“She’s a fraud,” Kaia announced, walking up to her brother in the middle of the road.
He spun in a dazed shock then made a double take down the street and back.
“How did you find me?” he asked.
“A watering rod and a pitchfork.”
The dirt road was practically empty, the small, single story houses clumped together tight alongside it. Kaia suddenly noticed her brother’s expression, as if caught with his hand fighting the cookie jar. Her brow furrowed.
“What did you find?”
He started shaking his head. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Rasmus quickly interrupted. “Who’s a fraud?”
“The witch. I went there to have her scry the little girl for me. She couldn’t do it.”
“What’d information you tell her?”
“Little,” she shrugged.
“Then of course it didn’t work. How could she find something if she doesn’t know what she was looking for?”
She groaned a little before. “We need to find out if this girl even exists.” Her eyes flicked around. “What are you doing here?”
Rasmus sighed. “I need to talk to the parents.”
She gave the plain wooden door a once-over. “This them? How did you…?”
“And if they don’t let us in?”
“And if they attack us?” she smiled.
“I’m not expecting to be out numbered, and I’d like to kick the crap out of someone today.”
His fist clenched and unclenched.
“We get to the bottom of it tonight,” she said. “And then we will save her. And then I’m going to expose an imposter.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You mean us?”
“The guy who’s lying to us, making up this ‘spirited away’ nonsense. And for this mission, we’re the real deal, baby.”
“Not according to the voice.”
She paused. “You’re hearing voices now, Rasmus?”
He grinned. “In the forest.”
“You’re hearing voices in the forest?”
“Real voices in the forest,” he assured. “It gave me some information and proved we are not dealing with just any woods.”
She panicked. “It proved that you’re a lunatic! What did you say to it? You didn’t promise it anything, did you?”
His brows flexed.
“How did you know?”
“Voices always ask for things. You don’t ever give it to them! What did it want?”
She blinked. “A hooker?”
Kaia blinked. Her eyes contorted shut, and she grabbed at her head, groaning. “You stupid idiot.” An arm jerked out. She pointed at the door, fed up. “Go talk to the parents!”
“I’m not joking, Kaia.”
“Away with you!”
“That’s what it asked me for!”
“Well, you can’t give it to him!”
“It’s a pie.”
“You don’t know what he wants to do with it.”
“I think he wants to eat it.”
“Never give them what they want.”
“I’m not going to back out of it!”
“Do you know how many bad stories end up that way?”
“Do you know how many bad stories start with, ‘And the king made his promise and then broke it and then turned into a pig’? It’s not like it’s my first born kid or anything.”
“But that’s how it starts,” she said.
They just stared at each other, both not really certain if the other was just messing around.
“I’m going to talk with the parents,” Rasmus said finally. “Do not follow me.
You’re in no mood to talk to a grieving mother.”
“You’re going to open that door to a fat man in a wig,” Kaia dismissed, turning on her heel.
He waited until she was down the road, giving him one last look as she turned the corner. Then he knocked.
Rasmus had made it to the house without being seen by a soul.
There was no sound inside. It may be empty and his luck had run out. But then the sniffling grew just loud enough to be heard, and he realized that the woman had been weeping silently. She came to the door with eyes red as blood, a pitiful expression that wrenched his heart.
She didn’t even say hello as she pulled the entryway open, scanning him over in suspicion.
She was a young mother, the wrinkles of age very few to her face, but a large amount of stress growing in their place. The sun-bleached skin looked red in the dark light of the candles, and her clothes appeared unwashed, though due to depression or poverty it was hard to say.
She slammed the door in his face.
He paused, and then prepared to knock again. Before he could even touch it, the sound of muted metal moving about emanated through the door, and it suddenly reopened, the woman’s eyes wide with concern. He opened his mouth. Suddenly, she gestured to enter.
Rasmus walked into dead silence.
Her eyes followed him. He moved with a hesitant step, heading towards the middle of the room, soft dirt floor sifting around his feet. He turned back to her. She merely waited.
He didn’t even know how to start.
Suddenly the woman jerked forward to speak. But instead of sound, she turned away, almost ashamed. Her eyes trailed back, hopeful. Tears started dripped, and she clutched her fingers to her mouth.
Finally, Rasmus tried. “Are you the mother of… the child who’s been taken?”
She hesitated a long time, deep in thought like the question was philosophical or confusing. She nodded.
He stepped forward. “I am the man hired to bring her back. I need to ask you a few questions, answers you’re the best person to help me with.”
Her lips remained tight, eyes on the distance floor. He stepped forward again. “I know it will be hard, but I really need you to try.”
Again, nothing. Rasmus took another step to get into her line of sight.
Leaning so she could see his face, he asked, “Is your husband home? Someone else I can speak to?”
Her gaze jerked up. She grabbed his hand, quickly pulling him to the side of the dark room by a few stools and a large bucket of dirty water.
“No,” she said. “I’ll answer anything. Please. Anything you need to know.”
“What happened?” he asked hopelessly.
This caused for another long stare, this time not out of fear, but consideration. A race of possibilities flashing across her face.
“I only know what the men told me,” she said softly.
The silence continued before she realized that may not be enough. “What do you need to need?”
He bit his lip, thinking.
“It is easier for me to confirm questions than tell you anything,” she said meaningfully.
This confused him before he jumped on it. “What are they not saying?”
The woman’s gaze grew frozen before her eyes flicked to the door. “N—nothing,” she whispered, then added. “But it’s not about leaving something out…”
Irritation heated him. He lurched forward. “Did your daughter actually disappear? If you want me to find her, you’re going have to stop the damn cryptic and tell me what you know.”
She stared at him, pain on her face. He stepped towards her. “What’s going on? Do you have a little girl? Don’t you want her back?”
The woman started to cry. Rasmus just watched her.
“I promised not to say anything,” she said. “And there’s nothing you can do. They only hired you for pretense. They don’t want her back. They don’t care.”
“That’s what we thought,” he muttered. A sudden surge overcame him. “Who told you not to say anything? Why would you listen to them?”
The woman’s sobbing grew louder and Rasmus’s heart sunk, festering in rage. She turned to him, muttering, “My husband thinks we should say nothing. He told me to keep it quiet. I don’t want to… I want to search for her… But that would be selfish, and I can’t do that,” she sniffed. “For the good of my other children.”
Without another word, he turned to the door, not even glancing back on the grieving mother. She seemed a bit surprised at this response, her sobbing ending in a squeak.
“If there’s anything else you want to add to the plethora of information you’ve given me,” he spat coldly, “I’m free at any time it starts bothering you.”
Kaia watched her brother march past without a word. This was mostly because she didn’t even know how to begin how to ask what was wrong, expecting his inability to hold it in would have it boiling out of him. It was only partially in spite for him not actually noticing her sitting on the stone fence around a house as he stormed by.
“Um… Hi,” she shouted after him.
He just whipped up his hand and beckoned her to follow, which she happily did, skipping along behind him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“The mother’s just as nuts as the rest of them. But I think I’ve at least confirmed that there is a child, and that’s all I care about.”
He just shook his head, trying to rid himself of the fury and sickness he had developed.
“You were right; they don’t care. I don’t think we’re going to get any voluntary help from them.”
Rasmus’s feathery blonde hair fluttered in the small breeze; it and his cloak were the only things loose as he marched towards the temple steps. His sister had to give a slight one-and-a-half-step gallop keep up.
He said nothing.
“My bank is on the quasi-witch,” she said.
He suddenly stopped and faced her, a thought occurring. “I need you to do something for me.” He pulled out his purse.
Her eyes followed the coins pulled from it.
“Go back to our beloved innkeeper and help her make the tart I promised.”
“Rasmus, what are you planning, damn it?”
“I need the creature in the trees to be on our side if we’re going to go ransacking the wood. My part of the bargain must be filled immediately. While I get the men organized, bake the pie.”
“Does she even own an oven?” she asked, staring at the coins.
“Yes. You’ve seen it. I don’t know how long it will take on either of our accounts, but we need to work quickly. I suspect that the little girl truly has been kidnapped, and that means that we have very little time. I don’t know what they would want to with her, but even if we’re lucky and the beast wants to spirit her away into the depths of the Wyrd…” He paused, the thought glazing over his eyes as he envisioned it. He turned away. “Well, we have no time. Go.”
His sister just stood there, ideas sliding over each other like a pile of newborn puppies.
He stormed up the temple steps without hesitation, though destination was uncertain. When he stood at the top, entering into the place with a frown, he turned to the men occupying the hall.
They gaped at him, Rasmus standing in the hall, arms outstretched, light on his back.
He told them, “It is time for our villagers to unite.”
They didn’t move.
“Time for us to rally!” Rasmus tried again. “Do you have a way to call the people to us?”
Not one moved. Suddenly someone handed him a small bell. He blinked at it.