Roark jumped from his pocket and scrambled to Elise’s shoulder. She could feel his rage and knew he would soon take his true form.
“Call off your familiar, I mean no harm,” ordered Cage. “I am not my father.”
This time Elise’s gasp escaped her lips as everything became clear. Cage’s father had been one of the men that assaulted her in the forest. He had been one of the men who tried to take her virtue right before Roark had torn them all to bits. He had been evil.
Cage took a small step toward Elise. She fought the urge to cower from him. That savage attack had been almost a century ago, but as she looked at Cage she saw the man who had been the ringleader. The one who ordered his friends to grab her and hold her down. The one who said that they'd all get a turn before throwing her down the bottomless sinkhole one of their mines had caused.
“I am not my father,” he repeated in a soft voice. “I just recently learned of the attack on you and why you cursed the founders of this valley. As I said, Theodora …”
“Don’t call me that,” snapped Elise.
“Okay,” agreed Cage, “Elise, I’ve done my research. I know that even though you have followed through on your curse, you haven’t gravely injured anyone. I don’t wish to fight you, but I’m under my own obligations to stop you.”
Elise shook her head. “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. You’re a hunter, so you’re human, but your father was part of the attack …” She rubbed her temples. “Humans don’t live that long.”
Cage nodded. “I was human. After my father disappeared we moved to Unity, just out of the valley. It was the only place my mother could afford after my father disappeared.” He looked at her with warm eyes. “I assure you, other than the money he brought home occasionally, he was not missed, but as you know it was the Great Depression. Jobs for women were scarce even before the depression, but after, there was nothing. As a boy of twelve, I also looked for work, but everyone was trying to keep their own families fed. We scavenged in the valley for food and shelter, always careful of the witch.”
He gave her a wink before continuing. “We made our home in a cave in the mountains that first winter. We were fortunate enough to find a cave with a large central cavern that had narrow hole at the top like a chimney. It was just narrow enough to let the smoke from our fires out, but kept most of the rain out. We were able to build nice fires and the forest and valley helped to keep our bellies mostly full. It actually made a cozy home and it had many caverns for me to explore. My father had promised us wealth in the valley … gold. Ironically, I found something of even more value, a life stone.”
For the second time Elise felt herself gasp. Life stones were very rare and carried a hefty price for the gift of immortality. “And the price?”
“Become a hunter,” he answered, “and always follow the magic.”
“Follow the magic?”
“Over the years I have learned that it was a fancy pants way of saying I needed to be near the paranormal or I would begin to age.”
“And your master?”
“Such an ordinary name for a monster,” stated Elise.
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