Kela looked at the babe lying peacefully asleep in the wooden cradle. Today had been the worst day. The villagers had come to her cottage and threatened to kill this innocent one because of her grey-green skin and long projecting ears.
“She’s demon spawn,” they said. “Cursed. Born cursed. And she’ll curse the whole village.”
If Kela hadn’t been the one who had brought so many of their own babes safely into this world and that they feared her reputation for magic, they might have set the place on fire. As it was they gave her a month to get rid of the child.
She had found the babe all alone in a small nest, lovingly woven by someone who clearly wanted to keep the infant safe from the creatures of the forest. A blanket of fur patches, scraps that had been sewn together in haste, her only covering from the elements, and an obsidian trinket on a piece of thong around her neck.
She knew what this child was and something of why it was left there. This was one of the Undermountain People, those her fellow humans deemed demons for their strange looks, incomprehensible language and inability to endure sunlight. She knew very little of their secretive ways, but she had seen their abandoned girl-babies sometimes, half-devoured by wild animals. Always girls. Perhaps some of their daughters were sacrificed to placate a heartless deity or rejected for some unknown imperfection.
It was a ten-day walk to the nearest entrance to their realm and in her mind, Kela could picture a young woman running alone through the dark and hiding in the day to find a place she could leave her beloved daughter where she might have the slightest chance of life. A chance she now indeed had. But not as she was.
Sighing, Kela lifted the babe in her arms and held her close. She could feel in her a future of greatness, a future in which she would lead and teach, a future she could never have if she remained as she was.
Summoning her magic, Kela shared her life-seared soul with the purity and innocence of the child’s and for a time nothing seemed to happen. Then she looked down and saw the human infant in her arms and the grey-green talons her own fingers had become.
She took very little before she set the cottage alight herself. Her life there was over. Walking all night, she left the human baby on the steps of a loving home for foundlings, before vanishing into the forest.
With thanks to Gabrielle Finch for both the inspiration and the permission to use her picture. You can find more of her art on her Facebook Page.