“What I need you to do is hold my upper leg in place and push my lower leg back into the right position.”
Tula sat mute. Staring at The Witch.
“Do it, please. I cannot by myself, girl. I need you.” The Muck Witch said to her.
Tula looked down at the bird in her chest as if expecting it to chime in.
“Tihihi!” it chirped and said nothing more.
“Tula!” snapped The Witch, “You can do this. I saw how courageous you were during the firestorm. I’m sure you can be brave for me now.”
The girl with a bird for a heart drew in a deep breath. She straddled The Witch’s thigh with her back toward the older woman. The Witch wore loose fitting trousers. The bottom half on the broken leg had been torn somehow during the storm. An odd bulge was jutting out about halfway down the lower leg.
“That’s my tibia, dear.” The Witch told Tula. “Take my leg below the bump- by the ankle is best. Pull it up like a lever”
“But,” Tula said, “that will hurt you!”
“It will hurt even more if you don’t do it. Please Tula Petek. Be strong for me. I can’t be strong much longer without your help.”
Tula did as she was told. She reached down to the lower calf and pulled up gently with both hands.
The Witch gasped but did not speak.
The girl felt a sickening grind as she set the bone, but it moved slowly into the proper position. Soon the grotesque bulge was gone.
The Witch exhaled.
“Well, done, girl. Now we need to make a splint.”
“How are you so calm?” Tula asked her.
“I’ve been alive a long while, Tula. This is not my first disaster. Also, your work is not done yet. I need you to find some straight branches to make a splint. You can tear the remains of my trousers to tie it around my leg.
Tula followed her instructions and eventually The Witch’s leg was splinted. The girl found some water in a stream and brought it to the older woman in a large leaf.
After drinking her fill The Witch spoke again, “We cannot stay here, but I cannot move.”
“Where else could we even go?” asked Tula, “The world just caught fire around us. It’s a wonder that the trees still stand here. If we weren’t surrounded by bogs I suspect we’d be caught in a wildfire. Was that it? Did the world just end? A rain of fire and a broken leg? Is that all?”
“No,” said The Witch, “most certainly not.”
“So, is there still more to come? When?”
“I won’t pretend to know such things. All I can be certain of is that sorcerer has started an unstoppable wave of events into motion. He says we have eight days until the very end. I believe him.”
“What can we do, then? A lost child and a broken witch? If the destruction this Enin has wrought is unstoppable then what is even the point of doing anything?”
The Witch wrapped her hands around Tula’s and said, “Dear girl, nothing has changed. We have as much time and as much to do as we always have.”
“How much time do we have?”
“The rest of our lives.”
Tula turned away from The Muck Witch, frustrated by her words. She inhaled deeply to find her senses overwhelmed by the scent of a sweet and heavy smell, like pipesmoke.
“I am going to kill you.” spoke a voice that was not a voice. More than anything it sounded like the buzzing of a million bees.
“I know,” said The Witch matter-of-factly, “but not today.”
The bird fluttered in Tula’s chest. Every nerve in her body was screaming at her to run as fast as she could, but instead she turned to see...it standing behind The Witch.
It was smoke. No, it was darkness, like a piece of the night sky had been torn out and brought to the world. It shifted and flickered as if not meant to be and existed by force of will alone. It took the form of a man. If Tula looked closely she could make out high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, but she dared not look closely.
“Girl,” said The Witch, “this is Kokabiel. He is my Cacobeast.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Tula said, her eyes to the ground.
“The girl lies.” spoke Kokabiel, “She could not be less pleased.”
“Do be polite.” The Muck Witch said, but to whom it was uncertain.
“I’ve never met a demon before.” said Tula, “I thought you were supposed to reek of brimstone.”
Kokabiel chortled with a sound like glass shattering. “If we smelled of burning sulfur where would be the appeal? No, child. Demons smell sweet. We are, after all, angels who have broken free.”
Tula Petek had never feared anything like she feared Kokabiel. Standing before it felt like being locked in a cage with a lion. Kokabiel could end her without a thought and they both knew it.
She looked into the eyes of The Witch and asked, “Should we be running?”
“No point in it, dear.” said The Witch. “You could never outrun Kokabiel. It would be like trying to win a race against the moon. Besides. He is not doing us harm at this time.”
Tula forced herself to gaze upon the Cacobeast. The more she looked at it the more human it became in her eyes. It’s form was vague and shifting, as if it were uncertain whether or not it should exist at all. But the more she wrapped her mind around it the more solid it seemed. It flashed a pair of bright eyes at her followed by an even brighter smile.
“Maegda,” it said, “what do you have here?” The demon waved what may have been a hand in the general direction of Tula, “Have you taken a new pupil?”
“No, Kokabiel. I have not. Those days are past. This girl-”
“I am Tula Petek.” she interrupted before The Witch could finish. At the sound of her name Kokabiel’s smile split across its face like a tear in a piece of fabric. The Witch held her hand over her face.
“...this foolish girl,” said The Witch, “is of no consequence to you. She is simply a traveler who was kind enough to help me in my injured state.”
Kokabiel circled Tula like a predator. “Tula,” it said, tasting the name, “Tula Petek. What a deliciously ordinary name. I shall add it to my collection.”
“Beg your pardon!” said Tula.
“Those are the rules, girl.” the Cacobeast said, “Never say your own name to a demon. It binds you to them. Now you’re stuck with me. Just like Maegda here.” it gestured toward The Witch.
“I’m done.” Tula said.
“No no no.” Kokabiel said, “You don’t get to decide that. Not now. You’ve given me your name. Just handed it to me like a present. I have you now. Like this Witch had me all those years. Except I won’t lock you up in a bottle. No no no. I’ll keep you where I can see you. You’re a dangerous one, you heartless thing.” At that last bit Tula tugged at the flap of her blouse to cover the cage as best she could.
“I don’t care about you, demon.” said Tula. “If you are going to kill me or enslave me or whatever your plans are then get on with it. Otherwise I have bigger problems than you. The world is ending and there is much I’d like to get done before that comes to pass. I’ve been assaulted and burned and cursed. I don’t need some flickery shadow of hell hassling me too. I’m done. Good day to you.”
The Witch was unable to move due to the state of her leg, but Tula was nearly certain she would not have followed anyway as the girl trudged down the hill away from the pair.
“You may walk away from me if you like, Tula Petek.” said Kokabiel, “But you can’t outrun the end. Not without my assistance.”
Tula stopped and looked downward. “What kind of assistance do you have to offer?”