Just before dawn the following morning, Valla stood beside a sheet-covered corpse in Bellik's study. The blood spreading out from the head had already begun to dry on the cloth.
"Who is it?" Valla asked.
"Durgen, the blacksmith. He—he could barely speak when he came to my door... only said a few words before he passed on, but that was more 'n enough."
"What did he say?"
Bellik was a relic of a man, thin and stooped, and hard of hearing despite his overgrown ears. His discomfort in her presence was palpable.
"The smith's words, what were they?" Valla asked louder.
The healer attempted to pull back the sheet, but the drying blood held it fast. Bellik yanked and the cloth came free, revealing a weathered man, one half of his head misshapen from the blow.
"He said, 'My boy did this to me.'"
Valla was silent for a long moment, looking, and there was that sensation again, the worrisome notion that she was forgetting something important. She pushed it to the back of her mind, focusing once again on the situation at hand, on the dead man betrayed by his own son.
There was a scream then from the street outside— the desperate death wail of someone whose life was coming to a violent end.
Valla spun for the door. "Stay here."
An instant later she stepped into the pre-dawn light. In the street a boy, perhaps thirteen, stood over the body of a female merchant. The boy held a smith's hammer, its head covered in pulp. What was left of the merchant's skull was strewn among the wares arrayed nearby on a ragged blanket.
Valla thought of the fact that there had been no children among the bodies in the storehouse in Holbrook, and suddenly she understood.
There were no children because they had done the killing. Pawns doing the demon's bidding. For a brief instant, Valla was so shocked, so unsettled by the very idea, that she was off her guard. Vulnerable. She came to her senses and continued to assess the situation. She must act soon, or die.
The scream had drawn others out now as well, but Valla took special note of a little blonde-haired girl in a pink dress at the end of the thoroughfare; she held a crimson-stained knife in one hand and supported a bloody, ravenous-looking infant on the opposite hip. Her eyes were wide and bright.
There was a creaking noise on the overlook above Valla's position, someone stepping out, but a short, high creak—indicating a person of light weight.
The smith's boy was approaching Valla now with an open-mouthed smile.
Two other kids appeared in the gathering, one small boy dragging a sheathed sword, and an older girl with a large stone held in both hands.
Then, a final child, a fiery red-headed boy missing two front teeth, skipping with a hatchet in his right hand. A small crowd of five adults had emerged onto the street as well. A few faces peered from windows.
"Anyone of a mind not to get hurt best get behind locked doors," Valla commanded from beneath her hood.
The adults in the crowd complied.