The Burning

The Burning

The hermit hobbled into the village, leaning heavily on his cane, he rarely visited unless he was in need of supplies. His face was deformed as if he was sculpted in clay but one side of his face had not been finished. The villagers despised him and treated him as a diseased rat, which was why he rarely crossed through the crumbling stone walls into town. But, he needed these supplies more than he loathed being treated so. 

The bells chimed as the hermit entered the Apothecary. The shopkeeper did not greet him but was used to him stopping by enough to not have the same look of disgust as the other villagers. She valued his coin and nothing else, that was clear by her silence and occasional grunts as she gave him his supplies. This journey was for six black candles and the ashes of the dead. The rest he needed were gathered and ready at his home. For this particular spell, plans had been long made.

The hermit lived in a small cave that was etched long ago by a force unknown in the side of the mountain that the village rested at the base of. He was known for being an oracle of sorts, and some villagers would dare to visit to have their fortune read or to ask him questions about their future. Most often travelers would venture from far-off lands having heard of his abilities, and stop by heavy with coin for their prophecy foretold. Without fail upon seeing the hermit the visitor’s faces would contort with disgust, but curiosity usually won out and they would stay and listen, solely for selfish reasons but it was how the hermit made his living. 

The hermit made his way out of the Apothecary, and as the heavy wood door was shutting behind him he heard the shopkeeper let out a sigh of relief at his departure. He was used to this behavior, he no longer cared for tonight it would happen no more. He let his excitement grow for a moment, lost in thoughts, and hobbled on towards his home. 

“Wretch!” a voice shouted, shaking the hermit from his thoughts. 

Moments after snapping back to his surroundings a rock hit him near his left temple and knocked him down into the mud. Dazed he searched his surroundings and saw a young man, arm still raised, and hatred in his eyes. 

“Go back to your cave, rat!” the man shouted again before running out of site.

The hermit shook his head to clear it of the dizziness he was now feeling. He attempted to stand, using his cane as a means of leverage but fell back into the mud. He let out a deep sigh and was about to open his skin of water for a drink when a small girl approached him. She reached out her small arms and clasped hers around his left arm not holding the cane. She beamed down at him with a beautiful smile and pulled at him with all of her strength to help him up. He stared at her bewildered for a brief moment and accepted the help. 

“It’s okay mister, we all fall sometimes!” She exclaimed happily.

Once he was on his feet again and stable with his cane he reached to pat her on the head.

“Th-thank you, child.” The hermit said with a raspy voice, it was not often he spoke.

She looked up at him with large copper-brown eyes, and in them, he saw innocence and kindness.

“Kya! Get over here now, and away from that wretched monster!” a woman’s shrill voice spoke. 

“But mama he needed help!” The little girl responded with a whine.

“You stay away from him, and get over here NOW!” The mother was yelling frantically now.

The little girl skipped to her mother and turned back to wave at the hermit, the mother glaring at him with loathing. In that small moment, the hermit felt for the first time kindness, and his heart ached and softened at the same time. 

The hermit hobbled his way out of the village and back to his cave, it wasn’t far thankfully because he could not walk for long. The sun was beginning to set, the sky was streaked with hues of purple and orange across the mountain peaks. Once he was inside his cave and the torches were lit he settled down into his small cushion on the hard rock floor. All of the necessary ingredients were in his possession finally, and he began to set everything up. His excitement welled in his chest, at long last the villagers would get what they deserved, the Gods smiled down on him, and he could feel their strength through his bones.

The hermit had always thought since he was cursed with his horrific appearance and mangled body, abandoned by everyone around him, including his own family, the Gods had instead blessed him with the gift of magic. He indeed had the gift, and had achieved many spells, not just fortune readings, but far beyond that. He had been dabbling in the darker magics, learning and growing for this very moment. 

At last, everything was in its proper place for the spell, and he readied himself with deep breaths to calm his mind. The hermit leaned forward with effort and placed his hands’ palms down on the edge of the alignment of candles. He let his eyes flutter closed as he spoke loudly and clearly the words for the spell. Sparks flew as the flames from the candles grew larger and brighter, his continued chanting gave the flames life. Soon the flames were to the roof, illuminating the cave and the wild now open eyes of the hermit. With a rush of force and heat the flames burst forth toward the village. Following the path with his feral eyes still glowing as if the fire was alive in them as well, he saw the flames jolt in different directions, alighting different homes, shops, and villagers still walking the streets. Screams quickly filled the night, and the village was so bright with flames that the hermit could see all from his cave.

A high-pitched scream echoed inside the hermit’s cave clearer than any others, and he was certain it was the little girl. His heart panged for a brief moment and a thought occurred to him that he could cast a protection spell solely on her, she was kind to him after all. But following that thought was the memory of her mother pulling her away and calling him a monster. Being raised by parents like that would ensure she turned out just like the rest of them. He shook the brief moment away and let himself smile again, lips spreading ear to ear as he reveled in the moment until the final agonizing screams faded. The smell of burning flesh and wood, accompanied by silence told him they were all dead.

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