The Village of Hope (part five)

Gripping the ax much too tightly, Ramiel hacked indiscriminately at a large piece of firewood. He had been taking out his frustration and anguish on innocent logs for hours. His head-wound had reopened from the exertion; blood and perspiration dripped from his furrowed brow. The sun had set; the shadows grew into darkness around him. Worn out by grief and toil, he sat down in the dewy grass, letting the evening air cool his sweaty face.

Feeling powerless, he searched his mind for some idea of what might have happened to Kamali.

"Did something attack her?" he thought to himself, "Or someone?"

He imagined someone sneaking into her room and carrying her off somewhere to do her harm. Just the thought of it made his heart blaze with fury.

He had noticed that Kamali's recent injuries matched her old scars exactly.

"Whatever happened to her has happened before," he thought. Moreover, he was sure that it would afflict her until the day she died, unless someone helped her. The next time it happened, he thought, it could kill her. Her fragile frame wasn't strong enough to endure such brutal wounds.

"She isn't safe . . ." Ramiel stood up suddenly, distraught. He resolved to protect her, even if he had no idea what was damaging her. Clearly, however, she didn't want him to help. Therefore, he was going to guard her in secret.

* * *


Kamali was awakened in the middle of the night by a booming thunderclap. It rattled the small cottage and gave her a terrible fright. She sat up and put her head in her hands, groaning with dread. The demon statue would be expecting her at the gnarled tree. Apparently there was no escaping from its vicious clutches. She would have to suffer the punishment for her father's crime the rest of her life. And if she stayed in the village, she would be putting her friends at horrible risk. Now she feared that she would have to act on an idea that had been hovering like a black cloud in her mind.

"It's the only thing I can do," she thought, heartsick. She would leave the village; she could not chance the lives of the people she loved.

She felt the prick of tears in her eyes. "No time for that now," she whispered, almost dazed. She got up and packed her meager belongings in a satchel Dianthe had sewn for her. She didn't know where to go, the statue would find her wherever she went. But that did not matter much, as long as she wasn't endangering this kindhearted village.

She walked quietly across the rough wooden floor to the window. She was afraid that she would wake Dianthe if she used the cottage door. The old, splintering window-frame creaked and shuddered as she opened it. She took a breath to steady herself and went out into the night. The violent storm was beginning to decrease, fading into a steady downpour. Every now and then thunder still rumbled in the distance, slow and sad, like a mournful dirge. Kamali hurried through the slumbering village and into the forest, heading for the gnarled tree. Her weary limbs caused her to stumble and fall on the muddy ground.

She hated to leave this wonderful village, she had found so much love and kindness, and now she had to leave it forever. The sorrow she felt was overwhelming. Exhausted, she focused on putting one foot in front of the other. While she toiled along, thoughts of Ramiel came unbidden to her mind. She did not want to remember. She tried to block them out, to push them away, but she could not. She admired him greatly, she loved the way he made her feel important, worthy of the compassion he bestowed upon her. Carefully, she tried to ignore the fact that she would never see him again.

Forgetting to watch where she was walking, Kamali tripped on a root that grew across the path. She landed face-first in the mud. For a moment she just lay there, overcome by her sorrow. When she looked up, she realized that she had arrived at the horrid tree. Its twisted shape loomed in front of her, the crooked branches appeared to reach out for her menacingly. Wicked cackling suddenly filled the air. The demon came floating across the ground towards her with its lantern casting a ghostly light over the trees. Fearfully but determinedly, she approached the demon and prepared herself for the dreadful pain.





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