At last LittleWing was sated. She let out a final triumphant shriek as she wheeled above the smoking ruins of the village, then came at last to settle on the charred remains of the temple. Ketsia could not help but notice that her heartbeast's orange-edged scales blended perfectly with the glowing embers. The dragon gave one satisfied glance around at the wreckage, then curled herself into a ball and closed her golden eyes.
There was no one left to scream.
Grandmother Ona worked silently on Eolyn’s wounds, face white and strained, but jaw set in a way that Ketsia recognized. If the old woman had been born with a heartbeast, Ketsia thought numbly, it would have been a creature made of stone. Eolyn herself had long since fainted, from pain or shock or both, and part of Ketsia envied her sister the escape.
Ketsia looked down at her hands, streaked with soot and covered in burn marks from the tiny sparks that continued to dance in the air like sadistic fairies. Her hands were so... small, compared to LittleWing’s talons. So powerless. She looked back up at her dragon, who had draped her spiked tail across her long snout in her sleep, much as Grandmother Ona’s cats did.
Does she do that because I watched the cats all those years, or does she just… do that? Ketsia was no longer sure how much LittleWing was an extension of her Self, and how much LittleWing was simply her own creature. Would she return now, if Ketsia tried to call her? She was afraid to try.
Instead Ketsia turned her eyes to the devastation that spread out from her dragon, trying to feel remorse- but she couldn’t. She was glad they were dead. She only wished she could bring them back to life so they could die again.
The corner of her lip began to twitch up into a smile, and LittleWing let out a noise like a purr.
Ketsia’s head snapped back as Grandmother Ona grabbed her by the arm and jerked her around to face her.
“You,” the old woman hissed, and slapped her across the face with more force than Ketsia had ever had applied to her person. “Don’t you dare take joy in this. Don’t you dare! Don’t you give that dragon any more evil to feed on!”
“Evil?” Ketsia cried, too stunned to do more than hold her burning face in shock. LittleWing’s head came up in confusion. “They were the evil ones! They-”
“They? Which they?” Spat Grandmother Ona. “Them men that did this to Eolyn, I won’t deny that maybe they had evil in ‘em. But the others?”
Ketsia’s anger flared, and LittleWing snarled from her smoldering nest. “Well they should have protected her! Da always said evil flourishes when men stand aside and do nothing-”
“Even the children? The babies?” Grandmother Ona grabbed Ketsia by the arms and shook her. “Them that couldn’t even roll over to run away? And what about the animals, eh? All those cats and geese and horses. What did they do to Eolyn?”
This brought Ketsia to a halt, the seething lump of rage in her chest turning suddenly to ice. “I… the… the babies…” she felt sick as she remembered little Aylin’s bright blue eyes and laughing, gummy grin. “I… I…”
Grandmother Ona’s gray eyes were cold as the winter sky. “Is this the part where you tell me that they’d have grown up to be just as evil, that you had to destroy them before they had the chance? Is that what you believe, child?”
For a moment- one dark, horrible moment, something deep inside Ketsia nodded, whispering, It’s only logical... and LittleWing began to unfurl, hissing. But then-
“No!” she said, tearing herself away from her grandmother. “No, I… I never meant to hurt the babies! Or the animals! Or, or... I didn’t… I didn’t mean...” Ketsia’s chest felt ripped open with grief, and the pain of it caused her to stumble. “I am evil, I am,” she started sobbing, clutching helplessly at her own arms. More than anything she wanted to turn to her grandmother for comfort, as she always had before. But she knew she didn’t deserve comfort, didn’t deserve anything but to die like Aylin had died: helpless, suffering. LittleWing let out a long, heart-rending shriek of anguish, and in that moment Ketsia thought the only answer was for her to let the dragon consume her, and end both of their agony...
But then Grandmother Ona was kneeling next to Ketsia, strong hands gathering her close and pressing Ketsia tightly to her breast. “No, child. No,” she murmured, stroking Ketsia’s hair and rocking back and forth. “You’re not evil. You… you’ve helped an evil thing to happen, it’s true, but maybe that’s as much my fault as yours. When I knew what you were… when I knew how powerful your heartbeast was… I should have sent you away, long ago. It was selfishness that made me keep you close, and we’re all paying for that selfishness now. All of us." Ketsia felt her grandmother glance at Eolyn.