Glig stood in the grass, feeling the warm prairie wind on his face, watching his seventh Materian sunset.
The sun set differently back home. Delicate shades of blue and green seeped into each other as the light filtered through the sodium clouds. Swarms of summer locust moved across the sky in lazy, meandering rivers. His children caught yardworms in the garden while the meteor showers reflected in his wife’s dark eyes.
Here the sun lit on fire, then lowered into a swirling lake of blood. It had terrified him every other time he’d seen it. But tonight was different. It was beautiful. Seeing Mad Mesa as nothing but a speck on the horizon didn’t hurt the view either.
After climbing out the kobold chimney and rolling down a hundred feet or so of mesa Glig and Mahani had sprinted for the grassline, then just kept running. They ran through the prairies all night long, more or less, until the Mesa, the kobolds, and the torture chamber were ten miles behind them, and their fear and adrenaline could finally give way to both exhaustion and the suggestive power of fields and fields of the same grass used for stuffing mattresses.
When they woke, they realized they had slept through breakfast and lunch, and had been kobold prisoners for the last four or five meals before that. In fact, the last thing Glig could remember eating was mashed trapper root. So when they spotted some nomad shepherds on the neighboring hill, Mahani headed down to try to trade magic for food. Glig stayed where he was, surrounded by grass, because he was a horrific monster, according to Mahani.
She was mad at him. Ever since he had pulled off Chael’s fingernail, it seemed. Glig hated the way she looked at him now. His plan had worked, and he had been right, but that didn’t matter. He had proved Chael was a monster, but he had also proven that he was. Maybe everyone was.
Glig watched Mahani healing a sheep’s leg. No, not everyone.
She came back up the hill awhile later, loaded up with supplies. She had blankets, a waxed canvas tarp, a pair of boots, and some clothing to replace their sacramental robes. And she had food.
Flat bread fried in a flowery oil, spread with marrow. A sweet, tangy gravy made from goat blood and dried berries. Two wreaths of salted honeycomb and cured mutton. Tallyflower and mushroom tea, and a pail of warm milk. They ate together, watching the sky redden.
“How did you know?”
Glig looked up from his bowl of milk.
“The thing with Chael and the table,” Mahani asked, tearing bread, not looking at him.
Glig wiped milk off his beak. He hadn’t known. He had guessed. It had seemed like the only way at the time. But now Glig wasn’t sure.
Mahani sighed. “Never put two cobras in the same basket I guess,” she said to herself, chewing her bread. She shook her head slightly, as if scolding herself privately.
Glig stared back into his milk, watching the froth bubble down. “Breep?”
She took another bite. “Do you really care if they did?”
Glig looked at the horizon, at Mad Mesa. “Breep,” he nodded.
Mahani let out some breath through her nose, the smallest and most incredulous laugh possible. “Well, Chael is a lot of things, right? Big. Fast. Immune to Poison. Resourceful. Annoying.” She wiped crumbs off her face and picked up the pitcher of tea. “And more recently, an Angel of Death, thanks to you. But one thing they aren’t is a quitter.”
She sighed again, and handed Glig a cup of tea. “I’m sure they made it out.”
One of the shepherds down the hill had started playing some kind of stringed instrument, and now the group of them were singing. It was strange music. Simple, compared to the singing back home, but warm and playful. He watched Mahani listening to it, swaying slightly while she sipped her tea. He wondered how she felt being here in the prairies, among these people that abandoned her. He wondered how anyone could do that to their own child on purpose.
Mahani smiled slightly, and shrugged, “Jude always told me I was born on the wrong day. Some sort of special nomad holiday. A bad omen or something, I guess.”
“Breep?” Glig asked.
“Sometimes. I don’t know. I don’t really know much about them. Their customs and stuff. How to make a sod house or whatever. I don’t even speak the language. I look like them, but I’m as different from them as I am from the folks back in Houndsworth.” She blew on her tea, even though it wasn’t hot. “Maybe I should come live with you.”
Glig laughed. “Breep.”
“What? You think I couldn’t handle it? Everyone here thinks I’m gonna end up in Hell one day anyways, you know.”
Glig shook his head, smiling. He still couldn’t believe how wrong Materians were about his home.
“Would your kids like me?” Mahani asked, “I think I’d get along good with the oldest one. You said she was into animals right? Dogs?”
“Breep,” Glig nodded, working a bit to maintain his smile. His daughter. Her face dim, the memory half-eaten. What was her name?
Mahani finished her tea, “You said she had a new puppy? I’d love to see it. I’ve never seen a hellhound before. Wait, what do you call them there?”
“Breep,” said Glig, half-listening.
“A hound. Right. Makes sense. I bet they have all sorts of — “
“Breep?” asked Glig, staring at the horizon.
Mahani frowned. “Chael? I don’t know. Probably not I guess. Angels are different than us, ya know? They only have one parent, and they never get to meet them, because they aren’t born until the parent dies. They don’t have siblings either. They have friends, I guess. Well, some do. Probably not Chael.” She got up and started laying out her blanket on the tarp. “I doubt anyone is waiting for them back home. So you have them beat there. One point for the demons.”
“Breep.” Glig said quietly, watching the horizon.
“Hey. Get some sleep, okay? They made it out. I promise. But you’re not going to see them at dusk anyways. Plus the grass is too tall. We know where they are heading, right?”
“So let’s get some sleep so we can make it to the vault tomorrow. If they made it out, we’ll probably see them there.”
“Breep.” nodded Glig, but he sat there awhile longer. Watching the sunset, watching the grass. Wondering what it would be like to not have a family. Worrying that he may still find out.