There was smoke in the alley I jogged down, following the drops of blood. At one point I thought I’d lost the trail - it seemed as if it had completely vanished. But standing still, thinking of what to do next, I spotted a splatter of blood along one wall. It was enough.
In the alleyways I traveled, I could hear the muffled sounds of commotion - the raised, excited voices of people, the nervous calls of goats or sheep, and clanging of metal objects. But I kept moving down, around, and what felt like back on my own steps. Then I heard a single voice where all other sound seemed to have been muffled or snuffed out entirely. I rounded a corner and, in a place that should have been open to the high sun, there was darkness.
The slave women were not held aloft by them, but were on the ground, motionless. Standing over them was a figure whose coat hooded their face. I moved closer, trying to keep as close to the natural shadow of the wall as possible to remain unnoticed. The person was saying something in low tones. The hood fell back as the person raised their face to the sky. It was a woman. The Shadows dipped down around her. She didn’t try to fight them off, concentrating instead on the bodies of the women. None of them moved, but from my vantage point, and I couldn’t tell if any were still alive. There was blood on their bodies and gashes from where the Shadows had used their talons to drag them from where Ursel had tried to find safety.
I continued watching, thinking of what the best thing to do would be when I saw a faint glint of metal. The darkness in the alley made it nearly impossible for me to make out what it was, until it was raised in the air - a knife.
“Stop! Stop it! Stop what you’re doing right now!” I shouted without thinking. I ran toward the woman, holding up my hand like a cop holding up traffic at an accident scene. In that moment, the Shadows dissipated, and the sun revealed the twisted bodies of the women lying in the dust of the alleyway.
“So at last, amore mio Elisabetta” said the woman, “we meet. Mother to child.”
“You know me?” I asked, confused. The air was smoky, fog-like, and I couldn’t see her face clearly.
The woman laughed and stepped closer, “Me you know. From the photograph, I am with you.”
I stared at her, blinking to clear my vision of smoke and the apparent disconnection I was having with memory. No doubt once I was close enough to see her clearly.
“Maddalena!” I said, “you murderer, you...”
“Sí, sí, the murder of the cow priestess,” Maddalena responded in a tone that lead me to believe she expected someone to call her on her crime, but that she didn’t care, “I made to her offer. Malefici. She choose cows.”
“I don’t follow,” I said, feeling frustrated, “you mean you offered for her to be one of the Malefici?”
“Elisabetta, cows not all as seen,” she responded as if correcting a child, “priestess corrotta. Would be Malefici in her heart.”
“So why did you kill her?”
“Blood. Heart. Good for Malefici,” she said. Her facial expression was one of apology, like she knew it wasn’t a good thing to do, but it was what she - or the Malefici - wanted.
“And what are you doing with these women?” I shouted, feeling a great gust of anger rise in me.
“Women no more, figlia mia, so sorry,” Maddalena responded, “Malefici to use.”
With those last words, she squatted beside one of the women, slid her knife down the length of the woman’s body from her throat to pubic bone. It happened so fast, I could only gasp, my legs, my feet frozen in place. The wo...