"Listen, girlie… I'm not really sure who got their wires crossed or where, but someone did somewhere along the lines. You're just not the one we've been waiting for. Trust us, we'd know." The old woman drawled, trying to sound indifferent, but there was a clear edge of annoyance in her voice.

"That's impossible. I have been trained and prepared for this day since I was born. My parents were told by Luminaria herself that I was the chosen who would step forward and sacrifice her life to you three in hopes of salvation for my people!" My lips were pursed tightly and my nostrils I could tell were flared in anger. How dare the old crone tell me I wasn't the girl they were waiting on, I had wasted my entire childhood for them and now they were turning me away? Did they know exactly what I had been subjected to?

I was not allowed to play with anyone. I was not allowed to eat meat. I was not allowed to wear fine clothes. I was not allowed to travel. I was forced to sit in my room all day and be a naïve, innocent, ignorant fool with no human contact outside of my parents or my nanny. I was taught etiquette, but nothing else. I was allowed three meals a day all of which were meals fit for rabbits, but not possibly human beings. All this so I would be pure – unpolluted – for the two old hags and their hideous and wrinkled master to take as a sacrifice so that they might not seek revenge on my insolent people.

"I specifically recall telling Luminaria we wanted the prettiest girl in the village. If you're the best they have to offer they were doomed without our aide." The second hag spoke up, chuckling a bit as she did. I wrinkled my nose and shot her a derisive glare.

"Where is your master? I wish to speak with him. Talking to you two is getting me nowhere at all." I huffed and put my hands on my hips. They looked me over and then shared a glance at each other with cruel and mocking grins.

"Very well, dear. We'll call the master, but he will be no nicer than us. In fact you will think us benevolent once he has said his part about you." They both let out shrill cackles and one stood and walked behind a curtain hanging on the stone wall behind her. When she returned a moment later she was accompanied by a rather dapper looking fellow who looked a bit annoyed at having been disturbed.

I looked him up and down, my brow knit together. "I asked for you to call your master. Where is he?"

"Don't be foolish. I am their master." The man who had entered gave me a withering stare and then scoffed. "This is the girl they send us? Can she even be considered a girl at all? Look at that appearance!"

I was really sick of everyone putting down the way I looked. Certainly I was not a stunning beauty, but what did they expect when the only sun I got was whatever came in through my bedroom window? When the only exercise I got was jumping on my bed in boredom? Not to mention I was allowed no makeup, no jewelry, and no pretty dresses to cover the effects of an all too sheltered life. Still, I was not ugly. I had to pass through my village on the way here and got to see almost every girl in it as all the folks were assembled to see their savior off – some were very beautiful, others were average, and some were even unattractive. Thinking of myself I would say I fit in with average. Perhaps I bordered unattractive, but some sun and running around outside would surely remedy that. As far as I was concerned there was no need to continuously draw attention to my less than gorgeous appearance – especially when it had never been stated to me or my parents that I had to be beautiful, only pure.

"First of all, I was not told I had to be beautiful. I was told I had to be unspoiled. Second, if one more comment is made that hints at me being ugly I will most definitely snap and murder you all." My jaw was set and the skin pulled painfully tight across it. This was really not the way I planned this going. I was supposed to show up, offer myself as sacrifice, and then they would kill me and be satisfied and I would be free of the insufferable and boring sorry excuse of a life I lead and my people would be safe. That was how it was supposed to go – so why wasn't it?!

"Unspoiled? What use would I have for something unspoiled? I care nothing for that. I only care about beauty. I am a man who is easily tempted by beautiful women and things. That is why I surround myself with these old hags – no temptation. If your people wanted to satiate me all they had to do was send me a beautiful and willing girl. Instead they send me you…"

"You call yourself a man? You're hardly older than I am!" I laughed – I laughed hard and long. Tears even sprang to my eyes. I was eighteen; he could not have been more that twenty. Still he called himself a man and acted like a king or an emperor. I didn't care about his skill in magic, he was a child playing pretend as far as I was concerned. He had no wife, no children – nothing outside the fear he instilled in my people (which I was still trying to figure out the source of). He was not a man. "No family, no anything. You live in a cave with your grandmothers and like to bully people who think you're some old and powerful wizard. That is not a man."

"And you are not a girl. Are you even human? Your skin is pale and nearly translucent. Your hair is the color of wet sand, and your eyes are so sunken in I can't discern a color. Your frame is lanky and awkward. You look like you couldn't lift a glass let alone anything heavier. Your cheekbones are the only things keeping your face from caving in, and your clothes hang on your form in a way I cannot begin to describe. They simply do not fit is all I can say and yet they look like they were made for children much younger than you – do you have flesh on your bones at all?" He growled and moved closer with every word. Soon he stood before me and I realized briefly that he was much taller than I expected. I knew I was tall for a woman since I was taller than both my nanny and my mother, but he still towered a good six inches over me. Even my father was only two or three more than I was.

His height did not intimidate me though, I just took notice of it much like I took notice of his striking golden eyes, his dark hair that was so rich a color of brown it almost looked black, the stubble growing on his chin, and the scar that split is right eyebrow into two parts with its pearly white contrast to the black hairs and his tanned skin. He noticed me taking in her appearance and adjusted his position so my eyes locked with his. "What?" I asked, a little annoyed at him for interrupting me. I wanted to drink in his appearance – I wanted to drink in everyone's appearance… except the two hags. I was scared what I would find if I looked too closely at them.

"It's not polite to stare." He stated – as if politeness mattered any to him!

"I grew up seeing three people my entire life, I believe that entitles me to stare at whomever I wish. I've never seen so many different features before I left to come here three days ago." I immediately went back to my inspection of him. He grunted and I looked up again with an exasperated sigh.

"You don't seem like someone pure and sheltered. You've got quite the attitude and tongue." He looked down his nose (which was straight, though slightly turned up at the end, but not so much as to make him look like a pig) at me and seemed to be scrutinizing my ever facial expression, word, and movement. "Where does one get such a demeanor from when they're locked in a room and only allowed the company of the same three people their entire life?"

"I guess I was just born with it."

"It is the attitude of one who knows what they have been denied and is bitter for the loss. How do you know what you have been denied if you were kept inside all this time?"

"I read about life outside my prison cell of a room."

"And how did you learn to read?"

"I taught myself."

"Impossible." He scoffed and gave me an incredulous look.

"It is not. My mother always read to me when I was younger – the same innocent stories. Over time I memorized the words and was able to match the words with the letters in the book. From there I snuck a book from our library whenever I was allowed out of my room and used the books I already knew the words of to figure out as much of the new books as possible. Sounds for things came over time and eventually I became quite proficient. When I told my nanny of the fact she seemed rather pleasantly surprised and from there on out she helped me nurture the talent." I stared him down, daring him to question me further. He didn't. He merely regarded me coolly, though for a moment I thought I saw a spark of interest in his eyes.

"I find it farfetched, but to be honest it is no concern of mine how you came to read or acquire this unattractive temperament. My only concern is getting you to leave since there has been a huge mistake and you are not the girl we've been waiting for."

"If you did not request a pure girl for sacrifice, who did?" I asked, gritting my teeth in annoyance.

"Well, it could have been Ronin… or Jesabelle. I would say Jesabelle is a more likely choice. She enjoys torturing the naïve and she truly despises pure women – perhaps because she herself is so unpure." He smirked wickedly and I was rather certain I didn't want to know anything about the meaning behind it. "I should visit dear Jesabelle…"

"Well, if you're going to see her – take me with you."

"What? Why would I do that?" He asked, clearly confused.

"You said she may very well be the one who asked for someone like me… though I find it hard to believe there could be so many out to destroy my people. Still, I should go to her and find out."

"You would be walking to your death."

"I have been raised to die." I countered without skipping a beat or batting an eyelash. "If I go back, nothing will change. They would assume they just sent me off too soon, that I would be needed in the future. Even if they gave up and let me live normally… I wouldn't have a clue what to do. How could I live any differently than the way I lived for eighteen years? That is what scares me most. I don't want to live like that anymore, but I would not really have a choice if I didn't die. I would much rather die."

His golden gaze swept over my stoic features, looking for a sign of a bluff, but he would find none. I would certainly rather be dead – at least then I'd have an excuse for not living. "Go home. You are not wanted here and I will not take you to Jesabelle. Someone made a mistake. Why don't you go try to find out who?" Just like that he turned and walked away, disappearing behind the same dark curtain he has entered through. I stood, jaw hanging slightly slack, staring at the swaying curtain in disbelief.

The two old women grinned at me evilly and one made a shooing motion with her hand. I snapped out of my shock and straightened up, snapping my mouth closed and letting out a sharp, short burst of air through my nose. Turning on my heel I stalked toward the exit and made my way out into the drizzle of rain that had started and looked around at the barren mountain sides around me. Only a few sparse trees grew on them so there was no need for a clearly defined path up to the den of the Great Warlock Elaandril (which isn't even his real name, mind you), but still there was one that stretched out beneath my feet and curved a winding path down until it met with the creamy hay fields below.

Thoroughly irate with the warlock, his hags, the rain, my lack of a cloak, and the whole situation I looked at the path and then scoffed indignantly before tromping off almost straight down the side of the mountains and ignoring said path completely. There was no use for it anyway, so why shouldn't it just be ignored?