The Village of Hope (part six)

Ramiel could not believe his eyes. Hiding in the underbrush near an ancient, twisted tree, he watched Kamali kneel before a statue-like figure. He did not fully understand the scene that was unfolding before him, but nevertheless it filled him with silent horror.

An hour earlier, he had been standing outside Kamali's closed door, secretly guarding her against an unknown evil. The village was a peaceful one, with no need to create weapons. Therefore, instead of a sword he carried the ax with which he chopped firewood. Upon hearing the window open, he had quietly entered the room to make sure Kamali was all right. To his amazement, he saw that she had snuck out through the window. Almost questioning her sanity, he wondered what she could possibly be doing. Rather concerned by her odd behavior, he had decided to follow her.

So he had trailed her noiselessly, hiding in the deep shadows of the forest. His heart was pained by the sorrow he saw in her eyes. Time and again Ramiel wanted to draw her near and comfort her, to once again ask her how he could help. But he never did; he knew that she wouldn't tell him anything, she would beg him not to interfere. For that reason, he stayed in the shadows, intent on finding out where she was going and what would happen to her. Eventually she led him to the giant tree, black and forbidding, where the strange, statue-like being had appeared.

Now he was surveying the bizarre situation, filled with dread but rooted to the ground with overwhelming curiosity. After Kamali kneeled before the statue, it raised a whip that Ramiel had, until then, not noticed. Shock and horror hit him like a thunderbolt when the freakish statue began to beat Kamali mercilessly. Her faint cries of pain pierced his soul. For a split second his alarm and fury rendered him useless.

Regaining his senses, he burst through the underbrush brandishing his ax.

"No! Stop hurting her!" he yelled furiously.

A blur of action followed this impulsive deed: Kamali cried out in surprise, the demon shoved her roughly aside, placing itself between Ramiel and the object of his guardianship. Deftly, its whip lashed out and wrenched the ax from Ramiel's hand. For a second Ramiel stood still, weaponless and distressed at this sudden turn of events. Picking up a stout branch, Ramiel struck the statue's head with all his strength, momentarily disorientating it. He seized the ax before the statue had recovered from the blow. Quickly, Ramiel made his way to Kamali.

She was sitting on the ground, hugging her knees and watching the scene with a strange expression on her face. Tears slid from her eyes and mingled with the rain and the mud.

"Are you all right?" he asked, breathless.

Kamali nodded silently, apparently overcome by Ramiel's unexpected arrival.

Fervently he pressed her cold, ivory hand into his own and looked into her eyes. "Don't be afraid," he said, "you will be freed from this devil."

* * *


Kamali could not look away. Ramiel was standing over her, still holding her hand. His eyes were filled with fierce determination, yet they were softened by a tenderness and joy that inspired hope in her heart, despite their miserable circumstances.

Just as Ramiel let go of her hand, the statue struck him forcefully from the side and he crashed into a nearby tree. He groaned quietly and lay still. The statue laughed menacingly as Kamali ran to him.

"It seems that the boy wants to share in your suffering, little girl." It lashed out at a tree, stripping the bark from its branches. "Let him do what he wishes, it will make things more interesting." Slowly the statue began to float towards them, raising the whip above its head.

Kamali shook Ramiel, "Wake up! Wake up!" she whispered frantically. "Do something, please!" Finally, Ramiel opened his eyes, but was injured too badly to defend Kamali or himself. Kamali looked at him hopelessly as the statue drew near. "What do we do?" she asked, fear apparent in her quavering voice.

Wrapping his arms carefully around her, Ramiel smiled. "Don't be afraid," he repeated. Together they endured the horrific beating throughout the night. When the first faint glow illuminated the horizon, the statue vanished as before. Finally, Ramiel released Kamali from his embrace and collapsed onto the ground, face up and gasping for breath. He had taken the brunt of the abuse; Kamali had stayed fairly safe in his protective hold.

She sank to the ground beside him, tears flowing freely from her sky blue eyes. She stared at Ramiel with wide eyes. "Why--?" she wondered, her voice choking with emotion.

"Because," he said quietly, "I love you."

Kamali had no words to speak. She was overwhelmed. Her heart was filled with joy as she stared at Ramiel. His figure was battered and bloody, his skin and clothes were smeared with mud and he could hardly keep his eyes open. Overall, he looked rather wretched. But as he smiled his sheepish grin, she knew that she loved him too.

Ramiel sat up with difficulty, his expression suddenly serious. "Now, Kamali, will you tell me what is happening? Why was that statue beating you?" His voice was gentle, yet commanding.

She could no longer refuse to tell the truth. A little too quickly, the words that she had been dying to say since she came to this village tumbled out. "I was given as a sacrifice to that demon when I was very young. The demon lives in a temple in my village, it promised to protect the village if everyone would sacrifice the best of their provisions. My father--" her voice faltered. "He knew that the demon-god was a wicked being; he refused to sacrifice anything. When the demon heard of his disobedience, he was put to death." Eyes hollow with sadness, Kamali stared at the ground. "To make up for his lack of sacrifices, I was given to the demon so that it may vent its rage upon me."

Ramiel gazed at her in disbelief.

"Please," she said desperately, now looking him straight in the eye. "Please help me. I don't want to do this anymore . . ."

Ramiel smiled consolingly; he replied in a tender manner without judging her or saying I-told-you-so. "Of course I'm going to help you, Kamali. That is all I have wanted to do since you arrived here."

Knowing that this was true, she nodded. She remembered his pain and frustration, feeling guilty. "But . . ." she said, "what are we going to do?" Again, a fearful quiver crept into her voice. "It's too powerful, we'll never be able to defeat it."

"No, Kamali; when you speak like that you give it more power than it actually has." He spoke with confidence. "Everyone in this village is talented with a specific tool. If we could attack the statue all together, I am certain we would overcome it.

His assurance began to comfort Kamali. She wiped the tears from her eyes, shivering from the early morning air. Ramiel slipped off his woolen over-shirt and carefully wrapped it around her. For a moment they sat together, enjoying one another's presence. Happiness reigned in the dismal, shabby scene. Eventually they fell asleep, hand in hand on forest floor with peaceful expressions on their faces.





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