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CHAPTER 5A: Dancing with Shadows

“I don’t wanna die. Mercy. Mercy,” screamed Joan with tears wetting her wrinkled face. She looked at her executioner and the two men that dragged her towards the first post. “Mercy. Mercy. Please. We are all children of God. Please. Do not do this. Have Mercy,” she howled over and over to them until she had reached the post and the rope was tied on her neck.

     “God? You are the devil’s daughter,” screamed a woman as a rotten apple came flying from the crowd and hit the witch.

     “Go back to hell,” screamed another.

     As the crowd roared their judgments, William’s head felt far removed to the summer when his father first took him to Elise’s store. His small fingers crumpled tight on his dad’s worn-out trousers; but his eyes lit from the dozens of small eyes in a jar, the snaky shapes of a brain, the collection of clean bones in a basket, and the various more oddities that sat on the shelves. The adults discussed something about the weather and a good place to get spider eggs—or something of the sort.

     Instinctively, he had let go of his father and peeked at the jars, sizing, observing and hoping to open one of them—or maybe all of them. So he did. He grabbed hold of the eyes and freed the lid. A pungent smell of vinegar, garlic and something festering attacked his senses, startling him and dropping the jar. The glass shattered into pieces as water and eyes splashed all over the floor. He looked down on his wet shoes and up at his father whose face blazed in disappointment and anger. His father walked up to him and held up a hand, ready to swipe it on his face. But Elise stepped in between them, knelt on the young boy in front of her and smiled.

     She handed him three different-sized teeth bound by a black string. She mouthed something about something about being a kid was okay and it wasn’t his fault. He just had to be careful the next time around. He promised then that he would, and so she kissed his forehead and everything went well. His father proceeded with his business, and he waited at a corner. That was before. Now, everything was not well. Elise was already at the platform being ushered to the noose that will end her life, and he had been drawing closer to her.

     A hand squeezed his shoulder. “William, what do you think you’re doing?” asked Garret.

     “Garret? How’d you—you were captured—you were in trouble,” he babbled.

     He squinted and then his face grew stern as his hand on his shoulder tightened. “Don’t go,” he begged.

     “I’m going to free her,” stated William, free of all hesitations that momentarily arrested his mind.

     “And how exactly are you to do that?” There was a tremor in Garret’s tone.

     He peered straight at his dark blue eyes as all the pressure in his face gathered to his tight lips. “This is Elise, Garret. I am not going to leave her to die,” he reasoned.

     “Do you know what they’ll do to you?” He pressed his head closer to his. “They’ll kill you for helping a witch. They’ll gut you like they gut Catherine.”

     “I don’t care. She needs my help,” he almost screamed.

     “I care, William. I care what happens to you,” he shouted back.

     “I said I don’t care,” yelled William as Garret held him back with his taller frame.

     “Let go.” William shoved Garret and swung his fist right onto his jaw.

     Garret wobbled back, clutching his jaw.

     “I told you, let go,” heaved William. He faced his back toward them and ran straight to the platform where the soldier had just placed the rope on Elise’s neck.

     The soldiers had cleared out the platform, leaving only the two witches left. The first one kept on crying and invoking God’s name as the people kept throwing rotten food her way while Elise stood there with vacant eyes and a broken faith.

     “Clear out,” commanded a soldier as one of the executioner moved to the lever for the trap doors.

     The townspeople ceased their heckling and throwing, anticipating the witches’ deaths.

     Shoving people from left to right, William penetrated the crowd with difficulty, locking his sight on the death show. Men and women flared in anger when they were brushed aside as he cut a path for himself. “Stop. Stop. Stop,” he muttered as he inched closer and closer.

     “Final words?” asked the executioner.

     “Though my neighbors has forsaken me. The Lord will receive me,” quoted Joan.

     Elise bowed her head and closed her eyes as the executioner held on to the lever with both hands.

     Pulling and grabbing people upfront, William tore through the mass like a hunter chasing his prey through the forest. He had to stop them. He had to make it. He had to save Elise. She wasn’t a witch, a sinner or a protestant; she was simply a woman who owned a shop of trinkets. She did not deserve to die.

     The lever was pulled.

     The trapdoor opened as William tripped and slammed to the ground. He hurried and tried to draw his feet in and get up, but the momentum and the last line of people prevented him to. His sight flashed to the platform. Elise was wide in shock. Her lips and throat struggled for air. Her face began to lose color. It would only be seconds until…

     “Noooooooo,” screamed William.

     And as if the heavens had heard the howl of the young boy, its dark dawning skies changed into velvets of crimson and blood. The paling moon shifted its glossy white glow and hid in a dark shadow where the only radiance seen was its circled light. And the sun that was almost rising abandoned its post and disappeared.

     As if stolen the will to speak, William glanced at the skies, thinking if this was his fault. But complacency of thought didn’t last long as he noticed the townspeople’s movements—or in this case, lack thereof. They were frozen, stagnant and motionless. Their faces were stuck on a last expression they had—sadness, fear, anger. They were like models of portrait depicting the last days of a heretic. Not one moved. Not even the soldiers, the executioners or anyone at all.

     Silence had captured the eeriness of the blood night.

     Then, an arrow wheezed through the air and cut the hanging ropes on Elise and the first witch. Their bodies released onto the ground consecutively. In a rush, Isabelle strode towards the platform, unsheathed a dagger and crouched before the first witch. She cut the bounds on her neck first then the ones on her wrists.

     Breath entered the witch as she focused on her savior. “I…Isa…Isabelle,” she breathed out.

     “Joan. Are you fine?” Isabelle asked, cradling her in her arms.

     “Save…her…” Joan pointed over to Elise lying on the ground.

     Isabelle followed her finger and gulped. “But she’s…”

     She squeezed her arm the best she could. “Save her…”

     She carefully laid Joan down and moved towards Elise’s body and cut the ropes on her neck and wrists. She then rebound back to Joan and held her up. “It’s done. Can you stand?” she asked, sheathing her dagger back.

     She nodded as she stood carefully up with Isabelle’s help. “Your brother?”

     “He’s at the back playing,” she answered in a hurried voice. “We have to move before—“ Her attention was placed above her, like something was sparkling in the sky.

     The hair on William’s skin stood. Cool air burdened their surroundings, like the season of fall suddenly shifted to winter. And at the center of the sky, a dark cloud appeared from nowhere, fanned down to the ground and hit it with a splat. And in seconds the tendrils of the black smoke retreated into its center and began to show shape. It spun on itself around and around until it grew bigger, towering about six feet tall and likened itself to the shape of a man. A man made of complete black matter without the skin, the muscles, the face and anything else human.

     It lifted its hands and stared at it with where his eyes would probably be if it were present. Open and close, open and close—its fists kept repeating it, trying to feel its limbs. Then, the front of its head formed curves, spaces, lines and depth. And in a second, the shadow had a face and it turned to the nearest soldier and grinned, showing black fangs. It extended its arm forward and it passed right through the frozen soldier’s chest. No blood or wound was visible; it seemed as if the hand passed through a surface of water. Specs of white light then emerged from the chest of the unknowing soldier and ran through the hand and arms of the shadow. And in one bright flash, the soldier’s eyes lost focus and he dropped dead on the ground as the shadow released its hold on him.

     The shadow laughed, pleased by its massacre. It attended to the next human and began its feast yet again.

     With Joan’s arm by her shoulders, Isabelle helped her walk away, taking slow soundless steps. “Come on Joan while it’s still busy,” she huffed.

     “I knew God was on my side. He has sent me you,” exulted Joan.

     “You could thank your God later when we get the—“ As they curved to the corner of the platform, another shadow stood by their front.

     It tilted its head to the side, wondering what the two were. And then, it grinned and lunged at them. An arrow flew through the shadow from the side and then it burst into ashes.

     Paolo stood a couple of feet away on a longbow stance. “That was a lousy job Isabelle. It almost had you.” He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

     “It would be a lousy job, if you don’t help us,” shouted Isabelle.

     “Oh rightio.” He moved towards them but stopped abruptly.

     Dark tendrils of clouds erupted from the pores of the grassy lands and swiveled in front of Paolo and formed into a man, another shadow. Its face formed, smiled devilishly and reached for him.

     Paolo jumped back and landed on his feet and then knelt on one knee. “Sorry I only date ladies with an actual face.” Loading an arrow from his back, he stretched his bow and fired. The arrow hit the shadow’s core and burst into ashes.

     “Paolo,” shouted Isabelle. “Some help here.”

     He aimed to the shadow emerging from the ground near Joan and shot it at the arm, maiming it. He followed through with another one on the chest and killed it. “You’re going to have to come to me. They’re coming in too fast.” He focused on another shadow as it reformed from thin air on his right and vanquished it.

     “What in blazes did Mikael do? Call on the whole horde?” Isabelle pulled on Joan’s other arm tighter around her shoulders and moved forward.

     Around the town’s plaza, in almost every corner, in almost every large spacious area, clouds gathered and shadows emerged from the air, earth and mud. They veered their hungry black stares over the unknowing people frozen in time. There were already five victims since the first had shown, and the number was growing.

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