by Monica Valentinelli
A musky scent drifts lazily on stale, moonlit air. Alara knows this scent—fear—it holds little meaning to her. Her hawk’s eyes narrow as she circles above the cemetery searching for her dinner. Focusing on a small, brown mouse huddled against a piece of stone, she dives to strike. The mouse spots her and freezes.
Something hot hisses and sparks, burning her dinner to a blackened crisp. Alara leaps to the night air, squawking in alarm. She lifts higher, caught by the smell of pungent, moldy earth and burning candle fat. Faint sounds penetrate the smells; a harsh voice interrupts the monotonous droning. Alara knows the voice—it belongs to her master.