The full moon’s glow wasn’t soft and milky like she’d thought it would be; instead, it bathed her in harsh white, making her skin prickle with unease. Walking under the midnight sun was forbidden to her kind, as Malrin well knew, because it peeled away illusions and left only truth in its wake.
But it was worth the risk.
Ghosts and goblins whispered through the darkness, calling to her. Malrin ignored them, uncaring that their evil gazes followed her every step. They hid from the moon, keeping themselves shrouded in shadows and gloom. Hiding like rats, she thought with disgust.
Such insignificant little demons weren’t what had called from her home, nor would they stop her with their wicked whispers. As the mother of a monster, she was protected from them. The Skyborn, however, would not flinch at stopping her.
She was out at the wicked hour, when evil was most tempted to roam. The Skyborn would assume—rightly—that she’d been claimed for darkness as a creature without hope of redemption. Her head would fall from her body should they find her, and she had no protection. The Skyborn were not mortal nor demon, and their justice was final.
Rising from a Skyborn wound was impossible, no matter who she’d birthed.
A howl sliced the eerie night, blending pain and fear into a sharp blade. The whispers of the lesser demons vanished as they cowered, but Malrin grinned. There was only one beast who could squeeze such exquisite sounds from the living: her son.
He'd fled into moonlight, tempted by the draw of wickedness that filled the dark.
She followed the keening whimpers following that first shout of agony, her feet sure as they led her deeper into the night; though the moon’s light cut into powers of illusion, Malrin’s instinct was strong. Finding her little monster would be easy.
“Wicked one,” she called, her voice lilting. “Where are you?” A squeal from the shadows made her grin. “Are you playing hide-and-seek, my evil love?” she teased.
“No,” replied a deep voice.
Malrin gasped and stumbled back. A Skyborn! The warrior stepped forward and she trembled. He was tall and broad, and at least a foot taller than she was. But that is not what made her pale in fright. She pitched forward, grasping at the little body dangling from his arms.
The Skyborn held her son up, just out of reach, and Malrin whimpered. “Please!” she begged, “He is just a boy!”
The warrior’s laugh rang out, making her wince. It was a pure, good sound that grated on her; even her bones tingled with his mirth. “Young does not mean good,” he said. “You think to fool me?” he shook her child, causing her precious son to cry.
“Please! I’ll do anything you ask!” She dropped to her knees. “Anything!”
The Skyborn looked thoughtful, and Malrin felt a glimmer of hope. “Anything?” he asked.
“Yes!” She crawled to his feet and groveled. “He is my only child, my whole world. Please spare him!”
“I’ll accept your plea,” the Skyborn said.
Malrin looked up, shocked. She’d thought he was just teasing her, torturing her before beheading them both. “Thank you,” she breathed.
A grim smile creased his face. “It won’t be free, little witch. Don’t thank me until you hear my terms.”
Malrin cringed, but didn’t look away from his piercing gaze. “Anything,” she repeated, her voice soft.
The Skyborn chuckled. “Not many such as you would give up anything for their progeny. Your little monster,” he shook her son again, causing him to wail pitifully, “must be special.”
Malrin felt a tear—the first in a hundred years—fall down her cheek. “I love him,” she confessed to the Skyborn. Such a feeling was despicable to her race; it marked her as a traitor.
The Skyborn didn't even blink at her confession. His holy gaze was unwavering as he said, “Then willingly agree to my terms and I will spare his life." He paused to let his words sink in, and Malrin nodded vigorously. She'd vowed anything, and she'd meant it.When he spoke again, his voice was softer, as if he were breaking bad news. "First, you must make peace with your own death; you shall not grow older than you are tonight."
She'd expected it, so she nodded again.
"Second, give unto me this child to raise as my own.”
Malrin gasped. “You?” It was inconceivable. Her child was born of evil and magic, a true monster. He looked mortal, but his soul was fire and ash.
“Did you ever wonder where Skyborn come from?” the warrior asked. He looked down at her son, a hard glint in his eyes. He dropped the boy, and her little monster whimpered as he hit the ground.
Malrin scrambled over and cuddled him, rocking gently as she felt his familiar little body shudder against her own. Already knowing it was the last time she’d ever hold him, she closed her eyes and breathed in his scent; she absorbed it into herself so she’d have it to cherish once she was banished to hell upon her death.
“We, the Skyborn, are not a race,” the warrior said, his words falling from his tongue in a cadence, as if recited from memory. “Born into the world, we are first creatures of dark. Some are birthed by humans. Others are spawned by demons. But only a few spring from the wombs of witches.” He looked down at Malrin’s son with something akin to affection. “But despite what we were born to be, we were taken. Bathed in glory and goodness, our bodies and souls are reborn and molded into warriors. But, of course, none of it can happen without free will—and sacrifice. That’s where you come in. If you wish your son to live eternally, you must willingly agree to die by my sword.”
Malrin’s heart broke. “And he’ll be your next conversion,” she whispered. More tears slipped freely down her cheeks. Her beautiful little monster whimpered in her lap, his body quivering. He was perfect, malicious and cruel, and the thought of him being warped…it hurt to even think it.
But worse was the soul-deep knowledge that the Skyborn warrior would kill them both if she didn’t agree. As much as she hated the thought of her child changing into a beacon of righteousness, she hated the thought of him dying even more.
With trembling lips, she pressed a gentle kiss to her son’s head. When she looked up at the Skyborn towering above her, she felt fear. It wasn’t often that a witch felt anything at all, but birth—and now death—were taking a toll on her emotions. “I agree,” she whispered.
The moon’s white light glinted on the warrior’s sword as he whipped it out of its scabbard. Malrin closed her eyes and shoved her son from her lap so he wouldn’t be in danger. The whistling sound of a blade cut through the night…