Miranda sat shivering in her cell; the scraps of her red gown cast aside for now, she was naked except for the thin blanket from the tiny cot in the corner.  She had no intention of attempting sleep...it would be impossible.  The cell was dank and chilly but that wasn't the cause of her trembling.  Pulling the blanket tighter around her slight frame couldn't stop the constant shuddering, but she did so anyway.  She felt infected rather than empowered by the putrid darkness she'd drawn into herself from her nightmarish encounter with Ruark.  It took every bit of her will and concentration to keep from sicking it all up.  That was an option, but one she couldn't afford to use.

    Miranda could have used any number of power sources and simply vanish from her cell in the night.  She knew that was what the Elders would want her to do...she need not even go near the stake at all.  A few times during that long night she was tempted to do just that.  She would no longer be in such danger and could wash her hands of this entire village; it wasn't too late to back out.  Unfortunately in her mind it was too late by far.  The haunting cries she'd heard during the rape (or power transfusion as she preferred to think of it) still reverberated thru her mind.  She hadn't imagined them; they were voices who had cried out for help and never received it.  Samuel had so enjoyed their cries that they were part of his sexual energy; the cries and the unbearable sufferings of those they belonged to-- it was a dark and powerful energy that she needed desperately....but oh how foul it felt...how awful. 

    Miranda could no longer bide the hard stone floor.  She crawled to the straw mat in the corner that passed as a cot and laid down for a while, staring into the darkness.  It wasn't much more comfortable but it would have to do.  Every part of her hurt.  Immortal she may be, but she could still feel pain; could still be hurt.

    She could also be destroyed by fire.

    The perilous position she'd placed herself in did frighten her, more than she'd let on so far.  There had been rumors among her kind of immortals supposedly destroyed by fire, burned to ashes, who had pulled themselves together after a century or two, but Miranda had never met one of them and didn't really believe it.

    As she lay in the darkness, waiting for morning, her mind wandered to the events that had brought her to this place, this mission.  She thought of how she'd been forced to stand by, as helpless as any mortal, while one innocent woman after another had been marched to the stake as she would be tomorrow, and felt again her fury at the mortals who were capable of such cruelty--and at the Elders who forbade her to step in and help them.

    The Elders!  She wondered with contempt, and not for the first time, what made them think they knew best.  So they were older, and yes probably wiser...but they needed to realize that things changed!  What good were her inborn abilities if she couldn't use them to help?  To prevent evil?  Many times she'd approached the Elders, pleading to be allowed to intervene on behalf of these innocents who were being made to suffer so horribly.  But no, they were so afraid of breaking the old codes that they always refused her, along with a stern lecture of the consequences of disobeying them should she try.  She would be an outcast, forbidden to have any contact with any other witches, including her own mother. 

    They didn't approve of her interest in mortals and their fates, but Miranda couldn't understand how she could not be interested in the humans she shared the earth with.  The simple beauty of their passions, emotions, beliefs and day-to-day activities during their short lives fascinated and never failed to touch her.

    Because Miranda didn't age as the humans around her did, she could never stay in one place for very long, therefore close friendships with any of them were avoided for the most part; it was just too painful when she had to move on.  But because of her interest in them it was hard not to feel affection for many that had touched her life.  She had said many a tearful goodbye to friends and lovers alike.  Sometimes she'd been unwilling to face that pain again and had slipped away into the night before they'd realized she was gone.  She still ached when she thought of the ones who'd been most special to her.  Many of them would be very old by now, or would have passed on.  Being immortal she didn't even have the comfort that humans felt of seeing their departed loved ones in an afterlife.  For Miranda there WAS no afterlife--this was it.  At times she compared her lonely existence to the Hell so many mortals feared.  She knew that to be cut off from her own kind for eternity would be unbearable....so the threats of the Elders were very serious to her--worse than a death sentence for a human.

    Despite all this, Miranda couldn't help how she felt about humans and the plight they were inflicting on themselves and each other.  The witchburnings had always disturbed and distressed her.  It went on all over, but seemed to be running rampant, especially in this village that she'd called home for the past several years.  Evil had taken hold here like a sickness, and it wasn't witchcraft.  The evil that had infested this village began as scattered seeds of fear and paranoia, nurtured by greed, lust and cruelty, then grown to deadly fruition by the perverse, barely concealed delight of humans to witness one of their own destroyed in as much agony as possible.

    The sickness was spreading, as deadly as any plague Miranda had heard of.  Yet she knew that not all humans in the village were infected.  There were still good people, but they were afraid to speak out lest they suffer the same fate.

    Miranda's grief and rage tore through her once again and her eyes stung with tears when she thought of the last girl this evil had murdered.  Her name had been Laura, and the horrible injustice of what had happened to her was what finally pushed Miranda over the edge and into the position she was in now. 

    Laura was a gentle and lovely young girl, barely out of her teens, who had never harmed anyone.  She'd lived her life peacefully until an evil-infested shrew of a young woman named Christina had accused her of witchcraft--making up all sorts of wild tales about having seen Laura dancing naked in the woods, cavorting with demons--all kinds of lies that the fanatical witch hunters of the village had eagerly believed as though it were gospel.  Miranda hadn't believed the nonsense for a moment and put her inner eye on Laura's accusor-- and saw into the wench's black heart.  Just as she suspected, Christina had never seen such things--what she did see, however was her fiance', Tom stare at the beautiful Laura a few moments too long in church one morning.  His look of longing hadn't been returned; indeed Laura hadn't even been aware of it, but to Christina that didn't matter.  Laura was unacceptable competition and had to be eliminated.  Miranda was horrified by this truth but she was all too aware that it never took much more reason than Christina's to end up sending an innocent to the stake.

    Miranda, her heart heavy, went to the Elders one last time, literally on her knees begging them to allow her to intervene.  As she expected they once again refused her request in no uncertain terms and chided her for forming yet another useless attachment to a mortal.

    Osborne, one of the sternest of the Elders, and usually one of the quickest to scold, had spoken kindly when her anguished frustration had finally reduced her to tears.

    "Miranda...child, you must understand that there's nothing you can do about mortals and their inexplicable need to destroy themselves and each other.  One would think their lifespan were short enough, yet that fact doesn't stop them.  We must not interfere.  Do you fancy the notion that you can rescue every innocent from their mass cruelty?"

    "Well...no, but...but...", she'd stammered.

    "No indeed.  This madness is happening all over the earth.  Now more than ever, but we can't disrupt their course and draw undue attention to ourselves.  Unfortunately, mortals are the majority."

    Miranda had argued and pleaded some more, but in the end had backed down, too afraid of the consequences of disobeying them.  The day Laura had gone to the stake she'd stayed away, hidden herself like the coward she firmly believed she was.  Since then her rage and guilt had grown to such a level that her plan began forming without her even being fully aware of it at first.

    So the Elders had forbidden her to intervene in behalf of a mortal...but they never said she couldn't get her own self out of trouble.  Never mind that she intended to deliver herself to the mortals for the sole purpose of exacting vengeance for Laura and every other innocent she'd seen destroyed.  These wicked mortals needed to be taught a lesson; they needed to see what a real witch could do.  Miranda, in her agitated, guilt-ridden state of mind considered herself the perfect witch for the job.  She deliberately avoided the Elders while her plans formed.  She figured if she didn't ask permission they couldn't withhold it.  She knew they wouldn't approve, and their punishment, which she had let so many die to avoid, might well be severe, but Miranda decided to worry about that when the time came.  In hindsight she fervently wished she'd taken her chances and saved Laura at least, but it was too late for that now.  However it wasn't too late to exact a terrible price from these bloodthirsty humans so infected with evil.

    Once resolved to her task, it was easy to get arrested--frighteningly easy.  All it took was a few nights of dancing naked in the woods at midnight till someone saw her.  She couldn't help laughing as she twirled and chanted some nonsense she'd made up.  Such a gaudy ritual had nothing to do with being a witch, but the humans seemed to think so--so she put on a show for whoever may come along.  After her third night of the silly ritual, the witch hunters came for her the following morning just as she'd known they would.  She supposed she should act frightened, but it was all she could do to keep from laughing at them outright.  Instead she presented a dignified hauteur when they seized her.

    Miranda shuddered some more when she remembered her "questioning", which was of course only an excuse to torture her.  She'd known the pain would be horrific and she was right.  She also knew she could frighten her tormentors into fits if she wanted by merely vanishing in a puff of smoke....but that wasn't nearly good enough.  She willingly suffered the intense agonies of the rack, then the mind-numbing horror of being suspended by her wrists over hot coals as she'd screamed in pain and fury.  She hadn't been allowed to help any of the others who'd suffered this, so to suffer it herself seemed only right; her horrible pain was like a balm for her guilt.  Besides, she knew instinctively that raising her own threshold of pain would only empower her further.

    When she'd finally "broken" and confessed to these fiends (whose sexual arousal at inflicting her pain buzzed at her senses like a monstrous insect), she'd declared it loudly, unconsciously laughing as tears streamed down her contorted face.

    "YES!!  DAMN YOU ALL!!  I'M A WITCH!!!  I'm the ONLY witch you bastards have ever seen!!"

    Puzzled by her words and ferocity, but satisfied by her confession, the inquisitors ceased the interrogation (somewhat reluctantly) and turned her over for trial.  Her trial was of course a joke, as they all were.  Because she'd confessed she was quickly found guilty and summarily sentenced to burn the next morning.

    Then....the visit from Samual Ruark...the final ritual.  For good or ill, Miranda felt herself ready for the morning. 

    By the time the first slivers of dawn had peeked through the tiny barred slit of a window in her cell, Miranda had ceased all real thought.  The dark evil she'd drawn into herself from the violent sexual encounter finally felt comfortable--her bitter thoughts nourishing it till it had grown and shifted and now rested within her like a demon child anxious to be born.  She had surrendered to the evil inside her and now welcomed it as a part of her.

    She felt quite composed when she heard the guards coming for her.  She knew that most of the villagers were waiting in the square, their mood celebratory.  They were looking forward to a burning.  Miranda was going to show them a burning....one that whoever was still standing would never forget.


To be continued...