Prologue

"So, any news?"

A young man sat in the main hall of a dim-lit inn. It was empty except for him and an innkeeper behind the bar table.

"There was a fire on the outskirts yesterday, but i don’t think you’ll find anything in a former brothel." The innkeeper's wrinkles faded in and out on his face as he spoke.

"And nothing else?"

"No."

"Well it's not like I have anything better to do," the man said with a smile and stood up.

"Be careful, there’s rumors that the inquisition was involved."

* * *

The former brothel’s burnt wooden pillars were pointing from the piles of rubble and ash.

"Guess there really isn't anything here," mumbled the man, covered in sweat. His stomach rumbled. "... but a meal won’t hurt before i go back."

He sat on one of the bigger rocks and started unpacking his snack as something caught his attention. In the windless night was a sound, someone’s single faint sob. The man looked around with his eyes wide open, but there wasn't anyone in sight. Only endless plains covered in tall grass.

"Next stop: Crazytown," the man said while taking a bite from a piece of roasted meat.


As he finished his meal the sound he heard gave him no rest.

"But just maybe there’s a chest full of gold right under..." his eyes scanned the surrounding space, "... that rock!"

The sun’s disc was close to being fully eclipsed.

"Huff!"

With a thrust from his legs he managed to send the boulder rolling, revealing a hole to some sort of a basement.

"Oh wow," he shouted while catching his breath, "something at last."

He started to descend, but the ladder's slim and old steps failed to hold all the weight of a man in full armor.


The night sky was trimmed by the basement's entrance when he opened his eyes. The Azure star in the center of his vision shone so dimly that it seemed almost as if it was dying, never to be seen again.

"Sometimes I question my own decisions," the man said to the night sky.

As he got up he found himself in a large room. The only light was from the night sky, beaming through the opening from which he fell. The room’s stone walls were covered by evenly spaced iron loops with chains attached to them. The man took a pair of stones with ornate inscriptions and smashed them together, making one of them glow.

While walking around the room he noticed a silhouette behind one of the pillars. It looked like a short girl’s, with her hands raised above her head, chained to one of those loops.

He walked closer to check if his eyes were deceiving him. Clanging echoed through the room - she tried to step back, but the chain was holding her hands so high she could barely tiptoe to stay standing. He came closer.

Her wrists and the metal encircling them were red with dried blood. Her skin was so thin that her bones and veins were all visible. Numerous bruises and cuts covered her body. Scorched skin on her left breast formed a brand.

"The sinner's cross?"

But even without taking all that into account she’d still not be a normal girl. Not with that pair of pointy ears and a white-tipped tail. Well, her ears didn’t add up to two exactly - the right one was cut at the base.

"Mis...ter," she whispered with a withered voice while trying to raise her head.

Her face was devoid of emotion, her azure eyes had no spark in them. She stared at the man with her slightly swollen eyes, as if waiting for something. He came closer.

As he touched the chains to free her, she screeched with a short, dry sound. Her body bent in an unnatural way, and her tail straightened as the fur on it transformed into a million needles. She passed out in this position, still hanging on the chain.

Chapter 1

"I knew that you like to do things without second thought, but to bring a bestia to our home? This is unimaginable."

The lady sat in a chair, while the man was kneeling in front of her with his head down.

"Do you even know how much trouble we’ll be getting now? Can you even imagine what they’ll do with us when this stops being a secret?"

With each word her voice was getting louder and louder.

"Hey-"

A wooden cup bounced off the man's head.

"Ow."

"Did I allow you to talk?"

The man raised his head a bit, only to discover a face screaming ‘despise’ with each and every muscle.

"Anyway, we need to figure out what to do next," the lady said. "Stand up."

But instead of doing what the lady ordered him to do, he just pointed at a direction behind her back. Without washing the intimidating expression off her face she sharply turned her head to see what was in the direction he was pointing. The girl that was sitting on the bed squealed and backed up, hiding herself under a fur blanket.

"Pfft. Your gaze is so intimidating people get repelled by it," said the man, laughing.

"Shut up or I'll laugh your ass off," she said to him while trying, and failing, to make her expression even scarier than before.

Before turning her head back to the girl, now clinging to a wall behind the bed, as if trying to escape, the lady reformed her expression to look as gentle as possible.

"Sorry for that, you alright?" she asked while slowly approaching the girl.

"W...where am I?" the girl’s voice trembled as she slowly pronounced the words.

"Don’t worry, you’re safe now."

"Sa...fe?" the girl grabbed her head with her fragile hands as her eyes started moving chaotically.

"Yes!" the lady said with a reassuring and upbeat tone.

"B...but i, i..."

The girl’s face contorted as her hands dug into her hair. Tears started flowing from her azure eyes. She curled up into a ball, hiding her face.

"I... i... killed them," she said through the tears.

The lady lost control of her expression.

"Eh..?"

"I killed them," she shouted,"I killed them with my filth, with these cursed beast-growths. They said that they will cleanse me of my sin... They said that I need to endure it or I'll kill even more. And now... now... now i..."

The girl burst into tears, curling up tighter.

"Now I'll forever be like this..."

"What is this, i, i don’t even..." the lady fell to her knees, expressionless.

The man who watched all this while kneeling on the other side of the room was staring in their direction the whole time, unable to even blink.

* * *

The door opened with a gust of chill wind. A tall man carrying a small leather bag in one of his hands walked over the doorstep. He locked the door behind him and proceeded to the room on the left.

The lady was standing with a broom, looking at the base of an empty wall, sweeping the same spot again and again. Her posture was static and her face was blank.

"Hey," the man said with a quiet voice.

She jumped a bit, looking at him with eyes wide open.

"Oh," she returned to her blank face, now looking at the floor in his direction.

The man took a seat behind the table in the center of the room, throwing the leather bag on it. The string on it untied and a couple of gold coins rolled on the table.

"Are you okay?" he said with a gentle tone.

"Compared to that girl - absolutely yes. Compared to my state before all this happened - hell no."

"Can I help?"

"You already do a lot," the lady said while looking at the bag on the table.

"Maybe there’s something else, you know that I don't have much planned for today."

"Then you might as well go take care of her. Don’t forget to take the water."

He took the bowl filled with water and took it to the second floor, where the girl rested. While climbing up the stairs the man shuddered as a puff of cold air flew past him.

"The winter sure is coming, I’ll need to go check on firewood later," he muttered to himself.

He came to the door behind which the girl’s bed was, but hesitated to open it. The air around him was much colder than what he felt mere seconds ago on the staircase. Not only that, but the gap between the floor and the door to the girl's room emitted some kind of white smoke. He carefully placed the bowl with water on the floor and unsheathed the dagger which he always carried with himself. The moment he unlocked the door a cold wind blew past his cheeks. The insides of the room were sparkling with ice crust, while the girl on the bed was laying with her eyes open, looking in his direction. A couple of thin ice pieces peeled off her blue lips as she moved them, but the room remained in silence. He dropped his dagger on the floor and sprinted to the girl. A red light sparked from the point of contact.

His body felt weak and his mind went blank as he flew across the room.

* * *

The girl was sleeping in that same bed when he opened his eyes. The air around him was still cold, but there was no ice in sight. The lady was sitting in the corner, holding a large book in one hand and some strange device in another. Clunky goggles with large, circular lenses and a thick rim were sitting on her face, contrasting with the slim ones she usually wore.

"Oh, you woke up," she said without looking away from her book.

"What happened?" he asked.

"It seems like this girl isn’t your usual bestia."

"As in?"

"Take a look by yourself," she said while pointing on the floor in front of her.

On the floor were stacks of thick, old books and a couple of devices similar in design to the one she was holding in her hand. The object she pointed at was a lens with a rim almost exactly replicating that of the glasses she wore.

The man walked up to her and took the lens. The world when seen through it was different from the norm. All the mundane objects like walls and floor looked dark and blurred, while shimmering blue particles drifted through the room without regard to rules of collision.

"Whoa, how can you read with this on your face?"

"My goggles are calibrated so that I can see everything, that lens is a bit different."

He followed the direction of particles’ movement with his gaze and discovered a glowing object which seemed to attract and consume them.

"See the glowing thing?"

"Yeah," the man replied while trying to focus his vision properly.

"That’s her soul, and now look at mine."

He turned his head in the direction where the lady sat, but there was nothing except for the same shimmering particles.

"Huh?" the man moved the lens back and forth, "I don't see anything?"

"Give it to me," the lady said.

She adjusted a couple of dials on it and handed it back.

"Try now," she said.

He took a good look through it and noticed a small glowing ball the size of a bean in the center of the lady’s chest.

"Whoa, hers sure is bigger than yours."

He turned his head back at the girl, but the moment her soul entered his field of view the light struck him with the power of ten suns.

"Owowow," he dropped the lens and covered his eye with a hand.

"Don’t worry, this light can’t physically hurt you."

"It still aches," he said while blinking rapidly, "but that’s relieving."

"So anyway, what happened here exactly?" the man said while looking at her with his eyebrows lowered.

"I won't bore you with details but let's just say that she is... special. Her soul doesn't just look unusual - she absorbed a crazy amount of mana from the environment - that's why the room was cold. Even experienced mages can't do that without heavy damage to their bodies. I would like to ask her some questions but I don't want to disturb her sleep."

"So we got even more trouble now? And what was with the flash?"

"...flash? Was that why you passed out?"

"I didn't pass out, I was knocked out. The room was already cold once I entered, I ran to her and then when my hand touched her there was a flash and the last thing I remember is flying across the room."

"She didn't chant anything? She sent you flying by just a touch?"

"Yeah."

"I... need to do more research. I doubt she's an experienced mage or anything, but she definitely has some sort of power. I never really met a bestia mage so maybe their magic is different somehow, though books don't tell of anything like that."

"Guess I'll go chop some firewood then..."

Lady spent the rest of the day looking over books with a strange grin and shaking hands.

* * *

The sun wasn’t yet ready to face their home again, but the man couldn’t sleep.

Not with this panicked pile of curiosity on top of him.

"You know we're cousins, right?" the man said with a plain voice.

"Shut it and stay still."

The lady looked at his chest through some kind of a monocular. Her hands were unsteady while she was trying to focus.

She adjusted dials here and there on the tube, and in one moment froze.

"Crap..."

Not only her wording was much simpler than her usual refined one, her tone also sounded weak and distressed.

"Will you tell me what happened or can i go back to sleep," the man asked.

She lifted her head and revealed a pair of blueish pouches under the half-closed eyes.

"We’ve got trouble," the lady said and yawned.

She was clearly panicking, but her body couldn’t keep up with that state of hers the entire day.

"Okay okay, i see that we’ve got one more problem than we had. But can you get at least a bit of rest? You’re not looking okay," the man said with a gentle tone.

"I guess... but don’t touch... her..." she said while drifting to sleep.

"Hey, I’m not a bed, get off me before you..." the man started speaking, but was late as the lady already was in deep slumber.

"...guess I'll go find another place."

* * *

It was around midday when she suddenly woke up. Without doing her morning rituals the lady rushed to the second floor. She busted the door to the girl’s room open and started scanning the insides of it with her eyes.

The man was sitting besides the girl’s bed, trying to feed her with a wooden spoon, gloves on his hands.

"I see you’re full of energy," he said while scooping another spoon of the soup with his gloved hands.

"That’s irrelevant, how are you?" she said while catching her breath.

"I’m just as always, you better take a look at her," he said while nodding at the direction where the girl sat.

In contrast with her downed expression, which she always wore, her eyes were sparkling with color and her hair streamed like waves of sunlight. Her skin regained normal tone, and, without taking her one-and-a-half ears and tail into account, she looked like a normal, pretty young girl.

"I didn’t know that young can heal so quickly, it’s awesome," the man said.

"Come here," the lady said and went to the corridor.

"Wait for me here, i’ll talk with her real quick and help you with the rest, okay?"

The girl nodded. He stood up and went to the lady.

"Hear me out, this is important," the lady said to him, "it seems like she had taken part of your life with that flash."

"What?"

"And not only that, she also took a little part of your soul"

The man was standing there, eyes wide-open.

"Don’t worry so much, it seems that she only took a little part, it probably won’t affect you in any noticeable way. Though i don’t have any books which deal with soul integrity," she said with a reassuring tone, "and now i also know where she got a soul that big. It seems like she's done similar things to other people it that... place. If you zoom in on it you actually can see all the different pieces sparkling in one big mess."

"So she..." the man said while the color was draining from his face.

"No. I know what you want to ask, but no. She does this unconsciously. She can’t even control her own limbs properly, do you think she could’ve control her magic? It takes a lot of training for us humans to do even basic stuff, and that is not basic."

"...That’s definitely something. Now i at least know why i had so big of an appetite this morning," the man said while still recovering from the shock.

"I’ll go do more research, you take care of her. And don’t take those gloves off," the lady said while descending to the first floor.

He returned to the girl and took a seat beside her. She looked at his face and turned her head a bit to the side. He smirked.

"Eat up!" he said while scooping another spoon of the soup.

Chapter 2

"And what is this?" the man was standing in the doorway, blocking her way with his body. The lady stood in front of him, holding a big suitcase.

"A suitcase. I’m going to the guild. We don’t have enough books to fully understand what happened."

"To the undercover mages? Alone? Are you sane?"

"I don’t know what might happen to you now that your soul is damaged."

"But i’m okay."

"Now, maybe. But it might be slow-acting."

"You sure about this?"

"Don’t worry, i went that way many times. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks."

The man moved over and she went through the door.

"Just don’t touch the girl with bare hands while i’m away."

The door closed together with her last word.


The day passed in silence. In the midst of the night, when he was already starting to fall asleep, he heard a quiet rustling from the roof.

"Argh, birds with their nests again," the man muttered and went to the exit.

Their house was standing alone on the edge of a dense forest in a valley. It was impossible to spot it from roads or nearby villages, so not much people even knew that somebody lives around this place. A trip to the city nearby would take about two to three hours. The house itself was big, had a second floor and a small barn. It was made from good materials and overall looked sturdy, even though some places required maintenance.

He inspected the whole roof, but there was nothing unusual.

"Either it’s wind or I've reached the next stop."

He turned away from the house to take a look at the night view. On the half-overgrown road from their house that divided the valley in two was a yellow spot. He squinted.

The girl was slowly walking, tripping over and getting up again, her tail waving in the cold wind.

He sprinted, tripping on the grass himself, getting up, and trying to catch up to her.

"Wait, what are you doing," he screamed while catching his breath.

"I need to go back," she said without looking away from the path forward.

"Why?"

"I'm thankful to you but i can't stay like this."

"What do you mean," he catched up and grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Only they can cleanse me from my unholy parts, from weights of the lives that i took," she said with a blank face.

"Are you talking about your ears and tail?"

"This filth is the reason they were killed, this filth is the reason i’m not even fully human, th-"

"How can fur this fine be filthy," he said while looking at her.

"Wha-" she turned her head to him with eyes wide open.

"How can a tail this elegant be unholy," he said while looking in her eyes.

She was standing there, frozen, looking at him.

"Elegant? Fine? No, no... this, this is..."

"Yes, yes and yes. What they said is not what really is."

"But they, they said-"

"They lied."

"No, they, they-"

"They lied to you and tortured you. I know their methods."

"But i killed them..." she fell to her knees.

"Who?"

"My parents... when they captured me they said that i killed them with my ears and tail."

"They killed your parents. Not you."

"But, but..." she lowered her head.

Wind swayed the grass in waves as they stood there in silence.

"Let’s return," he picked her up and started walking towards the house.

When they were close to the entrance she whispered.

"What should i do?"

"You have time to figure it out. We're here to help."

She squeezed his shirt a bit tighter.


Next morning he woke up with a fox curled up on the floor beside his bed.

"Hey, you’re gonna catch a cold like this," he said.

She peeked from her tail and yawned. The man’s face melted into an awkward smile.

"Anyway, i should go work."

The man got up from the bed and went to the kitchen to prepare the morning meals. She followed him. They ate together without a word. He went to the outside to patch up the west wall, and she followed.