Plague
By Skybax

Disclaimer: The characters, situations, and concepts of Roar do not belong to me, I'm just borrowing them for a bit. No infringement is intended. But no hard feelings, right?

Part I

It began so simply. One small child, crying with fever on her bed. It was not so unusual that time of year; they had no reason to think it was. But the fever became worse. Soon the child's skin was hot to the touch, and she thrashed wildly in the throes of delirium, screaming until her throat was raw. Still, they did not think it unusual, until the angry red rash crept across her bone-white skin. Scarlet blotches that deepened and spread so that the child looked as though she had been dipped in blood.
It began so simply. One small child, dead of a sickness none had ever seen before.

In a secluded camp, known to its inhabitants as the Sanctuary, it was a beautiful day. The sun shone full and bright, and a fresh breeze from the east took the heat away. It was the kind of day that made you happy to be alive, but for one young man, it one of the worst days he could remember. Conor sighed heavily and scrubbed his hands over eyes that burned with fatigue. Beside him, a large man sporting an impressive mustache shook his head and gripped his companion's shoulder.

"Conor, I know you want to help, but you're not going to do anyone any good if you keel over yourself. Get some rest lad."

"I can't. Three more outbreaks have been reported, Fergus. Three more villages have been infected. The tribes are at each others' throats over it, and there's no way to stop it. They've tried every medicine, every technique, nothing even slows the sickness down!" Fergus had no words to answer Conor's statement, for it was all true. The sickness had spread like wildfire throughout the tribes before anyone had even had time to notice something was wrong. So far, the Sanctuary had been spared, but how long would that last? Most people were too afraid to leave their homes, and Fergus silently prayed that his own daughter was far, far away from the danger.

"People are already calling it the Crimson Plague," Conor murmured softly, and Fergus let out a short, humorless laugh.

"Poetic name for a death sentence." Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a breathless Tully, worry flashing in his dark eyes.

"Conor, Fergus, there's a fight by the waterfalls." he gasped out, trying to catch his breath. Conor rose quickly, earlier weariness forgotten.

"A fight? What about?" he demanded, but Tully simply shook his head.

"I don't know, but it's getting ugly."

"Sweet Brigid, just what we need right now." Fergus muttered sarcastically, following as Conor and Tully started for the falls. They heard the shouts long before they reached the actual scene, which was indeed "getting ugly". A knot of people had gathered by the water, and in the center two red-faced men circled each other warily. Conor recognized them as two of the newer additions to the Sanctuary, one called Derry, the other Teagan

"You brainless bastard! You'll kill us all!" Derryshouted, his voice dripping with fury. Teagan winced at his tone, but refused to back down.

"I couldn't just leave them out there! Maybe you can abandon your family to the plague, but I won't!" With a wordless cry of rage, Derry lunged, tackling Teagan to the ground. The two men began rolling in the dust, pummeling each other with blow after shattering blow.

"I've had enough of this." Fergus said to Conor before wading into the fray and grabbing each man by the back of their shirts, as though he were separating a pair of fighting children. The crowd began discreetly dispersing, until only Conor, Fergus, and the two fighters were left. A great red welt had already risen on the side of Derry's face, and blood streamed from Teagan's split lip.

"What's this about?" Conor asked as soon as the spectators had left. Teagan seemed nervous, and refused to meet anyone's eyes. It was Derry who spoke first.

"He'll kill us all! The fool's brought the plague into our home!" He shouted accusingly, trying to attack Teagan again. Fergus tightened his grip on the man's neck pulling him further away from Teagan.

"That's impossible, Teagan arrived before the plague even broke out." Conor said gently, not understanding what the man was so upset about. Derry laughed bitterly and and shrugged out of Fergus' grasp.

"He arrived before the plague, but the people staying in his hut arrived last night." Conor whirled on Teagan, incredulity written on his face.

"What's he talking about?" Teagan closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again, they glittered with tears.

"M-my cousin and her two children, her husband died years ago, I'm all she has. They aren't sick, I swear! I couldn't leave them out there, I just couldn't. Please don't send them away, they've noweher else to go. Please!" Teagan looked as though he would burst into tears at any moment. Conor clenched his jaw tightly, forcing himself to keep his temper in check. He glanced at Fergus, who simply shrugged. Teagan's pale blue eyes pleaded mutely with Conor, silently begging for mercy.

" You're sure they've no trace of the plague?" A small ember of hope lit in Teagan's eyes and he vigorously nodded.

"Positive, they lived on the very outskirts of their village, they haven't had any contact with it, on my honor!"

"All right, then. They can stay, but I don't want them to have any contact with our people until we're sure they aren't carrying the disease."

"Thank you! Oh thank you!" Teagan cried, joy lighting his eyes. He turned and ran back towards the huts, no doubt to tell his family the news. Derry spluttered indignantly for a moment before finding his voice.

"Are you mad?" he shouted "We have children to protect!"

"And so does he. His family stays. Anyone who has a problem with that can take it up with me." Conor replied evenly. Derry turned and stalked off down the path, muttering angrily to himself.

"Are you sure that's wise lad? They could be carrying the plague." Conor sighed and leaned against the rocks, rubbing his eyes again.

"I know Fergus, but what can I do? I can't fault a man for wanting to protect his family."

"Aye, but Derry's trying to protect his as well. What if they do have it?"

"What if they don't?" Conor countered, his head aching with the "what ifs". The truth was, there wasn't a way to second guess such situations, what happened...happened. And in this particular case, what happened was bad .

The evening was uneventful enough; though there was much grumbling about Conor's decision, no one questioned it. People understandably avoided Teagan's quarters at all costs, but no new cases of the plague had been reported. Conor had retired early, and practically collapsed onto his sleeping furs, sinking into a much-needed sleep almost as soon as his head hit the proverbial pillow. However, it seemed he had barely closed his eyes when someone shook him roughly awake.

"Conor! Wake up, we've got trouble." Conor blinked blearily up at Fergus and Tully, silently willing them to be a dream.

"What is it?" he asked after it became clear that he was indeed awake.

"Teagan's cousin, her daughter has it." Tully said grimly, and Conor didn't have to ask what "it" was. The Crimson Plague had found the Sanctuary.

It was a moonless night, for black storm clouds hung heavily over the land. The shadows pressed in on him from the left, while the smooth surface of the river, as black as the night around him, meandered to his right. That suited his mood perfectly. He lifted the wineskin to his lips and drained it in one gulp, relishing the feel of the fiery liquid burning its way into his belly. There was little else left to him in life to relish, the Crimson Plague had seen to that. Only a few days ago his beloved new bride had succumbed to its uncaring embrace. Now he waited for it to claim him as well, he yearned to be with his beloved in death as they should have been in life. So lost was he in his musings, he at first didn't notice the soft noises coming from the banks of the river. Had he been alert, he would have recognized the sounds instantly and what they meant, but with the drunken haze that had settled over his senses, he stumbled blindly into the source of the noises, though when the scene registered on his clouded mind, he sobered instantly. And he knew, he knew the source of all his suffering, the source of the suffering of countless others. Then, to his surprise, he got his wish. "I'm coming, my love." He thought to himself as the sharp and deadly blade plunged into his belly. Even as his own lifeblood poured out onto the ground, a small smile curved his lips.

Conor stared sadly at the tableau before him, a lump rising in his throat. Beside him, Catlin was fighting back tears. Pale morning sunlight streamed through the chinks in the roof of Teagan's room, illuminating his cousin Aislyn, a striking woman of about thirty, as she leaned over her daughter, crooning a lullaby and bathing the child's sweat-soaked forehead with a wet cloth. The tears that coursed down her cheeks betrayed the fact that she knew it was for naught. Already, the angry red rash had risen on her daughter's pale skin. The last symptom. All thatremained now were the cold hands of death. Aislyn tenderly brushed a few stray strands of dark hair away from her daughter's face, still singing softly.

"Mama, Mama it hurts!" The girl moaned pitifully, shivering violently despite the numerous blankets her mother had tucked around her thin frame.

"Shh, I know my darling, but soon you'll be with Da, and nothing will ever hurt you again." The last few words came out in a strangled gasp, as Aislyn doubled over, her body racked with sobs. "My baby, my beautiful, beautiful baby." Aislyn choked on the words, clutching her daughters hand to her chest. With a barely audible moan, Catlin turned and fled the room, and Conor followed her quickly.

"Cat, I-"

"How can she do it? How can she stand to sit there and watch her child die?" Catlin whispered. Conor was about to answer, when the soft voice of the woman herself sounded from behind them. Teagan and Aislyn stood close together, both looking worn and harried.

"It's too late for my Sheena, all I can do is be there for her." She murmured softly, wiping fresh tears from her already swollen eyes. Teagan draped a comforting arm about her shoulders and she leaned into him gratefully.

"I'm so sorry, I wish we could do more." Conor said, but his words sounded empty even to him. Aislyn, however looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.

"Perhaps there is something you can do."

"Aislyn, please, not this again." Teagan groaned, and his cousin whirled on him furiously.

"My daughter is dying! If you had listened to me, maybe she wouldn't be in there right now fighting for each breath! There's nothing that can be done for her now, but maybe some other mother can be spared the pain I'm going through." Both Conor and Catlin looked up sharply at her words.

"What do you mean? What are you talking about?" Catlin asked warily.

"Before I was married, I lived in a small village near the mountains, a day and a night's riding to the north. In the woods of those moutains, there lived a clan who practiced arts said to be long forgotten by even the Druids." Conor and Catlin exchanged dubious glances, but Aislyn pressed on. "For as long as I could remember, and up until the day I left, whenever someone was hurt or ill, they took them into the woods, and always they returned healthy and whole."

"Do you think this clan might have a cure?" Conor asked finally. Aislyn opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted by her cousin.

"Surely you don't believe this! It's an old wives' tale!" Conor ignored the man's outburst and gripped Aislyn's shoulders.

"Do you think they might have a cure?" He repeated.

"I don't know, but if they don't, there is no cure." Aislyn answered grimly. A loud cry sounded from inside Teagan's room, and Aislyn hurried back in, Teagan at her heels. Conor and Catlin were halfway down the path when Aislyn called out from behind them.

"Seek them out, they're our only hope!"

"I don't like it lad. If these people could help, why haven't they already?" Fergus intoned, staring into the dancing flames before him. He, Conor, Catlin and Tully were seated by the firepit, discussing Aislyn's claims...and what to do about them.

"From what you said, this clan is pretty remote, maybe they haven't heard of the plague." Tully suggested, and Fergus had to admit he had a point. Conor poked the logs aimlessly sending a shower of orange red sparks spiraling into the night air.

"Well I think we should go. What have we got to lose? The Sanctuary's already been exposed, it's only a matter of time before others start to get sick." Catlin added. "Conor?"

"People are dying. If there's a chance this clan Aislyn spoke of can help, we've got to take it."

"Now how did I know he would say something like that?" Fergus muttered, but there was no hint of reproach in his voice.

So it was that four horses left the Sanctuary before the blood red light of sunrise had faded into yellow, galloping hard towards the north. All day and into the evening they rode, encountering no one; a testament to the all encompassing touch of the Crimson Plague. It was as the last shreds of daylight were sinking below the horizon that Conor finally called a halt to break camp. The majestic moutains rose before the little band, silent guardians of the countryside. One by one, they dismounted, tethering their exhausted horses. A single trail led into the shadowy recesses of the thick forest. Catlin and Conor started up this trail in search of firewood, leaving Fergus and Tully to tend to the horses.

"Where do we go from here?" Catlin asked as she gathered up the dry sticks on the ground.

"I'm not exactly sure. Aislyn said to follow the mountain trail until we reached their encampment."

"Couldn't she be more specific?" Conor merely shrugged and broke a few thick branches off of a dead tree. So involved in their conversation were they, that the soft rustlings of the bushes around them went unnoticed. Conor and Catlin drifted further into the underbrush, much to the delight of a pair of unseen eyes. It was only when a well hidden wire fetched up against Conor's boot that he had any indication anything was wrong. With a soft snap the wire went slack, and Conor immediately dropped his load of wood and hurled himself into Catlin, sending them both crashing to the ground as a tremendous log swung scant inches above their heads and slammed into the trees with shattering force. The log swung back on its rope supports, rocking gently as the inertia of its first attack was spent. Conor and Catlin rose slowly and stared at the device. There was little doubt that had they remained standing, both would be dead.

"What's going on here?" Catlin asked as they drew their swords.

"Who's there?! Show yourself!" Conor bellowed into the night. His own echoing voice was his only answer. Suddenly, a loud crashing errupted from the undergrowth to their right. Conor and Catlin spun to face the new menace, only to be greeted by eerie silence. The sharp sound of a snapping twig behind him warned Conor of his mistake, but too late. Before he had time to react, the painfully sharp tip of a spear was shoved into his back, digging into his skin, and a harsh voice grated from behind them.

"Move, and you die."

Part Two

"Drop your weapons and turn around...slowly." The voice ordered, and when Conor hesitated, the tip of the spear dug into his skin. Conor felt a few warm drops of blood trickle down his back. A quick glance at Catlin's face confirmed she was in a similar predicament. Conor grit his teeth in anger, but dropped his sword and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, having no other choice. Beside him, Catlin did the same. "Turn around." The voice repeated coldly. Conor searched the underbrush vainly for Fergus and Tully, hoping against hope that whomever was behind them had not gotten to his friends as well. Slowly, Conor and Catlin turned to face their captors. The obvious owner of the voice was a tall man only a little older than Conor himself. He had soft, round features and dark hair and eyes, and would have looked quite friendly, if not for the wickedly sharp spear he now pointed at Conor's throat. Beside him, holding a similar weapon on Catlin, was a small, blonde girl who couldn't have been more than fourteen. The girl was distinctly nervous, and looked as though she would give anything to be somewhere else at that particular point in time. The man raked his eyes up and down Conor and Catlin, his weapon never wavering from Conor's jugular. "Who are you? What do you want?" he demanded after a moment.

"Please, we don't mean any harm-" Conor began, but the man shoved his spear under Conor's chin, cutting him off.

"I asked you a question!" He shouted.

"Sean, please, don't hurt him!" The girl spoke for the first time, distress evident in her soft voice.

"Stay out of this, and keep your eyes on that one." Sean barked, with a quick nod towards Catlin. The girl sighed softly and turned back to Catlin.

"Sean, is that your name?" Catlin asked suddenly, catching Conor's eye and jerking her head slightly towards the bushes behind their attackers. The motion was not lost on the man and he whirled around as Fergus and Tully burst forth from the undergrowth, weapons drawn. Out of the corner of his eye, Conor saw the girl drop her weapon and stumble back in terror, but his attention was focused on the man she had called Sean. Conor lunged forward, tackling him to the soft earth. Before his opponent had time to recover, Conor grabbed the shaft of the spear and wrenched it upward, crushing the wood against Sean's throat.

"Kill me then! Do it!" Sean croaked softly, gasping for breath. In answer, Conor jerked the spear out of the other man's grasp and hurled it away into the woods. He then rose and hauled Sean to his feet.

"Now. Let's discuss this like civilized folk." He said quietly, daring Sean to attack him again. The man looked as though he would take that dare for a moment, but the girl scurried forward and laid a restraining hand on his arm. She glanced up nervously at Conor and Catlin, then stepped forward.

"I'm sorry for this, not many people travel these trails, we thought you were Roman spies." She said apologetically. "My name is Briana, and this is Sean."

"All right then, Briana. I'm Conor, this is Catlin, and we aren't Romans. We're searching for a clan that lives in these mountains, we're in need of their help, do you know of them?" Briana cocked her head in a curiously birdlike movement, regarding them silently.

"Of course, but what can you need their particular...talents..for?" She said at length. Sean hissed, and grabbed Briana by the arm.

"You be quiet girl! They're lying! They'll slit our throats as soon as our guard's down." Briana turned to her companion, an eyebrow raised.

"Look behind you Sean, or have you forgotten those two already. If it were their intention we'd be dead five times over by now." She said scornfully, gesturing towards Fergus and Tully.

"You were late getting back, lad. We were worried." Fergus called by way of explanation. "Is everything all right?" Conor simply turned to Sean, and held his angry gaze for a moment.

"Is it?" he asked. Sean glared silently at Conor, but nodded sullenly.

"We'll take you to the village." He muttered, clenching his fists. Briana, however, smiled tentatively.

"The trail's too difficult by night, but we can go first thing in the morning. Where are you camped?" Sean started forward and grabbed Briana's arm again, dragging her towards the underbrush before any of them could answer.

"Be here at first light! If we don't see you by sunrise, we ride without you!" He yelled over one shoulder. Briana jerked her arm out of his grasp and rolled her eyes heavenward.

"Keep you're fire going all night, there are a good many wolves in the forest. We've had some attacks." Before the girl could continue, Sean let out a shrill whistle and two horses trotted quickly out of the concealing undergrowth. Sean mounted without a backward glance to Conor and his group and rode deeper into the shadows, becoming lost to sight in the gloom. Briana, however, lingered.

"He's not a bad person, it's just that he takes his duties very seriously. I'm sorry. Sleep well." With a jaunty wave, Briana turned her horse onto the path Sean had taken and hurried after him.

"Well? Do we trust them?" Catlin aked warily after Briana had vanished from their view.

"The girl seemed nice enough, there's something about her friend though." Tully offered.

"You mean besides the fact that he was ready to run Conor through?" Fergus replied, staring thoughtfully up the path the two had taken.

"Now that you mention it, yes there was something...wrong. He seemed so angry when Briana offered to tell us about the clan." Catlin added.

"I don't care how angry he gets, as long as they take us to the village." Conor said dismissively. "Let's get back to camp, the girl said there are wolves about."

The sun was just barely peeking over the mountains, and the night's chill had not yet been burnt out when Conor, Catlin, Fergus, and Tully rode into the mist covered clearing they had agreed to meet Briana and Sean in.

"You're late. We were about to leave without you." Sean said as soon as the four came into view. Though Conor would not have believed it possible, his voice was even colder than it had been last night. Beside him, Briana was busily trying to pull her hair back into a leather thong. She smiled brightly at them and waved, earning a scowl from her companion. "We'd best get moving." Sean called gruffly. "Single file, follow my horse closely. Briana, you bring up the rear." With that, he pulled his horse roughly about and galloped off, leaving the rest to follow.

"Is he always like that?" Catlin asked incredulously.

"Not always..he has to sleep sometime." Briana answered. "You get used to it after a while."

"I am not coming back for you!" Sean's voice rang out from the woods, ending the conversation. The trail was indeed treacherous, rough and steep in some places, dangerously slick in others. After the first few moments, the riders gave up and let their horses pick their own way. Within a few hours, the bright sun had burned away the last of the morning mists, and filtered down through the trees, making their leaves glow with emerald light. The cool mountain breezes were surprisingly refreshing, and served to take the edge off the day's heat.

"You never did tell us why you're looking for our clan!" Briana shouted as the trail evened out some, allowing them to concentrate on something other than not falling off their laboring horses. Ahead of them, Sean winced, while Conor and his band turned around in their saddles to look at her.

"Our clan?" Fergus repeated. Briana colored slightly, and cast a fearful glance at Sean's back. Conor felt his suspicion of the man go up a notch.

"You mean, you haven't heard of the Crimson Plague?" Tully shouted back, deciding to defuse the situation. Briana's expression went from one of embarrassment to one of bafflement.

"Plague? What plague?"

"Sweet Brigid, lass! It's an epidemic, people are dying as we speak." Fergus explained, deepening Sean and Briana's confusion.

"Describe this plague. What are the symptoms?" Sean said slowly, for once not a trace of hostility in his voice. Conor gladly did so, Sean and Briana listening in mingled horror and fascination.

"This woman Aislyn, she said perhaps you would know of a cure." Catlin added as Conor finished. The four regarded Sean and Briana hopefully.

"I've never heard of anything like that, but Ula might. She's one of our village elders, knows everything there is to know about Healing. Sean and I are her apprentices." Briana stated, pride creeping into her voice as she spoke of her mentor.

"Indeed. If Ula doesn't know what to do, there's nothing to be done." Sean confirmed, before spurring his horse further forward. "Briana will take you the rest of the way, I'll tell the others you're coming!" He called back before galloping ahead on the trail. Conor and the others followed at a more sedate pace, content to enjoy the mountain air.

It was for this reason that Conor became aware of the furtive motion flashing in the growth to his left. At first he dismissed it as some forest creature, but as time wore on, it followed them. Several times he whipped around in his saddle, but was rewarded only with half glimpses of something darting behind a tree or bush.

"Conor, you're making me dizzy. What is it?" Fergus asked finally, bringing his horse up next to Conor's.

"There's something in the wood, it's been following us since Sean left."

"Wolves. I told you, the forest is full of them!" Briana interrupted, urging her mount a bit faster. "They never attack in daylight, we're safe enough." Conor reluctantly allowed himself to ignore their unseen shadow, though from time to time, he caught a quick flash of movement, still to his left, and still following.

As the group moved ahead on the trail, the follower stepped out of the cover of the trees, staring after them.

"Safe enough...how wrong you are, child."

The sky had faded to a soft rose, and a few evening stars were twinkling in the dusky sky , when the forest at last gave way to an immense, grassy clearing, in the center of which stood a small village, consisting mostly of one-room huts that sat low to the ground. People milled about everywhere, and laughing children chased each other through the crowd, some driving animals before them. No matter how busy they were, however, the people stopped and greeted the band warmly, welcoming them without a trace of Sean's reserve.

Briana led them to a large wooden structure in the very center of the village, dismounting and handing her horse off to a waiting child. Conor and the others followed suit, glad for a chance to stretch their legs.

"I'm going to tell my mother I'm back, I have to get out of these riding leathers! Someone will show you to your sleeping quarters shortly. Good bye!" With that, Briana vanished into the crowd. Another young woman stepped forward and smiled pleasantly at them.

"The two huts at the end of the path are kept empty for guests, you'll want to get settled before Ula sees you, please follow me." The woman led them down the meandering dirt path, past a ramshackle schoolhouse and several animal pens, until they reached the "guest quarters". The two huts were nearly identicle to the others of the village, save the fact that they were clearly not used very often. The door of one hung askew on it's rotting leather hinges, and the roof of the other was badly in need of re-thatching. "The evening meal will be served soon, we'd be honored if you would join us. It has been a long time since we had any visitors."

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me." Fergus whispered to Tully. The woman left them in front of the rundown huts, and bustled back up the path, towards the main part of the village.

"Well lass, what'll it be? The drafts or a nice view of the stars?" Fergus asked Catlin, trying to make light of the situation.

"Drafts." Catlin said without hesitation.

"But what if it rains?" Tully asked nervously. Catlin smiled sweetly.

"I guess you'll get wet."

"Very funny."

Unbeknownst to the four, two cowled figures stood at the head of the path, staring down at their "guests", undisguised hatred gleaming in their eyes.

"Who are they?" The first figure demanded harshly.

"I do not know, they came in earlier this evening." It's companion replied, just as quietly.

"See that they are...taken care of."

"Of course." The second figure left it's companion and stole down a less-used path towards the huts Conor, Catlin, Fergus, and Tully had been given. Behind them, Briana's eyes widened in fear, and she suddenly reversed her direction, her heart racing.

"Come on lass, we don't want to keep this Ula waiting." Fergus called back to the lagging Catlin.

"You go ahead, I'll be there in a few minutes." Catlin turned and hurried back to her hut, a nagging feeling of having forgotten something welling up in the back of her mind. She was just in time to see a cloaked figure racing out of her door and towards the woods.

"Hey! What are you doing?!" Catlin shouted and picked up her speed, giving chase. The figure sped up as well, blending in with the shadows of the trees, and was lost to sight, as though the night itself had swallowed him or her. Catlin skidded to a halt and turned back to her hut, feeling a surge of white-hot rage shoot through her. What had the person been doing in her cabin?

"Catlin! Catlin!" Briana's voice rang out over the clearing, and the girl herself raced up, her breath coming in ragged gasps, and a look of stark terror on her face.

"Briana, what-" The girl grabbed her arm, silencing her.

"You have to leave, now!" Briana gasped, glancing fearfully about them.

"Leave? Briana, what's wrong?"

"Please, just go, tonight! Get as far away from the village as you can!"

"Briana, calm down. Tell me what's going on." The girl took a deep breth, as Catlin's cool demeanor finally broke through her initial panic. A soft whistling sound filled the air behind them as Briana's lips parted to answer. What came out, however, was not words, but a sickening, strangled gasp. Eyes wide with fear and pain, Briana sank to her knees in the soft loam of the clearing, and it was only then that the arrow that had pierced her back became visible. Instinctively, Catlin unsheathed her knife, rapidly scanning the terrain around them for the attacker. A quick glance assured her of what she had already suspected; there was no one to be seen.

"Help! Someone help us!" Catlin shouted into the night, praying her voice would carry to the main part of the village. Briana coughed weakly, bright red blood spurting out of her mouth and tracing a glistening trail down her chin.

"Get out, while you still can, get out!" She whispered so softly, Catlin almost didn't hear her. A soft sigh escaped her bloodied lips, and Briana sagged to the ground, her face bone-white in the soft moonlight, and a pool of her own blood spreading out around her, turning the ground beneath her body as black as the night itself.

"Briana?" But Catlin knew it was too late. The child was dead. Seemingly of their own volition, Catlin's eyes fixed on the vile shaft that had buried itself in the girl's heart, her own blood turning to ice in her veins as she tried to deny the truth of what her eyes told her. She knew the arrow as well as she knew her own name, knew the creamy feathers on the end of shaft, the slim supple wood it had been formed of.

"No, oh no. It can't be." She gasped in disbelief. It was one of her own. An innocent girl had just died by one of Catlin's own weapons. Without warning Catlin was seized roughly by her upper arms and yanked to her feet. Her attacker spun her around and she was met with Sean's face, grotesquely contorted with fury. Catlin was dimly aware of a small crowd behind Sean, shocked and angry murmurs running through them.

"What have you done?! You treacherous witch, what have you done?!" He screamed, shaking Catlin as he did.

"Sean, I-nothing! I didn't see where the arrow came from." Catlin pleaded, trying vainly to loosen his grip on her. Where were Conor and the others? A small woman darted forward out of the crowd, throwing herself to the ground beside Briana's body. With trembling hands, she reached out and pushed Briana's now scarlet stained hair out of her blankly staring eyes, a wordless keening welling up in her throat. The woman gathered Briana's limp form into her arms, her frail body racked with harsh sobs.

"Murderer!" Someone shouted accusingly, and suddenly the world seemed to spin on itself. The flickering torchlight became painfully bright, the sounds too loud. As Catlin was shoved into the crowd, cries of "Murderer!" echoing all around her, penetrating even the song of her blood rushing in her ears and she felt dizzy, nauseous, and frightened all at once. She struggled to maintain her balance as she was dragged up the path by the furious crowd.

"Where are they? Conor, Fergus, Tully, help me!" The thought skipped through Catlin's mind and was gone as the mob halued her into the center of the village, throwing her to the hard packed earth.

"Murderer!" The chant had been taken up by nearly everyone now.

"Dear God, this can't be happening. Someone help me."

to be continued...

Plague, Part III: Catlin is sentenced to death for a murder she did not commit, but proving her innocence may end up costing Conor his own life.