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Witch Hazel

I knew nothing of the returned dead except for what I had just witnessed. Grandmother had never spoken of restless corpses that rise and attack and the living.

I stopped running when I could no longer breathe, the pain in my side was searing. With the small child clutched in my arms, I doubled over, falling to my knees, sucking in air to pained lungs. I was almost worried I had squeezed the life out of the poor child in my fear of dropping her. My arms were like lead from her weight, and I took the time to examine her wound. I’d seen human bites before, men would get into drunken brawls that didn’t end in punching but often a version of extremely dirty wrestling with biting and hair pulling. Human bites easily became infected, and would ooze pus, swell, and be inflamed. I pulled back the skirt from the small girl’s leg to peer at her wound. It had blessedly seemed to stop bleeding, a small chunk of meaty flesh had been bitten from her calf rather than her ankle as I had thought before. She’d probably walk the rest of her life with a limp, and a chunk out of her leg, but she wasn’t going to bleed to death. Still I tore part of my petticoat and fashioned a bandage around her leg. I’d have to visit Galienne and hope that she’d have some herbs to help heal this little girl’s leg.

Shadows approached and I was worried that it was more returned dead, or… were they undead? I clutched the girl to me again. She’d gone pale and clammy, but that was easily explained by the blood loss. I would need a blanket for her, and a warm fire. My arms trembled as I tried to pick her up, my legs were like jelly, I could only scoot towards the darkness of a corner where two buildings joined together.

“Give me the child,” came that voice of the gods from the shadows. Raziel’s voice. A shadowy arm moved upwards and pulled he hood from his head. He was the approaching shadow. I gave a bit of a sigh, hoping that he’d help me with the weight of the child. He was hard to look at, I had no idea if the cracks on his skin pained him, and the corruption that was obviously spreading through him was like fire in his veins.

“Are we safe now?” I asked him.

“Very nearly, the returned dead have been put down,” he paused a moment and I almost encouraged him to continue, “We only need to deal with the bitten.”

Nothing is so crushing as hope being dashed. I had risen with hope at Raziel’s words, he had handled the undead before, and obviously how to help those that had been bitten by the undead. The Nightsorrows, as intimidating, frustrating at times, skilled warriors, they had the same oath I did. Help those in need. Raziel would help the little girl. I passed her limp body to him, and she seemed utterly tiny in his large arms. Reduced to looking no more than infant. With gentle hands he cradled her, even brushed an errant curl from her unconscious brow. I surged with regret, penance for everything cruel thing I had ever thought about him, had ever said to him. She was breathing shallowly, she needed warmth quickly. He placed one of his large hands on her crown, and… twisted. There was an audible snap, and she stopped breathing. Raziel had broken her neck.

“Nooooooo! You monster!” I yelled at him, tears bursting from eyes, my heart was frozen, broken, and thudded heavily in my chest. He was a monster of the cruelest, not worthy of the Nightsorrow name, not worthy of his brother’s and father’s love and loyalty. I caught myself trying to strike him about the head with Grandmother’s Walking Stick. He blocked quickly with a single hand, the other arm still cradled the dead body of the toddler to his chest. The walking stick was suddenly wrenched from my hands, not by Raziel, but Ezekiel had appeared. I had tried to fight him, but eventually buried my face in his strong chest. My knees wouldn’t hold me any longer and I’d have sank to the ground if not for Ezekiel’s strong arm about my shoulders. He moved downwards with me. I cried into his chest, as he stroked my hair with one hand, the other arm holding me tight. I had white knuckle grips on his tunic, I could feel the cloth and leather stress in my hands.

I was done with Raziel.

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