What twisted hearts we are, What lovely, vile things. Even down in the belly of the verdant gulch, Aia Belladonna could sense their filth. Could hear their wretched chanting. Not all the blades in the world could stifle their reckless yowling, but she wasn’t sure that she didn’t love that about them. I will give them all the blades in the world. I will turn their yowling to screams. There, in the cast darkness of a hunched tree, a lone figure crouched. A double-bladed axe, its crusted, red grin, glinted maliciously in the sunrise at her feet. The bruised sky pushed further over the brow of the horizon, barely illuminating the ruins that spoiled the crust of the cliff in a jagged, toothy smile. Aia watched their shadows with flickering, emerald eyes, the silhouette of something old and spiteful skimming beneath the surface. Voices boiled in the valley beneath her, drifting from the community that crouched among the green. The surviving village that never slept, never bent to the invading onslaught. That never stopped stirring against the creatures that thirsted for their blood, that ascended from worlds away through holes in the universe. Fruitless. Worthless. Pitiful. Nonetheless, Aia stood at the forefront many times, shedding the blood of the bastard welps that sought relive the glory of the ancient gods, struggled to reach the greatness of those who eyes she had looked upon. Fruitless. Worthless. Pitiful. Draped in the torn remnants of clothing from the old times, a ripped, white shirt sprayed with blood revealed the sinister, grinning cats that watched the world with green eyes from Aia’s sides. The fantasy world of gore and seduction curled away across her shoulders, lost to the folds of cotton. Small, black shorts capped the chesires legs and spirited away Aia’s wide hips, revealing toffee-colored legs. Dark, knee-high boots, their best days long past, wrapped around her calves and feet. The lack of coverage, the reveal of flesh, left what skin did show lightly veiled with speckles of scarlet. Despite the impracticality of her manner of dress, Aia’s black hair was tied back and away from her face, void of any errant strands. A lack of drapery left open her high cheekbones, pocked with numerous freckles, a metal ring pierced through her left brow, and a proud chin complemented by full lips. Lips that curled into a knowing, vicious smile. It was like this she stayed, unmoving and silent, eyes watching into the dark of the wood until the sun chased it away. This spot, this perch, was beyond the range of the Watchers’ guns, for it was her place, and that alone profaned it. This was the prime place, the place that parted from the trees and looked over the gulley and cliff faces alike. Here, Aia watched the coming of the beasts that sought to devour them. And here, she could get to them first. With a night full of blood and without sleep, Aia felt fit to leave her spot, flitting down the winding, coiled path like a snake’s back. She walked its length, the weight of her axe hefted over her shoulder, for some time, before she breached the side of the makeshift town. For those who awoke, or those who sought to sleep, there were no gazes to settle on her. They watched their hands, the buildings, the ground, but not her. Do not ever acknowledge the demon that walked among them. Without bother, Aia moved with a familiar rhythm, smiled at those who dared to look up, until she found herself before a booth. Booth meaning a few crates stacked together, slathered in scarlet and dappled with the bodies of a good morning’s trapping. Before she could stop to question it, the butcher handed out the flayed carcass of an enlarged rabbit, dangling it by its feet. As she grasped it, she heard the bells toll, reverberating beneath her feet. By the way that the people around her jerked, she knew that it wasn’t expected. Dripping rabbit curled in hands, she raised a brow and turned to watch the wooden gates be peeled aside. A visitor, it would seem.