Chapter Eight

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Once the demi-human and the blind man had separated at the window of the sinister cottage, and Gabriel had begun to take slow steps to the front entrance, the thing on his mind was a simple concern—one any man might have felt.

What if the murderers inside have guns?

Diego had not mentioned that, and Gabriel had not thought to ask. Fists and swords he could deal with, but he was no good with guns. It was too hard to tell when a pistol emerged before it would be too late, and so at this moment, Gabriel might have been walking straight to his death. But nothing could be done about that, he supposed. He would just have to improvise.

His fingers led him along the stone wall until his hand rested on the moss-covered wood of the door. Hunching down a bit, he drew up his fist without hesitation, and—without waiting for Hendrik to back him up—rapped three times. The sound invaded upon the still night, echoing around him. Gabriel heard a dead silence fall within as the murderers were no doubt contemplating what should be done about the unexpected disturbance. The sounds of their merciless chopping halted, and there was a bit of inaudible whispering. Finally, after a pause, footsteps approached the door, and presently a voice called out but was muffled by the wood.

"Who's there?" came the rather weak demand.

"Please, sir," Gabriel choked, putting on a voice much weaker than his own. "Could you spare a bite for a blind beggar, sir?"

Curiosity must have permeated the air within the cottage, for it fell silent once again. Gabriel could nearly imagine them all glancing at one another, shrugging and undecided—and then the door began to open. It opened very little, which the blind man could tell when the creaking of the hinges stopped. The space was just enough for one man to look out with one eye.

Gabriel wasn't sure of his own image, but he could guess readily enough. What the murderer within found himself looking at was a man who was a bit hunched, his scarred face nearly covered by a wide-brimmed hat, and dressed in a coat that might have been a bit too small. Beneath that, his clothes were tatters.

"Wha' the 'ell is this?" the murderer asked, stunned and agitated.

Gabriel spent the brief pause observing all he could. The voice of the man before him had come from above his head, but that was solely because the blind man was stooped over. Standing at his full height, he didn't imagine that this man at the door was much larger than he was. The sound of a voice could be deceiving at times, but more often than not, Gabriel could tell much about a person by the sound of their vocal cords. He could tell whether a man was old or young, healthy or ill, strong or weak, whether he was thin or overweight. All this without a touch. Judging by the voice, the man before him was not impressive in any sense.

The other two within... He couldn't tell much about them since they were silent and distant. They were still at the table where they'd been chopping up the girl's body, though they had stopped their work. The blind man could hear them leaning forward on the wood to get a better look at him through the crack in the door.

"Blind, ye say?" asked the man at the entrance.

There was a pause as he examined Gabriel, and then he spoke again.

"There be a town not too far away," he said, moving to shut the door as he spoke. "Best ye wander off there—"

"I really must insist," Gabriel said then, his voice strengthening as he straightened himself up.

He thrust his hand and foot against the door, preventing it from closing, which seemed to surprise the man inside. The criminal within was forced to back away from the door, and it came open without resistance. Gabriel stepped into the cottage unopposed.

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