Liberty occupied a bench in the village square, staring forward. Her vantage gave her views over the assembled crowd, their pumping fists. She need not hear their shouts or chants, they were etched on the air, implicit to every breath. Her face meanwhile, was empty, expressionless: mind still spun from the goings-on.
The gallows had been oiled in preparation, the rope made new and fast around the girl’s neck.
Couldn’t have been more than thirteen, Liberty knew. Soot and grime-tattered clothing said she’d hung in a cell far too long. Poverty was smeared across her face. Suffering stamped in her downcast eyes.
It will finally be over.
That’s what she would be telling herself, Liberty knew. To make it easier. A life of suffering, of anguish, of nothingness, would finally end. They’d no longer blame her for their ills. She, in turn, would no longer suffer for those she neither knew nor understood.
At last, there would be no more pain. At last there would be peace.
Liberty grit her teeth; the Alderman himself, Chief Village-Bastard had come to read the proclamation. Even across the square, sleaze oozed off him like every whore-monger for power. She might as well be beside him for all his tainted corruption on the air.
His voice boomed from his man-sized blowhole with only the slightest hint of joviality, “By order of the power vested in me by his majesty the Emperor Keylon of Ardania, I hereby sentence you to death by hanging for the crimes of witchcraft and sorcery, harboring of seditious dissent, and the daily-theft of bread from the bazaar. You are hereby ordered to hang from the neck until dead. Have you any words in your defense?”
She didn’t breathe.
Liberty felt a tooth chip from her jaw grinding tension. The sick bastard was taking his time, enjoying it. He was drawing out the silence to revel, she could take it no longer.
A flash erupted in the sky over the gallows. The hangman and his master froze, aghast. The crowd hissed terror. Each man, woman, and child, froze. The flash resolved from a blinding orb into a light shaped so bright it stole the sky from the sun. Its form was that of a woman, decidedly more fearsome than any villager had seen. She was both beautiful and terrifying; her body muscled as befit a woman of war and strength, brutality and murder. Her face was marked, but too opaque: the longer one stared to make out its shape, the more they saw only swirling details in a sea of beautiful faces themselves.
Liberty rose slowly to her feet.
A voice of terrifying resonance shook the very Earth beneath the village, “Cut her down at once or face the wrath of your Gods!”
The quaking threatened to tear the Earth asunder.
More figures took residence around the square, echoing the first’s final words. Three were women, their voices from the middle and upper registers of an unabridged disharmony over the male bass and baritone. Each was a striking specimen of Human perfection. Each, like the first, bore some weapon denoting their skill in battle; bow, spear, shield, axe, staff. Each too, were dressed in thick hides infused and trimmed as with metal-scales and materials of undeniable strength.
A pause fell about about the square; a moment of hesitation in which the assembled Human minds fought to grasp the proceedings. Then, the hangman drew a knife, and took a step to cut the rope. His master cupped his bicep roughly.
“Heresy! Witch! You conjure this with your dark magicks.” The girl looked as if already dead.
“You dare defy us!?” The Gods roared with a grating dissonance. The girl remained still.
“Vile tricks. Fiendish. Foolish girl.”
Liberty lifted her hood, her face hidden but for her snarling mouth. A rip in the air left a wave of light that disintegrated in a blink.
A hooded figure appeared on the gallows behind the Alderman, still frozen in place, impotently raging to recapture the crowd. A collective gasp told him he was losing them still. The figure pivoted an arm around his throat. The girl stirred. The Alderman was silent, eyes widened and mouth gaping. The figure dropped him as so much refuse; blood draining from his neck while the crowd’s panic erupted.
Liberty was across the Gallows, hood threatening to fall. The Hangman raced her. The Gods screamed terrifying commands that threatened to tear the Earth with their resonance. Liberty couldn’t care less. She was only steps away.
The Hangman won, reached the lever. Liberty leapt, one arm outstretched. The Hangman threw the lever. The floor dropped, rope tightened. The girl’s eyes met Liberty’s: terror and betrayal, newly-found and dashed hopes, all within.
Liberty collided with the girl mid-air. The rope pulled taught. Her blade sliced. In a blink, the warp of air and light appeared and disappeared. The Gods roared fury. Explosions rocked the distance. The crowd stampeded in terror.
Liberty landed outside the village, just on the edge of the forest, wind knocked from her lungs. The girl choked likewise beneath her, fingers grappling the tightened noose and wrestling it away. Liberty, breathless, quickly regained her footing. She bolted, pulling the girl up, off into the woods.
They ran until the girl’s adrenaline could no longer support her. Liberty stopped only at a cry to find she’d drug her several feet. She panted an apology and examined her for any serious injuries.
When they’d finally regained their wits, Liberty explained, “If you’re to be branded a witch, you’re to be raised as one.”
The girl’s doe-eyes, until now hidden by circumstance rose to meet hers, “I… I don’t understand. I’m not a–”
Liberty knelt beside the girl, hand on her shoulder, “You will be.”
She clearly did not understand, etched as it was in the pain on her face, the utterly confused hopelessness.
Liberty’s eyes softened, “What is your name, child?”
“Meuz,” she said shyly.
“Muse,” Liberty muttered under her breath. “Meuz, I am Liberty–”
Dogs howled not far enough off. Panic was still going strong, but the Alderman had been murdered. Whether by Gods or man, the village was in a turmoil that wouldn’t end any time soon. In retribution, any strangers would be rounded up as scapegoats– rightful or not. The smoke drifting toward them demanded it.
Liberty helped Meuz to her feet once more, the pair reinvigorated by their sudden, encroaching reality. “We must go, but know this, your journey has yet to begin. Should you ever return here, these louts will know the Witch Meuz’s power like that of the Gods they’ve denied.”
“But why, Liberty? How?” She pled.
“Because the Universe demands it.”