Gerald heard strange voices nearby. He opened his eyes and blinked as the bright morning light assaulted his eyes. After his eyes adjusted to the brightness, He looked around for Hope. She wasn’t asleep next to him like usual. He couldn’t see her on his side of the altar either. He heard a few mumbled voices coming from the other side of the altar. Maybe she had made friends with some local animals. He stood up and walked around the altar, his hooves clacked on the stones.
“Hope...?” His voice trailed off as he noticed the humans in front of him. They had their backs to him. Oh crap. More humans. He started walking backwards, not taking his eyes off them. The altar entered his peripheral vision when one of the little humans stuck their head out from behind the larger humans. A little boy looked at him, a big smile spreading across his face. He pointed towards him as he made a loud, strange noise that caught the attention of the others. They looked at the boy and looked where he was pointing, murmuring softly to each other. They spoke in a language Gerald couldn’t understand. He tried to move back but his legs wouldn’t respond. Suddenly, from within the group, he heard a familiar voice. “Gerald? Don’t be scared. They aren’t going to hurt us.” Hope? He took a step forward. Then another. Without thinking, he descended the small flight of stairs that led down to the benches. The humans parted enough to allow him to walk through as he approached. Sitting on the bench was a dark-grey skinned female human wrapped in a fur coat with long, brown hair, grey animal ears with white tips and eyes that were completely red. He stepped closer. “H… Hope? Is that you?” He inquired.
The grey human smiled softly and nodded slowly, “Morning, fangless.”
His eyes slowly dropped as he took in what was now Hope. She had gotten bigger and her legs had lost their fur. When his eyes got to her ankles, he noticed that although she looked a lot like a human, she still had hooves compared to the long flat things the humans had at the bottom of their legs. “What happened to you? How do you even look like that?”
“Um, I’ll tell you later, okay?”
Gerald nodded once in approval and walked up to the now-human version of Hope.
“Who’s this little one?” The man asked, looking back to Hope.
“This is my brother, Gerald.” Hope placed a hand on the back of Gerald’s head, her fingers sunk into his tuft of light brown hair.
“He’s your brother?” The girl asked, “But he’s an animal.”
“So am I,” Hope said.
“No, you are not. You’re a human. Like us.” Alma stated as she rested a hand against her chest.
“She isn’t like us, honey. She’s a demonblood. A human demonblood.” The woman said. “Notice the eyes, ears and the feet?”
“Oh, right.” The girl sounded disappointed by the fact.
Hope chose to keep her mouth shut. She had no desire to tell them that she had spent most of her life as an animal. She thought more about what her brother had called her the day before and it seemed all the more plausible.
She lent over and looked her brother in the eyes while she placed a hand on his side. His fur felt coarse and warm against her cold hand. “Gerald, this is Tesou and his wife, Barris. These two small ones are called Alma and Ira.” She had pointed first to the man with the long hair, then to the older woman followed by the young girl and then the boy. Gerald took a long look at Alma. She looked similar in size to Hope. Her skin was tanned, her eyes were the same blue as the long dress she wore and her long, brown hair was tied back in a ponytail. He looked back at Hope, “You look a lot like her, you know. How old is she?”
“She’s seventeen,” Hope said.
“Really? No wonder she looks similar. She is only one winter older than you.” He then turned to Tesou. “Why haven’t you tried to kill us yet?”
Tesou did not seem to acknowledge his question even though his attention was on him.
Gerald waited patiently for an answer. After a moment of silence, he was beginning to get frustrated. “Well!? Why haven’t you tried to kill us yet?”
Tesou merely smiled and extended an arm towards Gerald. “My, aren’t you a noisy one?” Before Tesou got to touch him, Gerald barred his teeth and gave a low growl. Tesou pulled his arm away. Gerald’s growling stopped.
“Yeah, he isn’t fond of humans. Especially after last night.” Hope said.
Tesou and Barris looked at each other briefly before turning back to Hope.
“What happened last night?” Barris asked.
“A hunter tried to kill him.”Hope stated.
“How did you two escape?” Barris inquired.
Hope shifted uncomfortably. “We ran through the forest...”
“And...?”Tesou encouraged. “I imagine a hunter would know his way through the woods.”
Hope raised a hand to her chest. The gash she had received from the hunter the night before had almost healed overnight. All that remained was a thin scabby mark and some fresh blood that had oozed out while she slept. “He did but I knocked him over and did something terrible.”
Noticing Hope’s body language, Barris asked her children to fix up the altar.
“Awww, I wanna stay here with the demonblood,” Alma complained.
“Listen to your mother, kids. The sooner this place has been cleaned up, the sooner we can go home.” Tesou said.
Alma and Ira both groaned loudly as they hopped off the bench and walked towards the altar.
Gerald watched as Hope conversed with the humans, only able to understand Hope’s side of the conversation.
After a while, Gerald looked up to Hope and asked, “What are they saying? I can’t understand them.” Gerald asked.
“They are letting us stay with them for a while.” Hope explained.
“Why would they do that?” He looked up at Hope, who looked back at him and shrugged her shoulders. He turned to the humans, “Why would you be so kind to us and let us stay with you?”
After about thirty seconds of no response, Hope spoke up. “He asked you a question, Tesou. Can you at least answer it?”
“You can understand him?” Tesou asked, his eyes blinked rapidly.
“You can’t?” Hope answered, clearly confused at his response.
“All I hear is something that sounds a lot like barking,” Tesou replied.
“I do too,” Barris stated. “What did he say?”
“He wants to know why you’re letting us stay with you. Come to think about it, I would like to know why as well.”
“We couldn’t just leave you out here. Isolated and in the cold without any clothes. It wouldn’t be right.”
“What are you doing here, anyway? You never said.” Hope asked, changing the subject.
“We come here every day. As the chaplain of our village, I am in charge of keeping this sanctuary clean and making sure the blessings are looked after. We also came to say our prayers. Every night of the double full moon, we hold a ceremony to honour the demons for their Sacrifice.
“Who do you pray to?” Hope asked.
“Why? To Mother Earth of course and on occasion to the other 3 original demons. How about yourself? Who do you pray to?” Tesou boasted.
“I… have never prayed before.” Hope felt her cheeks beginning to get hot, the new sensation confused her and her mind raced.
“Gods!” Barris gasped. “You have never prayed before? Not even when you were a child?”
“Not that I remember. We were too busy looking for food and watching out for predators.”
“Do you know which demon you are a descendant of?” Tesou inquired.
“I...I’m not sure. How does one know?”
“Hmm. That is a good question.” Tesou said as he stroked his beard, “I’m not entirely sure myself. I have heard the legends of a human demonblood a few times but I have never seen one before. Legend has it that they disappear shortly after being noticed. I’m not sure what actually happens but we can protect you if you stay with us.”
Hope was about to respond when Alma yelled from the altar, her voice echoing off the walls
“We have finished fixing the altar. Can we go home now?”
“Yes, we can, sweety. We have finished with the adult talk anyway.” Barris replied calmly.
After what seemed like an hour of walking, Ira had gotten onto his father’s shoulders and teased Alma as they went home. It wasn’t long before they saw the village that Tesou had been talking about most of the trip. Hope was shocked to see so many houses and humans so close together. There were huts of various sizes made from stone with a timber frame visible on the outside.
As they walked into the village, the villagers looked up from their work and greeted the family as they came back into town. She began to scratch at her arms beneath the coat and bite her lip. She had never seen so many humans before. Their attentive gazes made her want to run and hide. Hope pulled the coat tighter and tried to hide her head beneath the fluffy coat, silently wishing they would ignore her. The villagers enquired about the new person and the animal who was with them but Tesou merely told them to gather the rest of the village and meet them under the tree in the centre of the village
Once they reached the tree, Tesou climbed onto a low stone wall that surrounded the tree and yelled, “Friends, family, pilgrims, as some of you may have seen, we have someone with us today.” He held his arms out to either side. “This morning as my family and I were up at the sanctuary, we found a stranger curled up against the altar, sleeping next to a tufted deer.”
“Awww, how cute.” A young female’s voice rung out.
“How dare they bring a filthy animal into our sacred sanctuary?” Came a croaky voice.
“Kill the heretic!” One shouted.
“Send them to the mine.” Another shouted from the back.
Tesou made a placating gesture towards the crowd, “Please, please. Calm down. Let me finish.” The voices quietened and Tesou continued, “This stranger was cold, confused and hurt. She may not be one of us, but she is not one of those damned demon haters either. She is no ordinary human. I believe she may be a human demon blood. I present to you, Hope.” Tesou pointed to Hope with an outstretched hand with his index finger curled into his palm. The crowd looked to where he pointed. Hope cowered behind Barris larger frame.
“Don’t be afraid, hun. They won’t hurt you.” Barris turned and whispered, patting Hope on her hand.
Tesou curled his fingers up and down, “C’mon, Hope. Come up here. Please?”
Ira nudged at her side while Alma tried pulling her arm on the other side. Hope looked down at Ira and then to Alma. Alma smiled back at her, motioning with her head for Hope to go forwards. Hope let herself be pulled aside and walked forward. When she reached the low wall, Tesou bent his knees, grabbed her arm and pulled her up onto the wall. Her hooves clacked as they struck the stones. She held Tesou tightly as she turned to face the crowd, taking care not to fall over in front of all the people.
The crowd let out a collective gasp as they saw her. A few of the humans made a gesture with their hands while some whispered comments to the person next to them.
“H...h...hello,” Hope said nervously, her ears were splayed flat. More murmurs arose from the crowd.
Hope looked vastly different to Tesou. Her skin was a purply grey compared to his olive skin. Three small, white dots sat above the inner halves of each eyebrow, decreasing in size the further away they were from her nose, tiny grey horns could just be seen through her brown, shoulder length hair and her solid red eyes glowed in the shade. The top of the eight white marks under her eyes reflected the glow from her eyes. The villagers stared at her, unsure of what to say. Before anyone could say anything, Tesou continued, “Now, I know what you’re thinking but trust me. I believe she was drawn to us for a reason. A reason that is beyond my understanding. Both her and Gerald, the little animal by her feet will be staying with my family. They are guests in our village. I must ask you all to be a little patient when dealing with them as they are unfamiliar with our ways.”
Hope saw a couple of men wearing yellow hats running up one of the side streets. She turned towards it but faced an empty street that led out of the village, along the side of the hill. A couple of others turned to where she looked, only to look confused and shake their heads. A moment later, a couple of people wearing bright yellow hats started running up the street.
As the people came closer, the villagers turned towards them. When they were one house away, one of them rested against a house with a hand rubbing his forehead while the other placed his hands on his knees, breathing heavily.
The one who had his hands on his knees tried to speak. “Help. Trouble… mine… fell.” He managed to say in between breaths.
A few of the villagers that heard what he had said and rushed towards their huts. A large woman in a green and blue dress wandered over to the one resting his hands on his knees. She grabbed a pouch made of animal skin from her belt and handed it to the wheezing man. “Easy there, darling. Take your time.”
The man took the pouch from the woman and drunk heavily before he handed it to the person who had run with him, who quickly finished off the liquid in the pouch. The crowd began to thin out as word spread through the crowd. Those that didn’t rush off to get tools, moved closer to the two runners.
“What is going on here?” Tesou yelled over the commotion as he hopped down from the wall and strode through the crowd. Barris and Alma helped Hope get down from the wall before they too walked towards the front of the crowd.
“There was a collapse in the nearby mine and some of the miners got trapped down there.” One of the miners said. People came out of their huts with shovels and pickaxes and rushed off towards the mine.
“When did this happen?” Tesou asked.
The miners exchanged glances, “I’m not sure. Sometime before dawn?” one said, uncertain.
“It must have. Something like that would have shaken the ground and put a lot of dust in the air. I didn’t feel the ground shake on the way there.” the other confirmed.
“Why did it collapse?” Hope asked.
The miners looked at her then to each other. “That’s just it. We don’t know. There were plenty of supports and that section seemed rather stable. It just collapsed.”
“Nothing “just” collapses. Something must have caused it.” A villager shouted.
“That new girl must have done it.” Another villager pointed a bony finger at Hope. “Just look at her. She’s covered in black dust.”
“What? It wasn’t me. I swear.” Hope took an involuntary step backwards.
A man ran out of his house with a pick-axe and shouted, “HEY!! QUIT YOUR BICKERING AND COME HELP US RESCUE THE OTHERS! WE CAN SORT OUT WHO DID WHAT LATER.”
The rest of the crowd began rushing off to their huts “He’s right. We can discuss this later.” Tesou said to the woman who accused Hope. He turned to his wife and whispered something in her ear. Once he was finished, he placed a hand onto Alma’s shoulder. “Come. We will need all the hands we can get,” she nodded and they chased after the others.
Ira started following after his father and sister before Barris grabbed him from behind and scolded him. Hope watched them walk back into the village and past four huts and around a corner. Hope looked around. The village was deserted except for the two men that came running from the mine and the woman who blamed her for the incident. They had just started to walk off towards various huts.
Gerald looked up at Hope, “They just left us here all alone? Weren’t we supposed to be going to that family’s den? What happened?”
Hope looked at him with a blank look on her face, “I honestly have no idea. Some humans got stuck beneath a mine or something and they went to get them out of it.”
“So what do we do now?’ Gerald asked.
Hope was silent for a moment as she thought it over. “I’m not sure about you but I want to check out that mine thingy.” Hope started to walk in the general direction that the villagers went.
Gerald sighed, “Can this day get any worse?”