Elin is on the run from something worse, though. Life with the bandits is almost tolerable, despite how they treat her. But when snowy isolation grips her small group of travelling companions and emotions start to get more heated, she finds an ally in their leader, Ara’bor.
Will he be able – or willing – to protect her from the cruelty of others? Or will it be up to her to fight against a world that was never ready for someone like her?
Buy now: Amazon
The past spread out behind Elin like a bottomless pit. A dark crevice that sank into oblivion, the maw of hell itself that ate at her soul. The future, as ever, seemed a short and narrow road with an abrupt end.
Yet there were moments where even she, in her short, brutal life, could appreciate the sheer beauty and grandeur of the world. Staring out over the mountains and valleys, the snow-capped tips that pierced the clouds, contrasted to the green fields below. In such a wide and magnificent world, there had to be room for one like her. Part of her still said that, even after the constant betrayals, the violations of her trust and self.
Yet it was oh so small a part of her. Smaller than the young girl who sat at the rug before the fireplace, smiling up at her newly adoptive caretaker. Seeing his expression and mistaking it for all its intents. Seeing only something akin to affection, not the darkness that drove it.
Smaller than the magical knowledge she had gleaned from him, before she’d served her purpose and was cast out.
Smaller than the pool of men in whom trust had not been a complete folly.
Small, but not gone.
Looking along the valley, her eyes caught sight of a small raven, trapped in a chilled patch of brambles. It squawked, and her stomach rumbled with need. She’d been stuck so long in the mountains, hunger an ever present companion.
She should have taken its misfortune as opportunity. Raven was not particularly good eating, but any meat that could be scraped from its bones would’ve nourished her and her party all the more.
Instead, Elin avoided its pecks as she freed it, and watched it flutter into the chilly air with a caw.
She might have been a monster to many, but there was still a part of her that was human. A little flame of warmth that begged to be fanned.
She’d not regret sparing the helpless little creature.
City life had never agreed with Elin, the curse of her birth — not quite human, not quite demon, but something else entirely — followed her everywhere.
The human’s hatred, their ire, was present in the mobs at the market, the caretakers of the orphanage, the guards who should have protected her.
She was finding that life in the wild, however, had its own harsh realities. None of which she was prepared to face alone.
Ragged, alone and starving from her attempt to live off the land, she turned to violent crime. Or tried to.
She tried never to dwell on those dark times, when scrawny from starvation, she desperately tried banditry on her own. Even her magic began to fail her in those times, without the concentration to focus it, only the gnawing of her empty stomach to fill her thoughts.
That was a low point for her. The lowest point. Not that she hadn’t been worse off, but she had been her most capable of dealing with life then. A woman, not a child. Versed in rudimentary spells. A life of experience. And yet despite all of that, she had faltered. Failed.
Though just when she was at her weakest, and out of desperation, she tried to rob the worst of targets.
And something happened.
It was no fairy tale meeting. Her saviour was not a prince, even if he was more dashing than the average criminal.
Ara’bor was a towering man, with jet black hair and an imposing physique. Someone she had no business trying to rob even at her best. But where other men would have crushed the life out of her, or left her for dead for trying, he took pity upon her. Or else saw something in her. Something of promise, of value.
Brigands don’t know pity, after all. Pity left them the moment they were forced to live outside civilization, with death but an inch or a missed meal away.
She became the first of his new band of cutthroats. The terrifying witch that loomed at Ara’bor’s back. Ready to reign fiery death upon his foes.
It was not the existence she, nor any girl, dreamed of. But as she sat upon a cold stone in the mountains, looking down upon the towns below, she knew it was the only life that was left for her.
“Come on, we’re headed back,” came the swarthy man’s deep voice, snapping her out of her moment of reverie. Her ‘dangerous introspection’, as her new captain put it.
“Alright,” she said, and rose up. Their band leaving behind another ransacked wagon along the side of the road.
It was never good to dwell on the things that had to be done, he’d told her so many times. It all came down to survival.
And guilt was a burden that would weigh both of them down. They always had to be focused on survival, not the past.
Get the rest: Amazon