| Jaren sighed as he hefted the last sack of potatoes up onto his shoulder and began the trek to the holding shed at the edge of the village. It had been a long exhausting day, toiling in the community garden. The garden itself was located within a small grove in the center of the forest, and protected against wanderers by a simple system of rotating scouts. The land within the village was not fertile enough to sustain the needs of the people. His mind teased him with images of his children playing in the village center and his wife preparing the evening meal within their home.
My family. The thought sang through his mind and he smiled openly. He worked hard every day to provide for them, as well as to contribute to the community that had taken them in when none other would, and he was proud of what they had accomplished together.
His mind wandered as he picked his way through the trails of the Grania Forest, a natural boundary which sheltered the village from stray wanderers. His wife, Raya, had known of the community, and together, along with his Uncle Alden and her two children, they had established themselves as a part of the whole. They hadn’t ever been properly married, but arriving with two children and claiming to be married, the villagers hadn’t raised any questions regarding the technicalities. Not that he was all that surprised, considering each and every person in the village remained hidden there for the 'sin' of possessing magic. Questions were something they frowned upon, for reasons well understood by all. Jaren knew little of Raya’s previous life, besides the fact that she and her children had been shunned for possessing magic, and she knew nothing of his. Alden did not speak, and none asked why.
A squeal interrupted his thoughts and he looked up to find seven-year-old Carleea running towards him, her face flushed with exertion.
“Hey, little Angel,” he called heartily. “Your mom will kill me if she finds out you’re wandering again, you know.”
Carleea’s eyes widened as she skidded to a stop a few feet in front of him, breathing heavily. “Come quick, daddy!”
Jaren frowned. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Carleea’s dark brown eyes cast about fearfully and she grabbed his free hand with both of hers. “Please,” she pleaded.
His heart dropped as he recognized the panic in his daughter’s eyes. He didn’t resist her as she tugged him forward, but followed with purpose. His mind spun with possibilities. He didn’t bother to question her as they hurried toward town; her terror had told him the only thing he needed to know: his family was in danger.
Within minutes they cleared the tree line and headed through the dirt streets of the village. His eyes scanned the buildings as they passed, each one echoing the eerie silence of abandonment. Jaren slowed as Carleea’s grip released and she bolted through the door to Carter’s Inn. He entered the common room of the Inn cautiously and squinted into the pitch darkness that met him. His eyes searched blindly and his ears twitched, straining to hear something…anything.
“Angel?” he asked quietly. “Where are you? Why is it so dark?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. What sort of father allows his children to run about unescorted? Hmmm?”
Jaren’s spine stiffened as a thick, deep voice cut through the silence. His heart picked up in tempo and the potato sack hit the floor with a loud thump as his hands instinctively found a fighting stance.
“Where is Carleea?” Jaren demanded.
“Shut up!” The dark voice commanded sharply. “You do not even possess the right to speak to me, Demon. I will not allow your voice the opportunity to confuse me!”
Jaren snorted contemptuously. “You can’t be serious.You don't truly believe that drivel, do you?”
Though the question had been intended as rhetorical, the voice oozed a response. “I believe, evil demon, and I will vanquish you.”
Jaren shied back as a spark ignited an oil lantern that sat atop a table, just feet away from where he stood. A tall man dressed in a long black robe stood silhouetted in the light, his hands held high. “I command you, in the name of the Goddess Kitan, be gone from this place!”
The words caused shivers to run down Jaren’s back, igniting a response in his blood. He rolled his shoulders once while letting loose a sharp, cruel laugh. “You are an idiot,” Jaren spat. “You call yourself a Disciple of Kitan, and you cannot even properly dispel a demon?”
Just then the door behind him slammed open and he turned to find Raya, blond hair disheveled and breathing heavily.
“He has them both, Jaren.” She told him. Her voice was soft and fragile, but her blue eyes were hard with determination. “I found the Mayor, he said 'time to go'.”
“Hah!” the disciple exclaimed. “Your people have turned on you!”
“State your terms.” Jaren demanded coldly.
“No terms. You will come with us to be executed for your sins.”
“And if I refuse?”
Two men stepped forward into the circle of light, one holding an unconscious Carleea, and the other her younger brother, Marek.
“Everyone, starting with these children, will die.”
Jaren shot Raya a quick look of askance. She nodded once and then hit the floor at his feet, sobbing and screaming hysterically. “No! Not my babies!!”
The disciple chuckled coldly. “What will you do, Jaren?”
Jaren turned and stalked out the front door and into the failing light of the day. The sight of his fellow villagers arranged in a semi circle around the exterior face of the Inn greeted him. He nodded his greeting to the Mayor who grasped his forearm strongly.
“Are you ready?”
Jaren nodded and then, surrounded by his people, he turned to watch the man exit the Inn, his face puckered in a self satisfied smirk.
“What is this?” the disciple asked thinly.
Mayor Matten stepped forward and met his glare evenly. “This is the village of Masetin, and you are trespassing.”
The disciple’s brows rose dramatically. "You think to challenge my authority?”
The Mayor smiled. “Where do you think the people with Life Magic go, disciple?” He chuckled. “I’m afraid you came to the wrong town, my friend.”
Word Count: 1000