by GoldFox

Darius, Seth and Mair are copyright to Duo Radon and are used with permission.

Silence was the key, and thankfully, that was his specialty. “I guess being small has its advantages…” he murmured bitterly, watching with slitted eyes, trying not to be distinguishable from the shadows. He waited as the dragon passed, and then peeked out of the alley again. There! There was a vender a few feet away, and the little golden fox just happened not to be watching her wares.

Darius timed himself, then leapt forwards, grabbed the nearest jar and leapt back into the alley, running as fast as his cloven hooves could take him. He ran from the market and out into the edge of the woods, crawling skillfully under a large tree. There was a small tunnel under the tree’s roots, leading to a sizable den after ten feet of narrow, twisting tunnel. Darius squirmed through easily, his tail holding his prize tightly. He didn’t mind the close space. If anything, he relished it. It meant no one could get to him.

Once safely inside his little self-made den, Darius finally let himself relax, stretching out on the cool floor and sighing. His thoughts wandered to his family, but he quickly focused instead on the jar he held in his tail. He brought it towards him and was able to see the contents clearly thanks to his ability to see in darkness. He gave a rare smile, pleased to find he’d grabbed a jar with three little furs inside; a lizard, a little wolf and a silvery-colored fox. He ate them quickly, knowing from experience that taking too long could mean discovery from someone smelling the blood or hearing him chew.

Darius curled up, no longer hungry, but not full either. He sighed softly, already thinking of tomorrow. He’d wake early, and like always, scour the forest nearby for any berries or birds’ eggs. Then, once the market opened, he’d spend the day stealing.

He shivered, feeling cold to his bones. As a fire demon, anything short of a pool of magma felt chilly and he despised the cold. Plus, having no clothes tended to make one rather chilly as well. Darius longed for the boiling pools he once swam in, but knew that they were gone to him. He could never go back to them. And why? Because he was a couple feet shorter than normal! But he shut his eyes tight, knowing that the real reason ran deeper.

For his father, being so prestigious, having a runt for a son, born after the proper son, was a serious blow to his pride. Not to mention it degraded the name that he had worked so hard to build. So he had simply walked Darius to the edge of the caves, and pointed out of them, then walked back in. And Darius knew he wasn’t allowed to follow him.

Darius curled up tighter, trying to keep warm with a scrap of cloth he’d stolen a week before, and slept, his dreams uneasy and dark and cold.

Darius watched carefully as the female cat stacked her shelves with spicy dragon meat sausages, and waited. There! Her head was turned! He took a running leap, grabbed the nearest one and bolted, only briefly surprised that he’d grabbed a link of six. He quickly gathered them up and quickly took shelter in an abandoned stall, eating as fast as he could. A large rat tried to come in, but he hissed at it, baring his fangs, and it squeaked in terror before running off.

He finished off the sausages quickly, loving how they burned his mouth slightly, and debated going back out for more food. For once, he’d grabbed enough and he felt plenty full. But then he sniffed the air, intrigued. There was something sweet out there!

Darius crept out and made his way towards the smell, licking his lips. Then he saw it. A seven-foot black and orange dragon was setting up a bunch of confectionary treats and the smell was heavenly. Darius grinned and saw that near the clawed feet was a basket, open as the dragon would gather a few things, then stand to place them on the shelf. The basket was filled with sweets, mostly muffins.

Darius waited until the dragon had turned, then rushed forwards, grabbing the closest muffin and running. There was an angered bellow behind him and Darius ran faster, clutching his prize as he heard the dragon give chase. Great.

He made it to the outside of town and was just wriggling into the root when he felt a pain in his tail. He scrabbled desperately, but was pulled out. He hung upside down, still clutching the muffin, as the dragon glared at him down his orange and black snout.

He then turned and walked back into the market, holding Darius so everyone could see. He brought him back to his stall and before Darius could respond, dropped him, the clawed foot kicking him hard before he reached the ground. Darius smashed into a wall, the muffin flying out of his grip. He tried to get up, grab it and run, but another hit, this time with the thick tail, catapulted him so hard he felt like he’d broken something.

He distantly realized a crowd was gathering, and some where cheering, just before the clawed foot caught him alongside his head, making him do a kind of summersault before he crashed to the ground, panting and moaning as he tried to curl up, now shivering in pain.

But the dragon wasn’t finished with punishing him as it kicked at him yet again, this time in the gut, drawing a pained cry out of the small Gelt. Darius squeezed his eyes shut, trying to scream. It felt like every time he was kicked, icicles were being jabbed into his heart. He was going to be killed if this kept up for much longer…

Suddenly, Darius was aware that the kicking had stopped and he was lying motionless in the bloody dirt. He rolled weakly to his side and curled up, hugging his aching body tenderly. He wondered if he was fit enough to get up and run back to his root-den. He’d be safe in there. No one could reach him.

He coughed up some blood, and wearily looked up. A huge black demon loomed over him, and Darius guessed his height to be about six feet. A tiny, weak part of him wondered if it was his father, come to rescue him. His head swam from the effort of looking up and he lay it back down on the dirt and saw the feet of the demon. The demon had hooves, but they weren’t cloven like his. So it wasn’t a Gelt. But then who was it?

He could hear shouting above his head, echoing and indistinct. His brain was still fogged from his beating and he could interpret nothing.

Darius felt okay enough to sit up and did so, slowly and weakly, clutching his head, which ached horribly. He looked up at his apparent savoir and saw it was a demon completely covered in black fur, but with bright green hair. It had a horse’s lower body, with the tail and hooves, and the three fingered hands seemed to have hoof-tough tips. It was currently pointing at the Dragon, shouting loudly. Darius noted that the demon wasn’t dressed, but the thick fur at his groin gave him modesty. He looked up at the demon’s head again and saw that his pointed ears were laid back in a clear expression of irritation.

He wasn’t as tall as the dragon, but his muscles made it clear that even with the size difference, should a fight occur, it would be close.

The dragon’s dark purple wings flared as he replied angrily, “I don’t care! He stole from me and that constitutes death!” He then reached down for the Gelt with his clawed hand and Darius’ eyes widened. He couldn’t run away this time.

But to his utter surprise, the horse-demon reached first and grabbed the scruff of orange fur at the back of his neck, yanking him out of the way. Though Darius choked a little, he hung limply, tail up between his legs nervously, obviously wanting to be with the black demon rather than the angry black and orange dragon.

“What are you doing?” the drake asked, his tail quivering angrily.

Mair brought the Gelt up to his chest and hugged him close with one arm, saying firmly, “You’re not going to kill him!” Darius was confused at the demon’s apparent concern, but had to admit that being pressed to the soft fur felt better than being on the hard ground.

The drake crossed his arms, saying, “And why not? We’ve seen him on and off for weeks, stealing from us! He’s nothing but a runt and thief!” There were grumbles of agreement behind him, from the other shop keepers.

“Ever consider that he could do nothing else?” A new demon had spoken. This one was a light blue color, but not furred. He stood at roughly 5 and a half feet, and while he appeared weak, the others moved aside, letting him come through.

He was clothed in a long-sleeved shirt and pants cut short to allowed for his claws, two-toed feet. The clothes looked simple, but Darius caught a glint of gold at the hems. There was a glimpse of movement and Darius saw that this demon had a barbed tail, like his own, but much longer and not furry. He had horns, double pronged from the tip and a dark navy blue in color, and his ears, doubled and pointed at the tips, were tweaked forwards slightly in polite curiosity.

Then Darius recognized him. He was the potion maker; the only one in the town. What was his name again?

The dragon huffed as the blue demon came close to the black one holding Darius, growling softly, “Stay out of this, Seth, this doesn’t concern you.” Obviously, he could attack the smaller demon (he had a good two feet of extra height) but he didn’t seem to want to touch him.

Seth ignored the dragon and looked instead up at the black demon, who crouched down, still holding Darius, saying quickly, “They were gonna kill him!”

The blue demon nodded and then walked calmly between the black demon and the dragon, crossing his arms as he said softly, “Well, considering that Mair has a hold of him, I think it is my business.”

“That’s Mair?” the dragon said, staring at the black demon, who was childishly sticking his tongue out at him. “Last I saw him, he was two feet tall!”

“Yep. Grew up quick, didn’t he?” Seth said, a smile playing on his thin lips. Then softly, he looked back over his shoulder, saying quietly, “Mair, put him down. You’re choking him.”

Mair looked confused, but then said, “Oh! Sorry!” He quickly put Darius down, unaware that he’d been slowly crushing the little Gelt. He crouched next to him, asking softly, like a young one, “Better?” Darius nodded, though he coughed a little. Mair had a strong grip!

Seth then turned back to the orange drake, who pointed at Darius, saying, “Seth, that little runt of a Gelt has been stealing from us for weeks! At the least, he should get his tail cut off!” Again, murmurs of consent drifted through the crowd and Darius winced, fingering the sensitive base of his prehensile tail. It was enough he was an exiled runt, but having his tail cut off was a whole new level of mockery and humiliation. Not to mention that it would be very painful, even after the anesthesia-less amputation. Since his tail was an extension of his spine, and thus also his spinal cord, he’d be lucky not to suffer some paralysis from the impromptu surgery!

Seth frowned, but before he could say anything, Mair suddenly blurted out, “Seth’ll keep him!” He reached out and hugged Darius close to him, curling up around him possessively. The Gelt peeked nervously from above the furry black arm, unsure about the whole situation.

Everyone looked at Mair, then at Seth. Seth crouched down next to Mair, scowling. He had planned on getting the Gelt released out of the town and away from the vengeful market-goers, but Mair’s outburst had thrown a new variable into the equation.

Taking in a criminal was an irreversible act, as they would be killed the next time they were caught doing anything against the law. And if they did break the law again, not only would they be killed, but the one who took them in would be degraded and any respect they had, no matter who they were, would be torn to shreds. That left them physically vulnerable in the demon world.

Mair saw the frowning disapproval on his master’s face and pleaded softly, “Please, Seth? Lookit how hurt and small he is! He’ll be picked off in a day!” It was the cold truth; weak demons just didn’t survive long in a land where other, larger demons lived.

Seth rubbed at his temples, replying sternly, “Mair, I have enough trouble feeding YOU half the time! How can I support another?”

“I’ll share with him!” Mair replied instantly. He then saw how Seth still hadn’t said anything and curled up tighter around the tiny demon, asking softly and innocently, “You really gonna let them kill him?” Seth stared for a long time at Mair, then at the Gelt.

Darius gulped hard, fearing that calculating look in the blue demon’s eyes. His father had given him that same look the day he had exiled him. Darius squeezed his eyes tightly, preparing to be torn from Mair’s grasp, forced onto a block and then suffer the pain and humiliation of a common butcher’s knife slicing through the bone of his lower spine.

“I’ll take him.” Gasping made Darius open his eyes. Seth was standing over the Mair and him, arms crossed, his expression firm.

The drake frowned, saying, “You realize what that means, right, Seth? We catch him stealing again, and you’re the one being punished.” Seth nodded curtly. Without his reputation as a potion maker protecting him, the blue demon was just a meal for anyone who hunted him down.

“I know.” Seth said softly, his voice dripping anger. The drake understood the threat and walked back to his stand, grumbling. Slowly, as Seth glared at them, the others all drifted away and business in the market returned to normal.

During all this, Darius, snug in Mair’s warm embrace, was still struggling to understand what had happened. He was safe! But why did Seth do that for him? He looked up when a claw touched his right horn. Seth withdrew his hand and said softly, “What’s your name?”

The Gelt was silent for a while, but then said very softly, “Darius.”

Seth nodded, and nodded to Mair, who stood up, leaving Darius sitting on the packed earth. “Can you walk?” Seth asked. Darius nodded and got to all fours, then pushed himself up onto his back feet…and fell over backwards, feeling his muscles quivering in pain. Seth gave a small smile, murmuring, “Guess not. Come here.” He kneeled and held out his hand, but Darius just stared at him.

All his life he’d learned to fend for himself and to depend and trust no one. Allowing others to come in and get close to him just ended in pain, physical and otherwise. It had been beaten into him that he was worthless, and saw no reason for anyone to help him. The only thing people ever seemed to want to do to him involved pain. He cringed back from Seth’s hand, not wanting to let him in.

Seth noted his hesitation and said softly, “I won’t hurt you.” Darius hesitated again, but then slowly, very slowly, put his tiny three-fingered hand into Seth’s. The blue demon gave him a gentle fanged smile and carefully, pulled him upright, then tugged him towards him. Darius struggled a little, but when Seth gathered him against his chest, and stood up, holding Darius near to him like an infant, the Gelt relaxed, slightly. Normally Darius would rebel against such a degrading situation, but he was so tired and weary and longing for comfort that he simply clung to Seth’s shirt, trying not to focus on how his body still ached horribly from that beating the drake had so viciously given him.

Mair was nearby, dancing in place, saying, “Yay-yay-yay-owowowowow!” He whimpered to a stop as Seth’s tail wound tightly around one black pointed ear, dragging his head down to Seth’s level.

Seth glared at him, and hissed, “You are in so much trouble when we get home.”

Mair whined as Seth began to walk, dragging the horse-demon along behind him in that position, now dancing more awkwardly to remain standing and moving at the same time as being practically bent in half.

Darius must have fallen asleep, because when he awoke, he found himself being placed onto a tabletop. For a second, he panicked, thinking that the two demons had tricked him into becoming an easy meal. He sat up, his little heart racing, but then saw that Mair was holding a bucket of water still as Seth put hot rocks from the fire into it briefly, warming the water. Darius watched, curious. Seth then told Mair to put the large bucket down and came back to Darius, saying with a warm grin, “You’re filthy.”

Darius wrinkled his nose (Baths! Yuck!) but he didn’t resist as Seth helped him down to the floor, and then into the bucket, where he sat still as Seth began to wash him, getting all the dirt and grime out of his short orange fur. As the blue demon washed him, Darius glanced up at him. Seth was being very gentle and careful not to hurt him, and Darius started to let himself relax. Kindness was a rare commodity for him, and he didn’t much understand it, but he couldn’t say that the warm water didn’t feel nice against his weary body.

“So… You’re a Gelt, right?”

Darius stiffened at Seth’s question. He had known this was coming. His shoulder drooped as he stated, “Yes.” Seth smiled gently, and scrubbed at the base of the little black horns. Darius was surprised at himself for thinking that it felt to have Seth’s small claws scratching at the base of his horns. It was rare he experienced pleasure of any kind, even a small one.

Seth lathered more soap into the dark indigo hair, asking, “Little short, aren’t you?”

“I’m a runt.” Darius said bluntly.

The way Seth’s hands paused showed he was surprised, but then they smoothly resumed their motions and for a while Darius only felt the warm soapy water on his head and body. Then, Seth asked, “You have family?”

The orange demon shook his head, feeling water trickle down his neck as he muttered bitterly, “My father exiled me.”

Seth’s hands paused, and Darius shut his eyes, cursing himself for showing such weakness and spilling his worst secret. But then, shocking him, Seth placed a hand gently on the small shoulder and squeezed gently, reassuringly. No words were said, but Darius fought back tears from the simple gesture, cursing himself again, though this time, not as harshly.

After that, the bath was a silent, but pleasant affair. Darius was adamant, however, that he wash his more personal areas, and Seth just went and rinsed the cleaning rags.

Darius stepped out of the bucket and at Seth’s nod, got on all fours and shook, spraying a small amount of water. Suddenly a towel draped over his head. He sat and lifted an edge, confused, and Seth grinned, saying, “It’s easier.” Darius didn’t smile but he began to use the towel to dry his purple hair. And know what? It was easier!

When he was dry, Seth was drying his hands, and as Darius began to look towards the door, Seth said casually, “You know… If you’re not planning on going back into that little hole of yours, you’re welcome to stay.”

Darius paused, the damp towel dropping to the floor as he asked, “What?”

Mair poked his head into the room, asking suddenly, “He gets to stay?!” Seth shrugged, and before either demon could react, Mair ran into the room, hugging Seth and bouncing up and down, saying excitedly, “Thankyouthankyou!”

“Mair! Put me down!” Seth’s expression was firm, but there was laughter in his voice.

Mair did as told, muttering, “Sorry.” but still looking thrilled.

Seth straightened his shirt and then kneeled in front of the small Gelt, saying softly, “Now, as I was saying, you can stay with us if you want.”

“I… I can stay?” Darius whispered, unable to believe it.

“Yes. If you want to.” the blue demon replied, smiling.

Darius stared at Mair, who was nodding hopefully. The Gelt crouched down on his thin legs, thinking. He was being offered something that he had craved for ever since his parents has officially disowned him. To be accepted, to have someone not look at him like he was worthless trash.

He’d been down by the lava pools, diving into the boiling magma to soothe his mind. He heard more thick splashes and popped his head up to see his brother and his friends laugh gin as they leapt into the scorching pool. Darius was instantly found out and he was grabbed roughly by the tail.

He struggled but being less than half the size of the other Gelt, was helpless. They had jeered, making jokes of how small he was, how weak. They would poke at him and their claws dug into his skin cruelly. One even joked that they should eat him and save his family the embarrassment of such a runt from such a high family.

Then one Gelt had grabbed Darius by his horn, and almost effortlessly, flung him over ten feet to the bank, where he stumbled and nearly broke a leg on the cracked rocks.

The action wasn’t what had hurt Darius the most. It was the fact that it had been his own brother who had done it, and by the grin on his face, had enjoyed it.

Darius looked up at the two demons, and nodded. Seth smiled, standing as he said, “Well, I can’t have you going around naked. I’ll make some clothes for you. Fire-proof of course.” he added, grinning.

That night, Darius plucked at the clothes Seth had made for him, amazed. He now sported a white shirt with a black jacket and pants, which had been cut short to allow for his cloven hooves. He fingered the little buckle on his belt, still amazed at the whole thing.

He looked up at the bed where Mair lay on his bed, sleeping soundly; Seth curled up next to him, wrapped tightly in the blanket, annoyed at sharing his bed yet again with his pet, but at the same time, not commanding him to get down.

The Gelt had stated he would prefer to sleep in the fire pit and Seth had had Mair get more fuel so the flames would be high all night long. Darius had leapt into the flames, smiling softly. It wasn’t lava, but it was still plenty warm for him. He snuggled down further in the white-hot embers and live coals, the scorching heat feeling warm and soothing to him.

He watched as Mair kicked a little in his sleep and as his eyes closed, thought to himself that this was the start of a new life for him. The old one was gone, burnt to ashes and destroyed. Time to start over.

He rolled to his back, basking in the live flames, feeling them dance on his skin and went to sleep with no qualms.

And a broad smile.