Aliza listens to the distant clap of the waves crashing against the cliffside. To the whistle of the wind. To the groans of the wood beneath her feet. To the mob growing closer with every breath.
Aliza stands alone on her porch for the first time in many years. The wind tugs at her twisted dark locks, at her skirt, almost as if begging her to run. To flee from the grim fate marching up the hill. And for a moment she does consider running, not one person in that crowd would be capable of catching her, but then she’d be sending them to him. Her Demetri. Laying all the blame and anger at his feet, and that thought alone was enough to keep her rooted.
Aliza wonders what Demetri will do when she fails to be here when he returns home. What will her lover do when he finds out she is dead? Tried and sentenced as a witch without his input. A bitter laugh spills past her chapped lips, nearly upsetting the moisture pressing against the corners of her eyes. That thought is a lie, Aliza knows what Demetri will do once his tears have dried. Knows his blood will boil with retribution, that he will hunt down and punish everyone involved in her unjust death. The thought almost brings a smile to her face.
The hinge on the front door shrieks as it is thrown open. Crash. The mob bursts into her home, rolling through like a tidal wave. Still Aliza keeps her eyes on the horizon. That pinprick of a silhouette far out on the water, where Demetri continued to work as the prisons esteemed Warden, completely unaware of what was happening on the shores of his home.
Aliza swallows her budding tears as the people descend upon her. She does not cry out, she refuses to show these people her fear, her weakness. Only her beloved Demetri would ever have the pleasure of knowing her so completely. So Aliza makes not a sound as they grasp her arms, wrenching them back and tying her hands tightly together. They gag her, and she feels glad that it is one of the rags from her own house. The familiar scent of lavender filling her nose is almost a comfort.
She doesn’t fight as they drag her away and down the hill towards town square. She focuses of the memories of Demetri’s love, instead of the hot haze of hate pressing down on her. Everyone feels too close, though no one save Jack and Jeffery holding her upper arms in twin vice-grips comes close to touching her. Why would they? They hate her. For she has been charged as a witch, and witches deserve to be hated. To burn.
But the truth is Aliza is not a witch, she is a Mage. A human born with powerful magic drawn from her own soul, and she has used her secret heritage to her advantage. A single woman with skin as dark as hers can only climb so high in this world.
Aliza is not completely innocent. She has hurt people, but only ever in self defense. But Aliza has also used her magic to help, to heal. She has done so much to help the people of this town, has worked herself to the bone just like everyone else. Aliza knows the measure of hard work, despite her advantages, but she also knows that if she were to speak up to defend herself it would do her no good. She could have lived her life as a saint, and still, the flames would be waiting for her in their eyes.
Everyone, except Demetri.
Will there be a pyre waiting for him too? Will he be punished for loving her? Aliza doesn’t really know. She only knows Demetri will be filled with sorrow at her death. She knows he will demand answers and be found wanting. There is no justice here, not for Aliza. And that specifically, her execution without trial, will upset Demetri the most. Aliza knows that many people will be killed before Demetri himself falls. She can almost hear the way he will scream; see the way his scarred face will contort in sorrow and anger. She can almost hear his deep baritone declaring his judgement upon the town. Declaring blood for blood.
Even so, knowing what her death will turn Demetri into, Aliza remains. She ignores the lies spilling from the townspeople, ignores the way the ropes bite as she’s tied to the post. Defending herself would only bring more death, and she is so sick of death. Aliza is beyond exhausted. Of being forced to fight or flee because someone caught her using her teal-colored magic. Of the lies, the hate, the begging for someone to listen, the deaths, the running. God she was so sick of the running.
Sick of screaming that she is not a witch. Not a villain or a curse or a blight on the earth. This isn’t the first town that tried to kill her, but it is the first one where she actually likes the people. Old woman Agatha who brews delightful tea. The youths Henry and Jacobs, who brought her herbs from their hunting trips and meat scraps to feed her dogs. The squealing children who danced around her skirts and once drew a booming laugh from Demetri. Holly, the singing seamstress and her husband Thomas, the baker. There are so many who she had grown to love, and she, even as they condemn her, cannot muster the will to turn her powers against them.
Smoke fills her nose, burning her throat as she returns her attention to the wood. The flames grow, creeping forward like the hungry dogs she fed from her hand, as the first wave of heat washes over her. Aliza shuts her eyes, trembling against her bindings. Fire is one of the worst ways to go. Not that it will bother her in the end, the charm she’d carried for so many years that presses against the soft flesh of her palm will keep the pain away. Will let her fall into the dark as gently as she falls asleep in Demetri’s arms.
She wishes they had simply hung her. Maybe having a body to bury would give Demetri an ounce of closure. Would cool his anger just enough that he would think clearly. Keep him from doing more than simply killing the two men who have condemned her. It would not save his life, but maybe it would make his death a quick one.
She wonders if Demetri will ask why she didn’t run, why she didn’t turn her magic on them. She wonders if Demetri will believe them when they say she gave no struggle. She wonders if the people who watch her burn will even give her the curtesy of the truth after she is gone.
She does not blame the townspeople; she feels their fear singing in the air. She blames Jeffery and Jack. She hates them, but she will do nothing. Better to leave something for her lover to take his anger and sorrow out on.
The flames are nipping at her toes, her lungs filling with their choking smoke. Aliza feels the heat press closer; in another moment it will be too late to do anything. Aliza feels her heart pound and, embarrassingly, feels those tears she had forced down rise up and spill over her warm cheeks.
She thinks of Demetri, presses the memory of his smile, so hard earned, into the forefront of her mind as she begins pressing the sharp tip of the charm against her flesh. A few drops of blood, and she can go peacefully —
And then Aliza feels something wrap around her and pull. Aliza opens her eyes, screaming beneath her gag as she is yanked from her perch and thrown to the ground. She gasps, coughing wetly around her gag. Aliza is yanked up, and there is the kiss of a knife against her wrists, and then Aliza is free.
She tears the gag from her mouth and coughs, blinking rapidly to clear her vision as someone rubs her back. She looks up, and stares at the backs of Henry and Thomas, blocking the raging crowd who. Aliza breathes, leaning back into the gentle hands of Holly and her sister Martha. All people she only now realizes she doesn’t remember seeing in the crowd. Aliza feels hate around her again, but for once, it is not directed at her.
“She is no monster.” Agatha barks sternly, her face inches from Jacks, who stands in front of the crowd. “Since when do we abandon our own? Aliza is one of us, and if she were a witch, would she not have turned on us?” There are murmurs washing through the crowd and Aliza cannot believe what is happening. People are defending her. Protecting her from that hate rising off Jeffery and Jack like smoke. Is she dreaming?
“Have you all gone mad?” Asks Thomas, fists white-knuckled at his sides. “This is Aliza. Have you all forgotten all she’s done for this village?” More murmurs echo through the crowd. No one answers, but the shame filling the air speaks for itself. The only ones still angry, unaffected by Thomas and Agatha’s words, are Jack and Jeffery.
“All a façade.” Jack hisses. “She is a witch, or have you forgotten that?” Jeffery glares down at Aliza, who ignores him as she pushes herself to her feet. Her back aches from the fall, but she stands tall, hiding her charm in a hidden pocket of her dress.
“I am not a witch.” Aliza says quietly, voice cutting through the noise as if she had screamed it. Jack and Jeffery sneer at her, angry practically tangible.
“Yes you are!” Screams Jeffery, taking a threatening step towards Aliza. “I saw you! I saw you use your black magic.” Aliza huffs, bitter laughter falling from her lips. “I did! You brought that wretched dog of yours back from the dead!”
“And how do you know River was dead?” Aliza grins, baring her teeth. “Unless you were the one who shot him?” Aliza cannot help the flash of delight that fills her chest at Jeffery’s flinch. There are many frowns and scowls, River is well liked by the children of the town, and then there are confused looks. The people turn to Aliza, but still, she sees no hate, no threats of pain in her fellows eyes.
“I am not a witch, Jeffery.” Aliza continues, her twisted smile gone. “I am a Mage.” She announces, brushing past Henry and Thomas. “I can do magic, within limits, and really most of it is trivial things. Like moving heavy boxes or seeing in the dark.” Jeffery and Jack smile, glancing at the confused crowd, expecting vindication.
“I did not bring River back to life.” Aliza declares, holding her head high and smiling pityingly at the men who want her head. “River was injured by your shot, and I mended his wounds, but I cannot raise the dead. I am so sorry to disappoint.”
Jack and Jeffery move towards Aliza but are immediately halted by the rest of the town. The people press back, and Aliza feels her friends press close, ready to defend her, despite her nature. Aliza breathes, hope, a thing she had not dared to hold in her heart, filling her chest. She smiles at the warm hands at her back. For once, she is not the one being forced to run.
And yet, that feeling of dread does not leave. No, it grows stronger as Aliza turns her gaze towards Jack and Jeffery. There is a glint of metal, voices cry out, and Aliza is moving before she can really think. She is weakened, the majority of her magic being used to heal herself. Henry moves to block, turning himself into a shield. But Aliza could never stand by and let someone she cares about be hurt. Bang. Aliza shoves Henry out of the way —
And then she’s on the ground.
Aliza stares up into the stormy sky. She coughs, tasting iron. Her ears ring as several voices scream. There are hands on her, so many familiar hands and voices. Aliza blinks, tears dripping down her cheeks, and thinks; It’s not fair.
The cold rushes in, darkness claws up her vison, and all Aliza can think of is how unfair it is. She has a home and friends at last, she has Demetri, she even had hope, and still she dies. Because of terrible men filled with hate. Aliza wants to scream, but she has no breath.
It hurts. Her charm is out of reach. It hurts. She wants Demetri. Aliza wants this to all have been a bad dream. She wants to go home. She just wants to go home, curl up in her love’s arms and pretend that nothing bad will ever happen. That no one will ever chase her away for being different.
But Aliza doesn’t get what she wants. Aliza is a Mage, but for all her power, she cannot fight death. She cannot bring someone back from the dead, but. But Aliza is a Mage, a powerful soul filled with magic, a soul filled with such an intense desire to remain. A soul with unfinished business. Well, there’s a reason Mages were to be feared, even in death.
Demetri returns home late into the night. He is so very tired, and longs for his bed and his soon-to-be wife, if the ring in his pocket has anything to say. There is no moon tonight, and a mist covers the ground, but with his lantern at his side, Demetri manages. He manages to see the half-burned pyre sitting in the town square.
Demetri’s heart stops, even as his feet do not. He runs through the quiet streets, racing up the hill to his house. He prays he is wrong. The wide-open door and their possessions thrown haphazardly across the floors speak for themselves. Demetri cries out for Aliza as he searches the house.
He does not find Aliza. Demetri collapses to his knees, the ring in his pocket suddenly a heavy weight. His eyes burn as he claws at the floor of their bedroom. And then he hears a noise. The dogs are barking. Barking a familiar song.
Demetri rushes to his feet, scrambling down the stairs and bursting out the back door. He jerks to a halt, staring at the figure circled by the happily barking dogs. He swallows, stumbling forward, drawing the attention of the phantom before him. Aliza turns, her eyes empty sockets of glowing green light, the same light that glimmers through her ethereal skin and dress. There is a dark patch across her abdomen.
“Aliza?” Demetri breathes, reaching out to cup the phantom’s cheek. It is cold but solid beneath his hand. Aliza hums, pressing a hand to his, her voice echoing, as if heard from a distance. Still, that is his Aliza smiling at him, her hair flowing about her as of she were underwater. He’d know that smile anywhere.
“Hello Love.” Aliza whispers. Demetri weeps, dropping to his knees and clutching at her ragged skirt. Begs for her forgiveness, for answers. Begs her not to leave him. And when his fury begins to rise, he promises retribution for her death.
Aliza smiles sadly, running her fingers through her spectral fingers through her lovers hair. Listening to his broken words. She sighs, watching her dogs press against their Master, confused. She worries for the rage that will color her love’s face, the blood that will inevitably stain his hands. Jack and Jeffery still live, after all. But, even so, Aliza hungers for retribution.
And those feelings fill her soul, nestling alongside her love for Demetri. She no longer cares for suppressing her magic. Not anymore. She and her beloved will make the people who wronged her pay. Aliza will have her justice.
Her love has promised her, after all.