The only light in the baron’s chamber comes from a few dying flames that still lick the grate inside an enormous hearth. Every window has been locked against intruders and heavy drapes pulled in front of the glass to keep out the night chill. Slipping through the silence with all the keenness of a knife comes a woman’s voice, low enough to sound sultry and inviting had she been a lover instead of a killer, and deceptively soft.
“Wake up, baron.” Her voice tickles the ear of the slumbering noble. His eyelids peel back, reluctantly pulling him from a far more pleasant dream.
“What…?” It takes him a moment to understand what is going on. It is difficult to make out her form in the darkness, but the orange firelight catches just enough to create a dim silhouette. Only when he realizes that she is on top of him does the baron start to panic. Fear drives down into his belly like a spike. She has her legs thrown over his, pinning him down underneath the mound of blankets that keep him warm. The way she has redistributed her weight is clever. He cannot even really feel her.
“I have come to collect my reward,” her voice is even, but there is an edge of impatience. The baron swallows, and he feels his larynx press against the edge of a blade. The steel is warming quickly to his skin and he can feel how it wants to bite into his flesh.
“Reward?” He hisses. He cannot help himself. Fury bubbles up in the form of spit streaming between his teeth. “It is the middle of the night - and you are in my chambers! The gall, the audacity, how dare you! Filthy, wretched…you will pay!” His panic causes his blood to race. His jugular pounds against the edge of her knife. “Guards! Guards!” His voice climbs to the point of breaking.
Even in the darkness, he can see her smile.
“No guards will come, baron,” she says. “My sisters are in the manor, now. No one will come.” The last bit of emphasis made his heart sink.
“What?” His head is spinning, a mixture of heat and sleepy haze. “What do you want, then? Why are you doing this?”
“I have told you,” she is sounding less patient, by the minute. “I have come for my reward. My sisters and I have driven off the wolves from your lands as you commanded. The people can tend their crops, feed their families, and live their lives in peace for now.”
“For now?” He scoffs. “You mean you have not killed the monsters?”
“Oh,” a soft laugh skates across her words, barely audible even in the surroudning silence. “They cannot be killed so easily. However, they will stay away and the people are safe. We are…” she paused, “working towards a more permanent solution. Such things take time.”
“Fine, then.” He balls up his fists, gripping the covers underneath him to try and regain some of his mind. “Reinheart! Reinheart! He will get you your gold and you can be gone from here.”
“Reinheart will not come,” she says. “He is no more. The rest of your guards and cronies share the same fate.”
“You have killed them?” He is losing his grip on the conversation, his lack of understanding and control overtaking his better judgment. “Why are you doing this? I…I will get you your gold. I have a great deal of it - and it is yours! Just leave me be!”
“I know how much gold you have, baron. We took it all. We emptied all your coffers. It will be shared between the people you starved and robbed of their hard labor. No more profiteering from the people you were supposed to protect. They will keep all they grow. They will work for themselves, now, and no longer be slaves to a hungry tyrant.”
“Tyrant!” Despite the blade being at his throat, he presses himself closer, until he can smell the combination of sweat and leather that is on her skin. “I am the one who call you to save them from the wolves!”
“And we are so glad that you did. Yet, you were never invested in their well-being, were you? You only grew concerned that your grain supply would suffer.”
“That is not true!” His words escape him on a desperate breath. Panic and anger makes his face feel hot. She presses the blade closer to his throat, and his next words come out strangled. “Whole families have been torn apart by these monsters!”
“Some have.” She allows. “You should rest assured, we will do all we can to avenge them. Of course, not all have been slain by the beasts - have they, baron?” She lowers her voice to the point where it is almost a whisper. “We know what you and your butchers have been doing.”
“What do you mean?” He gasps. “We have not done anything!”
“We have found your hidden chambers,” she says. “And your two playthings.”
“We…” he closes his eyes. “We found them. We rescued them…my men and I. Their families were killer - both of them! We kept them safe. We…!”
“Baron,” she tilts her head. “We know there have been others.” She straightens her posture, becoming further eclipsed by darkness to the point where he can almost no longer see her at all. “Dragaia, let them enter.”
Another shape shifts in the darkness. The baron can catch sight of a woman at his door who pulls it open with one hand. A spill of light from the hallway illuminates it all - the young girls he told himself that he sought only to protect, with their hollow expressions set into their faces like stone. His mouth feels dry, and he struggles to sit up. The woman is no longer straddling him. He is not sure where she is now.
“Girls!” Despite the fact that the knife is no longer at his throat, he can still feel sweat pouring down his brow. “Did I not save you? Have I not kept you fed, and clothed, and…” He wipes at his forehead. “I saved you!”
“They will not talk anymore,” the woman says. “Maybe never again…but they will be safe. They will be safe with us and blessed. They will be named anew by the lele and have a new life, one where they can protect this land and its people. In time, they too shall wear the Red. But for now, the red of your blood will suffice.”
The firelight dies completely. All the baron can see now is the yellow candlelight coming from the hallway and the girls getting closer to his bedside. They hold out their hands, and cloaked figures step out from the shadows, handing over weapons that seem too unwieldy for such delicate bodies.
“Girls,” he hears the woman’s voice one last time, “use my swords.”