Bellik stood at the window, watching.
He would have considered the woman beautiful once, back when he cared about such things. Now he saw only a harbinger of doom. It was known: where the demon hunters went, death followed.
The townspeople had moved inside, but the children... the children had stayed out, and they were positioning to attack. The smith's words came back to Bellik...
My boy did this to me.
What sort of madness had overtaken the world to turn children into butchers? And the woman... the demon hunter, surely she would kill them.
A cloudburst of smoke exploded from the woman's feet and immediately billowed, obscuring her from sight. An instant later, a small form dropped down into the haze from the lookout above Bellik's viewpoint. As the cloud began to clear, a hatchet flew end over end, missing the child who had jumped down by scant inches.
Bellik's head swiveled to see a figure rise to a stand several feet away in the thinning, dark mist. It was her. The smoke had been a distraction executed by the hunter. Her wrist flicked, and a little red-headed boy who had skipped into view—the Travers boy, Bellik thought it must be—slapped a hand to his neck as if he'd been bitten.
Bellik's chest tightened.
She's killing them!
The smith's son, Kyndal, rushed forward, eyes bulging, spit flying from his open mouth. He swung the hammer in a wide arc. The demon hunter stepped in, grabbed the boy's wrist, and turned into his swing, circling him around and sending him crashing into a boy Bellik didn't recognize, who was in the process of trying to pull a sword that was larger than he was out of its sheath.
That boy went flat on his back. The demon hunter snatched the hammer and swung it underhand, smashing the head into the bottom of Kyndal's jaw. Teeth flew. The woman sidestepped, and Kyndal toppled onto his face, out cold. A few feet away, the Travers boy, hand still pressed to his neck, fell down in a heap.
The demon hunter's hand flicked outward again, toward the child who had dropped from the lookout, someone else Bellik didn't recognize, like the boy with the sword. Visitors from Holbrook, perhaps?
Bellik's hands tightened into fists. Outside, two children rushed the woman—Sahmantha Halstaff, bounding forward as if playing a game of kickball, waving a bloody dagger before her, and Bri Tunis, hefting a weighty stone above her head.
Bellik had seen acrobats from the distant land of Entsteig years ago in Caldeum. They flipped and tumbled, somersaulted and cartwheeled, with an ease that was nothing short of incredible. The healer was reminded now of those acrobats as he watched the woman leap upward, tuck, and roll in a ball, unhindered by the hard-edged plate mail she wore, landing behind Sahmantha. It was a blur of motion and almost too quick for the eye to follow, but most amazingly of all, after the demon hunter's passing Sahmantha stood bound in a thin rope.
Not far away, the stranger who had jumped from the lookout collapsed, just as the Travers boy had done.
Bellik ran to the door and opened it as the demon hunter spun, swinging Sahmantha next to Bri, her movements impossibly fast, arms whipping like a flag snapping in a gale. When she was done, both girls were bound.
Sahmantha's brother, little Ralyn, was crawling forward, seemingly in an attempt to gnash his teeth on the demon hunter's leg. She lifted him up, drew her dagger—
"No!" Bellik called out.
—and drove it through the back of the boy's shirt, into a nearby support beam, leaving the child kicking and flailing harmlessly. She turned and strode toward Bellik.
"The children," he breathed.
"Are alive. I used darts coated in a strong sedative. They're safe, for now, and will remain so only with your help."
Bellik's fists unclenched. His shoulders sagged in relief.
"You're surprised?" Valla asked.
"It is said by some that your kind..." Bellik looked down.
"Say it," Valla challenged.
Bellik summoned his courage. "... are no better than the demons. That your eyes burn with Hellsfire. That everywhere you go, death follows."
Valla stepped closer to Bellik, who stumbled backward.
"It is said that when a demon peers into you, healer, into the deepest recesses of your mind, then you may peer back if you know how. And then you will see only vengeance. Only the hunt. And your eyes will burn with its obsession."
Bellik's lower lip quivered. "Your eyes... do not burn."
Valla's features softened. "No. I live for more than just vengeance." Valla turned. "Now, I need a place where the children can be held. Separately."
The healer thought for a moment.
"We got no more than one jail cell... but we got stables for the packbeasts. Stables could work, surely."