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The Village of Hope (part seven)

Upon hearing a familiar barking sound, Ramiel awakened to find himself in a lush, green forest bathed in sunlight. He sat up quickly, forgetting his injuries; he gasped as pain shot across his chest. Recalling the danger of the past night, Ramiel panicked and frantically sought Kamali. She was still asleep, the sunlight glinted off of her dark hair. He breathed a sigh of relief. She is here; she is safe, he thought.

The sound of barking grew louder; suddenly it dawned upon Ramiel that it was his dog. He stood up cautiously as Wolf crashed through the underbrush to greet him, howling joyously.

"Hello," Ramiel greeted his large white dog. Wolf nuzzled his head against Ramiel's torso affectionately. "Ah, be careful Wolf," he said, wincing. Then he smiled: it felt like ages since he had last seen his dog, it was comforting to just hug him.

A group of people came through the trees, apparently following Wolf.

"Hey!" one of them yelled, "we found them!"

Earlier, a few of the villagers had noticed Ramiel and Kamali's absence. When they did not return that night, they formed a search party with Wolf leading the way.

The villagers had brought food, water, and Dianthe had taken bandages and salves, because "Ramiel was always getting himself mangled" as she put it. Indeed, he had gotten himself mangled. Three cracked ribs, a nasty concussion and a multitude of lacerations across his body. After they had tended to the missing youths' needs, the caring villagers assisted them back home.

Ramiel and Kamali sat outside Dianthe's cottage eating a late afternoon meal. Nearly the whole village was gathered around them, listening as the two related the peril of the night before.

"What we need to do," Ramiel said, after they had recounted the story, "is to devise a plan." He glanced at Kamali as he spoke, she sat at the wooden table with downcast eyes. Her head was cradled on her arm as she picked slowly at a currant bun. Ramiel thought she looked rather sickly. It was no wonder, he thought, after what she had been through. "We must figure out a way to free Kamali from this demon. It is a terrible thing indeed that she was made to suffer like this for so long. Tonight we must end her torment." He gazed steadily at Kamali, she looked up at him briefly; Ramiel noticed something strange in her expression. It seemed as though she were ashamed. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she looked away.

Concerned, Ramiel touched her shoulder; she shook her head dismissively and he continued. "I firmly believe that if we could all assail the statue at once, we will destroy it."

Some of the villagers' faces went white with trepidation, but all of them were determined to help Kamali. So they gathered their thoughts and came up with strategy. It was risky, but they agreed in unison that no matter what happened, it would be worth the chance.

Later that day, just before nightfall, Ramiel approached Kamali.

"We're all ready," he said. "Are you?" he asked anxiously.

"I-I'm not sure . . ." she said slowly. He could tell that she was trying not to cry.

"It's going to be all right, Kamali." He didn't know what else to say.

"How can you know that?" she asked, sounding upset and a little annoyed. "What if something happens to you or to our friends? I could never forgive myself. Never." She went on, talking frantically. "It's really okay, I don't want to you help me. I don't mind the statue at all. Please just leave me alone." Her eyes filled with tears as she said this.

Ramiel drew her close and embraced her shaking form. "You don't mean that . . ." he said, feeling helpless but striving to appear strong and sure.

She nodded into his shoulder stubbornly. "Yes I do."

Gently, he lifted her chin so that their eyes met. "Kamali . . . We are doing this because we love you. We are going to help you, whether you like it or not. Because you're worth more than this; you are invaluable. It's time that you realized this." He finished sternly.

Kamali nodded slowly, but said nothing.

Ramiel didn't press the matter. "Let's go," he said, taking her hand.

They joined the group of villagers and set off in the direction of the gnarled tree as the darkness began to thicken. Many of their friends were with them: Dianthe was wielding a sharp bread knife, Hadrian held a scythe, his wife Linnea brought a garden spade and little Nikolas had taken his slingshot and a pocketful of lake stones. The portly man with the kind face carried a canoe paddle with well-intentioned enthusiasm. Others brandished staves, rakes, shovels, hoes, plowshares, frying pans, fire pokers and hammers; their faces were grim with determination. Ramiel, of course, brandished his axe. He felt quite weak, truth be told. His body ached terribly, and his limbs felt like lead. He began to doubt himself, though he did not let Kamali know any of this. Instead, he smiled at her reassuringly, secretly hoping that he was doing the right thing.

After they had walked for awhile, they perceived a green light flickering ahead of them.

"There is the statue, up ahead," Ramiel said, gesturing. "Is everyone prepared?"

The steadfast group murmured in assent.

"Good." He took Kamali by the hand and gazed at her steadily. "Don't be afraid," he whispered.

Kamali swallowed hard. "Please be careful. All of you." Her voice cracked.

"We will be fine. Now go, and don't look back. I promise we're right behind you."





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