--Okay. How about this one?
A long time ago, in a beautiful castle, there was a princess named--
Not that one! The other one. Tell the other one.
--Not tonight, love.
Please? I won't tell Mommy.
--... okay. Just a little bit, though.
Once upon a time, there was a girl. Not just any girl, but the one girl in all the world, the inheritor of a terrible and ancient power. She looked like a regular girl, innocent and pretty, but nothing could be further from the truth. They called her the Slayer.
The Slayer was strong and fast and bloodthirsty, and she walked the earth at night. People told stories about her, just like this. Everybody knew about her, even people she'd never met. Her name traveled the underground like wildfire, the kind of thing that even demons use to scare their children. When they came within her territory, the darkest of things walked carefully, and looked over their shoulders.
Was she scary?
Oh yes, very scary. She wasn't much to look at, not in the daytime anyway. Just a girl. But at night! She was sly and quick and she made the shadows dance with her sharp, sharp knives. Death was an art to her, one that she made with her hands, day after day. She lived for the hunt.
For years she carved her way through the nights, carving her way through the dark places until nowhere and nothing was safe from her. But news traveled in the stories that the baddest things tell, and soon enough, only the very young and the very dumb could be caught out in her hunting grounds at night.
So, the Slayer took to hunting newborns.
She walked the graveyards in the early evenings, and when a fledgling rose, she was there to give him a hand out of the ground.
One night, a fledgling dug himself out of the ground. There was dirt in his eyes and under his fingernails, and he was scratched and bloody and tired. When the hand came down, he clasped it without thinking, and let the owner pull him up.
It was a girl. Just a girl, young and innocent and tasty. He smiled.
She smiled back, not very nicely. "There's something on your face," she said.
And then he looked into her eyes, and he understood. She raised a pair of wicked curved blades and crossed them. His stopped heart clenched with cold fear. He might have been young, but when he looked at the bright blades, he knew right then that he wasn't going to get any older.
"Are you ready to play?" she asked, letting the blades sing against each other as they pressed towards him. He shook his head as he backed away.
She smiled at him, a wide, vicious smile, bright with teeth.
"Then I guess you better run."
And that's what he did.
He couldn't have known that it was the worst mistake to make, that the graveyards were her hunting grounds, or that running was just what she wanted him to do. He just knew that this was home, that somewhere here there were people waiting for him, and he wanted to get away.
The fledgling ran as fast as he could, weaving in and out of the grave markers, tripping over the broken stones in his hurry to escape. He ran with all of his new speed and strength, ran until his legs felt like lead.
But she didn't chase him. She didn't need to. She let him run until he was lost, until he was walking all alone in the graveyard, until there was nobody around at all, just the sharp shadows under the bright moon.
When he finally stopped, everything was very quiet. He stood there, and in the stillness he imagined that he heard all kinds of things. Crickets and rustling in the bushes - just a raccoon, probably - and the hooting of a distant owl, and distant footsteps walking quietly through the grass.
But it couldn't be. Just fear playing tricks on him. "No," he told himself. "There's nothing out there except the crickets."
But he could still hear it, a very soft tap-tap-tapping of footsteps coming closer and closer.
"I know you're out there!" he called out. It sounded very loud in the empty graveyard, and he could hear things rustling in the darkness, but nothing answered.
And then footsteps stopped for a moment, and then they started again, a little faster and a little nearer. They sounded so close now, except that he couldn't quite tell which direction she was coming from, as though if he were to turn around she might be right there, with her sharp knives raised and that horrible, bare-toothed smile.
Something moved in the corner of his eye, a quick jagged shadow.
He looked around, but there was nothing there.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
What was that? He could hear it now, steady and measured, like a drumbeat coming closer.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
It wasn't his own heartbeat, he knew that. He couldn't hear his own heartbeat at all any more.
No, it was hers. And it was very close.
Nervously, he turned in a slow circle. Nothing. A little way off, the silhouette of a treebranch waved gently in the breeze, knocking against a headstone.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Not a heartbeat at all, but just a tree. And he laughed a little at himself as he turned away. Some creature of the night he was, being scared of a tree.
He heard it coming from behind, with just enough time to half-turn, to see her leaping down on him from above. Out of that very tree after all, her eyes bright with violence and her sharp knives raised, she fell on him and there was no time to run, no time to do anything at all.
And he fell to the ground, but the knives were there before him, slicing shallow cuts - snick-snick-snick - and now when he tried to run she seemed to be everywhere, a forest of knives and eyes and blood and bright teeth.
"You shouldn't have tried to run," she told him. Her voice was high and horrible, piercing him worse than her knives. "I don't like it when you make me run."
And he wanted to tell her he was sorry, wanted to ask her for mercy, wanted to ask her to make it quick.
But it was much too late for that.
Snick-snick-snick, went her knives, and a lot more blood would flow before she was done.
Was he dead?
--Yeah. Kind of the point, innit? Though technically he was dead already.
It wasn't a very scary story.
--You should stop complaining so much, or the Slayer will come get you.
Maybe it was a little bit scary. But not very much.
--I'll tell you a scarier one tomorrow. There's a master vampire and a hellgod and everything. Scare you to death, I promise.
The lamp flicks off, but he leaves the door a little ajar, letting hall light spill into the darkened room.