The Edge

The secondhand store was unique. The walls and shelves were covered with items ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. There was no rhyme or reason to any of it; it looked as though someone had strewn items in a room and just needed them to fit like an immense Jenga game.

On one shelf, a Barbie playhouse is tightly packed next to a carburetor for an unknown car. On another shelf, an unstrung crossbow lay still while being covered with mid-70s vinyl albums. It was a parade of plethora, a cavalcade of stuff.

“What are we doing here?” Karen Klay asked her friend.

“We are looking for something to put on my empty wall,” Alexandra answered. Alexandra Xavier Cross was a young woman of twenty-five. She was thin and had long brown hair flowing well past her shoulders. Alexandra walked with a cane and had a limp from an older accident. The accident left her struggling to walk, and she hated every moment of it.

“You don’t have an empty wall,” Karen laughed. Karen’s short red hair made her look more like a pixie than a person. She was petite and overly animated at all times.

“Sure I do, between the bathroom and the bedroom,” Alexandra laughed.

“Oh, that six-inch spot that looks like a strip of white? I get it.”

“It is bigger than six inches. I just like to use the space. You know that,” Alexandra smiled. “So what if I like my room more decorative than your four bare walls.”

“Touché,” Karen laughed. “How about this?” Karen said as she picked up a long wrench with a bolt attached all neatly mounted on a wood frame.

“I am not a mechanic,” Alexandra laughed. “But that is pretty cool, right?”

The two rummaged through the piles of items left by forgotten owners who either threw them away or sold them to the small store. As they went through each item, they both found nice potential uses or laughs about every trinket, treasure, or piece of junk. The Kitchen items were most discussed as they both admitted they did not cook well and lived on fast food and cheap microwave items. As such some of the items could have had magnificent uses or been Inquisition horror devices.

After about thirty minutes of looking, Alexandra found a long, narrow wooden box. The box was incredibly ornate. The wood seemed unnaturally strong, and though obviously very old, it held no scar or scratch. On the front was a series of small sliding blocks that seemed to move freely; each was decorated with a Roman Numeral, and each numeral could freely flow from side to side. Setting her cane down, Alexandra pulled the box out completely. It stood almost four feet tall, and someone had added a mounting point to the back. As she looked at the mount, she saw scratches where someone tried to nail or screw in the mount, then glued it to the back. Whatever the wood was, it was very durable.

“Whatcha got,?” Karen asked.

“Not sure,” Alexandra replied. “But it looks nice.”

“What’s it say?” Karen pointed to some writing below the designs.

Alexandra strained to see, and finally, the ornate cursive seemed to come into focus, “Et potestas vitam et mortem” Alexandra replied. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense; it means kinda the power of life and death.”

“You should get it; it sounds just like you,” Karen giggled. “It would fit on your wall as well. We need to go anyway, Greg is coming over tonight, and you know how he gets.”

Alexandra steadied herself with her cane and picked up the rather heavy wooden piece. As she did, she saw that the whole box was ornate, but it looked as though it could have a crease in it. It really didn’t matter. She would clean it up later. Karen saw her struggle and started to get the box, but Alexandra frowned at her, “I got it.”

The two worked their way to a makeshift counter covered in papers and assorted flotsam.

“I see you found the box,” said a man with a ten-day shadow on his face and greasy hair.

“Yeah,” Karen said, “We sure found a box. How much?”

“Ha,” the man laughed, showing his yellowing smile. “The man who sold that to me said it is the ultimate source of power and would be the most amazing find ever.”

“Why would he give it up then?” Karen asked.

“Well, my price to him was right, of course.” The man had to be at least seventy and the smell was obvious.

“I can see you stock such fine artifacts,” Karen laughed.

The man smirked, “I think we can come to a fair price easily.”

“Why did the man sell it?” Alexandra asked in a direct tone.

“I am not sure,” the man said, “but my price was fair.”

“I think you know.” Alexandra was stern.

The man eyed her. “According to the man, this was supposed to be the find of the century, but it was just a box, and he needed cash.”

“So, not that source of ultimate power,” Alexandra said.

“Well, not as far as he knew; he said he could not figure out how it worked.,” the man replied.

“How much?” Alexandra pushed.

“It is priceless,” the man replied.

“Then with no price, I should leave it,” Alexandra stated setting the box down and beginning to move towards the door.

“Wait, wait,” the man spasmed, “You are shrewd, aren’t you? Make me an offer.”

“An offer for this priceless artifact, I would surely hurt your feelings. I am a poor cripple with little money.” Alexandra eyed him as she spoke, the glint of her pale grey eyes evident.

“Make an offer,” the man added immediately.

“How about twenty dollars?” Alexandra said as she distanced herself from the box.

The old man eyed her and touched the box, “Look at this craftmanship, surely you know it should be at least one hundred dollars, not twenty. The wood itself is worth more than that.”

“I am poor, I can’t afford any more,” Alexandra lowered her head slightly with an exaggerated pout on her lip, “Let’s go, Karen.” Alexandra began walking towards the door.

“Wait, wait, wait,” the man said, “I see how you are, a hard case. You want a real deal, fifty dollars cash out the door.” Alexandra kept walking. The man blurted out like a carnival barker “Twenty-five dollars.”

Alexandra spun on her cane and said, “Done.”

“I think I have been taken,” the old man said as Alexandra held out her hand with a twenty and a five in it.

“You would have rather taken me,” Alexandra said. “Where did it come from?”

“I wasn’t lying about that part. The man who gave it to me said it was the ultimate source of power, but he didn’t know how to use it.”

“He gave it to you?” Karen said.

“He got what he wanted. It has been here for a while, years, gathering dust.” the man laughed. The smell was obnoxious from his breath.

Alexandra took up the long box again and began walking out. As she got to the door she said, “I’ll let you know if I become all-powerful.” Alexandra and Karen walked out into the night.

Their loft was only a short walk away. The upper floor of a warehouse had been converted into an apartment while the warehouse remained below. It was all Alexandra had in the world, and it offered her an acceptable but modest living after taxes, and all the repairs. Her father left her the building, and it was close enough to school, she had no issue getting there; and close enough to downtown that they could walk for everything. The walks did her good and kept her legs from degrading further.

The building was dark, but the lights burned all around as they approached. Motion sensing LEDs did their job, and the two were bathed in a frosty glow. They chatted about everything. Alexandra struggled with the box, but Karen knew better than to ask twice to help. Alexandra’s temper was legendary in her college for her outbursts if she felt someone was catering to her. She was not one to give up on anything. The doctors told her the damage would degrade until she would no longer walk in three months’ time. That was years ago; she struggled but did not fall.

Karen opened the big steel door and they walked in, closed the door, and clicked on the concrete until they reached the elevator. It was a huge freight elevator, probably more powerful than most bulldozers.  It could carry auto parts up and down floors with no strain. Karen turned the key that allowed it to move, and they took it to the top floor and walked out into their loft.

“Greg should be here soon; you need anything?” Karen asked.

“Dump him?” Alexandra chided.

“You always say that,” Karen laughed, “He is not so bad.”

“You always say that,” Alexandra mocked, “he and his friends give me the creeps. They are always eyeing everything like we have money or something. Worse, he treats you like a sex object.”

“Maybe I like being treated like a sex object,” Karen said. “After all, you were always the ‘exotic beauty’ and I was the tag-a-long friend.”

“Whatever,” Alexandra said and walked to her room while Karen walked the other way, smiling. As she reached the door she turned, “You know I wouldn’t care if I didn’t love you like my sister. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

Karen turned, they stared at each other for a minute. “Yeah, I know.,” Karen said, “I love you too.” They both looked at each other a last time, paused, then Karen wiped a tear from her cheek, turned and walked to her room.

Their rooms were separated by huge open are, and the floor was fairly finished. The center living area adorned with multiple couches and chairs arranged so they could talk, laugh, play, and even entertain. The top floor was once offices and now worked well as an exceptionally large apartment. They could have had ten people stay there, as most of the rooms were empty. Alexandra lived modestly, she wanted the money to last and worked hard when she didn’t have to always. Beneath her, the parts factory raged during the day, but at night it was quiet. In truth it was just the light drone of machinery during the day and noise was not an issue.

In her room, she put her new-found treasure on the king-sized bed. The walls of the room were covered with everything. It would have been as bad as the store she was just browsing, except there was some sort of makeshift pattern to it all. The knick-knacks were pretty, clean, and well arranged. Alexandra went to the small wall space that was empty and looked at it. She thought it would work well. Walking back to the bed, she examined the box, and noted the symbols again. A drawer next to her bed offered several cleaning supplies and, seated on her bed, she began cleaning the box and studying the numbers.

It was not long before the box looked almost new. The smudges of some epoxy on the back were not noticeable from the front, so it was all good. She played with the numbers. They moved a little from side to side, so she started cleaning around them. Soon they slid more freely. A little bit of Endust, and they moved even more freely.

The numbers were all Roman numerals, and by moving them around, she could bring only four to the top. There were four Is, four Vs, and four Xs, followed by four Cs. Only four could fit on top. She arranged the numbers to be IIII, to no change. She did the same with each Roman numeral, and there was still no change.

“Why am I doing this?” she asked herself out loud. A silly block of wood with a Chinese puzzle on it means nothing. Alexandra got off her bed with a little difficulty. She swung her leg around and pulled a wall hanger and a hammer out of a drawer. She walked to her wall, measured, and hammered the hanger in. With effort, she put away the hammer and grabbed the box. Using it to counterweight herself, she walked to the wall and placed the box in the middle. It was a perfect fit. Two inches on either side.

The numbers slid from the top spot. She moved them around so they would not slide down and slid four numbers up. VIXI. The box clicked. A seam appeared where she had not even noticed one.

“Oh crap,” Alexandra said to herself.

She left the box on the wall, and with minimal force pulled at the front, it slid open with ease on some type of dowel hinges. The light glinted off sparkling steel. A sword was inside of the box. It had a single blade of about three feet long, with a red hilt adding another five inches. It was clean, looking like it had just been purchased or made with no imperfections. The cross-guard was not normal. The quillons were not just ornate; they were both blades that gave the bearer the ability to use them offensively as well. On the hilt, the numbers were etched VIXI.

Alexandra grabbed her phone from her purse on the bed and moved back to the displayed sword. She looked up VIXI and a few restaurants came up, but there it was, VIXI number. It might mean “I have lived” or “My Life is over” or “I’m dead.” It made no sense.

Alexandra was timid but curious.  She moved her hand closer and closer until she touched the hilt. She jerked back right away. There was nothing there. She laughed a little, nervous, and touched it again for a moment longer. Nothing happened. There were two slots around the hilt: one smaller, one larger. She put her thumb in the smaller, her fingers in the larger, and felt the hilt in her closed fingers. She braced the box but did not need to as the sword came free in her hand easily.

There was no weight to it. It felt as though she were holding paper. She touched the metal, and it was neither warm nor cold. It did not even feel like it was there, except her finger stopped as she touched the side. The edges looked sharp, and she did not want to test that on her finger like the idiots in import stores who cut themselves often. She walked to her dresser, opened the second drawer, and pulled out a washcloth she used for cleaning.

“Fingerprints first,” Alexandra said out loud. She wiped the fingerprints off the blade, and as she did, the cloth rolled over the edge, and the piece fell to the ground, cut in a perfectly straight line where it fell.

“Oh, wow,” Alexandra said as she gingerly placed the sword on the bed. It lay there on her black bedspread, gleaming in the LED light.

Music began blaring behind her. It was near deafening. Screamo rock started assailing her ears. It was not that she did not like it; she just was not in the mood for it. Alexandra liked all music. There were times for anything musical, this was just not the time. She walked out of her room into the center area that served as the living room, and there she saw Karen and three men, Greg in the middle of them. Greg was handsome, six-foot, dark hair, and green eyes. He would have looked more handsome if his face was not covered with tattoos. Alexandra did not care about tattoos, she had several herself, but his face was marred by them.

The second man was big, probably near seven feet. He had massive arms and looked like a man mountain. His head was close-shaven, and his pink head gleamed in the light. The big man’s name was Moose, or at least that is what they called him. The third man reminded Alexandra of a squirrel, or a rat, or something similar. His face was pointy and misshapen, his teeth distended, and his eyes darted everywhere; right now, everywhere on Alexandra. They had always called him Skiff, and it fit.

“Can you guys turn it down?” Alexandra said.

Karen giggled then laughed, then her head fell back while she was in Greg’s arms. Alexandra felt nervous and sick. She hobbled to Karen.

“What’s wrong with her?” Alexandra asked.

“She’s taking a trip,” Greg laughed, and Alexandra saw the needle marks.

“She would never,” Alexandra said, “She doesn’t do drugs.”

The squirrel-like man laughed, “She does now!” He giggled and looked even more grotesque.

Alexandra reached her and tried to open her eyes, but they were rolled back in her head. She was barely breathing; her face light blue as though she were suffocating.

“She needs a doctor,” Alexandra said frantically.

“She is fine,” Greg laughed, “Can you believe she tried to dump me tonight. Nobody dumps me.”

“Yeah, nobody,” the big man said.

“She needs a doctor,” Alexandra said, as she turned and walked towards her room.

“No, no, no,” the big man said as he grabbed Alexandra’s hair and lifted her off the ground. “No cops or nothin’.”

Greg laughed and watched Alexandra’s feet dangle. She jerked from side to side while holding his hand to keep him from pulling her hair. Kicking hard, she hit him a few times. The big man held her up and slapped her as he dropped her.

Alexandra fell with a thud and sprawled out on the floor. She hurt all over, and her leg felt horrible. She scuffled on her side towards her room. If she could only get to her phone. She had to save Karen. She looked at Karen and felt the blood from her lip hit her arm.

The three men were laughing, and Karen was like a ragdoll in Greg’s arms. Alexandra looked to her door, it was there, feet away. She pushed harder; nothing would stop her. Then she felt the boot hit her legs and knock her down again. Alexandra pulled herself up on her arms and worked her way towards the bedroom, she reached the door when she was kicked again. The wind was knocked out of her. Her dresser was beyond the door, her purse and phone only inches away. She pulled herself up on the dresser, nearly fainting from the pain. As she reached for her phone, Skiff sent her flying to the bottom of the bed.

He looked at the dresser and saw her phone. “Oh, did you want this?” He giggled at her. He looked out the door and said, “Greg, I gots her phone. She is mine now. You guys can have seconds.” He laughed and giggled and shut the door.

Alexandra pulled herself up and leaned against the bed. Karen did not have much time left. Skiff turned towards her. “I always thought you looked good.” He walked to her and hit her across the face. The pain was horrible. She wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t; nothing was going to make her cry. Definitely not this man. He spun her around and ripped her shirt up the back, touching her skin. His vile touch made her skin crawl. She screamed as he threw her forward, face down on the bed, and began ripping at her pants.

“Noooo,” Alexandra screamed.

“Oh yeah,” Skiff said, “You are going to like this; you know you will.”

She reached back for him, and he pushed her arms forward as she tried to kick and struggle.

Her clothes were giving out, she opened her fingers and felt warmth in her hand. Her eyes were blurred, but she saw the red hilt in her grasp. It felt warm, not like it should, but warm, inviting; it was amazing. She kicked back as Skiff tried yet another angle to remove her pants, and the kick caught him. With the momentary release she swung.

The blade felt like air. No, it felt like a jump rope swinging in her hand. It was not real that this long sword was as light as air. Skiff saw her swing and did not see anything coming. The blade entered his chest between the 4th and 5th rib. It did not slow, nor did Alexandra feel the blade catch. It went through, through his sternum, and out the other side. She felt as though she would lose her balance for a moment, but the blade held no weight stopped fast at her bidding. Skiff looked at her with an odd expression as his body fell in half.

Alexandra gasped, not because of what happened but because as his body began to fall, it shimmered and turned to ash, then dust, then nothing. The hilt felt warm, and Alexandra looked down watching the blade glow. Alexandra jerked for a minute and pushed the blade down to steady herself. It embedded into the floor as she held herself and caught her breath.

She felt better, her face and the pain she was feeling was nearly gone, a slight memory. Alexandra touched her face, and the cut on her lip was gone. The hilt was still warm, but she felt very different. The biggest difference was that her leg did not hurt. It had hurt for so long, she always ignored it, but now, in this moment, there was no pain.

“Karen,” she said, “Karen!” she screamed. Alexandra pulled the sword from the floor, easily noticing it sank nearly an inch beyond the wood floor. She was sure the concrete below had stopped it.

Moose walked in the door, “Where’s Skiff?”

“He had to get cleaned up,” Alexandra said as she walked towards Moose. She was scared but thrilled, she was walking, and it did not hurt. She was walking, and she felt good.

“Where is Skiff!” Moose yelled as he dove for her.

Alexandra’s move was clumsy, but she brought the sword up then down straight. The blade entered Moose at the top of his head, and as before, it kept going with no drag nor stop until it passed through his genitals. The hilt felt warm again, and a moment later, Moose fell, in two pieces and two different directions. Alexandra was amazed at how much detail she could see, the veins and arteries were there, but they looked frozen in time. She could see the stomach and even some of what he must have eaten, intestines, liver, and even a bit of the heart. As before, when Moose began to fall, he shimmered to ash then dust, and then not even a trace remained.

As Moose disappeared, Greg came into focus. Alexandra felt odd, powerful, strong, perhaps even more than strong. The hilt felt very warm if not hot in her hand, and she saw the blade of the sword had begun to glow a light blue.

“What the…” Greg said as Alexandra walked towards him.

“Karen needs a doctor!” Alexandra yelled.

“Karen needs nothing,” Greg said as he reached behind himself and pulled out a gun. “What did you do to Moose?” Greg screamed, “Where is Skiff?” he boomed again.

Karen looked bad; she had vomit on her face, she looked light blue, and Alexandra was sure she would die soon.

Greg brandished the weapon again, “Where are they?” he squealed like an insane pig.

“I just want Karen,” Alexandra said. “I don’t want her to die.”

A tear fell. Alexandra couldn’t remember the last time she cried about anyone or anything. She was worried. She didn’t know what to do, Karen was dying or dead.

The shots rang out, and Alexandra saw the flash of light. She thought she did at least. She heard six shots and saw the flash each time. It was fast, so fast, but she thought she saw the bullets coming towards her. They looked comical, as though they were from a cartoon gun. She moved out of the way, then watched the bullets pass her. It was an odd sensation, and her heart felt calm. She felt at ease, perhaps for the first time in a long time. She was at the side of Greg. He turned to her, looked at her, and gasped.

“What the…” he began as he dropped Karen’s lifeless body. She hit with a sickening crunch but gasped a little. She was still alive. Alexandra looked at the man next to her, holding the gun in disbelief. She knew what she had to do. She plunged the blade into his chest, and it entered with no resistance, then she swung outwards, and the blade came free while the gun clattered to the floor. As it did, she knelt and grabbed Karen’s hand and held it on the hilt with hers. She covered their hands together as she fought back a tear.

As Greg began to fall, there was a look of astonishment in his eyes. He turned to ash, then dust, then nothing, and Alexandra felt the now familiar warmth. She looked at Karen, her face pink once more, her breathing more regular. Still, she was asleep. Alexandra set the sword down and started to drag her to her room. She moved easily. Far too easily. Taking a chance, Alexandra tried and successfully picked her up. She was in shock with her new-found strength. She carried Karen to her room, lay her on the bed, and covered her with her blanket.

Walking back to the living area, she turned off the music and picked up the sword. There was no scratch nor blemish, nor imperfection anywhere. It was warm and felt good in her hands.

Alexandra spun the blade in her hand and went to her room. She walked with no limp to the wall where the box hung, case open; and she placed the sword in the case as she had removed it. “From death, life.” Alexandra smiled. She closed the box and wondered about the origin of the blade. She found it, or maybe it found her, and what would come next would be an adventure.

For the asking…

Tara felt the noose tighten around her neck. It would not be long now. The crowd had gathered as the day progressed and just a few minutes ago she had been led out to the makeshift gallows pyre. “Isn’t this a little bit of overkill?” she asked the black masked executioner. “One can never be too careful with a witch,” the gruff man monster replied. He towered over her as he checked the noose and the pullies above her. “We will hoist ya from here and yer neck will break or you will dangle as I light the fire beneath you. It will purge yer soul and remove the foul demon inside.” “She deserves no explanation,” the black robed priest shouted. “She has been tried and convicted of witchcraft and heresy to the holy church of the state. All she deserves is death.” The monster bowed to the smaller man and his tongue was silenced. He was no more gruff nor measured, just quiet as he did his work. His eyes under the executioners mask scanned the small priest but did not challenge. The priest went forward to Tara, “Are you ready to confess? You may be given forgiveness by the almighty if you confess yourself as a witch. It does not matter now. You will die either way, but perhaps your soul can be spared.” “I am no witch,” Tara spat. “I am just a wench that refused your advances. Better you kill me lest you suffer the pain of my truths being told.” “No one can hear you child,” The priest said as he looked around, “Perhaps this is a more pleasing outcome for you than my manhood.” “I have heard tell there is no manhood under those robes, just the instrument of a child,” Tara grinned. The priest slapped the woman and the crowd cheered. He smiled only a little, “Out ye demon!” he yelled and hit her again. The crowd screamed in applause and he hit her again. “Release her spawn!” The crowd was as excited as the priest beat her over and over and with each blow the yelled in approval. “You see,” he said, “They know you are a spawn of evil.” “It’s too bad they don’t know you are actually the evil one,” Tara said as blood dripped from her split lip and battered eye. “Now you look the part, witch.” The priest smiled with the nasty smirk of a nocturnal predator, “You should have taken another path.” Tara spit blood and it sprayed on the stack of wood next to her. “I suppose death is better than laying with you.” The executioner snickered. “Buffoon, silence or you will join her,” the priest yelled. The monstrous hulk of a man again went on about his work, stoking the kindling and setting the rope to be sprung when he pulled. It was quite ingenious actually. Instead of a fall, a trebuchet pulled the man or woman up from the ground with massive force, snapping their neck or at the least knocking them cold. It did not go up far. When the lever was pulled the fire was lit as well. The executioner now pulled a long edge broadsword out and began running a stone down its length. “A sword fight? At least that would be fair.” “No milady,” the hulk stated as the stone made a slick sound up and down the blade. Once the fire is out I will sperate your head from your body and bury it in a separate grave. “You take your job seriously,” Tara said. “Oaf,” the priest slapped the executioner, “I told you to be silent.” The executioner stepped to the side and sheathed the intimidating sword. On the hilt Tara noted the cross. “He is a man of god, yet you have him do your bidding? You are evil priest.” “Perhaps,” the priest replied, “but I will not die today.” “Hear me people,” the priest yelled, “The demon will not confess, but we all know she has been possessed. She is a witch by my own sight. She attempted to seduce me and plotted to steal your children. See her blood, the righteous will not feel. She is surely a spawn of hell.” He coughed, once, twice, thrice and continued. A small cloud of dust was in his face. The executioner reached to him as he coughed and held him for a moment. “The demon has changed bodies, it attacks the priest and will soon have us all,” the executioner yelled. With swift motions he cut Tara free and pulled the noose from her head. “Quiet if you want to live.” he whispered. The noose was replaced on the priests’ head. “Pray for the priest for surely his soul is safe,” the executioner said. The crowd was stunned but was starting to chant. “Burn him, burn him,” they cried. Tara leaned to the side holding her battered body up. The executioner pulled the lever as the wide-eyed priest gasped for breath and reached for the noose, his hands were not bound but he was too slow. The counterweights dropped and spun, and he was pulled 5 feet in the air in a split second and the crown cheered as they heard the familiar crack. The executioner lit the pyre under the ropes and it began to burn, soon too hot to stand near. He walked Tara to a safe distance. “You must watch and profess the demon is gone,” he said. “I will do so,” Tara replied as the fire blazed and the body jerked fitfully while the water began to burn out of it. They watched to the end, and as the fire began to die down the body fell, the woven rope finally giving way to the flames. The crowd was still watching as the executioner pulled his sword and in one stroke severed the head from the body. “It is done,” he yelled and, using a gloved hand, lifted the skull for all to see. The crowd cheered and then began to mill around as though they were unsure what to do. Several people walked to Tara and she said she was finally free. Each blessed her and eyed her with some semblance of respect, nodded, then moved forward. Within an hour it was only a few men left, cleaning the area for the next burning. Tara looked at her savior as he took of his hood. He was not a handsome man, nor was he ugly, he was a massive bulk of sinew and scars from forgotten battles or untold beatings. “Are you ok,” he asked. “Sure, I am well,” she said and walked beside him. “What is your name?” “I am John,” he said, “Son of John from a line of executioners.” “How many have you killed,” Tara asked. “I have lost count milady,” John replied. “It was with no pleasure I killed anyone; it was my job. It was not so long ago I realized it was a ruse, and the evil of the priest. I have been waiting for such a time.” “I thank you for that, but how did you make him cough?” Tara asked. John pulled a small bag from his pocket, ” Ground cinnamon. It clouds the lungs.” “That it does,” Tara replied. “May I walk you to your home?” John asked. “I have no home,” Tara said, “It was burnt down when the priest took me.” “Then you may stay at my home tonight, I will sleep in the barn.” They walked a short time to a small cottage with a barn and shack near it. There were no neighbors, and the day was nearing twilight. A few chickens roamed the area and small pigs, and goats were in a small pen to the side of the barn. “This is home.” John said. He opened the door. The inside was a dirt covered floor with a small rock fireplace. There was a bed on one side of stuffed straw, and skins and blankets around the hut. It was surprisingly clean. John took off his sword and hung his cloak. His massive arms were bare, and he grabbed a blanket and set it by the door. He went to the fireplace and the coals were still hot, hanging over the fireplace was a pot that he opened. “It is not the best, but it is a nice stew.” John told her. “You are welcome to it.” “I am not hungry now,” Tara said. “I will eat later.” John nodded in understanding, took a small hammered bowl and filled it, then say on a large chair and ate. As he finished Tara sat on the floor next to his chair. “Thank you for saving me,” she said. “I am sorry I could save only you,” John replied. Tara moved behind the chair and began rubbing Johns neck. At first, he resisted, but soon he was relaxing, and she kneaded his large shoulders and neck muscles as he closed his eyes. “Does that feel good,” she asked. “Yes ma’am,” John replied as he sat still feeling her hands massage him. “John,” Tara said. “Yes,” John asked. “Do you believe in witches,” Tara asked. “No,” John said, “I have yet to see one I believe in.” “You have now,” Tara said as she rubbed, and he slowly began to shrink in her hands. He did not hear nor care, it felt so good. His massive body shriveled and bent and as John faded from this life, he just thought about how good it felt to save someone. Behind him Tara smiled, her wounds healed and her body whole. She pushed the lifeless husk to the floor, took the bowl, and made herself some stew. The food tasted as good as the life she had just taken and she smiled at the thought of another day.