Past and PresentMature

Night had fallen, and the little group retreated to the - hopefully - safe cover of the trees to one side of the road. Danny had built a fire and lit it inexpertly, and was now feeding wood into it, grumbling about how everything was wet. A little way away Sarski lay on her back, staring up at the stars through a gap in the trees.
"I really wish they knew who was doing that," she remarked after a while.
"What?" Danny fed in one last twig and then sat back on his haunches, looking at her.
"What do you think? Wrecking those towns. They must do it so quickly... it must be terrible to watch."
"The fires must burn pretty hot, to leave no trace of people," murmured Danny. "Bones aren't meant to burn."
"Maybe it's demons?"
"I don't know... I don't think so. They'd go for capitals and big cities, I should think. They wouldn't bother with little villages."
Sarski snorted. "Who else could it be? They escape without a trace, every time."
"So could any number of things," Danny said with a yawn. "Now shush and sleep. I'm tired."
"Honestly, you're like a child."
Danny nodded at Eloro with a smile. The little girl was curled up in the foetal position, hugging Balthazar tightly. Sarski rolled over with a sigh.

A few hours later, the fire had burnt down almost completely. Eloro added a couple of twigs to it before creeping away.
As soon as she got to the road she began to run, pelting back the way they'd come. Instead of going back to the town, however, she paused on the road a little way away and headed purposefully into the trees. As if following some invisible trail she soon found herself on the edge of a small clearing with a large tree-stump in the middle.
The clearing was not empty. On the stump sat a woman in a red dress. She smiled at Eloro, slowly drawing a comb through her inky black hair.
"Hello, Eloro. Glad you could make it. These woods do mess your hair up, don't they?"
The little girl clung tightly onto her teddy-bear and said clearly, "I want you to leave them alone, Lydel."
The woman shot her an amused glance as she teased a knot out of her hair. "Oh? Is that so?"
A little heartened at not being immediately silenced, Eloro nodded. "They're nice. And I don't see why you have to be so mean all the time, anyway."
Lydel let out a bark of laughter. "Why? Because I want to. Why not, is a better question... doesn't the world deserve this? It's full of bad people, after all. Far more bad people than good people, don't you think? Greedy people, cruel people... all sorts of bad people."
"But you kill the good people as well, how will that help?" cried Eloro. "You know it's wrong! And you know he wouldn't want you to do this!"
Expression changing abruptly, Lydel leapt up and strode over to the little girl. "Don't mention him. Don't you ever mention him." She grabbed the front of Eloro's dress, hoisting her into the air.
"I know it hurts, but you can stop this!" Eloro cried, struggling a little. "They'd forgive you, I know they would - I know you're a good person-"
Lydel struck her across the face. In the following silence she dropped the child to the floor, turning her back.
"Don't tell me that," she said. "I am doing this because I want to. They deserve this, all those people. You just don't remember." She glanced back at the little girl, who was curled into a ball on the ground, crying quietly into her teddy-bear's chest. "You'd better get back to your lovely little friends. Before they start to suspect something."
In a flash of red light, the woman vanished.
Eloro lay on the ground for a while, until she stopped crying. Wiping her eyes, she sat up; her hip and shoulder hurt where she'd hit the ground, and her cheek was on fire where Lydel had hit her. She touched it gingerly, finding the skin hot to the touch.
Not knowing what else to do, she stood up and stumbled back through the trees and down the road to where the others still slept, oblivious. Danny stirred and woke as she curled up against his back.
"Hey... what's wrong?" She snuggled against him; perplexed, he put his arms around her. "What's the matter?"
"I... I had a nightmare," murmured Eloro, and started to cry again. For her bumps and bruises, and for Lydel, who was sad and hurt and couldn't even see that she was. Poor Lydel didn't have a warm, comforting Danny to hug her and tell her it was alright.
Poor Lydel.

The End

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