Vengeance by Alan Delaney

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It was a busy place and the people were too concerned with their own daily struggles to take heed of a small, weed-covered mound of stony earth in a forgotten wasteland. Few of them could even remember seeing a short, proud, raven-haired woman swinging from the gallows. Sure, it was unusual for a woman to receive that sentence but far from unknown and her execution was commonplace and nondescript. There had been no last-gasp rescue attempt, no rousing speech of defiance and no struggle. She had gone quietly, resignedly and forgettably. Few even remembered the horrors that had lead to her execution: the sacrifices, the orgies, the tortures, the dismembered bodies, the desecration of the holy relics. It was enough for the courts to know that she had been caught and punished for her crimes and they saw no reason to sensationalise the matter or publish the true horrors of her atrocities. She and her cult were dead, best to leave the dead to rest in peace. No one noticed, therefore, when the mound was replaced overnight by fresh earth. No one ever went out there any more, there were too many wild animals in the area and too many people had disappeared into the swamps - it was best to stay well away.

It was a rapidly expanding town. They had a watch, of course, whose job was to maintain law and order but it was undermanned and over-stretched and just maintained the basic functions required of them. It had no real investigations unit and no one kept any crime figures beyond knowing which taverns attracted the most fights. Few people noticed the sharp increase in child disappearances and animal mutilations and those that did merely complained about the large numbers of strangers that were arriving in the town on a regular basis. The large increase in vandalism around the town was more readily noticeable but those that did notice merely complained about the undisciplined state of modern youth and the inefficiency of the town watch and court systems. If anybody realised that they had seen it all before, they did not raise their voice loudly enough or early enough.

The town had moved away from religion; there were too many strangers, too much external influence, too many conflicting philosophies for any one faith system to keep its head above the water. This was a fact that old Father Murgathy was all too aware of. There was a time, when he had been but a young priest full of hope and ambition, when the doors to his church were always open. Now, however, the church was no longer treated with the same respect and he had to lock it up every night shortly after sunset lest the holy relics end up in a pawnbroker's window. The old people still came along faithfully every Sunday in their attempts to cling to their beloved faith in the face of a new and darker age but there were so few new, young faces around these days that he was intrigued by the short, trim, black-clad young lady that was kneeling in the pews next to the confession booths, head bowed low in prayer.

Her head was buried into her outstretched arms with her rich, black hair falling loosely about her, concealing her face from his view, but the ageing priest felt sure she was in her early twenties.

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