The two lower ranked knights, their superior and the knights surrounding the village had their swords drawn, however none of them attacked. Fear was vibrant in their eyes and their hands shook as they held onto their blades.
Sable coughed violently. Her throat ached for water. Her head was throbbing, her nose broken and her mouth tasted of blood.
It took herculean effort to stand, but stand she did.
She looked down at her hands; they were wrapped in black flames. She examined the rest of her body. She could not recognize herself; every part of her had been enveloped by these flames—but she did not feel pain. She felt as though she was being cradled by loving arms.
“Demon! Kill the demon!” the priest cried out hysterically. He waved his golden cross at her and held his book as though it were a shield.
Sable looked at the priest and then at the village people. They inched back with apprehension, but blind panic had not taken hold. They had faith in the strength of the mighty knights. As long as the knights were here, surely one lone witch could be killed.
It did not occur to them that they sought protection from the knights who had threatened them mere moments ago.
I’ve trusted them and they have betrayed me.
This realization stabbed her heart. She had made this mistake before and it had cost her everything: her grandmother, Claire and the home she had known all her life.
Burn them away Sable...burn these people…
N-No! I won’t do it - I-
Before she could finish the thought, the black flames on her body began to move.
They formed three black claws, surged forth and grabbed the three knights by their arms. Instantly, their bodies were engulfed in flames. The men cried out with chilling horror and collapsed. They thrashed desperately as the black flames fed on their bodies.
“No...No...,” Sable cried desperately, her body shaking. “Please, don’t do this.”
Sable, you have too much mercy…
More flaming black claws surged forth from her body and they grabbed Hens and the red haired girl. Black flames ate away at their bodies and their last breaths came out as harrowing cries.
The villagers’ apprehension turned into stunned horror. That fair young woman—how could she? “A demon!” they heard the priest cry. Panic broke out. People cried for help, they fled back to their homes, slammed the doors shut and cowered underneath whatever they could find—a straw matt, a table, a chair.
Sable watched the throng of people disperse. “No,” she croaked and reached out like a lost child, but no one stopped to listen to her. Not even a fool would stop to listen to a monster—a demon.
Behind Sable hung Raven’s motionless body. His eyes bulged and his blue tongue hung out of his half open mouth. She twisted her lips with regret. I could have saved him…
She peered down at her hands and gritted her teeth. Stop it! she commanded, willing the flames to disappear.
The flames continued to burn.
Sable…you would have died without magic— “
No! Disappear! I don’t need magic!
It’s over, Sable. Look around you.
Standing on the platform, she looked around. There was no one around her anymore—no one alive at least. The soldiers who surrounded the village had fled upon seeing the young bracegear technician burn their superior. The priest too had fled. The people of the village cowered in their homes, fervently praying that if Sable decided to take revenge, that she would be satisfied with Grandma Gartha’s blood.
Her shoulders slumped and her legs grew weak. She thought that she would die for sure. She felt no particular joy, but she was glad to be alive.
She refused to think about how the villagers had betrayed her. She would leave such thoughts for later. If she thought of it now, her heart would break with desolation.
What now? She thought of the herbs she would need to mend her wounds—and spring water, yes, cold spring water.
“A witch, ey?” A drawling voice sounded behind her. “Today is my lucky day.”
Her heart skipped a beat.
Three men originally stood on the execution platform: a knight, the priest and...a witch hunter.
With a sharp breath, Sable turned and saw that the last man had not fled. No, he hid under the execution platform during the commotion and emerged now. He climbed onto the platform and stood before her, unconcerned about her demonic appearance.
Sable faced him, but she was not afraid.
“You should flee, like the others,” she said cooly. “I am not a normal witch; there is nothing you can do against me.”
The witch hunter smiled wordlessly and she could see his flashing white teeth. He put his hands on one of the burning bodies. Sable opened her mouth to give a final warning, but before she could make a sound, she saw that his thick leather gloves somehow resisted the black flames. He murmured words that she could not understand and the flames dissolved.
The bodies were charcoal black and all life was gone, but the witch hunter did not do it to save the mens’ lives.
He turned to Sable. His dark eyes danced with amusement as he relished the shock on her face.
“Little witch,” he said, his voice rumbling with anticipation. He stepped towards her, Sable inched back.
Panic crept under her skin. Her mind was reeling; she had never seen anyone extinguish these black flames—and with such ease!
Even the malicious voice in her head had gone quiet.
He stopped when he was just half a step away from her. She looked up at him. He was powerfully built with broad shoulders and thick arms. His hands were large and sturdy, appearing strong enough to crush her skull. Even under normal circumstances, the strength that he exuded would have disconcerted anyone—but as an enemy, he was a terror not even found in her worst nightmares.
“Have no fear, little witch,” he said. “I will not kill you. I will do something far worse...”
Upon hearing those words, did Sable finally find her strength again. She only had one thought: Get away from him. Her body moved instinctively; the desire for survival had overpowered the crippling fear that gripped her.
You have to fight...you must fight.
She wasn’t sure if that was her thought or the dark voice in her head—but what did it matter. Maybe for once, she and that malicious voice had the same thought.
She jumped off the platform and ran to the other side of the village center, creating fifteen steps of distance between her and the witch hunter. There was plenty of flat land with no obstacles between them.
Sable took a breath and the black flames around her back and abdomen split and crawled towards her arms and hands.
With her hands clenched into burning fists, did she meet the gaze of the witch hunter who watched her with curiosity.
“I have never seen a witch survive these black flames, never mind control them,” he said, both eyebrows raised with genuine interest. His eyes then suddenly blazed with contempt. “What does it matter; I will take what is most important to you witches.”
He got off the platform and stepped towards her. “I like that look in your eyes,” he said with a mocking smile on his lips. “That unrelenting resolve—good lord you will frighten away every man you meet! You are not afraid of me anymore? Good, fear always spoils a good fight.”
Sable did not like to fight, but she was no fool. As a witch, her strength lay in ranged combat. The witch hunter put his fists together and the silver plates stitched onto the outer surface of his gloves clashed with a shrieking sound, creating bright sparks.
And even though he carried a certain ease in his steps, it was clear that he wanted to close the distance so that his fists could reach her.
Sable measured him quickly and saw that beyond a sword sheathed at his side, he had no other weapons—no throwing knives, no bow and no arrows.
There were still ten steps between them. Sable raised both hands and aimed at the witch hunter. As though the black flames understood her, they shot forward without having to be commanded.
The malevolent voice in her head sounded again.
That’s right Sable...kill him, ke ke ke—burn this man…
The witch hunter jumped to the side, easily dodging Sable’s attack. The black flames created a charred hole where the witch hunter stood a moment ago, the remains of the flames smoldering in the dirt.
He raised an arching eyebrow. “My, my. You are rather strong are you—“
Before he could finish, Sable launched another attack. Again, the witch hunter dodged and the flames ate the dirt.
He is too fast Sable, you have to…
“You will never kill me like this,” he taunted her. “You don’t fight very often, do you?”
Sable smiled slightly. After seeing him dodge twice, she could now read his movements. She could sense his momentum and feel where he will move his large body. She raised her left hand, aimed at him but kept an eye on where she thought he will dodge to. Her right hand rested at her side, but was tensed, ready to attack.
The witch hunter was able to avoid her left handed attack and stepped back—right where Sable wanted him. She raised her right hand and fired. A mass of black flames burst on his chest, latching onto him, greedily consuming his body.
“Fool,” Sable murmured. He acted superior and smug, but the entire time he fought at a disadvantage. So long as she kept some distance, then there was nothing he could do to her; his sword could not reach her and his powerful silver fists—enough to crush her bones with one strike—were far away.
And yet she could not help but feel a tinge of unease in her heart; a witch hunter specialized in fighting witches and he should know that in combat, witches excelled in ranged attacks. If he was a professional, then why did he not have techniques that could be used to close the distance?
No mercy Sable...not this time, not now…attack him again
That’s enough, Sable thought. He’s already dead.
She lowered her hands. No. Something wasn’t right. His body was still standing; no agonizing cries sounded, no pleas for mercy. He stood there, unmoving, with the dignity of a king.
The witch hunter grunted, released his fists and brushed the flames aside as though it were dust on his attire. Sable had to blink several times to believe what she was seeing; the flames did not eat away his body—they did not even cause the slightest bit of damage.
He drew out his sword and used it to scratch away the flames on his back.
“Well, that was interesting,” he said. His dark eyes danced with amusement. He stepped towards her, his powerful body like a wall that sealed off all escape paths.
“Did you really think that you were able to hit me without me allowing you?” he asked. ”I just wanted to see how a witch of your caliber fights.”
He then added quietly: ”I’m disappointed.”
His sword scraped the ground as he slowly closed the distance between them.
“Ah little witch, yes, I like that look in your eyes; your gut must be sick with fear—there, there, I won’t kill you. No, you will wish that I had killed you.”
Sable stood frozen as the witch hunter approached her. The voice in her head had become silent again. Her mind was blank with terror.
Fight or flight. Neither was an option. She had fought him and her darkest magic proved to be ineffective. She could turn on her heel and run, but looking at the man’s powerful thighs, she immediately knew that she could not possibly outrun him.
Her eyes fell on his upper body. What was that black armor he was wearing? Whatever it was, it was able to resist her black flames. And the silver plates on his thick leather gloves; they did not only resist the flames but they could push her fire away.
Their gazes met. His dark eyes gleamed with monstrous delight and she felt sick with dread. What a horrible man—to be able to feel such joy when acting as the deliverer of death.
“If you are quiet, then I will make it quick.” He was just five steps away from her. His voice caused her to shiver; she wondered how a man’s voice could contain so much contempt, menace and wickedness.
In an act of instinctive self-defense, Sable raised both of her hands with a shriek and shot her flames at him. The witch hunter laughed gently as his silver fists dissipated her hungry flames.
“No! Get away from me!” Sable cried and launched a wild flurry of attacks at him, but the witch hunter deflected all of her flames effortlessly.
“No! No!” Her most primitive instincts took over and she turned and ran. She ran as fast as her shaking legs could carry her. She ran even though she knew it would all be in vain.
Behind her, the crushing footsteps of the witch hunter followed her. His heavy body moved with an almost unnatural lightness as he caught up to her.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her to the ground with such force that it knocked the breath out of her.
Sable cried desperately and struggled vehemently, but the witch hunter only laughed.
“Little witch, your biggest weakness is that you only know how to use magic to fight and magic cannot harm me. A sword can cut me, a dagger can stab me, a fist can hurt me—but magic, no, your mighty flames will do no good against me. You were doomed the moment you set foot in this village.”
Sable’s cries were filled with bitter regret. She knew that he was right.
“Please...please don’t kill me. I will do anything...please— “
He put his thick finger against her bloodied lips. “Shhh, quiet now. Have you heard nothing I said? I said I won’t kill you—no, killing you won’t be satisfying at all.” He licked his lips. “I want to see you suffer. I want to take away what is most important to you.”
With his foot on her chest, he stood and readied his sword. The elegant silver blade gleamed in the sunlight. The witch hunter’s eyes weren’t on her bosom or her thighs. No, he eyed her hands.
Sable’s heart sank. “NO!” she cried as loud she could. She kicked and punched, she struggled blindly, but the weight of the witch hunter kept her in place.
“I told you to be quiet,” the witch hunter snarled and stepped harder so that the last bit of air was pushed out of her.
“You witches treasure your hands so much, don’t you? Look, you even wear leather gloves to protect them.” A dark chuckle. “All your magic circuits are concentrated in your hands and you use tattooed runes on your palm and fingers to channel your power.”
He raised is sword. The sharp blade split the sun. “Witch, I will take your reason for living. I will take your hands.”
Before Sable could finish, he brought his blade down on her right hand, cutting it off by the wrist. The blade was sharp and the cut was clean. Then he did the same with her left hand.
He sheathed his blade and walked away with soft laughter.