Hyperion is a man with a dark and dangerous secret. His mission is to eliminate the Swine, the corrupt mayor of a village by the Dark Forest, who is more than just a man himself. Provoked by the Swine’s vile nature and the man’s treatment of his own wife, Ligia, Hyperion had trouble restraining himself and sticking to his plan. He managed to keep it together until he left his target’s house, and let the creature inside manifest only when he reached the depths of the woods. But there has been an unexpected witness. Enjoy the adventure in episode 6, and discover more of Hyperion’s mystery.
The Mad Widow walks down the riverbank, then turns and looks at me over her shoulder. Her eyes tell me to follow. What she just witnessed doesn’t seem to as much as surprise her, let alone scare her. She must be truly mad. I have to make sure she doesn’t talk around, so I swallow the embarrassment and drag myself in her wake, with no idea what to do about her.
Naked and drained of power, I’m shivering. It feels bad, very bad. By the time we reach the old woman’s place in the woods I’m all frostbitten. She leads me inside her hut – no more than a big wooden tent actually – and I immediately focus on the cot by the fireplace. The ember is warm, and the spot the coziest one in the world right now.
Without asking for permission I crouch on the cot like a wounded animal, letting the warmth soothe my body. Every bit of it hurts, and I can’t think of anything else until I feel the scraping touch of sack material on my back. I turn to see the Mad Widow covering me with an old quilt and reaching me a mug of milk. I drink slowly, letting the hot liquid melt my insides, hands locked on the mug. My tongue is too damaged to feel the taste of poppy, but I soon recognize the effect – I’m calm, warm and sleepy. It must be obvious in my face, judging by the Mad Widow’s smile.
“There’s enough in there to knock you out,” she says. “But you look only comfortable.”
She wears a kerchief to cover her head like Ligia, but she’s old, and it fits her. Her eyes are dark and seem much livelier than you’d expect from someone as worn, let alone crazy.
“I’m weakened. But I’m still not fully –” I stop. I don’t know how to put it.
“Human,” the woman finishes the sentences for me. The way it comes out of her mouth, I feel exposed and angry. She turns, rolls up her sleeves and starts working on the kitchen-looking niche, as if nothing extraordinary happened.
“You’re not really a priest either, are you?” She continues just as calm.
I don’t answer. She turns and sits at the table with a mug of milk of her own, looking down at it.
“Something like you can’t come from God.”
“I don’t come from the devil either.”
“Too bad. You’d have to sprout out of the devil’s very lap to defeat the Swine.”
Weren’t it for the poppy, my blood would quicken now.
“You presume to know my purposes.” I keep my voice low. “May I ask how come?”
“Imagine you saw the mayor transform from a fat-bellied bastard into a nasty slithery thing. You’ve barely processed the shock when, a few months later, you saw the new priest turning into the same kind of monster in the woods, only muscular and steely. He’s new in the village, and you know the mayor doesn’t like him. What would you believe?”
“Some of the mayor’s men are monsters too,” I say through gritted teeth. “I could be one of his minions.”
“No, you couldn’t. I saw you with the old Father. I know he’s against the mayor. He let you take over the parish in his place, and left. From my end, it looks as if he set you out to do what he doesn’t stand a chance of doing himself.”
The woman sees too much. I try to stand, but my legs give in after only a few seconds. I’m going to need at least another hour until I’m strong enough to leave. Chills course down my spine, and I gather the quilt around me. The woman looks me in the face for the first time since the woods, and a bitter smile stretches her hatched lips.
“Am I a liability now, Father?”
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“What are you going to do?”
“It depends. How do you imagine the Swine’s future?”
“Are you asking me if I’m a supporter?”
“I’m asking if you’ll tell,” I whisper, seeking to catch her eyes. She avoids my gaze again, and her features distort. She seems to be fighting back tears.
“Nobody in this village would tell on someone who’s here to rid them of the Swine. You’ve been in his house, you’ve seen his pack – he brought those men with him when he came here. Those men and the village drunkards are his only faithful servants. He practically took over by force. Killed my husband in the process.”
Her shoulders shake as she sobs, and I feel an urge to go over. Just be a little closer to her. But that moment a big shadow appears in the doorstep – I catch it from the corner of my eye. It’s the Village Bully, wearing a tame expression on his virtually furry face. He’s carrying a priest’s garment on his arm.
“The Old Father came to see me on his way out of the village,” he says. He looks a bit puzzled as his eyes wander from the widow to me. “He said you’d be here, and that I should bring you this. There’s more in his stash at church.”
I don’t even wonder how the Old Loon learned what happened. By now I know he has his ways, not always natural, and rarely orthodox. But the man’s next words make my stomach clench. He actually addresses them to the Mad Widow.
“You might want to go see Ligia. After the young Father’s visit the Swine gave her some serious bruises.” Here he turns to me, and I can see he’s sorry to bring such news. “He says prevention is always better than treatment. His right hand saw the two of you talk yesterday, so –”
My blood quickens, I don’t even listen anymore. His right hand. The Weasel.
The widow’s fit of anger breaks mine. She wipes her tears and cusses, gathering quickly what she can, throwing her afghan over her shoulders and pushing the Bully out of her way. He feels he owes me an explanation.
“She takes care of orphans.” He sounds moved. “They gather every morning at her barn, and she feeds them. In warm seasons they sleep there too, but in winter it’s impossible. She and her husband raised Ligia, who’s like a daughter to her.”
My stomach twists painfully. “Ligia is an orphan?”
The Bully nods. “Fate hasn’t been nice to her. Her parents died in a fire that consumed half the village when she was little. The Mad Widow took care of her and the others. Later, when the mayor came, they all crowded to get a job at his house, ‘cause it meant food and clothes. Her looks helped, she got hired along with two others. Later he married her.”
“Poverty forced me into it. That monster forced me into it,” Ligia’s words from our first meeting come back to me. The need to make sure she’s not in deadly trouble wins over the pain in my limbs. I stand, holding to the edge of the cot and to the table. The quilt falls off, but I don’t have time to be shy. I extend my hand for the priest cloak.
The Bully – I decide to rename him Pitbull ‘cause of his features – looks me up and down with an open mouth.
“This isn’t a circus, give me the clothes,” I urge him. He moves too slow, and I snatch them from him to make a point.
“Jesus, mate, what clawed you like that?” He says as I tie the rope around my waist, covering the scars.
“What does it matter? I’m standing here, aren’t I?” I push him out of my way and, unlike the widow, manage to haul him on his butt. He scrambles up and follows me, a string of questions shooting out of his mouth. He doesn’t relent until I’m exasperated enough to slam him against a tree trunk and squeeze his throat so tight he goes as red as blood.
“Drop it,” I hiss, and let him slump by the thick, gnarled roots.
It’s pitch dark when I reach the Swine’s house. I seek cover and move as lightly as my strained body allows until I find what I’m looking for. Adrenaline surges through my muscles as I see the danger. This could be it.
Liked this? Share your thoughts and feelings in a comment. Hyperion’s whole story will be published in a Christmas Story Book for Adults, so stay tuned for Gift Promotions and other goodies. This Story Book for Adults will also be quite fit for a Christmas present – stay tuned for the reveal of the cover versions on the 1st week of December, and you’ll see how come.
Buy Hyperion’s whole story here.