The room shook with anger as Kaline clutched her brother close. Hardened wood dug into her feet. The handle of the knife she held in her little hand wavered as the room shook again and her hand steadied.
The world was at war and Kaline could feel it in the air. The taste of magic was acidic in her mouth, as she huddled against the world.
Smoke rolled up through the rail at the edge of the loft and Kaline could hear the crash of bodies entering. The war had reached their village and the orphanage would not be spared. She and her brother would go from slaving for one side to starving for the other.
Footsteps sounded along the stairs.
Kaline could feel Cowel’s teeth as her fingers dug into her brother’s mouth. Her breath caught as the stairs creaked. Kaline wanted to whimper but the sound would bring the hunter and they were not known for mercy.
The knife scratched against the wooden floor as Kaline began to trace. First, a sharp V surrounded by the eight twisting twirling lines spreading out from the maw-like-mouth of the broken triangle. The sounds of feet and bated breath clambered up along the walls and into the loft.
“The Monster will come.” Cowel cried and Kaline hissed at him for silence, finishing the scratched symbol in the floor. Her brother gave her a look of fear and whispered, “it’ll eat us.”
The world shook with magic and the feet on the steps halted as if in fear. The world held it’s breath. Kaline sucked on her lips and wept. The symbol on the floor wavered as her tears dripped down upon it, filling it with her fear.
She hesitated, weeping, unsure, afraid, before slicing the knife across her palm with a hiss. Blood and tears poured from her onto the floor, and she prayed, prayed to the one god that cared about orphans if the myths were true. The god of lost children, the Monster, the one all feared and none worshiped and yet if the risk could be stomached, orphans may beg its pity and accept its price.
But even with the blood nothing happened, Kaline sniffed and leaned back against the wall clutching Cowel closer. The world did not change, the crashing sounds of warriors below them did not stop, and the feet upon the stairs still slowly creaked their way closer.
The Monster was a myth, a legend, a story whispered in cold winter nights to call upon the innate fear everyone held in their hearts. The Monster was a legend, but one all knew was true, one that all shivered and hid from, but also one that could be called, and Kaline had just scrapped his symbol upon the floor and wept the tears and blood he loved.
Yet he had not come, he had not answered, the scratch in the floor was merely sharp scratches. Kaline crouched against the wall as the world began to shake again with magic. The world held its breath as a soft breeze began to blow through the air. The warrior upon the stairs was coming, and there was nothing the children could do to stop them once they came.
As the world shook dust filled the air. Something must have shaken loose because a blanket floated from the darkness of the rafters. Green wool streaked through with gold and red threads slipped to the floor before the children. A rumbled map of lines and twisting curves, it lay unmoving.
Kaline reached out with her small fingers and brushed the rough itchy fabric, wondering why it had been in the rafters. Cowel whimpered and she hushed him without looking back. The feet on the stairs took a tentative step as Kaline looked down at the blanket. From the stairs, wavy hair poked above the floor followed by a tanned head and muscled arms. Black cloth-wrapped tightly around the warrior that moved smoothly into the room.
Fingers dug into Kaline’s arm as Cowel stiffened. The warrior stalked along the loft’s edge and the world shivered. The blanket shifted as a wrinkle near the center moved with a slight bump.
The bump slipped and climbed, rising slowly up forming around the barest outline of a body as it unfolded from the floor and stood. Kaline was breathless as the blanketed figure swept towards the warrior standing looking down from the loft’s ledge. The figure was silent and breathless as the blanket dragged along the ground.
“Monster,” Cowel whispered and the warrior turned at the sound. The warrior jerked back as it took in the slow-moving figure. Hands grasped for weapons tucked into a belt but merely fumbled unsuccessfully. A body shook in fear and for once it was not Cowel or Kaline’s. The world stilled to a single solitary moment and Kaline for the first time in her life was able to breathe. A hand snapped out from under the blanket. Pale fingers wrapped around the warrior’s neck, with a crack, the body fell to the floor like a limp rag.
The blanketed figure turned and the wool swayed around the Monster. From the front, the blanket opened as it hung revealing a man’s shadowed face underneath. Long hair spilled out from around the blanket as the creature stalked toward the children. Kaline’s body froze in fear as a shadow rolled over her. The shadow nipped at her and she squeaked.
The blanket fell in a pile and the man who stepped out seemed to shimmer and shiver in the light, dressed only in bright ribbons crisscrossed and wrapped around and around until near no skin shown except the face. And just as Kaline’s sight began to adjust and take him in her eyes jerked to the bundle he handed down to her.
The voice that filled the loft was musical as it tinkled across the wood and danced around and around and around until it settled into Kaline’s ears, “can you hold her please, there is music downstairs.”
And with that, the bundle cooed and Kaline stared into the bright eyes and smiling face of an infant. She clutched the child to her small breast as she starred back up to the ribboned man, she had once called Monster.
He smiled as he stepped back and kicked the blanket over to her and danced along the wooden floor to the edge of the loft and leaped into the air landing smoothly on the railing with a pirouette and a bow. The ribbons that wrapped him wiggled and waved along the roaring gale of his laughter.
He balanced there smiling down at Kaline and the bundle in her arms, “Stay warm under the blanket little K, daddy has to dance.”
And with a laugh, he threw his arms down and out his fingers grasping at air. Greenlight poured down his arms and around his fingers sharping into broken lines of jade gloves ending in long sharp claws. The Monster reached out as his body tilted back from the rail and he began to fall, his arms thrown out and his hands splayed wide.
And as he slipped from view the screaming below began.