An unholy sound rose into the air, ripping through the silence of morning and raking claws through the isolated minds of the citizens of Chaste. Cheryl lifted her head from the straw pillow and didn’t know where she was. She looked at the humble, wretched home around her and remembered the last thirty years all at once. She brushed aside the pain and sorrow, the loneliness and horror, focusing only on the penetrating scream that rose once again into the air. She leapt to her feet and dressed in moments.

Ever vigilant, ever ready to spring into action—it was a gift from her mother. This tenacious residue from her warrior life hung on incessantly. She strode from the house into the streets, where a third scream shattered into echoes on the living rock surrounding the city. Cheryl reached behind her for a weapon she never had been given and instantly cursed.

“You are an aging barmaid. Your warrior training is dead and gone.” But she could not shake the need for preparation that hounded her as she made her way to the center of town. Pallid faces peered from curtained windows. Every eye held terror and understanding. As the scream of loss and heart-wrenching pain rose once again into the air, she knew what all others in the city knew. Another child was dead. Another innocent had been plucked from her vine.

Every part of her cringed. “That’s seven on my watch.”

But it wasn’t her watch—never had been. “I am a bar wench, a tired bar wench in a shamble of a bar.” But try as she might to embrace this truth, the responsibility of…..

chaste

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