Leaves swirled in the night breeze as we stood waiting at the crossroads. A cold wind blew, its low drone anchoring the empty soundscape. In the far distance, an animal cried out; for fear, pain, or the sheer savage joy of it, we knew not.

She approached us from behind, so silently it took me a moment to realize a third had joined us.

"Who is this newcomer?" she said, her lips brushing past my ear as she glided between us.

"I could ask you the same question, ma'am," said Peter, "but why don't we introduce ourselves properly?" He said his name and extended a hand to her.

Her eyes fell upon the hand, then slowly traveled up his body, stopping at his own eyes. The wind died down; an unnatural silence filled the air.

"He cannot come."


"He leaves, or I won't take you at all."

"It's fine." Peter held up his hands in surrender. "I have. . . other things to do tonight."

Perhaps it was only a trick of the moonlight, but I could have sworn his once-ruddy face was as pale as a bleached bone.

She watched him retreat down the road to our town, then turned to me. "Any other friends you'd care to show me off to?"

"Um, no."

"Then come."

Her long, pale fingers closed around mine, and we disappeared.

"You must be more careful in who you bring to me," she remarked once we arrived.

"But I've known Peter for years," I said. "I'd trust him with my life."

"He is trustworthy," she agreed. "For that alone I let him live, having seen my face. But he was wrong for this—constitutionally so—and what's more, he feared me."

"Of course he did. The way you snuck up behind us, stared him down—we met at midnight at a crossroads, for God's sake!"

"Your superstitions amuse me." A faint twitch of laughter played across her lips. "But why do you look at me when such a view stands before you?"

We stood upon a natural dome of white limestone that gleamed in the moonlight. The rock ended not ten feet before us; beyond stretched rolling, tree-covered mountains. The moonlight cast them into sharp relief, exposing every crinkle and bend in the ridges. A thousand stars shone above us, far more than I recalled from the walk to the crossroads.

I drew closer to the edge. A sudden updraft blew my hair back from my face. The trees below were a solid mass of shadow, interrupted only by the wrinkle of a stream flowing through the vale.

"Five hundred feet to the valley floor. . ." she said.

"Only that far?"

"Yes." She grinned. "I want you to jump."

"What?" I backed away from the ledge.

Her grin faded as quickly as it had come. "Don't you trust me?"

"Not enough to kill myself for you."

"That's where the trust comes in," she said, as if explaining a simple concept to a child. Then again, as her kind reckons the years, I probably was one.

I hesitated. "What happens if I do?"

"You'll see."


"Would you rather return to Peter?" she mocked. "I'm sure he's holed up in one of those stifling houseboxes your kind values so highly, safe and warm in still air like a—"

"I'm no coward," I insisted, though my insides disagreed.

"Then jump. I've never steered you wrong before, have I?"

I stepped closer to the ledge, noticing for the first time the comfort of solid ground beneath my feet. Perhaps for the last? But what would she gain by sending me to my death? She'd have to start all over, train a new. . . whatever she'd been trying to turn me into.

The empty space beckoned, pulling me into its embrace. I took a deep breath and jumped.

My mother's voice echoed in my mind: You're far too trusting of strangers, bless your heart.

They say your life flashes before your eyes in the face of death. All I saw as I accelerated inexorably toward the ground was a slideshow of disapproval.

I can't believe you bought that snake oil, my brother complained. How can someone as smart as you be so gullible?

Just who is this person you've been meeting alone late at night? Peter asked, concerned.

The wind screamed past my face as I tumbled downward with all the grace of a drunk acrobat. Had I been able to draw breath, I would have screamed back.

How long had I been falling? More importantly, how long did I have left?

The trees stood out in sharp detail, ready to tear my body to pieces. . .

Abruptly, the wind changed its pitch. My descent slowed, its trajectory shifted ever so slightly, and the forest seemed to stall in place. I skimmed across the treetops, leaves brushing against my feet, then slipped between the boughs and landed on the forest floor.

I fell to the ground, gasping for breath as I dug my fingers into the stony soil. Sweet terra firma, how could I have abandoned thee for the sake of that—

"I do hope you've still got your wits about you," she said, hovering above me.

I spun around. There she stood, balanced upon a fallen log.

"Why did. . . How could. . . Why?"

"What do you think?" Her eyes gleamed with merriment at my discomposure. "Did you enjoy the ride?"

"I was this close to death," I stammered, pinching my fingers together for emphasis.

"Don't be so melodramatic," she chided. "I practically designed this valley for such stunts." She hopped down from the log, skimming the woods with a casual glance.

"Do you still trust me?" she asked as she reached me, extending a hand.

I gave her an incredulous stare. Trust her? After that?

But she had stopped my fall. . .

I pulled myself up, shook myself off, and took her hand.

"Excellent," she said as our surroundings faded away. "You'll do just fine for what I have in mind. . ."