When a village lives in fear of its bishop, it is the hidden witches that seek help.
August 1693, Poland
There's nothing like a swim in a river. It's cool and refreshing, except when dead bodies are floating in it. Then it is like swimming in a punch drink with floating fruit.
I stepped onto the bank and looked back at the river and the three bodies in it. They floated, even with the weights tied to their feet. They weren't fresh kills. Or clean ones. The predawn light wasn't bright enough to show the discoloration yet, but I could smell the rot from the parts of flesh exposed to the air.
A quick glance in the dark woods around me showed no one near. In the distance, I could hear horses and a man yelling. It lacked the urgency to be of alarm.
My gaze shifted back to the bodies, my heart heavy for them.
"Not lucky to be you," I murmured.
I waded back into the water, grabbing the foot of one body and pulled it to the bank.
An irritated voice sounded in my mind, What are you doing?
"I'm treating the dead with respect."
We didn't come here for that.
"I understand, but my sponsor isn't here and I'm not going to let the bodies taint the water more than they have. Will just make things worse."
Humans are only good for killing, and that is when they are alive. The dead ones are worthless to us.
I finished pulling the body to land and whacked the knife at my back. The accursed spirit within it hissed back at me
"You need to settle down. I understand that--"
Footsteps sounded to my left. I froze, focusing on the sounds. The sound wasn't even or consistent. So more than one, and not trying to be quiet about it.
The forms came into view; three women in hooded cloaks. One paused as she saw me, causing the other two to halt as well. We stood there, staring at each other, with more call of birds and the gentle burble of water from the river.
The middle figure stepped closer to me, her voice an aged rasp as she spoke. "You are the Reaper?" There was an accent to her words from the motherland. It left me nostalgic for snowcapped mountains and vodka.
I nodded to her, speaking in Russian. "I am. How can I be of service?"
The words caused the three women to stiffen. My eyes shifted to the other two women with her. I breathed in deeply through my nose, getting their scent. Young women. Frightened. The fear I smelled was different than what I was used to. Lacking potency. It was not me they were afraid of, but they were afraid. The cursed blade at my back hummed in delight at it. It flashed me images of their bodies lying on the ground with throats slide wide, silence's edge writhing the bubbling crimson of their heart's blood beating out, and my own mouth wet from feasting. I pushed the images out of my mind.
The older woman hobbled to me, holding out a bag smaller than my hand. "It is not much, but we hope that you can accept it as payment."
I didn't reach for the bag. One of the women twisted her dress in her hands as it was offered.
"It is precious to you," I said.
"It is all that we have."
I frowned. "What is it that you need done that you would pay such a price.?"
She lowered the bag, her wrinkled lips pursed. "It is a complicated matter that involves a Bishop." Her head tilted up at me, showing me more of the wrinkled face. There was sorrow in her eyes, but kindness as well. When I did not speak, she continued. "He has come here and... it has been terrible." She gestured a hand to the body at my feet.
"I can't do anything about a human," I said, "you are better taking your family and leaving."
"We were going to do that." One of the other two girls say. She walked to me, pushing off her hood to show raven black hair and blue eyes that would make a god green. "But he's gone too far. He needs to be stopped."
I sighed. "I understand your plight, but Reapers work solely on matters that involve our own kind."
"We understand," the younger one said, "which is why we sought you. The Bishop... he's managed to capture a puck."
My stomach clenched and I walked to the woman. "Which puck? Tell me."
She did not step back from me, which made her brave. Or foolish. The woman licked her bottom lip before speaking. "It is Goodfellow."
I sucked in long, pensive breath through my nostrils. "You are sure of this?"
"We are confident." The elder woman said, "We know the trickster well, but the cards and bones were consulted and yielded the same result. He must be saved or the wrath of Queen Titania will fall onto the village."
"She would not be happy that her favorite was treated so." The younger added.
I rubbed a hand over my face. "I knew he had gotten into trouble with the court and banished for a short time, but I agree... the Summer Queen would not be pleased." My eyes shifted up, looking at the fading stars. "She is still in full power. If she wished it, she would destroy this entire area."
"You want to save these people? The ones that did this?" I gestured my hand to the bodies around us.
"They are not all bad." The third woman said, still hiding in her hood, "Just confused and scared. You cannot blame them for their actions."
The older woman spoke, "We can't leave knowing that. These people are frightened, only doing as the Bishop wills." She held up the bag again. "Will you accept our payment?"
I eyed the bag, unsure what they had for payment. Their clothes were in tatters, hands dirty, and they needed a wash. Reaching my hand to her, she placed the bag in my palm and opened it for me. A green opal sparkled in the growing light with a rune written in blood on it.
"This is a family bond," I said to the woman, "you understand what that means?"
"All we have is our family. If in the future, you need the services of a witch, our family line will always help."
Witches are useful. Silence sent to me. Curses, hexes, charms, and much more.
The third woman jumped as Silence finished. Her head turned to look around the area. Even with the cloak about her, I could see her trembling.
"I'll accept your payment, but you will need to keep that one away from me," I said, pointing to the trembling woman. "She's sense the feelings of others, yes?"
The aged woman blinked at me before speaking. "Yes... how did you know?"
I will kill you! I will cull all of you!
The woman gasped, stumbling back. Her foot caught on a root and she fell onto the earth.
"She can hear my weapon. It has a malevolent will. Best she stay away until my work is done." I reached back, grasping the handle on my knife and pulled it out. I ran the sharp edge along my thumb to sate its desire for blood. His mood eased, a contented sigh sounding in my mind. You taste best, you know.
I looked back to the water, to the two other bodies. "I'd like to pull those two out. Help me before I take to the task."
The raven-haired woman helped me pull the other two bodies out of the water, dragging them far enough from the bank that there wasn't risk of them returning to it when the rains came.
I knelt by all three, resting the back of my hand against each of their foreheads, in turn, whispering, "Do not linger, return to the wheel and come again."
When we were done, it was only the raven-haired woman and me. The other two well on their way to the village. She didn't look well, but having logged bloated bodies that had been nibbled on my local wildlife out of a river was not bound to make anyone look well.
I nodded my head to her. "What do I call you then?"
She dropped her head as she curtsied. "I am Bella."
I chuckled. "Fitting. How many marriage proposals have you turned down this year?"
The question made her blush, only adding to her appeal. "Two."
Grinning, I walked to her. "You'll be my guide, Bella?"
She nodded, moving to the deer path towards the village. "I will. This way."
I followed her, allowing my awareness to spread out to the woods. I noted the amount of raven calls as we walked. More than a simple Murder grouping.
"And you, miss? What are you called."
I shifted my golden eyes away from the trees and to Bella's back. "Ghost."
She turned her head to look at me, taking in the pale skin, my amazon height and build, and the weapons on my person. I had not come looking to fight a war. Besides silence, I only had my bow, arrows, and hatchet on me. Her eyes tried to meet mine, but the moment they did she jerked away-- face pale.
It took her a moment before she could speak again. "Is that why you performed burial rites for the dead men?"
"It's not a matter to concern you."
She stopped and turned to look at me. "My family is forever indebted to you. I'd like to tell my children something of you other than your role among the ageless ones."
I do not like her tone, but you like her eyes. Pluck them free with the tip of me and we may feast on her flesh together.
I shook my head at the suggestion. "We are of the same homeland, so you understand balance and its importance." I held up my hands to her. "How many people do you think I have killed?"
Bella's blue eyes frowned. "Scores, I imagine."
"I have killed legions and I will kill legions more."
"Then you perform such acts to tip the scales," Bella said, looking down. "Yours is an ancient practice the Puritans seek to abolish from history."
I lowered my hands with a sigh. "I assure you the god that they do it in the name of is mortified, for what little good it will do."
We walked again in silence, with Bella leading while I kept an eye on the woods around us. With the growing light, I could see the condition of the trees and the soil. The foliage was healthy, but many trees were clipped of branches the closer we came to the village. Our path joined the main one leading into the village where the largest tree so far announced the entrance... with two bodies hanging from the branches.
I stopped walking to stare at the corpses. It was evident they had hung for several days, their flesh pecked at until parts of the skull showed. The eyes were gone, vacant sockets staring down at those who traveled by. A raven landed on the shoulders of one and pecked at the neck. When he'd managed to free a chunk of flesh, he flew with it in beak and landed on my shoulder. He pressed it to my lips.
"I'm fine, but thank you."
He lifted his head and worked the morsel into his mouth before flying off to join his flock in the trees. More arrived and danced about on the branches that held the bodies.
I like this bishop. So much death. It lacks the cutting. Slicing. Stabbing. Can you smell it? It's like a woman's perfume, but not disgusting. Breathe it in with me.
I snorted at the blade's words. "And I am the monster." My eyes took in the bodies, breathing in the rot. "Such a waste."
"We should keep moving," Bella whispered, her hand pulling at my sleeve.
Bella's fear reached my nose. Stronger than before. It was not the only scent in the air. There was a faded scent of blood, of ash, and another smell I couldn't quite identify at that moment. A memory danced on the ends of my mind, but evaded me as I tried to focus on it.
The witch's head turned this way and that, keeping an eye out for any that might have seen my conversation with the bird. Her fear spiked, making me feel light headed and giddy.
"No one is near," I said, as I placed a hand on her shoulder. "Be calm, please. For me, if not for yourself."
If her fear puts you into the mood, think of the village. You will be a frothing mess before you reach the city center... and then I will be rid of you!
"Forgive me," Bella said. She pulled in a breath and released it before walking again.
"Why leave the bodies there? Humans have always been more careful and respectful of their dead."
"The bishop says it is to warn witches, but it's to remind the rest of the village of the consequences."
"Going against the bishop."
I frowned at her words, thinking of men impaled on pikes and left on the battlefield to rot in the sun. "Such things are common."
A few steps deeper into the village brought forth stronger smells of fear, human filth, death, and an unknown smell. I focused my senses on it, trying to decode what it was. It became stronger once we reached the buildings and I stopped to look at one of the doors. There was a cross with some scribbles around it.
I jutted my chin to the mark. "What is that?"
"That is the bishop's holy oil. He had it used on the doors in a mark called Witch Bane."
I snorted. "It's gibberish."
"Don't say such things so loudly," She hissed, looking around.
I heard people in the building moving about and noted a man down the way, but no one close enough to hear. "We're fine."
I walked closer to the mark, rubbing my fingers over it and brought my slick fingers to my nose. The oil was a dark reddish-brown in color, a contradiction of the light gold color I had often seen. Holy oil was there, but it was mixed with something. It was on the tip of my tongue. I'd smelled it before. Back when I had--
I jerked my hand away as soon as the memory came to me. It had been centuries since I had last spilled the blood of a fae, but it was impossible to deny it once I'd recognized the scent.
"He's not that stupid," I said and pushed Bella to the side as I marched to the center of the town. There was no statue, church, or tree in the center of the village, but a gallows with wood stained from constant use. The smell was strongest here, but I didn't need to follow my nose further as the source laid before me.
The Puck was no bigger than a child, though his body and features were that of an adult. His once fair and pale face were swollen and discolored. The playful smile I had seen in the past was replaced with cracked and busted lips. Iridescent eyes that had sparkled looked to the ground without seeing it. Iron was wrapped about his neck and wrists, anchoring him down to the ground before the gallows. I could smell the burning from the iron against his skin and the bubbling redness of his flesh not covered by the shackles easy to see even at my distance. The subtle swaying of his body and shallow rise of his chest were the only indications I had that Goodfellow still lived.
So much pain. It calls to us.
"Vile creature, isn't it?" A male voice spoke, snapping my attention away from Goodfellow.
I looked to the source, finding a pudgy aged man with the jowls of a hound. His robes were black with not a stitch out of place or a button crooked. There were no weapons on him, but one did not need weapons when two brutes walked in his wake. The men at his side were not those of devotion. Men of coin, cruelty glinting in their eyes, but still wore the robes of holy men.
He walked closer to me, his hands linked behind his back. "I do not know you. Who are you?"
"My cousin, Bishop," Bella's voice panted at my side. Her hand gripped onto my arm hard enough to make my fingers start to numb. Through the touch I felt her tremble, but it didn't show in her voice as she spoke. "May I introduce... Anna. She has come to visit."
"Your cousin?" His eyes shifted between the two of us, taking in the near head and shoulder difference of our height. He still managed to look down on me even when standing in my shadow. "I trust this well-grown woman is well versed in the words of God."
I bowed my head to him. "I am. Such scriptures I read often," I said, leaving out that I only did because of how often they were rewritten. I had to track the changes for Vainya so he could refer to them over the centuries to see the evolution of language and human morals.
He looked me over, his expression nothing short of unimpressed. "You must come from a barbaric land to dress like a man."
The temptation to reach out and snap his neck and be done with it grew with every passing second. Reapers do things in secret unless the need for the public example outweighs the need for discretion. I could wait and play along.
You do not play the role of a meek and obedient woman well. This shall be amusing.
I released a slow breath, smoothing my expression as I had done often in the vampire courts. Lowering my head, I bowed to the bishop. "Forgive me for the offense. It is hard to travel in skirts and, as a woman, it is safer to pretend to be a man. The roads are littered with danger."
"It is not a woman's place to do anything on her own. Have you not a man to govern you?"
You want to kill him. I feel it in you. The need is so sweet. He is so r-r-ripe to die.
I kept my head lowered if only to keep him from seeing what emotion Silence stirred up. "I do. He sent me ahead to see to matters before his arrival."
"I will be sure to speak with him." The bishop said as he turned to go. "Allowing such freedom for a woman is scandalous. Distasteful. Once your husband arrives, we shall educate him about the proper way to maintain his household."
I had no response for his statement, but enjoyed the visual of him attempting to lecture Vlad or Vald about how they should conduct themselves in his realm. One would ignore him and the other would decorate the gallows with his insides. The latter was pleasantly tempting.
"Oh," he said, turning to look back at us. "since you are new to the village, I would like you to witness the death of the demon. It will be within the hour. Seeing God's justice is not common among his followers. It is important to embrace such opportunities when they present themselves."
My gaze shifted to Goodfellow and then back to the bishop and I nodded. He turned, dismissing our existence from his awareness for the moment.
"Quick thinking. He would have made a face if he thought you were unwed." Bella said in Russian.
I shrugged a shoulder. "I did not lie. I am married."
"Oh, forgive me for the assumption. Is your husband like you?"
"They are not, no," I said. At seeing her frown, I added, "I am married to two men."
She gaped at me. "Two? Wha-how?"
I grinned at her. "Twins." I waggled my eyebrows. "It was their idea. They like to share and I wasn't against the suggestion." When she only continued to stare as me, I asked, "What? It used to be common practice centuries ago."
"No, I just... forgive me. Such a thing is unheard of here."
"Give it time. I am sure that will change again," I said, looking about at men that were banging on doors and directing the bleary-eyed people within. "Maybe more fornicating will help with the mood of this place. I've seen graves with brighter expressions."
"Shhh!" Bella said, hands tight on my arm. "Must you speak so loudly?"
Others gathering nearby looked at us with narrowed eyes as Bella and I continued our discussion. I received the most stares, but given that I was a stranger among then, it was no surprise.
With a sigh, I switched back to Polish, "I am not in the habit of concealing my thoughts or words."
We moved with the growing congregation. They shuffled about with heads lowered, what faces I could see stared off into the distance with dark circles under the eyes and lines along the brow and lips. Scattered among the group were those that were little more than skin covered skeletons, their bodies just as tattered as their clothes. I noted that those of finer garments had the weight to fill them. Social status among humans is still the stupidest thing I've witnessed.
Other than the time Loki tied his nuts to a goat.
"You have all witnessed the presence of the devil!" the bishop yelled to the gathering. "Therefore, we know God tests us! This minion is but the smallest test. O God is kind to us to be so merciful! O, God is kind to give us opportunity to prove our faith. All ye here be blessed!" He grabbed Goodfellow's hair, yanking it towards the people.
The puck's limp form moved with the bishop's jerking and I could hear a faint sizzle as the iron shifted against his flesh. A cut along his forehead reopened and a dribble of blood made its way along his temple. Goodfellow's face remained slack, his eyes staring off into the distance.
"So much pain," I murmured in Russian, "He's numb to everything else."
Bella looked to me, keeping her voice low as she responded in kind. "The iron?"
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the spectacle.
"See that this creature is wounded by our faith. It burns by our Lord's will! We will send this demon back to the pit and bathe in God's glorious praise."
I gritted my teeth. Any course of action I took would draw attention. My dwindling options would get me in trouble with the rest of Reapers for making a public display, but fuck this priest.
A shadow passed overhead and I looked up to see the ravens flying towards the gallows. They landed on the structure, turning to look at the gathering crowd.
The largest one turned his eye towards me as he cawed, "Die. Bishop. Die. Ghost. Bishop. Die"
Everything went still among the villages, eyes on the ravens as they danced along the gallows.
The bishop looked up at them with a pale face while they croaked their laughter at him.
I let out a low curse before shouting. "Then send him back to the wood! "He's not a devil, so if you kill him he's not going to Lucifer."
A hundred heads turned towards me, eyes wide and mouths agape. Including the bishop. His face grew red as his eyes glared at me with venom.
"Bella," the bishop said, jerking a finger at me, "control your cousin or we shall be forced to do it!"
I placed my hand on the Bella's shoulder and shoved her away from me. Keeping my eyes on him, I took a step towards the bishop and the people made a path for me in an instant. Frightened sheep. Cowed people.
"You've trained these people well. A bit of coin to pay crueler men than you to beat the ones opposing you and the rest fall in line. I've seen it before." I tilted my head, grinning. "You're nothing special. You have a chance to do the smart thing and release your captive."
"We've stoned women here for less offense than you have given!" The bishop yelled, spittle flying from his mouth. His face turned red as my words settled upon him.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Ooh, he is angry! Slicing! Cutting! Rending! Flaying! Do it! Do it!
"Let he that be without sin cast the first stone," I said, walking through the parting crowd.
The villagers shifted like the sea as their gazes alternated between the bishop and me. One of the finely dressed women frowned at me and opened her mouth to speak. I met her gaze and her face paled before she jerked her gaze away. My eyes roamed over the others, seeking out those that would come to the bishop's aid.
The bishop snarled at me and jerked a finger at me. "Detain that woman. We will correct her later."
The bishop's men came closer to me, the crowd moving away from us.
"Cursed be the ground for our sake." I said, pulling out Silence and my hatchet, "For out of the ground we were taken, for dust we are."
A man lunged at me, his hands grasping for my shoulder. Silence flew in my hand, slicing through the man's fingers, taking fillets off his arms and the tip shearing through his throat. Blood sprayed over me and the panicked crowd as he fell in a twirling confused motion. Dead from sheer shock before he hit the ground.
Silence's voice a gibbering in languageless glee in my mind as blood coated my skin.
Turning to face the other men, their steps hiccupped at the sight of my glowing eyes. I spoke, letting my bestial tone seep into my words. "And dust is what I will return you to."
"A demon!" The bishop yelled, pointing at me anew. "Kill her! God guides your hand! The rest of you, to the church! She cannot enter the house of God!"
"There is no god here," I said before grabbing the first man and lifting him clear off the ground. He struggled in my hands as I turned towards another man and threw him. They collided and fell hard in a tangle of limbs. I looked up in time to see another one of the bishop's men raising his torch to throw onto the kindling about Goodfellow. He was fast, but my hatchet flew faster, burying itself with a thud into his skull.
The villagers moved in a panic, stampeding over each other to get into the church, the bishop's thugs included.
I walked to Goodfellow, kicking the logs out of my way and rested a hand on his forehead. He whimpered and jerked away from my touch.
"Be merry and well," I whispered to him, "You are now among allies."
He lifted his head, seeing my face and relief flooded his features. His iron-bound hands clutched my own. "I seek refuge."
"I will provide," I said, looking over to see Bella walking towards us, "But first, I must see to the bishop."
It only took a moment to cut Goodfellow free of the bindings with Silence. The fae's body was small in my arms, like a child, as I lifted him and handed him to Bella.
"Can you tend to his wounds?"
She nodded. "My mother can." Bella turned on her heel, making haste back down the road.
My attention left them, settling on the church. Fire filled my every limb as I stared at it. Not until my teeth ached did I become was aware of how tight my jaw was clenched.
"Do not be afraid!" The bishop said, deep within the church. In the dim light, at the far end I could make out his form. A sea of bodies shifted between me and him. The fear was overwhelming, filling my nose until I was drunk on it. Cattle. Prey. So afraid. So easy to kill.
You are angry! Silence giggled, I've never seen you like this. Are we murdering all of them? The ones that whimper always scream the best. Save them for last.
I snarled, marching towards the church.
Yes. Kill them. Kill every one of them!
"God," I said, taking a step towards the door, "is not here."
"The Holy Father is in all his churches!" The bishop screamed back, his voice up an octave. "You cannot enter!"
My step rested inside the building, causing a woman nearby to whimper.
"The only thing in this building is fear and a corrupted man. Your god would never protect filth that goes against all of his principles."
"E-everything I have done has been done for Him! For His world!"
I snorted, taking another step inside. "You will have to explain to me why a god of love and compassion wishes for you to do his work via murder and torture." I stood inside the building, the glow of my eyes illuminating their terror-stricken expressions of those closest. Trembling bodies shifted away from me, trying to make as much distance as possible. Their eyes and movements reminded me of cattle I had slaughtered. A wrong move would cause them to crush each other.
You hunger for it. Their death. I feel it within you. Embrace it with me. Give in, feast on their flesh. Gnaw the bones. We can suckle their essence together
My tongue dipped along the corner of my mouth as I looked over the crowd. It would be easy--so easy--to give in to Silence. I did want it.
They were prey and I the predator. The wailing of a child made my mouth water, thinking of the soft skin, the rich taste, the supple marrow.
Silence's lust for death brushed against my mind. I focused on it, feeling how far he influenced my control. Silence's influence was potent and my hand closed around the pouch and I gripped it until my knuckles ached. I used the sensation to ground myself and force Silence back.
I had been given payment to save the village, not finish the bishop's work.
Tearing my eyes from the villagers, I rested my gaze on the cleric. I lifted a finger pointing to the bishop and spoke loud enough to be heard by everyone in the church. "I only want that man. The rest of you may go. Return to your homes or leave the village. Close the door behind you."
There was a stillness among the crowd, their eyes shifting from me to him. I wondered which instinct would win, their own survival or blind loyalty to a man that saw them as disposable. The cruel man of God, or the "demon" that promised to rid them of him.
I stepped further into the building and left the path to the door unbarred by my presence.
A woman shuffled past me, keeping her back to me to protect the toddler cradled in her arms. Then a man slipped by. And another woman holding hands with a child. In a moment, the church was a-thunder with their feet as they fled.
No, no, no, no, no! Silence screamed. Chase them! Kill them! Kill them all!
The bishop bellowed curses at those who left. He accused them of turning their backs on God. On him. On their fellow man. When no one paid him heed, he tried to move with those he condemned towards the exit. Idiot.
I moved to go for him, but one of the last villagers shoved him hard towards me. The bishop tripped on a pew and fell to the stone with all the grace of a sack of potatoes.
The door closed, leaving the two of us alone in the dim light.
I stood there, watching him. Curious what else he would try. Prey always does interesting things when death is near.
He rose, walking towards me with a cross in hand. "You cannot harm me!" He said, holding out a cross. "I do God's work! I am his Tool! His Voice! His Divine Will!"
"Lies? In your house of God?" I tsked at him while wagging a finger. "That doesn't inspire him to leap from the heavens and come to your aid. Even if you were worth saving."
He scrabbled away from me, his voice a babble of pleas and demands I ignored.
I spoke, letting my voice shift into an inhuman growl. "You're very good at getting other people to do your dirty work, aren't you Bishop?" I followed him with Silence in hand, the dark weapon's shape fluctuating with anticipation. "You lie to the people you are supposed to guide. Murder those that voice against you. I'd be surprised if you didn't lust after women that aren't yours. Did you kill husbands to get to their wives? You wouldn't be the first, so there's no shame in admitting your sins to me."
"Who... who are you? Are you God's retribution?"
Ha! God's Retribution. He's not very bright, is he?
I snorted. "I am the antithesis to the divine. Even Lucifer is considered sacred in his own way, Bishop. I am abomination."
I closed my eyes and when I reopened them, my two other sets of eyes opened, also. The additions increased the depth and detail of everything in the dim room. I took delight in watching his face pale at the sight, and the vascularity shrivel away from his pudgy cheeks.
"What we have here," I continued, "is simple causality. Don't pretend your sin is part of destiny or blind yourself in doctrine. You instigated attempted murder. If it was human, I wouldn't be here. But it was a favorite of the Summer Court."
"I care not for pagan gods or their ways!"
"But you still call them gods, Bishop! You should care, and you should fear. Tatiana is a force of nature when angered. If you thought God raining sulfur was tragic, then you lack imagination. But, there's something worse you've done, above all that I've laid at your door."
"W-what is that?"
I grinned at him, my human teeth replaced with fangs made to tear flesh apart with ease. "You have made me very hungry. All that good food you left out to rot in the sun. Now that is a tragedy."
The bishop let out a sound between a whimper and a groan and rose to his feet to flee from me again.
I darted at him, planting my foot onto his robes and watching him fall to the ground.
"Don't run from me, holy man." I said, "I'll get too excited and end this quicker than I mean to. I'd much rather relish this sociable time with you before the end. Your words in the square have stirred so much monologue within me! I simply must indulge myself!" I leaned down, grabbing him by the foot and yanking him back to me. "I'm so thoughtful this eve! Normally I don't care for your book, but my time with you stirs up memories. What was that line? You shall not murder, yes? Or did it start with thou?"
I do not think he has any urine left now. No point in terrifying him further. Move to the pain!
"P-please...," he sobbed.
I backhanded him. The sound loud in the empty room as his head snapped to the side. Blood flew from his broken lip and onto the wooden floor. I held him down and savored his struggle, the pitiable strength ebbing as he pushed and writhed beneath me. He might as well have been warring upon a wall for all the effect his actions had. I breathed in complex scents of his fear, sweat, adrenalin, and tangy spiced urine that soaked his robes. My tongue, darkened to black and lengthening, darted out to wet my lips.
"Mercy! I beg of you!"
I grabbed his chin and forced him to look at me once more. "You beg for mercy? How many of those that you condemned to death begged you for the same?" I struck him again, sending his head to the other side and blood decorated that side of the floor. "Exodus 23:7. Say it."
I could feel his face shivering against my fingers and recognition lit up in his eyes as the verse entered his mind. "N-no... please...."
Do not dally much longer. His taste will become bitter the longer he bathes in fear.
I growled, my hair shifting behind me as my anger flared. Becoming not hair, but tentacle like attachments of myself.
His eyes widened as the black tendrils that reached for his face, lapping and sampling the blood across cheek and lip.
"There is no choice here. Say. It." I growled, my voice no longer resembled anything human. "I'd not have you die while being ignorant as to the reason why."
"K-keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not j-justify the wicked."
I reached for him, my garments tightening about my body as I grew. Fingers becoming talons, teeth sharpening further, and fair woman transforming into hideous monster. I exhaled and steam lingered from my mouth to dance over the bishop's wide-eyed face.
I grinned and felt Silence rise in my mind, filling my thoughts and limbs with his presence. His wants. His desires. His need. Silences gleeful laughter bounced about in my mind as I let him take control of my body.
"Good." He said with my voice, "Let us get to the fun part. The slicing. The cutting. The stabbing." My face leaned closer to him as Silence and I whispered, "The death."
It was well after dusk when I opened the doors of the Church. There was little recognizable about the remains left on the altar. I'd taken inspiration from Vlad and impaled his corpse onto a cross so he was upright with his more sour and unpreferable insides laid out in offering. Only his head was intact, the face frozen in an expression of horror as it dangled in my grip.
Part of me felt I shouldn't have liked what I'd done. But I had. I'd enjoyed every scream, every cut, and even the rasp of his final breath as I devoured him alive. I could blame it on Silence, but I've never been in the habit of lying to myself.
It felt good to torture him.
It felt good to torture in general.
You are more unnerved by the fact that your actions don't bother you than the actions themselves. I am not, so you shouldn't be either.
"Hush," I muttered under my breath.
The older witch, and ravens, stood by the door as I exited. Her only response to my blood-soaked appearance was to offer a cup of water. I took it, trying to ignore how tight my human flesh felt about me.
I moved to the side, allowing the scavengers access to the inside. They shuffled past me, rather than flying, down the aisle to pay reverence and take part of the recently deceased.
She lowered her face from me as I came to her. "Thank you."
"There is nothing to thank me for. You paid for my services."
Her head rose, daring to peek at my blood splattered face. "I paid you to save the village, yes. But you--"
I held up a hand, stopping her. "Don't justify my actions. I tortured the man because I wanted to. It was for my own satisfaction, not for any sense of justice you have. Please don't give credit I don't deserve."
Her head lowered again. "Then we've come to the end of our business."
I started to walk past her but stopped to look back at the church. "You should burn it down."
"Yes. It's not a holy place anymore. Better to purge it with fire and start anew. Or leave."
I left, heading down the main path of the village. There was no one to be seen, but I felt eyes on me as I passed the houses lined up along the way. At the edge of the village, I saw Bella and Goodfellow, but he'd taken on the form of a sun-bronzed man. He didn't bother to hide the cuts and bruises on his face and body, even though I knew fae glamor could conceal such with ease.
"Goodfellow," I said, holding out the bishop's head to him, "I killed the man that did wrong to you."
He stared hard at the head, reaching out to take it from me with both hands. His face warped with all the repressed anger. His glamor faltering while he seemed to commit everything to pressing his thumbs into the head's eyes. Blood, jelly, and filth popped out while Bella stumbled away to retch.
"The witches here hope when your queen hears of what happened, so she will not act hastily against the village."
"She will not care," Goodfellow said, dropping the head to the ground punting it across the way, "not when I am banished."
My lips quirked at that, and I opened my mouth to argue when a raven landed on my shoulder.
"Post! Post!" he said, picking at a missive from his foot and holding it to me.
I took the miniature scroll and unsealed it. The Raven's head tilted as its eyes observed my hair, its wings ruffling in delight as it preened for the bits of gore still lodged in the strands. This didn't bother me in the slightest and wasn't the first time, so I contented to read the small paper while being groomed.
Bella, just returned, observed the arrangement and moved off to retch anew.
To: Ghost of the Well of Knowledge
You are ordered to attend a hearing regarding your violation of Reaper code 004.b, which you violated on Aug 15, 1693--
I growled and crumpled up the paper in my hand.
Goodfellow leaned in. "What's wrong?"
"I've been served."