Hidden Story: Sasha

Sasha leaned forward excitedly.

From the folds of his robe, Vincent produced a rabbit.

"A bunny!" squealed the girl in delight.

"Yes, I know you like rabbits, so this one is for you," said Vincent proudly. "You have to hold it like this!" Vincent said, holding it up by the ears.

"Wait, that will hurt the bunny," Sasha cried in distress. A girl's intuition told her that rabbits were not meant to be held in that manner. "Give her here."

Vincent handed it over to Sasha, who cradled it like a human baby.

The wild rabbit took offense to being passed around like a parcel. It squirmed its powerful hind legs free and kicked violently.

"No, it won't stop struggling," complained Sasha, as she fought to hold the rabbit still.

"Hold it tighter!" Vincent advised.

"But I'm going to hurt her," protested Sasha.

"You have to hold it tighter!"

One of the rabbit's hind feet connected with Sasha's forearm. Its dull claws drew angry red marks on her young skin. Startled by the pain, she dropped the rabbit. It fell awkwardly, but Vincent was ready and pounced on it before it could make its escape.

"Ah, her hurt me," Sasha said, clutching her injured arm. "She wants to run. Let her go."

"No, wait," said Vincent, as an idea popped into his head.

He clutched the rabbit and twisted its head all the way around so that its neck snapped with an audible crack.

"What did you do, Vincent?" Sasha cried. "You killed her! The poor bunny."

Vincent grinned, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "No, I'm going to make it better."

Sasha watched uncertainly as Vincent placed his small hands over the cooling corpse, singing softly to himself. Sasha felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand. "What are you doing?"

"There," said Vincent at last, holding up the rabbit for Sasha to carry. "Now it won't struggle anymore."

Sasha stared at the rabbit. Its head hung limply at an impossible angle, and a thin trickle of blood ran down from its mouth. Tears welled up in Sasha's eyes.

"She's dead, Vincent."

The rabbit's eyes opened.

Sasha screamed and dropped the rabbit. Again.

Vincent clapped his hands over his ears.

"Sasha?" called the shepherd's wife, opening the door and peering out. "Dear, what are you doing outside? And who is that…?"

The woman froze as Vincent turned towards her. Clothed in oversized, tattered rags stained with bone dust and fresh blood, he looked like a creature out of nightmare. Fear for her daughter caused the shepherd's wife to snatch up a broom by the doorway and come charging out.

The young necromancer froze, open mouthed, as Sasha's mother thrust the broom into his face. The impact knocked him off his feet, and as he struggled to rise the broom knocked him down again. Vincent put trembling hands to his face. Blood streamed freely from his nose, teeth and lips.

"No, ma, don't!" Sasha cried, grabbing on to her mother's arm beseechingly.

Sasha's mother shook her child off roughly and placed herself between Sasha and the necromancer.

"Get away from that thing, Sasha! It's dangerous."

The farmhouse door slammed upon again.

"What's the fuss, ma?" hollered Samuel, stumbling out the door. Roused by the commotion, Sasha's brother ran out wearing nothing but his trousers and a pair of unbuckled leather boots.

"Come quickly, Sam! There's a demon child in our yard! It tried to kidnap Sasha."

"The shiv?" asked Sam, rushing to his mother and sister's side. "Where did he come from?" The youth caught sight of Vincent and recoiled. "God, its mouth is soaked in blood! Did it bite you?"

Just then, the dead rabbit thought this an opportune moment to hop into view, its head lolling limply. "Mercy on us," the youth gasped, as he caught sight of the furry abomination. Grabbing the broom from his mother, Samuel pounded it until it was a bloody formless mass on the ground.

"No. Our bunny," moaned Vincent, still dazed by the blow he had received. The dizzying turn of events was too much for the young necromancer to take. He started to crawl towards where the rabbit had been.

"Get Sasha inside, ma," cursed Samuel, his voice filled with hate and disgust. "I'll deal with this monster." He aimed a heavy kick at the cowering necromancer. Vincent caught the blow full in the ribs. Whimpering, he tried to ward off the youth's wild blows.

"Why?" Vincent wondered, as he felt pain for the first time in his life. He didn't know how to defend himself. He didn't even fully understand what was happening to him. The anger and hostility of Sasha's family were as foreign to him as the pain. As the blows rained down, the tendrils fear drove deep into his heart and began to take root.

"I'll make sure it never comes sniffing around here again."

"Muuuuummm!" Vincent wailed at last, as he scuttled away as fast as his little legs could carry him.

"I'll give you something to cry about!" yelled Samuel, raising the broomstick high.

The whirlwind rush of a titanic winged creature, swooping a hair's breadth overhead, tore the stick from his grasp. Eva landed with a great crash, her twelve-inch long talons digging deep furrows in the rocky soil. The sudden impact knocked Sasha's family off their feet. The zombie dragon's skeletal tail lashed out in an arc, leaving the humans weak limbed and speechless with terror.

Ignoring the quivering humans, Eva had eyes only for her child. She reached down with her snout and allowed Vincent to grasp it, offering him the comfort of her presence.

"Vincent? What's wrong, don't cry! Did they scare you?"

"Mummy, help!" cried Vincent, trying to bury himself in Eva's embrace.

The twin pinpricks of ruby light in Eva's eye sockets flared into violent flame as she beheld Vincent's battered body. She hissed in disbelief and rage.

"No. No! Who dares lay a hand on my baby? You trash! You scum! You hurt my baby! AHHHHHHH!"

The zombie dragon bared her fangs and roared in unquenchable fury.

"Stop!" shrieked Sasha, tearing herself away and rushing at the zombie dragon.

Now a thousand knights and a hundred cannons wouldn't have been able to stay Eva's righteous wrath, but the sight of a little girl in a rough homespun nightie running headlong towards her gave the zombie dragon pause.

"Sasha, no!" cried the girl's mother. She reached helplessly for her daughter, missing.

"Stop! Stop!" begged Sasha, tears streaming freely down her cheeks. "Vincent, where are you, come back to me."

Heedless of the danger, the girl reached past the zombie dragon's lethal claws and hugged her friend.

"Sasha," said Vincent, sobbing.

"I'm sorry, Vincent!" cried Sasha. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have screamed. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Sasha, they called me a monster. Your mum and your brother hurt me."

"I'm sorry, Vincent. They shouldn't have."

"They called me a d-d-demon child. Why? Because of my m-m-magic?"

Eva spoke, her voice laced with disappointment. "You showed them your magic, Vincent? I told you never to do that!"

"But why? It's father's magic! Father's wonderful magic!"

"The world will see you as a monster," said Eva sadly.

All this was too much for Vincent. He sobbed anew. "But this is what I am! Was I born to be a monster, then? To the world?"

Eva had no answer for her child, but Sasha hugged Vincent again. "Just because the world thinks you are a monster doesn't mean you are one. You're not a monster to me. You're my angel."

Under Sasha's soothing words, Vincent's sobs began to cease. "Yes, you're right. I don't have to be a monster."

Eva found herself a tangle of unexpected emotions. Bittersweet pity and tenderness surged through her in overlapping waves of warmth, and she realised she wanted nothing more than to hold her child and keep him safe. Turning to face Sasha's family, the zombie dragon snarled. "Your little girl has won you your lives with her courage and compassion. I will spare your lives, though you hurt my child. You've done enough damage as it is. Killing you will only breed bitterness in Vincent's heart. You will keep his secrets."

At last Sasha released her friend and started to run back to her family. But Vincent chased her and caught her halfway.

"Come back with me, Sasha."

Sasha tugged herself free shook her head.

"I can't, Vincent! I have to stay with my family."

"Then I'll come next week…" his voice trailed away as he saw Sasha bite her lip and turn away.

"Goodbye, Vincent. Promise me you won't be a monster."

"What? No! But I don't understand…" The young necromancer felt a great pain that started huge and kept on growing. Tears blinded him. "Not next week, when?"

Through the tears, it seemed that Sasha flashed a small, sad smile as her mother answered for her.

"Sasha already understands," said the woman firmly. "You'll never see her again."

"But you're my friend, Sasha!"

"You'll always be my friend, Vincent."

Vincent screamed incoherently and half ran, half stumbled back toward his mother. He clutched at her forelimbs for comfort, and the zombie dragon wrapped him in her protective embrace. "Help me. Don't let them separate us."

"Some things just can't happen, Vincent. You can't take her, just as I can't let them take you. It is not something that magic or power can solve."

"Eva, mummy," whispered Vincent, in a hopeless voice. "Stop the pain. Please. Don't let them hurt me any further."

"Vincent." The zombie dragon voice was sad and helpless as she gazed at the quivering bundle in her limbs. "I'm sorry, I cannot!"

"It hurts so much. Why, Eva? They didn't hit me this time, but it hurts more. Why does it hurt so much?"

"Come, my child. Let's leave this place."

"No," whispered Vincent in a terrible voice. "Kill her family, mother."

~Kill her family, mother~

Eva felt her heart give an involuntary shudder. Fuelled by his violent emotion, Vincent had unwittingly unlocked the voice of command, which not even she could disobey. The deadly acid that composed her dragonbreath bubbled at the back of her throat even as she struggled to keep it contained. ~No, Vincent, don't make me do this!~

Vincent looked up, destructive hate blazing in his eyes. ~KILL THEM!~

Eva roared, and a torrent of noxious acid burst forth, delivering devastation in a wide radius.

Sasha screamed and fell to her knees as her home and family were utterly consumed by Eva's dragonbreath. Her mother and brother died where they stood, and her house burned, taking everything with it. In a flash, the little girl's life was reduced to an arc of smouldering devastation.

~Vincent, what have you done?~

~Take me away from here,~ said Vincent, in a voice devoid of emotion.

As though unable to bear witness to the carnage a moment longer, Eva leapt and spread her wings. The zombie dragon flew away with Vincent on her back, leaving Sasha sobbing amidst the ashes of her family.