“Of course it tis,” Stiles muttered angrily. “Well, listen here: you are no demon nor devil nor whatever else that harpy saw fit to dub you.” Stiles retrieved his cloak from the brush and wrapped it around the child. “Now, you will be needing a good, strong name, a name that will not embarrass you when you start your schooling. No my lad, no taunts in the schoolyard or wondering what you did to be punished by the gods for you. If you ask me more folks ought to recognize the power in a name and the burden they be saddling their babes with when they get all creative and start digging up family names from the old country that no one knows how to spell properly, let alone pronounce and then the poor child has a lifetime of mockery and misery ahead of them and even their friends point and whisper behind their backs and they can never get an engraving or monogram done because-,” Stiles stopped short when he realized that the little boy had stopped regarding him with suspicion and was instead quietly snickering. “Yes well, as I was saying, you will be needing a name. I think I shall call you…Isaac. Isaac tis a good name, should do you well.” Stiles reached out to ruffle Isaac’s hair and the child flinched away from the touch.
“I am sorry Isaac,” Stiles said softly. “I suppose you are not accustomed to much gentle treatment. How about we change that, aye? I promise you, on my parents graves, I shall never harm you nor let any harm come to you.”
“Tis okay,” Isaac said softly. “I can take it.”
Stiles felt his temper rise anew and he was sorely tempted to dig into his mother’s journals to find some manner of enchantment he could place on Kate Argent and all those who had done Isaac harm. He dismissed the thought as quickly as it came; it would serve Isaac no purpose if Stiles brought the wrath of the Purists down upon them by seeking vengeance. His mother had warned him often that enchantments sown with ill intent only reaped bitter harvests.
He smiled gently down at the little boy and held his hand out for Isaac to take. “I am sure you can, but from this point on you shall not have to. Would you like to come home with me, Isaac?”
Isaac stared at Stiles for what seemed like an eternity, and then he cocked his head to the side and his nose twitched, almost as if he were an animal scenting the wind, and his face broke into a small smile.
“Aye, Stiles. I think I would very much like to go home with you.”
“Come along then, Isaac. We have a hearty dinner of salad and bread awaiting us. If you are especially good this night, I might even rustle up a potato or two.”
Isaac frowned. “I like meat,” he said pouting a bit.
“As do I but I’m afraid we had to sacrifice this night’s portion to the greater good,” Stiles returned easily. “And potatoes are delicious.”
“Not as delicious as meat.”
“Probably not,” Stiles conceded. “But we shall make the best of what we have,” he said smiling as Isaac took his hand in his. Stiles knew he was being impulsive and his father would probably scold him for once again failing to assess the risks versus the rewards of this particular scenario but he also knew that at the end of the day, Constable Aleksander Stilinski would have done the same in his son’s place.
Stiles had never given any serious thought to being a parent and he was woefully ill prepared for the task but something in his spirit told him that this was his destiny and that Isaac had been placed in his path for a reason. Even though he had just met Isaac, Stiles had already developed a strong attachment to him. If Stiles had anything to say about it Kate would never get another chance to harm Isaac and any other Purist that meant the boy harm would have to go through him first. As Isaac looked up at Stiles, his beautiful blue eyes wide and innocent, Stiles couldn’t help but wonder what manner of madness had possessed the Purist so completely that they had thought such an angelic looking child could be a demon.
Stiles got his answer three days later when the moon rose full and heavy in the night sky and Isaac turned from man to beast before his very eyes.