Rose's eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat. Her cheeks flushed, and she felt nervous around the man. Part of her was desperate to flee, but the pain she felt in her legs and wings reminded her that her chances of escaping were—at best—slim.
When it was apparent to the man that Rose would not take his hand, he retracted it and rummaged through his coat pocket instead. With ease, he pulled out a small, glowing blue vial along with a white handkerchief. He popped it open and dabbed some of the goo onto the handkerchief.
The stranger then knelt to Rose's level, causing the girl to cringe away from him, a soundless whimper caught in her throat.
"This will heal your injuries, my dear," he said gently, reaching out and grasping her leg. "Although, I can see a fair few have already finished."
Rose eyed him warily as the man wiped the bullet wound at the side of her knee. The ceaseless burning immediately soothed, and she gasped, the man seemingly smiling behind his mask as he watched.
"May I see your wings again, dear girl?" he inquired. Rose couldn't help but notice that he spoke with a subtle English accent.
Can I trust him? Rose wondered, even as she tentatively stretched out a wing towards him.
Maybe it was only hopeful belief on her part to humor him. Maybe some part of her trusted him on instinct... she wasn't entirely certain. All she knew was that the man was kind enough to help her, and his strange medicine was healing her injuries.
He gently wiped some of the goo on her wings and Rose watched, transfixed, as the holes and tears melded themselves whole and the pain slipped away.
He repeated this process with each of her injuries and Rose observed in silence, watching him do this. When all her injuries were healed by the mysterious azure balm, Rose finally seemed to have found her voice.
"Who are you...?" she asked, trembling. "What do you want?"
The man chuckled and raised his left hand, placing it over his heart and bowing. "Pardon me, my dear. You may call me Nigel. I have come to fetch you."
A shiver ran through her. "Am I going to hell?"
He laughed at that, although it came out more forced than the previous chuckle. "No. I do not believe you are, child. Pay no attention to those humans. You are no more a demon than I am."
"A-are you a demon?"
He tilted his head. "Not since I last checked."
Rose's hands clenched into fists. Now that the pain subsided, and she was reasonably confident in her ability to defend herself from the stranger, she mustered some renewed courage and energy, even if it was only meager compared to the chilling fear still inside of her. She swallowed roughly.
"You... you said you were here to fetch me. Y-you sound like you... like you know what's going on. Can you—no—will you tell me?"
He nodded and, slowly, sat down next to her, tucking away the vial and handkerchief. "I will do my best to answer your questions, my dear."
"Why am I like this?" Rose demanded, gesturing towards her monstrous features.
"You turned ten today," he said. "A full decade since you had come into this world. In your particular case, that would mean your magic has begun to awaken. Due to your—ah—upbringing, your magic had previously been sealed away. Though when that seal was broken earlier today, your magic released part of your true form."
"Magic..." Rose repeated, incredulous. "Magic. There is no such thing as magic."
The man pointedly looked down at her tail that rested in her lap. Rose flushed.
"W-well that can be explained some—some other way!"
"Really..." Nigel scoffed, bemused. "Do tell."
"I-I don't know, but surely—"
Nigel raised his right hand and snapped his fingers. Sparks of red light ignited at the tip of his fingertips before a small fire bloomed to life. Orange, red, and yellow danced together in an unnatural fashion, filling the air with a warmth that radiated compassion and kindness. Rose couldn't understand it, but what she felt was too strong to ignore. She knew, deep inside her heart, that fire was one made with kindness.
Nigel held the entrancing flame out to Rose, and the tips of the fire waved to her, like she was an old and dear friend. Rose shook her head, tangled black hair slapping her face as she did so.
"Th-that could just be a trick..."
Nigel tossed the fire into the air and it formed a small ball before circling around Rose repeatedly. It zoomed around her so quick that it left behind an unending red trail in the air.
Then another snap of his fingers caused it to stop, disappearing into nothing and taking its gentle warmth with it.
Rose was speechless. Magic. Magic.
She couldn't believe it. In all her life, Rose had only dreamed of such a thing happening to her. There was magic in the world—she was magical. A sort of warmth and excitement bubbled over within her at the thought, and Rose could hardly fight the grin on her face.
She looked up at Nigel excitedly, pain and fear momentarily forgotten in place of childlike wonder. "And I can do that?"
"Your kind have a special affinity for fire, so yes, you can," answered Nigel. "However, magic is not all fun. You must learn to control your power, or else it will consume you. There are few worse fates than being overtaken by one's own magic."
Rose's eyes widened, and she sucked in a sharp breath. Could anything be worse than getting shot at? Could anything be worse than being hunted down like a wild animal? How could anything be worse than nearly being killed by people you trusted?
The little girl didn't think it could possibly get worse than that, but on the off chance it could—
Rose swallowed roughly, the lump of anxiety in her throat making it hard to speak. "H-how? Will you teach me how, then?"
"I will," he said, "but I will not be your only instructor. There is a school for Neheburs like us to learn and grow."
"A school? Like... like a boarding school? Away from here? Far, far away?" Rose then caught onto the odd word, her facing scrunching up in complete bafflement. Her tongue wrestled to correctly repeat the weird word she had just heard. "N-nehe-hay-burs? Like neighbors?"
"The school is certainly far away," Nigel continued, "but I cannot take you there yet. The term hasn't started, and there are a few more things that need to be done to accommodate you. And—yes—like neighbors. Neheburs are what we call ourselves in the Community. For now, though... I am here to take you back to the orphanage."
Rose lurched away from him, her eyes burned with fierce panic and dread. "You can't! I won't go back... they'll kill me!"
Nigel shook his head, rising to his feet and brushing off dirt from his pants. "They will not. They are no longer bewitched by your thrall."
"By my what? And they were... what?"
"Your kind have a unique ability...," Nigel explained slowly, carefully. "Your natural magic is something that falls in between Red and Black and is one of the Older and Darker arts. Your kind emit a strong thrall upon the release of this magic. A thrall is a bewitchment, it enchants and ensnares all those who do not have a strong enough magical resistance. Your particular kind of thrall will cause these victims to succumb to blinding fear."
"Fear..." Rose repeated, aghast, tasting a vile bitterness in her mouth. A surge of anger shot through her and she snapped, "They weren't afraid of me. They hated me! They tried to kill me."
"Fear can drive many people to the brink of insanity, and it can bring out the worst in us," Nigel murmured, his tone gentle as he attempted soothing the furious little girl. "Thankfully, as you are still a child, your thrall was weak and did not destroy their minds entirely. I have lifted them from their bewitchment, and they will not fall prey to your thrall again so soon."
Rose didn't know how to feel about that. In place of her fear was only anger and resentment. These burning emotions coiled in the pit of her stomach like a snake readying for attack. It was hard to accept the fact that the people who had betrayed her so harshly had done so because they were incapable of resisting her magic. It was so much easier to hate them and be done with it.
Even if they weren't at fault, Rose wasn't sure she could ever forgive them. Their shouts and gunshots seemed forever engraved in her mind, a disturbing and eerie symphony ringing in her ears every time she closed her eyes.
But Rose doubted she could explain all of that to Nigel. He said he was there to take her back, and she doubted he would accept her reasonings against such... her reasons being unshakable terror and fury.
"What about my wings and tail? And—and, wait! There was a man who picked me up earlier. I-I think he was human, but he wasn't afraid of me. He... he seemed to accept me."
"Your thrall only lasted for the initial release of your magic and would only affect those surrounding you in that area," Nigel answered. "While it would continue to linger in their minds until it was released, it would not spread past that area. The man who helped you earlier likely did so out of the goodness of his heart... he also did not see your true form."
"That would be the Curtain," he said. "Something of which you will learn about in school. And as for your appearance: I will force you back into your human skin. It will be uncomfortable, but swift. After that, I will take you back to the orphanage, and you will wait for me until August 1st. I will collect you and then to take you to our school, Gardenia."
The prospect of attending a magical school brought Rose out of her anger temporarily, several other ideas replacing her initial concerns. Rose shifted nervously.
"What—um—what do I need to bring? How much is it?"
"Your tuition is paid for, and I will take care of your supplies," Nigel reassured her gently. "Now hold still. This will be over soon."
"Wait!" Rose exclaimed. "You didn't say what exactly I am."
Nigel cocked his head. "Dear, haven't you ever heard of a dragon?"