Have We Met Before?

…Yes, we have.

The first time was when you were just a child. You probably don’t remember, you were so young and so tiny. Then again, that’s really not saying much, since practically everyone and everything is tiny in my eyes. However, out of all the humans I have ever encountered face-to-face, you are the one who looked the most vulnerable. And yet, you approached me anyway. That always fascinated me.

I had been caught in a trap before you had walked in. A foolish mistake on my part, but it happens. I had been roaming around the forest, minding my own business, when the scent of gold and jewels began to overwhelm me until I focused on the chest that held the trove, safely nestled in a clearing. As soon as I dove down to claim the treasure, chains sprouted from the ground and wrapped around my body, wounding tightly around my snout, keeping my mouth shut. I’m not even sure who set up the trap—probably some ambitious teenager who had earned enough scratch to buy it from one of the travelling markets—all I remember is the feeling of helplessness and disappointment. (I had been really looking forward to adding the treasure to my collection back home.)

For hours, I struggled against the chains, trying to pull them from the ground as well as wrestle my snout free from their grip, but every time I would try, it was as if the chains would tighten. It soon became a little painful, like there were pins and needles piercing my hard flesh.

By the time the sun had started to sink, I had begun to feel bored and maybe a little hopeless. I have lived a long time, you know, enough to see too much and live through too much. At that time, I had come to expect my end to come at the hands of the ground-folk; it had become a common occurrence ever since the War.

Don’t give me that look, it really isn’t as tragic as it sounds. After all, I’ve slain my own share of ground-folk in my day, and I’m not ashamed of it.

Having grown used to silence, you appearing from behind the trees was a little…startling, to say the least. I’ll admit, your looks certainly didn’t help. Though there was plenty of dirt on your face and sticks and leaves in your curly hair—you must have been wandering the forest for such a long time—nothing could hide the lack of color in either your skin or hair. I have never seen such a disturbing amount of whiteness, at least not on a human being. I have heard tales of such humans (and creatures, sometimes) born with such a condition, but I had never come face to face with one.

I must have been the first of my kind that you’d ever encountered, because your walk towards me was slow and cautious. Not that you didn’t have a right to fear, of course. As I’ve said, I’ve slain many a human, and I’m pretty sure many were children as well. If circumstances had been different, you would have been roasted before you’d even taken a step towards me.

Sorry, but it’s true.

I guess one can say it was fortunate that my mouth was prevented from opening. If I had killed you, my future (as well as yours, I suppose) would have turned out differently.

“Um, hello,” you said to me, voice shaking. “A-are you hurt?”

My eyes narrowed as I exhaled harshly through my nostril. Really, what were you thinking, asking such an obvious question?

“Y-yeah, I suppose that was a stupid question.” For a few moments, you looked around, chewing on your lip, then faced me again. “Okay, I’m going to try to get you out.”

As if that didn’t sound suspicious. No child would ever help something like me, not unless they were stupid or hadn’t been told of my kind. Perhaps that had been the problem. You didn’t know we were supposed to want each other dead. Though I couldn’t open my mouth, I could lift my lips enough to reveal my sharp teeth, as well as release a warning growl.

You gasped and jumped back, eyes getting wide, tears beading at the edges. (Stupid child, I couldn’t help but think. If you’re so scared, why aren’t you running away?) It was then I realized that not everything about you was colorless. Your eyes were an odd shade of light blue, one that would look like a little purple under different tones of light. If I didn’t know any better, I would say there was something unnatural about you.

But you didn’t run. You took a few breaths, trying to calm your tiny little heart, then swallowed. You held out one arm, your palm open as if to calm a wild animal, and your other hand held onto your raggedy skirts as you started walking towards me again.

“It’s…it’s okay,” you said. “I won’t hurt you. My name is Nemo. Everything’s going to be okay…”

Nemo? I remember thinking, my brow raised a little. Who would give that name to a female, let alone a small one? Humans are such strange creatures.

“…Do you have a name?”

Of course I do, but I wasn’t going to tell you. The name I’ve given you now isn’t even the real one. Why? Because it’s a dangerous thing, telling someone your real name. Didn’t you know?

Once you were close enough to my head, close enough for me to see how much you were visibly shaking, as well as the satchel you were gripping in your pale little hands, you swallowed once again.

“I’m going to…I need to get close to your,” you looked at my mouth and inclined your head towards it. “Is that okay?”

I blinked, my eyes still narrowed and suspicion still brewing in my belly. But you were so small, what harm could you do? I let out a snort and closed my eyes, waiting.

You let out a relieved sigh and then walked slowly to my mouth. I opened one eye to see you reaching into your bag and taking out a handful of some glittering powder—Seriously, did this child just come from school or something? How is arts and crafts supposed to help?—and then you started to rub the substance all over your hands.

Once you were certain that it’s rubbed in, you turned back. You reached up and lay your hands on the chains. Closing your eyes, you started to murmur an enchantment, in a language that was so old, and yet so familiar on my ears. I thought I would never hear it again.

The language of the Mages… There was no way you had learned that on your own, however basic the magyk was. Someone had been teaching you, but who? And what Mage would have deemed you worthy of teaching, of all people?

…Oh, don’t give me that look. You would have asked the same question, if you were I.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much from you. You were, what, six years old? No Mage-child I’ve known has ever mastered anything until they were at least ten.

Practice, you say? How long? Ten hours, you say. Are we talking each day? Well, sounds like a certain someone didn’t have much of a social life.

Learn to take a joke, child, even a bad one. This won’t be the last, not as long as we’re in here.

Anyway, as it turns out, I had underestimated you. (Oh, don’t smirk like that, it happens to the best of us.) Whatever spell you had whispered had managed to soften the hard metal in the chains. When I realized that their grip wasn’t as strong anymore, I attempted to stretch my stiff limbs, to finally break the metal off me. You placed a stern hand on my snout, clearly in some ridiculous attempt to hold me back.

“Just wait a minute. I’m almost done.”

I snorted, hoping some smoke got in your eyes, but I did as you said. No matter how weak they might have felt, the chains’ spell could still be in effect if I moved. From the corner of my eye, I saw you press harder against the chains on my mouth and continue to whisper the enchantment. Then I closed my eyes again and waited—it wasn’t long before I felt the metal practically melt from my body.

Yes, I thought before flexing my muscles, and then opened my mouth wide enough to shake the chains away. Nothing tightened their hold on me. I was free to go.

With that final reassurance, I shook off my shackles and stood up to my full height, my head reaching above the tall trees. It felt good to be able to see above everything again, to feel the cool air on me, but I was eager to head for my home, to my cavern full with piles of gold and jewels. I was just about to spread my wings and take off when I heard something. When I looked down, I saw that you were smiling and jumping around, clapping your hands.

“I did it…I actually did it! Oh, wow, Mom’s going to be so proud of me, I can’t wait to tell her—”

Seems that you had underestimated yourself as well. I probably should have been angry at you, considering that you had made a huge gamble for one so young, but the fact that whatever you had done did work stilled any of that.

And yes, you had impressed me, just a little.

I leaned my head down again, back to a few feet above your head—which you quickly realized after a moment of cheering for yourself. You looked up at me with wide eyes and took a step back.

I could have eaten you. I was even tempted, for just a moment, seeing how weak you were, how easy it would have been to destroy you. Even a child with magyk wouldn’t be a match for me. And I wasn’t really afraid of what your mother—who I’d correctly assumed was also a Mage—would have done to me. (Though, to be fair, I didn’t know who she was at the time.) It would have been easy.

But never let it be said that my kind has no concept of honor—especially towards those who would do us such a kindness.

So, I bowed my head in thanks towards you, Mage-child.

You stared at me, your mouth dropping. I would have laughed at your expression if I wasn’t feeling so somber about my own mortality at that moment, as well as grateful that you had come to my aid. You kept looking at me for a few moments before giving me an awkward curtsy, then a small, crooked smile.

I gave you another nod, then lifted my head up high. Finally spreading my wings, I lifted off and left, expecting to never cross paths with you again.

Funny how life works, isn’t it?

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