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Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Witch and the Demon
Ebba’s soaked dress clung to her skin, wind and water
competing to freeze her into a corpse as she ran through the moonless night. If
she fell, she might not get up again. Keep moving. Get as far away from
the witchfinder as possible, may he be reincarnated as a drunkard’s chamber
Heedless of direction, she climbed up the mountain, away
from her village. Blood oozed from her lips and fatigue numbed her
legs. A tree root caught her ill-fitting clog. Her ankle bent sideways
with a crack.
Waves of agony crashed over her as she hit the dirt. Mustn’t
stop moving. Though she strained, her body refused to rise. She wanted
to scream or cry. Instead, Ebba took a deep breath. To focus her mind, she
pinched her cheek, right on top of the scabs left by the witchfinder’s pins.
The itching of fatigue behind her eyes, the burning in her throat, the
blistering sores—she pushed it all away.
Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she
used her left one to sit up. When she touched her swollen ankle, the resulting
stab told her this was more than a sprain. Her breath came faster. No,
no! This couldn’t happen now. If she’d broken a bone, she wouldn’t be
able to run, and then…then…
Ebba had no idea. She’d never had a plan past escaping her
The forest’s silence unnerved her. No owls hooted nor
insects chirped. An ancient demonic invasion had left this place magic-cursed.
After the wolves had first descended, only those too poor to leave remained in
Fort Jhaarth. Ebba shivered. She told herself most
wolves avoided humans, and the red-eyed wolves only came once every
Alone in the darkness, this argument became less
convincing. She refused to be devoured like her mother. Perhaps she could sneak
back just long enough to steal a knife and some food. She’d been too panicked
in her flight, afraid the witchfinder might wake up…
Memory shuddered through her. He’d started with pins,
directly on top of the mottled red birthmark covering her left cheek. If it was
the mark of a witch, supposedly she wouldn’t feel pain there. Giant hands had
held her down, his nails filthy and his liver spots as big as spiders. His
too-close breath had reeked of onions.
“Confess,” the witchfinder had ordered after every pin.
Each time, she’d refused. They’d kill her if she confessed.
The second day, he’d brought out the hot iron. The third
day, the dunking. She’d nearly drowned. Pain and terror blurred her memory,
though peculiarly, what she recalled most distinctly was the smell of sausages.
Mad Gill, the local beggar, had gone around selling them to bystanders. The
pleas she’d made to her neighbors had only been met with disdain or
No, she wasn’t going back.
Trees supported her limping journey. It hurt to breathe
through the dryness of her mouth. Still, each step forward was a small victory.
The deeper she got, the less likely anyone would dare follow. She refused to
die at the hands of a sadistic charlatan who killed orphans and spinsters
to take their property.
Her legs stiffened with each step and her belly ached. Ebba
groaned, licking her dry lips. Water…she craved water. Just one drop to ease
the burn in her throat. And while she was dreaming, she also wanted a hot cross
bun. A hysterical giggle escaped her lips. Or a nice, juicy apple…Stop
it. Coughing up lake water had left her with a throat too sore to
swallow, anyway. Her world narrowed to placing one foot down and dragging the
Too bad she wasn’t actually a witch—then she’d be able to
cause water to rise up from the earth. Since witches made wells dry up, surely
they could do the opposite. Next, she’d blight the crops of every neighbor
who’d “forgotten” to pay her for doing their laundry.
Nearby, a burble of water broke the oppressive silence.
Gasping with joy, Ebba turned and staggered towards it. The spike of pain that
speared her ankle with each hop could almost be forgotten as the rushing sound
Ahead, an unnatural crimson light gleamed. Thinking of the
red-eyed wolves, Ebba slowed.
But dammit, her ankle was killing her, and she deserved a
lucky break. There must be a way to reach the stream. She stepped gingerly, her
heartbeat shaking her body with its power. The scent of ash drifted to her
A fire, in this deserted forest? A chill skittered like a
beetle down her spine. She hobbled forward, using trees to hide her body. Just
one look to assess the danger, and then she’d decide whether to continue or
Peering out from behind a tree, she beheld her first demon.
He lay against a rock, his arms and legs splayed out. Black
bat wings spread over his head. The air reeked of a cloying, metallic scent.
A hole gaped open where his heart should have been.
Yet even with his rib bones exposed, his hand twitched and
his gaze flickered. Somehow, he still lived. His blood burned like fire, so
brightly that everything in the clearing—rocks, bushes, and straggly trees—cast
red shadows. He was the very flame which had drawn her here like a moth. The
gory light accented his glistening black hair, pale skin, and slim, high
cheekbones. His slender form reminded her of an angel with the wrong type of
wings. He could be called beautiful, in an inhuman way—a little too symmetrical
to be real.
She must have made a noise because his head shot up. “Who’s
Ebba remained frozen in shock.
The demon inhaled deeply. “I can smell you, sheep.
Come out where I can see you.”
Some sorcery in his deep, melodious voice enthralled her
into taking a few limping steps forward before she stopped herself.
“Look deep into my eyes.” The demon fixed her with a
predator’s gaze. “Give me your heart.”
Ebba stammered, “My what?”
“Listen, sheep! I am Kryptos of the Crimson Flame, one of
the twelve demonic gods. I command you to offer your heart to me.”
“I-I’d rather not.”
“You dare defy me?” The demon’s arms jerked, making
Ebba jump. His legs scrabbled for purchase against the dirt. Strange for him to
move at all, with a missing heart, but he only seemed able to thrash,
screaming, “Stop! I—argh—gave you an order!”
Ebba’s back hit a tree.
His face turning from angry to calculating, the demon
purred, “Come back, little lamb, and bargain with me. All I need is to borrow
your heart until mine heals. I offer you untold riches. Every jewel in this
world will belong to you.”
His voice dripped sin like blood trickling from an open
wound. Only a fool listened to a demon. The stories called them liars,
tempters, and soul-stealers. If he expected her to believe she wouldn’t die
from having her heart removed, “crazy” should be added to the list. Afraid to
look away from the creature, Ebba edged away, her arms stretched out behind her
to avoid the trees.
“I offer you power. I will make you ruler of this world and
all your kind, if you will just strike a deal with me…”