Verain braided with hollowroot, saffron for the hunt.

It was memory that they caught the fiend with in the end.

The oldest woman in the village had advised them to weave nets from silk, and they had toiled carefully through the hours of noon to night until their eyes turned bloodshot from the strain of using candles to see. Predictably, they had run out of material halfway. The spinners unraveled garments meant for trade, treading the pedals of their wheels with impassive patience as festival wear became undone beneath their fingers. Auron wondered if it felt to them like drowning their own babe in a bucket of dirty well water.

When five crates of fabric had been taken from the packing carts, the nets had covered the floor of the dining hall from end to end. Barefoot children picked their way between the holes. They swung censers overbrimming with rosepetal smoke, laughing as they made it a game to dance between the multicolored lacework on their toes.

Next, the craftsmen dipped into their precious stores and wove dried arum plants into the ropes, claiming that the symbolism of the snare-weed would aid in the catch. The bracelets of the men working closest to the guardian were stained the color of the rusted blood inside his jacket, and Auron wondered if the same kind of dust would crumble from the beads should they rub against the lines.

But it had been the daughter who had given the trap the final touch. She had threaded white flowers amidst the ropes. They were so fragile upon the stems that, when the guards reeled in the nets to gather them up, the rain of shed blossoms looked like snow.

They had set Celsia up on a platform in the middle of the village as bait, ringing her about with unlit torches that were soaked in enough pitch to drip down their casings. Her hair held garlands. Bracelets of dried ivy coiled about both her arms, and in the moon's light, it appeared as if her veins had exploded through the skin to stain it with dark ink.

The fiend had been drawn by the scent of her name scattered on the dirt paths. Taking the last of Celsia's flowers and wetting them in oil to stick their paper-thin petals to earth, the village sent runners to strew them up and down the roads leading to the gates. They came back panting. None went missing.

The silence wrapped itself around the squatting huts, and they waited.

It came with six paws this time. Whatever of its fellow monstrosities the fiend had devoured in the wilderness had given it pyreflies enough to reform from the damages given to it in its previous encounter with the guardian. Its doubled hips slid like oiled bearings as it crawled into the village.

Auron had been stationed in the blinds formed from carts and screens dragged to block the windows of the nearest huts. His robe rubbed stiff against him when he moved; waiting there, half his face bound up securely with bandages, the guardian imagined that he could smell the blood on him. It was more comfort than the flowers which stank of overbloomed sweetness to his nose. He thought to remember what fragrances were pleasant to a mortal and what were not, and then dismissed the effort.

And then the fiend announced itself by blotting out the starlight when it passed, and they knew it to be time.

Torches had sputtered when asked to light, but finally obeyed; the guards of the first advance lunged to set the brands snatched from the hearths to the oil. The fire exploded in a ring about the village center, and the fiend was left inside.

It snapped its jaws then and swung its head, keeping its weight low as its teeth chose the way. The suddenness of the light killed night vision. The guards left betrayed from their ambush dropped their brands, took up their swords, and sparks rolled across the summer-warmed dirt to reflect upon panicked metal.

Given the choice between steel and sweetness, the creature chose the latter.

The first row of nets snapped up as the fiend leaped towards Celsia, rising like a wall of vines into the air. The men on either side assigned to work the pulleys jerked like puppets at the impact. The beast plowed through the initial barrier, meeting the second row and then the third before it slowed at last. Clawed fingers plunged through the gaps in the nets, and reached out for the child.

Its hands clenched on empty air.

Celsia did not scream.

She watched them as they thrust spears into its body and as it screeched her name in a carrion howl, reaching a taloned paw through the weave towards her. Not once did she flinch when one man had to lever his entire weight on the wooden shaft in his hands, and the creature shook itself like a wet wolf and caused its attacker to go flying.

When the guardian joined the fight, the beast once known as Joshua bared its teeth to him in memory of the flesh it had taken from him. Auron had ignored its eyes, ignored the gleam he feared was recognition, and focused only on the sword and the blood he swore should wet his palm when he tried to grip it.

It laughed once when they had managed to pin it. The sound was far too human for the hisses its throat had made; several guards flinched away, hands lifting to cover their ears rather than acknowledge the fiend's past. That had given it a chance to struggle again. Auron alone had not been unsettled by the noise, and had finally met its gaze without fear as his greatsword came swinging down.

The pyreflies that sprouted from the monster's severed head drifted on the air like dandelion fluff.

Celsia had been bathed in them. The lights rippled across a form as rigid as a statue; her eyes stared forwards without acknowledgment even as her father's spirit finally vanished at last.

Auron knelt by her afterwards. His sword was still coated in the ichor of the fiend, and, in a moment of shame, he thrust it to the side. "I'm... sorry that you had to see that happen."

The girl had not blinked once. "Why?"

Strangely discomforted by the way Celsia's eyes trained themselves upon him, Auron looked down. Mountain practicality, he could respect, but the guardian had once believed that death held a limited set of reactions. Complete indifference from an eight-year old was not one of them.

"I know it wasn't my father anymore," Celsia supplied in the silence of the man's thoughts, her voice thin and high and clear. "It was a monster."

The once-guardian forced a smile. "Yes," he agreed. "It was only that."

The smell of fresh gravedirt came then to Auron's nose, and he looked up to see one of the guards digging his spear into the ground, crushing a stray petal beneath it.

He left Cornel before the next mourning.