Mesmerized by her work, with long, almost caressing strokes of her sickle, Claudette began to cut at her victim. Her intent being murderous, she wanted more than anything to flay the hide from the girl’s still breathing body. Reveling in the blood as it flowed onto her hands, she gave no more heed to the horrified protests of her companions than she did to the agonized screams of the young witch as they rolled echoing through the forest.
It may be that those torturous cries were heard by Antoinette’s coven sisters approaching through the wood and upon hearing such terrible screams, who could fault them for fleeing? I can only imagine that such wailing was enough to convince them that they too were at risk and with darkness falling around the tragic tableau, there seemed no one else who might aid the girl in her desperate distress.
Not long thereafter, the pitch of her anguished cries faded to whimpers and then ceased altogether. The respite was not because the blood-thirsty Claudette had tired of her work, or even heeded the reservations of her friends. Mercifully, Antoinette fainted from the pain and could no longer feel the awful brush of the breeze blowing across her raw flesh.
Standing in awe at the handiwork of their friend, Renee and Elizabeth were appalled, but also spellbound by the gruesome brutality of the scene. Unlike Claudette who was accustomed to the baser elements of a life involving animal husbandry, being of the city neither of the two women had been exposed to the horrors of this sort of bloodshed. Both found it to be terrifying, but were none the less drawn to its awful fascination.
Being a sometimes hunter of wolves, I know it to be aberrant for the beasts to covet the blood of humans. Normally, they will only consider humans as prey when all other sources of sustenance are exhausted. If the animals on which they predate become scarce, they will either move away, or creep closer to the livestock that men keep. Although this second will sometimes bring the two into contact, wolves will target animals long before risking a confrontation with man.
In spite of this knowledge, it might be that the combination of Antoinette’s blood scenting through the forest and her pitiful cries were what first attracted the beast to the scene. It might also be argued that Antoinette was a sorceress of such potency, that in her terrible anguish she conjured forth a dark and horrible savior. Still, knowing her as my own savoir, I believe it impossible for her to wish such harm upon another, even while being tortured by them.
Perhaps, it was that already in route to the meeting place of the witches, Satan himself happened upon the scene and finding Antoinette in a decidedly helpless state, formed a plan to use her to his advantage. Although certainly the deeds of the three women were sufficient to have opened a doorway of blood by which he arrived; a route by which evil could invade Gévaudan and see it drenched in crimson fear. Quite possibly it was their jealous actions that ushered into our province the awful plague of tragedies that followed. It is my belief however, that the beast appeared as part of a different plan, one set in motion long before that fateful night.
Meanwhile, believing the girl already near death, the three women were not yet willing to be robbed the witnessing of her burning. Being inexperienced at woodcraft, for several moments they struggled in the attempt to set fire to the damp tinder of their makeshift pyre. So it was that before succeeding in igniting an irreversible spark, they were interrupted by an unexpected visitor.
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