Chapter 13: They Came in the Night

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"They ... come back? As in come back alive?" Rowan had finally been snapped out of his dazed state, and his question hung unanswered in the air for a few moments.

The robber who had warned us nodded. "I wouldn't exactly call it alive, though. They become monsters, acting on instinct with only one purpose: to kill."

His sinister words triggered the memory of a discussion we'd had a few days ago. "The Dark Creatures." I shot a horrified look at my friends. "They're dead people, the people who have died in this forest." My gaze returned to the robbers and my eyes narrowed. "How many people have you murdered who have turned into monsters?"

The leader of the gang held up his hands. "Hey, don't blame this on us, missy. We didn't know it was them dead people until we saw one of our deceased comrades sink his teeth into John." He gestured toward one of his peers, who lowered the collar of his shirt with a wide grin plastered on his face. The man's neck was covered in bite marks, and by the looks of it, the teeth that had created the scars had inflicted quite some damage. I shivered.

"Why did you stay here?" Rowan asked, his brow furrowed. "If these creatures haunt and terrorize the woods, then why haven't you left?"

"Why do you think? We're criminals, lad," the man spat at him. "We're not much better off out there than we are in the forest. Besides, the dead only appear at night. They can't stand fire, so we surround our camp with plenty of camp fires and two men keep watch at all times. Don't worry about us, we manage pretty well," he sneered.

"As if this sorry band of robbers wasn't enough already!" Ellie exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Now the dead apparently don't stay dead either."

Rowan ignored her and looked at me instead. "Burn them," he said with a slight nod in the direction of the bodies. "That's at least five Dark Creatures less to worry about."

I nodded, although my stomach churned in anticipation. Larry helped me to pile up the bodies first. A wave of nausea overwhelmed me, the rapidly cooling feel of dead flesh making me gag. I swallowed past the lump in my throat, took a step backward and raised my hands, holding my palms up toward the pile of dead robbers.

Making a fire with Light magic was significantly harder than it would have been with Dark magic. Fire was wild, unruly and chaotic; it devoured and destroyed everything that crossed its path, and because of those characteristics, the ability to manipulate it came naturally to Dark Sorcerers. Light magic focused more on water, which was a much purer element associated with order and cosmos. Water brought forth life, fire took it. Nevertheless, since I was too scared to open myself up to the Darkness again, the Light would have to do.

My Light magic was already weaker than usual, so the effort of creating even the tiniest flame drained my resources. Fortunately, that tiny flame turned out to be more than enough, for the Darkness that enveloped the forest triggered a chain reaction. Soon, the entire pile was on fire, and as I watched the flames lick at the flesh and bones of the dead robbers, sadness engulfed me. If it hadn't been for me, these people still would have been alive. Even though they had been hardened criminals, the guilt of murdering them in cold blood already ate at me.

I remembered something Head Sister Ursula had said to me on a rainy day, when I had asked her to tell me about one of the battles she had fought. "Kenna," she'd said. "Your first kill is the worst. It haunts you while you're asleep, it consumes you while you're awake. No matter who the person you killed was when they were alive, no matter how much you and everyone else thinks they deserved it, sooner or later, you will always be confronted with guilt." She had sighed, a troubled look in her eyes. "I remember my first kill as if it happened only yesterday. When I close my eyes, I can still see his face; how his eyes opened wide when I thrust my blade in his chest, reflecting his fear of dying so clearly before the light left them for good."

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