I've forgotten how old I am.

The High Lord says it's been just over a thousand years since he met me. That's a good place to start, but it doesn't count the time I spent creeping around the outskirts of Hell, terrified of encountering any adult after what the ones I knew had done to me. I think I walked the borders of the Twisted Kingdom for a while; my last living memories were of heat and pain, and waking to the silence and cold of Hell nearly shattered me.

The High Lord saved me from that, even when I was too afraid to come near him. He and his Eyrien friend would take walks - Andulvar striding, Lord SaDiablo limping - along the stony beaches where I hid, keeping up casual conversations that somehow reached my ears. Conversations about how the power that came with ruling Hell carried the responsibility of caring for the demon-dead, about the changes that came with becoming demon-dead and how to adapt, about how the High Lord let his subjects exist in peace but welcomed respectful supplicants.

It was years before I realized that the High Lord had used Craft to enhance those conversations so I could learn what I needed without coming too close, and even longer before I learned what those apparently casual walks had cost his ancient body. By then, I had become an occasional visitor to the High Lord; he gave me books, and I gave him reports on what was going on in the remote corners of Hell. I hoarded the books on a far-off, rocky island; I don't know what, if anything, he did with the reports.

A few decades later, two more like me entered the Dark Realm. Brother and sister from a village decimated by plague, only their glassy eyes and too-bright cheeks gave them away as what they were. When I took them to my island, the girl went over it inch by inch with a thoughtful look on her face, then turned to me with a list of things we (we?) would need "to make it habitable". Somehow she talked me into making a fear-filled request to the High Lord, and somehow he answered it. And added two dolls for her, and a fluffy stuffed animal for her little brother. I still have one of the dolls; the other two toys were lost with the girl and her brother when they faded into the Darkness. I should have gone too, sometime during the long years - but by then there were more demon-dead children to look out for, most of them as lost and frightened as I had been. I couldn't leave them.

But none of them stay for long. Most of them have had ugly deaths, and welcome the Darkness, either to join family that's already gone or to escape their own memories. Part of me wants to follow them, but...there are always more cildru dyathe. Males who have died violently or from starvation, even one young Prince whose mother cut his throat rather than surrender him to a slave auction. Witches too young even for their Birthright Ceremony, who lean into my burned, blackened form for protection as if they've seen things far more horrible than me in their short lives. They're coming faster these days, and with ever more horrible stories - those who have the courage to speak at all. I have to stay and take care of them until...until things change. There's a strange current running through Hell now; I can't understand it, but I can feel it.

Something's coming. Someone is coming. I have to be ready to meet it.

Author's Note: Something I dug up out of an old notebook, found to be better than I remembered, and polished up a bit to prove that I am, in fact, still alive. For those of you who are waiting on a "Dusk Dawning" update, many apologies...I went and got pregnant, which is a great thing overall but has eaten into my spare time like nobody's business. I'm about done with the rough draft of the next chapter and will be sending it off to get beta'ed shortly. Anybody who'd like updates about life, the universe and gestation is welcome to drop by my livejournal.