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Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Hearth

There were murmurs and crowds gathering in the main street. When Ashe left the small house she found Elky standing there still holding his hands at his ears and his eyes shut. After she realised calling him would not get her any reactions, she placed her hand on his shoulder which jerked the poor demon up and he almost screamed. "What is happening?" Ashe asked. "I have no idea," Elky shrugged, "I wasn't seeing or listening." Ashe smiled at his innocence.

Deeba left the room and when she saw the crowd, she asked the same question. "You told me not to see or hear anything," Elky defended himself when she rolled her eyes. "You two stay here, I'll check," Deeba said and left them. She didn't need to go too far to find out what had happened. One of the men who was glad he was being talked to by a pretty lady, explained to her. Her expression changed as she ran back, "You two," she tried to catch her breath, "go back home. They just killed a mongrel. Run." Ashe's eyes widened. Elky grabbed her paralysed wrist and pulled her out of the place.

"Not a very good job with hiding your eye," Elky nagged, "I'm happy that she was a friend." Ashe saw he tightened his grip around her wrist and felt shameful. Deeba had not shown any reactions to her eye, and she didn't know when she got to know. She didn't know if she should have been happy for her kindness or mad at herself for being careless.

Near the cave house, they slowed down as the danger was now gone. "What happened there?" Ashe asked. "I…" Elky was struggling to catch his breath, "I don't know. She said run."

"She said they killed a mongrel," Ashe reminded him, "what does that mean?" Elky looked at her in question, not sure how to explain such a simple question. "Soldiers," he tried to elaborate, "they find the ones with the yellow eyes and kill them. They started a few days ago. There are posters everywhere." This was the first time she had heard such a thing. She knew she was not loved in the orphanage but didn't know now the whole world hated her breed. Now she could understand what Kaith meant. "Why?" she whispered to herself trying not to scream. "They are scared of your kind of people," He told her, "apparently your king had a dream."

Ashe looked at the creature almost with disgust, "why don't they kill demons?" she hissed and regretted the moment the words left her mouth. But Elky didn't seem to mind. "We are weakened by the curse," he whispered, "and we are not the demons humans think we are." He let go of her.

They went back home in silence. Ashe was feeling awful about saying those words and Elky seemed to be drowned in thoughts; an action Ashe thought was impossible for him. "We are good creatures," Elky said once they entered the house, "and we are intelligent. Unlike the demons humans created in their stories, we are not evil," he added sorrowfully. Ashe approached him from behind and placed her arms around him, her head just next to his, "you are beautiful and intelligent. I'm sorry I said that." Elky turned and embraced her. His eyes filled with tears as he sobbed silently as if grieving for something.

Without saying, Ashe started living with Elky. He didn't mind sharing his uncomfortable bed with Ashe and would even try harder than usual, based on Deeba, to make his house more comfortable for her. His first achievement, which Elky was really proud of was the wooden door he got from the neighbour whose husband had died and she wanted to move away.

Ashe had the eye that would reveal her identity. She was forbidden to leave the house by Elky. When Elky brought one of the posters home to show her why she had to stay inside, she understood. The posters were encouraging people to kill the mongrels as they saw them or call the soldiers. It was said that it was the king's insight that had led to this. To recognise them, people had to pay attention to the eyes. They all had one yellow eye.

In the flyer, they wrote they were dangerous beings and the government would give coins to whoever killed or found a mongrel.

After the flyer was out and hunting mongrels were officially legal, Elky forced her to remain home to stay safe and he would go out to find food for them. Ashe tried covering the eye with her hair. But the hair was annoying and dangerous. One breeze was enough for her life to be in danger.

Finding food for two people was more difficult now. It was easier for Elky as he was just a baby demon no one really cared for. They would give him whatever they didn't want or he would find something from the trash. But now, for Ashe, he would go further and come back home with fresh fruits and leftover food. Instead of just begging people for help, he had started to work for them, do their chores and take food in exchange. As the people in the slums were poor like himself, he had to go to the other areas to get something good. He seemed careless and silly and did not seem harmless to any humans and some were kind enough to help him. Now that he had Ashe as an excuse, he forced himself to ask strangers for help. Mostly he would be pushed away; but not always.

It was a month later that Elky came back home with a leather eye patch he had taken from one of the ladies "who answers questions" and had said it belonged to one of her friends who had left it. "Take it," Elky said proudly as he held out his arm with the eye patch in his palm. Seeing it, she was excited. She placed it on her eye and Elky helped her to tighten it. She then grabbed his hand and ran towards the door.

The autumn sun was shining weakly in the sky. The streets were covered with orange and brown dry leaves. She jumped on the leaves and laughed with the rustle of the leaves while forcing Elky to follow her.

From then, it was both of them who would go to find food. She could help Elky to find food and clothes instead of being a burden and she loved that feeling. They had even invented a cover-up story about her eye: she had lost her eyesight in an accident and her arm became crippled while she lost her parents at the same time. As people were looking only for the yellow eyes, hearing that story convinced them that she was a human orphan living with a demon.

People were kind to the crippled little girl. They loved to hear her fake story, show sympathy and donate something to her, only to make themselves feel good. They dared to go to the areas for rich people and ask for something from them. They were not as kind but they would allow their servants to give away the things they wanted to throw in the trash. "The more they have to eat, the less they want to give to others," Elky used to say and it was true.

One day she returned with a blanket which was almost fine with no holes in it and once she had to call for Elky to help her bring a thin futon back home. They had to share the futon on the stone stage which was their bed, but having an extra blanket was good as it was getting colder. At nights, Elky would hold her hand to go to sleep and that had become a habit for both of them. They were so grateful to have found one another and as if they feared the other one would vanish, they just couldn't let go. Those days were the time when Ashe later one called them her golden days of youth. They had nothing, yet they were happy and could go on like that. But nothing ever status the same.

"I feel like you have taken away my popularity," Elky told her one day they met on the way back home. He was holding a basket of apples, most of them not even edible and she was holding a basket containing bread and jam. "No," she said mockingly, "I'm just prettier," she said and smiled devilishly. Elky made an irritated face but didn't say anything. Ever since he had started working harder, his round belly had been disappearing. At that point, it was almost gone.

The sound of some horses attracted their attention and they hid by the corner of a wall of a house by the alley by hearing it and looked at the source of the sound. Four horses were carrying four men in armours. "Soldiers," Elky said, "We should go from another way." When he tried to move, Ashe pulled him back, "the other way is too far and it is almost night," she said but mostly she was curious about what would happen. "Please remember that soldiers are not to be fooled and they might take away your eyepatch," he begged. "Don't worry," she hissed and looked at the soldiers. She was not planning on showing herself anyway.

The soldiers didn't seem to look for trouble. Rather they were looking for a specific person. They would look at every corner and look especially sharply at every teenage boy who passed them. The two hiding behind the wall were staring at them with fear. "Let's go," Elky insisted, pulling her dress, "I don't like them." Ashe rolled her eye, "they would kill me, not you." Elky shivered by the idea and held her paralysed hand firmly; without her feeling it.

He sighed and stayed silent. When Ashe was onto something it was impossible to make her do otherwise. He sat there with a sad face, holding his knees close to his chest and looking down.

"Please be quiet," Ashe told him when he was making an "mm" sound. When he didn't shut up, she turned around to see a brown hair boy pushing his hand on Elky's mouth. Before she could do anything, he placed his index finger of his free on his lips, "I'm a friend," he announced before Ashe hit him with her lifted fist. He had big blue eyes on a small face, on the edge of becoming a man, maybe a few years older than her. His clothes were good quality, she noted, but dirty.

The boy let go of Elky. "If you are a friend, why did you do that?" Elky complained. "You were about to shout," he explained, "they are looking for me!" Once again they looked at the soldiers from their hideout. "Why?" Elky asked. "I have broken something," he chuckled.

"You have a pretty friend there," he told Elky when they sat by the wall not checking the soldiers anymore and made Elky's face wrinkle his nose. The boy looked at Ashe's red face and grinned. She dropped her gaze to the ground.

Elky, ignoring the boy and already deciding that he doesn't like him, pulled the corner of Ashe's cloak, "we should go." Ashe knew that there would be no adventure there if they were just looking for a boy who had broken something. She was waiting to see if they caught somebody or would do something worse. She was curious about this ever since that day in front of Deeba's house. She wanted to know what might trigger a soldier to kill a mongrel like that in the daylight with no shame. Would it just happen or they needed an excuse? Thinking about it made her heart pound faster and she didn't know if it was excitement or fear. But now, if they were looking for a young boy, probably a thief, there was nothing to look at.

"OK," she finally said, "but they will see us." The boy looked at them playfully. "You are scared of them?" he asked. Both stayed silent. The boy scratched the back of his head. "They will leave when they get me," he said, "and they will, eventually."

Ashe's face was worried, "they don't have to! We can run away together!" she suggested. "To get us all caught?" he asked reading Elky's mind, "I will do you a favour," he smirked and looked at Ashe with his playful eyes, "but not for free," he stated and leaned forward to press his lips on hers smoothly. Before she could do anything, he leaned back. "I'm Hearth," he introduced himself, "and I will see you soon." he ran out of their hideout and showed himself to the soldiers. They didn't hit him. They helped him mount one of the horses and went back towards the castle. They did not meet as 'soon' as he had promised.


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