I sat, huddled in the corner, another harsh beating having raised bruises on my skin – the skin that is skin, that is. The rest of me is covered in scales, a deformity only carried by the bastard children of the cursed King.

Monster, my mother had called me as she laid into my twisted flesh. Monster and creature and all sorts of names, but only because they were true. Only because I was not even human did she call me those things.

Why?

If I were a monster, if I truly deserved it, why did I still desire for the pain of the beatings to stop? The few un-scaled portions of my back and arms bled, and I shivered, moving only to reach for the spool of bandages, to wrap my wounds and once more conceal my mother's shame. My shame. If only I had died, somehow, as so many children did, but no – not even weak and frail as I was, was I spared through my demise to some childhood illness, as Mother had once so wished.

And yet… somehow… I didn't want to die. I wanted to live.

Yet another sign of the evil that lived within me, I was sure. If I truly had a human soul, I would wish for death, so I would spare my family the misery.

I closed my evil eyes and felt tears leak from them, the bandaging half-finished; with hands wrapped around my knees, head laid down in my arms, I wept as no demon-child should have the right to weep.

"Ashton?"

My eyes opened to meet the amber-colored gaze of the strange other-world girl, Kari. It had all been simply a dream, a memory of times long before.

I flinched away, not wanting to meet her gaze.

"Are you alright?" she asked, putting a hand on my shoulder; again, I flinched away, the instinctive horror of being touched having been beaten into me. No one could ever know. But she already did; what monster must she think of me?

"Ashton…? You were… I heard you crying in your sleep…" Her touch refused to move, and her words caused me to look up into her eyes again. "I can't imagine what you must have gone through… I…"

Everything about her was too kind; I had never before experienced such un-selfish regard for others. Suddenly, everything else, all the conditioning and beatings, every bit of self-loathing drained away, and I grabbed her around the shoulders and began, as in my dream, to weep.

"It's alright," she whispered, as I sobbed into her shoulder. "It's okay…"

Years and years of cruelty poured out that night; I knew that I would never fully heal. Yet I could no longer hold it all within me anymore. Instead, I let it all go into the shoulder of the one person in this whole world who had ever treated me like a human being.