Walking up in front of the church with Loki by my side and my bag on my back, I took a deep breath. I looked down at Loki for reassurance, but he only sat beside me, still tired. I then pulled up a soap box and stepped on carefully, worried I may crush it under my boots. I cleared my throat and called out, “Excuse me! May I have your attention?!” People started to look out their windows at me, and they all gathered around curiously. “I have an announcement to make this morning!” I called out as people circled around the box I stood on. I didn’t stop until I could even see the reverend poking his head out of the church. “I cannot stay in this town!” People began to murmur, and even from a distance, I could see the reverend was intrigued. He closed the door behind him as he stepped out, and I explained, “I simply must go and find another place that needs my help!”
A young girl asked why I needed to leave, and I asked everyone, “What have I helped people with?” They looked at one another, and one of them reminded me, “You and Aabraham took care of those bandits…” This initiated a downpour of all the bounties I had taken care of, with or without Aabraham, and I smiled. I looked down at the girl and said, “So now, I must give that to other towns around the world.” I then plopped down my bag and said, “However, I have not been very open with everyone here…” They all stared up at me as I took a deep breath. Within a second, I ripped off my chest plate to reveal the dress I wore underneath it. “I AM A WOMAN! I AM ANNA HEINO, AND I TRICKED YOU ALL!” I shouted with a smile on my face, and a wave of gasps and “WHAT”s erupted, and I laughed. “YOU SICK PEOPLE TREATED ME AS EQUAL ONLY WHEN YOU THOUGHT I WAS A MAN!!!” I shouted almost maniacally as I picked up my bag. The reverend had a look of terror on his face when he, as expected, cried out, “W-WITCH! SHE’S A WITCH!” I laughed, and knowing I was not coming back, shrieked, “YES! YES, I AM! AND I HELPED ALL OF YOU!” I then spun around and shouted, “SO, KISS IT!” I then bent down and lifted my dress, causing what sounded like thousands of gasps and shrieks. I hopped off the soap box and darted away, the wind flowing through my hair as I ran towards the forest like a maniac.
I laughed like a child as I stumbled through the forest, but I nearly stopped as I noticed Taavi. My heart was still beating fast as I froze in my steps, and he somehow didn’t hear me. I ducked down and watched as he walked through the woods. I began to sneak towards him, planning on jumping on him to surprise him, but I only then noticed where we were headed. As I got closer, I noticed he had nothing in his hands except for a violin, which wasn’t too unusual, seeing as how he played it at the tavern sometimes. I continued following him toward the river, and as he approached the edge, I stood up and tackled him into the water. I gripped him tightly, and as much as he wriggled, I kept hugging him. As we resurfaced, I smiled and asked what he was doing here. As my eyes were cleared of water, I looked up at Taavi, but I felt my stomach drop when I noticed his skin start to change. His flesh seemed to wriggle as it turned a pale blue, and his eyes faded into a shimmering black. My eyes shifted around as it clicked as to what had happened. The moment I felt his webbed fingers on my shoulders, I let go of him and scurried onto a rock as I cried out, “Y-YOU?!” For the first time, he showed emotion: pure panic.
“W-What?!” was all that he stuttered as I began to connect things. That was how he knew about Vera´s family, and why he seemed so familiar, yet mysterious. Why he never came out of the water, even when he had legs. I felt him grab my wrist, and I pulled it away as I cried out, ¨Y-you! You lied to me!¨ He latched onto my dress and pulled me towards him as he insisted that he didn’t. “Who even are you?!” I snapped at him as I tried to pull my skirt away. Instead, I yanked so hard that I fell backwards into the water, and I tried to scramble back onto the surface, but he grabbed my wrists and pinned them to the rock underwater so that my jawline was barely peeking over the water, and I winced in pain. “I am your friend.” He insisted in a demanding voice, but I replied, “I don’t even know what you are anymore.” He frowned deeply, and with his dark eyes and sharp fangs that he bared at me, I remembered what I had thought of him before we truly met. “I am the exact same person as you knew seconds before…” He claimed, and I shook my head. “You… Taavi…” I then began to think about the two, almost entirely different people.
He blinked at me and said in a low voice, “I… I just…” He then looked down at the water as he mumbled, “When I saw you, I just fell…” “D-Don’t say it…” I said, my heart shaking as I tried to get free. “I don’t need to. You already know now.” I felt him loosen his grip on me, and I used this as a chance to slip free. I shoved him away and swam over to the grass. As I had crawled out, he latched onto my ankle and hissed loudly as his claws dug into my flesh. I cried out in pain, and he soon after did the same when Loki bit down onto his hand ferociously. He then grabbed onto the scruff of his neck and tried to pull him into the water. I tightly grabbed onto his hips and kicked at the creature. He eventually let go, and I started to run away with Loki snarling in my arms. I kept going as the sun started to creep under the horizon. The brambles tore at the ends of my dress, but I kept running until I could no longer breathe. I set Loki down and looked around the forest. I didn’t recognize any of my surroundings, and I silently cursed myself for not paying attention. The nearly silent sound of footsteps made my heart nearly jump out of my heart. I whipped my head around in search for a place to hide, and my eyes met a partially uprooted tree. The roots created an almost barrier, so I dropped to my knees and slipped in under the roots. It was a relatively small space, and when my head hit the bottom of the tree, I looked over and saw that my feet were still poking out. I brought my knees to my chest and placed my boots against the roots so that I was hidden better. The moss growing over the roots almost acted as a veil that helped hide me more, but it didn’t comfort me much when I heard the footsteps growing louder as they crunched onto the leaves.
I held my breath as I noticed boots stepping up in front of the tree, and I nearly shrieked when they squatted down. “Taavi” brushed a strand of white hair behind his ear as he blocked my foot when I tried to kick him. “Is that any way to treat me after all that I’ve done to be with you?” He asked as he began to crawl in the hole. I kicked at him again, asking why I should be nice when he had been stalking me. He gave a hurt expression as he claimed that he was doing no such thing. “I was simply watching over you. Like a guardian angel, I suppose.” He rested his hands on my knees, and I pulled myself away from him as much as I could. “No!” I exclaimed as something clicked. “You would have left me in that cave!” I shouted at him. “You would have left me to die…!” He then shook his head and said that he would never hurt me. I shouted for him to stop lying as I shoved him away and crawled desperately out from under the tree, my dress getting caught on the roots. I kept running, and I could hear Loki trailing behind me. When we finally came to an opening, it was Cullfield once more, lit up by torches. I skidded to a stop when I saw several men crying out towards me, “It’s the witch!” I screamed curses as I retreated inside my home and barricaded the door with as much as I could find. I then collapsed on the ground and looked up at the door window that quickly turned red and orange with all of the fire outside.
People began screaming inside all kinds of accusations, such as me being the one causing the disappearances. They banged intensely at the door, trying to get inside. I only shook my head and thought of how I was going to escape. Just then, I felt movement just under the floorboards. Even with the barricade, I could tell it still had the same consistency like that of a snake or a sea serpent. I then felt my heart drop when I heard shuffling now in the walls. I scurried to my feet and instantly began to run towards the hole in the wall, but as I rounded the corner, “Taavi” was already there. I skidded to a stop by digging my heels into the flooring, and I nearly fell into his chest. “Anna~.” He seemed to coo, almost like an insane man. I began to step away as he claimed, “You still have a choice.” I stood on the other side of the kitchen table as I asked him, “What do you mean?” He then smirked and motioned towards the mob outside. “I can let them kill you… or you can stay with me…” I frowned and asked what he meant by that. “Well, you stay with me as a bride, and you can never leave. But you will have no use for that… You can have all you want as long as you stay…” I scowled as I asked how I could trust him. He only held up his finger and began making a ticking noise as he wagged it back and forth like a metronome.
“Tick tock, little kitten.” He taunted, and I frowned deeply as Loki stood by the table, snarling at him intensely. “Why do you want me?” He then smirked with flared white hair as he claimed, “You were the only one who knew I existed. And you were the only one who wasn’t scared of me.” He then crossed his arms over his chest as he added, “Now, while that may have changed…” He then looked at me in a sinister way. “…I cannot let you leave.” I narrowed my eyes as I growled, “Loki and I will leave this house alive…and it won’t be in your arms…” Just then, the door was burst in, and I whipped around and saw the entire mob pouring into the house. Kai then tackled me to the ground, keeping my head down by keeping his hand on the back of my neck roughly. He cried out for the townspeople to get the dog away from him as Loki attacked his arm. They pulled him off of Kai as his arm bled heavily through teeth wounds. He moved his hand to my head as he yanked me up by my hair, and people cheered. I seethed as I struggled to get him to free me, but his grip on my dark hair was firm. I could see them dragging Loki away by the scruff of his neck, and I cried out for them to not hurt him. I then heard a ferocious snarling from Loki, and I continued to shout for them to leave him alone. The struggle seemed to fall silent, and I could feel a disgusting mixture of all different kinds of feelings, resulting in me feeling almost completely numb. The villagers then began to ask how I was to die. It was all the same, mostly involving burning or stoning, but Kai then suggested something that made my heart drop, and the villagers to “ooh” and “ahh”.
“Let’s tie cinder blocks to her feet and throw her in the brook!” I quickly began to look around at everyone’s reactions, and I cried out that I wanted to be burned. Of course, they didn’t listen as they all began their death march into the forest. Kai then threw me into the arms of some men, and as they gripped my limbs and carried me away, I watched him as he turned the other way and walked further into the house. I flailed as much as I could as I tried to get free. I looked around at the seldom looks of demented excitement. People chanted mantras about killing witches for their religion almost as though it were anything but holy. I kept trying to get free as the cobblestone turned into grass and sharp brambles. The two men holding my feet up dropped them so that they dragged me through the sharp thorns. I screamed in pain as my legs were cut up violently, and I kicked as I continued to free myself.
Within several minutes, my voice was thrashed and my limbs were all sore, so I simply went limp as they continued. They eventually stopped by the brook as small children came up, holding single cinder blocks, and they looked so proud of themselves. They stood me up and held my arms as ropes were tied to my ankles. I could feel something rising up in my throat, almost choking me. Rope was tied around my wrists behind my back so tight, I could feel them starting to turn red. “Any final words, witch?” I heard the reverend ask, and I finally looked up at him. Within looking at his eyes, absent of any mercy, I felt tears roll down my face heavily. They’ve taken everything away from me within moments. I lost the only friends I had, I lost all safety I had, I lost the trust of these people, and I will soon lose my life. I sniffled, “Please… Don’t throw me in there…” He stared at me for the briefest of moments before calling out that another bride of Satan would be killed this night. They lifted me up, and as I saw a faint figure in the water, I screamed louder than I ever had. The cinderblocks were much heavier than they anticipated, causing it to land on the edge of one of the rocks, and I was allowed to float in the water.
Some of the men had begun to get ready to dive in and shove me over the deep end when I heard a low sloshing come from the water. I looked up to see Kai standing on the rock, drenched in water. Cries rang out, “IT’S THE NÖKKEN!” He held up a violin and wedged it between his chin and his shoulder. He dragged the bow across the strings, and within the first few notes, the villagers began to cover their ears, only for their eyes to grow glossy. They dropped their torches, which landed in the grass and quickly began to burn it. Kai then placed his foot onto the cinderblock and shoved it over the edge, plunging me deeper in the water.
The cold, unforgiving brook then engulfed me as I was dragged to the bottom. The lights from the torches that slowly engulfed the forest allowed me to see as I watched the seaweed start to surround me. As I looked down towards the bottom, I noticed a tiny black blob. I thought nothing of it until it became more humanoid looking. As the cinderblock settled in the mud at the bottom of the brook, I nearly screamed as my eyes met those of my father’s, or rather, his sockets. The pressure had destroyed his face, along with everyone else’s. I looked up to see the corpses of the townspeople all hanging upside down and their legs above them as their bodies tried to float upwards. The ropes around their necks kept them grounded and just out of sight of anyone that may be walking past. My dress floated around me as I willed myself to at least drown faster. I could almost see my clear tears in contrast to the nearly black water surrounding me. I looked up at the surface of the water, where it looked as though it was late in the afternoon with how much fire was spreading. A large wave of black seemed to take over the surface of the water, and I felt myself nearly puke as I realized they were all the villagers. They proceeded to throw themselves into the water, not even thrashing as the water filled their lungs. As I felt a slimy and smooth body brush against my back and side, I came face to face with Kai as he grinned maliciously at me. My vision faded away, leaving nothing but the sound of the water around me, and a soft whisper claiming, “Even in death, you will be my winter woman…”
My shoes nearly slipped on the rock trail as I trailed after my parents. The screen from my phone was mostly blocked out by the blazing sun. I groaned in frustration as I continued to follow after them. “I swear, we’ve passed that lake three times now…” I claimed as we stepped over the bridge. “Alice, we’re fine!” My father snapped angrily, and I only stated that we weren’t. “Watch. I’ll wait here, and like five minutes later, you’ll come looping around again.” I betted, and my mother insisted that it wasn’t a good idea, regardless. I sighed and claimed, “I’ve been here before, remember? You sent me to that stupid camp here?” She narrowed her eyes and asked if I was ever going to let it go. “No.” I said, stepping over the railing of the bridge and plopping down, allowing for my legs to dangle. “Fine!” She snapped before leaving. “You ever decide to have a better attitude, you can find the cabin yourself!” They both left, and I scoffed before picking up a small pebble and throwing it into the lake.
I grumbled low as I looked into the murky water. “…What did that pebble do to you?” I heard a male voice ask, and I looked over to see a boy about my age. He was extremely handsome with black hair and amber eyes that stared at me. “Ugh… It’s my stupid parents…” I mumbled. “They decided to drag me on their vacation instead of letting me spend my summer inside.” He sighed also and claimed that it did suck. “My parents dragged me here too. Tradition, apparently.” He crawled over the fence and sat down next to me, and we began to talk, mostly about music and our high schools. “So, I never asked, but what’s your name?” He asked, and I told him, “It’s Alice.” He smiled and said that it reminded him of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I nodded slightly, claiming that I loved the story too, and I asked for his name. He then fiddled with his converse shoes as he claimed, “Honestly, I don’t like my name, but I was given a nickname by someone I knew.” He then looked over at me, stuck out his hand, and introduced himself. “Kai.”