December 18, 1400

The Parish

My feet are bare and the mud sloshes against my legs. The night has been slathered thick with cosmos, freckles of fathomless stars. The moon hovers a misty orb in the dwindle of black sky. The trees look like fragments of fingers trying to capture the tenebrosity. The swamp is cold and terrifying and silent, except for the Curates. The sound of their breathing fills the dark and hollow places.

“Why at night?” I ask, my chest hitching with cold air.
“Have you ever been to a Sector one execution?” The Curate who tethers me from behind whispers. They call him Oscar. I like him.
“No, only Sector three, and two.” I murmur, my voice trembles.

“Sector ones must be executed at 3:33 am, for it’s half the Devil’s hour. Sunday is too holy a day to dispose of true evil and -”
“Oscar, no mingling with spawns of Satan!” Enoch whoops. “He can’t be serious.”

“He believes in the law. Whether it’s just or not.”
And then I see the fence, pearlescent metal glinting in the moonlight like bones. My blood runs cold as a Curate rattles the fence to attract the Skin Eaters.
The Parish Priest rises like a phantom from the fog, his white cloak is a pale slash against the night. His face is gaunt with gloom.

“Bind her.” He instructs in a shudder-some voice.

“Sorry.” Oscar says apologetically, under his breath.
The young man forces me to collapse against the ground. I scrape my palms raw, resisting his strength.
I succumb despite my grunting efforts.

The cicadas and crickets flood the air with music, bittersweet and pacifying.

I’m wrenched from the ground. I choke and yelp as a man with powerful arms yanks me into position. A sob accumulates in my chest, coalescing with paralyzing fear, and rips from my mouth. “Please, no. No, please stop.” I beg, frantically scrambling away. I taste the salt of my tears and the tang of swamp water.

The Parish Priest stands, observing, arms folded across his narrow chest. The Curates form a strategic pattern around him.
Hands grabs my hair by the roots, yanking me up. Instinctively my hands claw at his, nails scraping trails of red. I howl, my back arching and toes curling as he drags me through the muck.

I hysterically try to hinder him. My chest heaves as he tosses me down, ties my wrist behind my back and leaves me there.

Chains rattle and grind against metal as someone opens the gate. A Curate pulls me up and shoves me forwards, I stumble through the mud before tumbling to ground.
And then the screaming starts.
“Aim steady men! Aim steady!” They shout as they pound bullets into bodies.

The Skin Eater’s swarm. I listen to people die, and I watch them rise again. Lips curled back in a repulsive grin, they eat their brothers.
Flashes of a sliver blade sever their rotting limbs. “Into the forest!” Enoch shouts, slashing flesh.

“Not the girl!” But Oscar is already sawing at my binds. I blink at him, at his miraculous mercy. “Use it.” He pushes the slick hilt of a gleaming knife in my hand. I clamber from the ground, my body lethargic with terror and famine, and stumble after him.

Enoch moves with a reptilian stealth, slipping between shadows and moonlight. He avoids Skin Eater’s instead of slaughtering them, like Oscar does.
I swing my cumbersome arm at a skeletal head, the blade slides through decayed bone, jerking my arm up I shatter it’s skull and it crumples.

I follow the men into the marsh.
Into the forest where everything dies.



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