*SPOILERS* for Woodborn Part 2 (Bonus Scene)
Konidas - Year 993
The group of men who approach us have so much hate in their eyes it nearly burns my skin. Shell and Cartwright have weapons but I don’t have a damn thing, so I stay back, ready to run. Shell, as always, is ready to fight, but one of the cultists pulls a vial from his coat and a whole slew of men I didn’t see snatch Shell and Cartwright, pinning them to the dusty ground. I dart back before I’m caught up in the melee, slipping between two buildings and hiding in the shadows. I hear the girl before I catch sight of her again. Her plaintive screams from around the cloth gag in her mouth tear through the air, vibrating with fear and pain. She’s tied to a long stake by her elbows, knees hobbled so she’s stumbling after the man who drags her toward the pyre. She’s shredded her own hands with her claws in an attempt to break free of the ropes binding her. Blood drips from her fingers to the ground, leaving dark splatters behind her. Her eyes are wide with sheer terror, the whites showing all around her light pupils. I think her eyes are green. She can’t weigh more than seven stone—she’s so small, just like Mael.
I have never been a strong or angry man, but I am both in this moment. Adrenaline surges through me and lends my muscles strength I don’t possess. I barrel out from between the buildings and take out a man in one hit, shoving him to the ground and kicking him in the face. I hear a sickening crunch, and he is still. I don’t look back. There are maybe ten men between me and the pyre, nearly all of them focused on the witch or the other scattered people fighting in the street. We are outnumbered, but I’m thankful Shell thought to lock most of our friends in the tavern. The witch shrieks again, and I look to see her being hefted to the pyre, no longer being dragged, but forcefully lifted by a pair of men in those gray robes. I hurl myself at another man, knocking him down, and jump over him as I race toward the girl.
I catch a glimpse of Shell and Cartwright. Shell is mostly sitting, staring ahead with glassy eyes, but perfectly still. Cartwright is prone, not moving at all except for his eyes blinking furiously, closing with strain every few seconds as if he is trying to rise. I elbow another man in the face, but he gets in a good punch; I see stars for a moment as I run, dazed but still determined to get to her. I smell the sharp bite of alcohol in the air and whip my head around to see a man dipping a bundle of cloth-wrapped branches in a bucket of liquid. The girl thrashes so violently it looks like she’s convulsing, and I duck under the swinging arm of a different man as he tries to take me down. I’m so fucking glad Maelwen isn’t here. Gods be damned, I don’t even care that she doesn’t want to be with me. I just want her safe. I see her face in that girl, see her fighting the bastard minotaur who hurt her. I see her breaking free and getting out, and I have to make sure the witch in front of me does too. Nobody deserves this. Someone out there loves her—loves her like I love Maelwen.
My thighs burn with exertion but I don’t slow. I’m only a few meters away now, all I have to do is get her out. If she has her claws and her witchsong, we can end this—I know it. I scramble past a fat man who isn’t fast enough to grab me, and I’m beside her, pulling at her dress, trying to rip her from the grasp of the two men holding her. The fabric is slick with blood and slips from my hands, but I grab at her again and again, screaming as I do. One of the men holding her grabs a branch from the pyre and lifts it over his head, striking my arm as I grasp the fabric of her tattered skirt. I see my arm break, but I don’t feel it. The angle of the bones is all wrong, and bile rises in my throat for a moment, but I can’t afford to stop. My arm hangs limply, swinging as I reach with my other arm, hands grabbing me from behind and pulling me back as I do. The fabric tears off in my hand, and I scream or sob, possibly both. I am so close, so close. The witch’s eyes meet mine and tears spill from them as she shakes her head back and forth. “NOOO!” I bellow, refusing to give up, pulling with all my weight against the men who hold me.
It’s strange; everything goes silent and the world seems to spin for a moment. My chest feels odd, loose, like my heart is beating outside my chest. I look down to see the bright glint of a blade coming from between my ribs. I didn’t even feel it go in. It disappears with a rough, wet sound and appears again, jutting from just beneath my collarbone like a boutonniere. A crackling sound pulls my eyes away from the blood pouring from between my ribs.
The fire starts in an instant, a flash. The flames grow taller than I am in the span of time it takes for me to take one ragged breath. I scream to her. I don’t know if I say words or just agonized sobs, but I keep my eyes on hers. I don’t want her to be alone. She shouldn’t be alone. The flames have consumed her dress, her hair is alight but she does not scream; she just looks at me unflinchingly. Her eyes are ice blue as I fall to my knees, my arm useless and shattered at my side. My knees hit the packed earth hard, but I don’t feel the impact. I don’t spare a thought for myself, I only think of the witch. Her skin has somehow become a rich, cool tone, familiar and soft. Her tattered rags are gone, replaced by a sapphire silk dress fluttering in the wind, the most beautiful thing I have ever made. Her lips are lush and barely tinted with a hint of rouge, and I remember the softness of them on my own. And then I see no more.