The crowd began to space out like cattle finally let loose; they meandered about the open dirt road, energetic in the noon sun. A drizzle of soft noise concealed the conversation between the hunters and the monks. Kaia kept her distance, trying to read lips across the cluttered road.
Three crimson cloaks stood on the temple steps. They spoke to Father Abram with no expression while the religious man fidgeted with his hands. Grimness enveloped the space between them; it was important. Yet if Father Abram’s face looked anything, it was bored.
Kaia’s plans to intrude, to march up there with a confident quarrel in mind, to begin her protest loudly and absolutely, subsided against the decision to wait patiently.
Turns out, she had more patience than she’d thought.
Kaia tried to leap out of her skin..
So out of place from the musky gloom of that hut, Kaia almost couldn’t recognize the woman who smiled at her. The witch’s long black hair shined in the sun, shadowy, supernatural curls of a mystic spell abuser.
“Oh, hell,” Kaia said. She squinted at the stage for a moment before turning back. “What are you doing out?”
“I do leave from time to time,” the witch replied. “But, of course, as of now, I am merely here to witness this ‘demon’ in our midst.”
Kaia picked up on her tone. “You’re saying he isn’t one.”
“Of course not.”
Old Father Abram was backing up, losing his voice as he was pushed further and further out of the conversation, the hunters beginning to talk amongst themselves.
“I get it,” Kaia admitted. “They don’t seem to be too concerned about him.”
The witch looked at her with a questioning eye. Kaia looked back.
“The peasants, I mean. They’re not worried about him. If he escapes… why he’s here.”
“Well, they wouldn’t be.”
For once Kaia’s hostility dispersed. She relaxed with an energetic spin. “What do you mean?”
The witch hesitated before shrugging. Kaia squinted, deliberating this before she noticed the people around them and their wide birth. She was about to push it when the witch wondered, “Where is your brother?”
Oihane’s features turned soft, surprised.
“We’re leaving after we see what happens.”
Eyes darting from the girl to the temple steps and back again, the witch appeared lost for words. She fumbled with them, giving Kaia to change the subject back. “How many demons have they found in this town?”
The witch stared. “None.”
“How many do they think they’ve found?”
“This would be the first.”
Upon receiving no other explanation, Oihanne continued, “This is not common, if that’s what you mean. I wouldn’t know who this man is whom they’re committing. Though the town isn’t usually against outsiders, I imagine that’s what he is.”
“You think they’re lying to the Vampire Guild?”
Oihanne mulled this over.
“No,” she said finally. “I believe the priest really believes he’s found a demon.”
“And the townspeople?”
The witch cast a gaze over them. “Believe it doesn’t affect them.”
Kaia’s brow lowered. She chewed the skin off her lip. “They’re not afraid?”
“Well…” the witch hesitated. “They tend to believe the things from the Wyrd will not go after them.”
Kaia spun. “And the little girl?”
The woman held up her hands helplessly.
Kaia’s blood began to pulse, searched frantically about the ground as a thousand suspicions began to spread. Her pulse boiled up then immediately slowed. She took a breath and looked to the woman.
“The bar really was destroyed.”
“Yes,” the witch agreed. “I had no doubts that he did tear it apart.”
“He doesn’t appear human,” the girl continued. “He looks… supernatural. His features… and coloring… I mean… Why do you not think he’s a demon?”
The woman looked at her. “Why do you?”
“It’s unlikely,” she said flatly.
The witch shrugged. “I just don’t believe they would be able to contain him.”
The monk interrupted. He came rushing forward on the temple steps, addressing the people with his hands in the air.
“Men!” he said in attempts to quiet them. “The beast’s fate has been understood! We will waste not a movement in carrying out his retribution. The members of the Vampire Hunters Region will not return him to their headquarters for risk of escape. We will instead hang him from our own church tower immediately! With the guild’s watchful eye, the expression should be quick and safe!”
The crowd was silent until the loud booing.
This startled the monk. Attention drew to the small blonde girl at the far end of the crowd. The shock left him dumbstruck.
Oihanne turned a royal chin to watch as Kaia gave the men onstage a resounding thumbs down. The dark beauty, like most people of the crowd, granted the girl no more interaction than a look, and the monk shakily tried to continue.
“Ladies and gentleman, we’d like to ask that you’d vacate the temple while we do so to minimize chance of incident. Please, now, head—”
One of the older hunters threw out a hand in front of the monk.
“It seems we have a disagreement.”
Now Kaia was dumbstruck.
“Please, young lady. Come here.”
To say this wasn’t what she had expected would be giving her too much credit. In fact, as she searched her mind for what she thought would happen, she came up with a big, fat nothing. Kaia’s heart clenched as a sudden chilled sweat swept of her neck.
The monk hastily whispered something, but it did not dissuade the crimson hunter. His hand remained invitingly outstretched.
“I think you got them cornered,” Oihanne grinned viciously.
Kaia didn’t respond, slowly taking a few steps. Suddenly, she gained her composure and strode forward, hands in balls. She marched up the stairs and planted herself before him, staring him straight in the eye. He smiled condescendingly and encouragingly at the same time. She sized him up, she held high her chin. She took a breath and then whispered, “I just think he deserves a fair trial,” in the smallest voice possible.
The man lingered on her a moment, bent down and slightly kneeling to maintain his tall stature to hers, even shorter when standing on a step below. Finally, he rose along with the tune of the monk announcing, “This is a girl whom visited the beast’s cell every night.”
“Not e—” she started
“Ignore her, Magistrate.”
She paused and looked again to the man with the title.
“If she is not bewitched by him, she is at least infatuated with the dark.”
“Not necessarily,” she said.
“She and her brother are travelers of the Wyrd. She is not someone with a normal, healthy abrasion. Please, let us hurry.”
Kaia stared in sudden attempts to correct. She made false starts of words before spinning to the Magistrate Guild Hunter.
“We’re not…” she said. “We don’t… We don’t hunt vampires… Or even demons. We… Uh… Mostly do…” She bowed her head. “Exorcisms.”
He patted her patronizingly before looking to the monk.
“Come on. We should get a move on. Before lights out. That’s when they’re at their strongest.”
The men took to walking away when the girl found her voice.
“I think you should think about this!” she shouted. “You don’t even really know if this man is what they say he is. And...” She hesitated. “Even if he is, you don’t know if he’s dangerous.”
The magistrate whirled around, staring at her with just a twinge of hostility.
“Young miss, I don’t suppose you’re suggesting we just agree to a hanging without looking into it, are you?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know you.”
“I assure you that we are not the sorts to punish the innocent for the sake of haste. I also assure you that we are good at our jobs. You can expect us to know what we’re doing.”
She didn’t argue, but the struggle against rolling her eyes in disagreement was evident. He glowered at her.
“I assure you, we have looked into it.”
Her gaze remained on the distant ground, away from him. The man turned with satisfaction, marching the monk off. Kaia stood there, the eyes of the other two hunters on her.
She felt her heart get hiccups, a sudden pattering of embarrassment and franticness running like an injured bird. A flickering of undeveloped thoughts flashed through her head as she attempted to stall. All of her thoughts could not be gripped and her focus went to the predicting guilt as she stood there.
She turned to the crimson men pleadingly.
“Don’t you feel an immediate hanging is rash? He hasn’t done anything other than public damage. And that was when he was drunk. He hasn’t even tried to escape! He hasn’t hurt anyone.” She stopped, suddenly realizing. “He hasn’t tried to escape. That can’t be good. It must mean that he’s planning something. He’s always too calm for a dead man. By hanging here, you risk the lives of the peasants around. Clearly he’s planning something.”
They just laughed harshly, walking away. She stared, arms dropped to her sides, mouth in a hopeless frown.
She turned to see the witch in the crowd, not paying attention to this foolishness. The woman was casually but determinedly looking around, searching for something.
Kaia stared at her, suddenly wondering what she was really here for.
She turned with a sallow face to watch the people giving her loose looks, interested in what she may be doing, yet not invested enough to make an effort in paying attention. The girl sighed, quaking from embarrassment.
Kaia wandered aimlessly down the temple steps. Her eyes glazed with lack of focus. The witch watched her through her fingers, saying nothing as the girl met her at her side, turned around and gazed in the direction of the crowd’s implied focus, but the apathy had drained them and the temple was all that was left.
“I imagine that you expected they would have listened to the peasant protestor,” the witch said.
They looked at each other.
Kaia frowned before announcing, “If I thought before I spoke, I’d be a mute.”
The witch paused before nodding. “That would be unfortunate.”
The girl walked away.
Wind began to blow in a slightly harsher manner, a breath in the frying sun. Her heart twittered in an insulting way. It held a bit of issue with her decision making, and she found herself disgusted. She frowned to herself, gaze catching on each grimly bored face.
She was feeling the signs of premature humiliation, duly, the start of a growing regret that would last for months to come. On the furthest edge of her stomach also pinched with guilt, subtle horror pressing on the back of her neck.
Air steeply dropped, the sun dimming behind the clouds in the sky, a sudden chill darkening the yard in a bleak manner.
No one ever believes in the worst, no matter her pessimism, and thus denial spread a thick, numbing relaxant along her fingers and face, an obstruction that shoved the guilt up into her throat. And then, with that, she also gained the consciousness of being an idiot: the woman who fell for the charms of the imprisoned jackass. Though, personally, she realized that was not the case, but she was more certain that was what it looked like. To the untrained eye. The untrained, judgmental eye.
The dusty dry dampened in a dark shadow. The pressure of blowing silence deafened those in the street. Delayed cognation led to shivers across the shoulders and slowly the heads turned towards the tower of black ooze racing towards them.
The wave was the size of a tsunami. Lagging heads turned dragging minds with them. Faces morphed into long mouthed terror. The screaming started.
Surging, swallowing, sucking black ooze ate the landscape. A giant wall of thick wave fell over the town with a silent smack. Splat went the fat wave as it slapped down into the buildings. The sky went black. The building’s crunched. The town began to flood.
The crowd ran. They shoved and pushed. Few stood in incomprehension. They fell to the belly of the running goo.
Kaia strained. Such as in times of unadulterated terror, she blanked out into a flash of white.
She was not the kind to be paralyzed by panic; hundreds of experiences gave her strength. Though she had no sense of herself, she could sprint at an inhumane speed when fleeing.
Dirt kicked up underneath her feet. She raced the increasing shadow. Through the streets and across the town, she ran. Legs flipped back and forth and she burned right through the town even after her lungs dried and her calves burned, far from where the giant ooze monster was forming in the town square.