“She giggled, Miriam.”
“It certainly did not giggle, Sarah. It is a fucking snake, just like all the rest of them. It is a cold-blooded reptile, completely devoid of all emotion. It only knows hatred and hunger, neither of which is expressed by anything so human as a giggle. Now stop trying to turn it into something it’s not. Do your job. Don’t get attached. Feed it. Wipe it’s ass. Make sure it survives. Nothing more.”
The years passed, and the snake baby slowly turned into a snake girl. The child continued to express emotions none of the other pureblood children seemed to have. She laughed. She cried. She often got scared in the middle of the night, and needed to be comforted. She expressed wonder and delight, fear and apprehension. She was the most “human” yuan-ti Sarah had ever seen, and her life was in mortal danger. Having emotions meant that she was no better than prey, and discovery would mean being eaten alive.
The day came as it was always destined to do. The child, now resembling a gangly human teenager, slipped up, and let out a cry of pain during one of her training exercises. She recognized her mistake immediately, and sprang into action. She started running, and she didn’t look back. She ran out of the training arena, out into the streets, and out of the city, into the jungle. She didn’t know where she was going; she only knew that she had to get away.
Her mistake did not go unnoticed, however. As she began to run, a monstrous shadow detached itself from the ceiling far above the training arena, and slithered across the support beams hidden in the darkness. Twenty-five feet long, with jet-black skin, Sithicys, First Assassin of the Paambu Empire, hunted the Pureborn prey.
Sithicys was an Abomination, the highest caste in yuan-ti society. He was humanoid, but only vaguely so. His head was that of a black cobra, his torso was that of a humanoid male with two powerful human arms. Instead of legs, a serpentine tail flowed from his waist and tapered off far behind him.
The girl was no match for Sithicys’ speed and skill. He would have caught her easily, had not fate intervened. Fate, or perhaps the will of the gods…
Crashing through the undergrowth, the girl ran deeper and deeper into the jungle. She didn’t see the portal, and didn’t feel anything when she ran right through it. She wasn’t even aware that the steamy jungle had turned into a cool, dense forest. It wasn’t until she tripped and landed in the cold mountain stream that she realized something very strange must have happened.
And then she saw the unicorn.
She felt it touch her mind, and for the first time in her life, she felt safe. She felt loved. She suddenly knew a depth of love that Sarah was not capable of giving…a depth that no human was capable of giving. She knew love and light and peace like no mortal creature was capable of showing her. It lowered its head, and spoke into her mind:
“Come, child. I will take you somewhere safe.”
The girl walked over, and climbed on the unicorn’s back. She leaned forward until her chest rested against the unicorn’s back, and wrapped her arms around its neck. She held on tightly as the unicorn raced through the forest.
Behind them, the forest went deathly quiet as Sithicys slithered through the portal. He caught the scent of the Pureblood, and then the scent of the unicorn. With an evil hiss, he raced after them.
He caught up with them in an Eldarin village. The girl watched in horror as Sithicys slaughtered the elves, and cried in pain and terror as he sank his fangs into her unicorn protector, and with a cruel shake of his head, broke it’s neck.
Sithicys picked the Pureblood up, and coiled around her tightly. He looked deep into her eyes, and spit poison into her face. The girl’s immunities kept her from being killed, but they were not fully developed yet, and so the pain was excruciating. He brought her face up to his, and whispered in her ear.
“Never forget that I am out here, Pureblood. I am in the world, and I will come for you one day. I will kill everyone you ever dare to love. You will never feel anything, without also feeling the fear of knowing that you can never run far enough or fast enough to escape me, and no place is so safe or so far way that I can never find you. I will be with you until the end of your days, for I will follow you in your dreams. Always.”
With no further sound, he let her go, and slithered away into the night that had bred him.
She wandered clumsily through the forest until she was found by an Eldarin ranger, who carried her to another village, and then she was escorted to another, and another, until she found herself in a human city, where she was delivered unto a temple of Artemis, Goddess of Life, Nature, and the Hunt.
There she trained as a Paladin, and devoted herself to the cause of love. Despite the darkness of her heritage, and the nightmare of Sithicys that haunted her soul, she pledged to nurture love within herself and within the world. She would kindle the light of love in the world through her acts of kindness and compassion. She would shelter the light of love by standing against the evil and wickedness that would extinguish it. She would preserve the light of love within herself by delighting in love, beauty, art, friendship, and all the good things the world had to offer. Finally, she would inspire others to act in loving kindness by being a beacon of love and hope.
She named herself Artemis, after her goddess, and took a unicorn for her symbol, to remind herself of the most pure love she had ever known.
Art Credit: Anna Helme