(A/N: Well, I wanted to update this before Halloween, so here you go. More Brom goodness. Enjoy!)
Brom was not sure exactly how long Ichabod and Katrina had been gone. He and young Masbath wandered around the manor and its grounds, being careful to stay out of Lady Van Tassel's way. Brom had a difficult time of this, having never been much for subtlety. However, they had seen Baltus and Lady Van Tassel leave for the town meeting together, so they had assumed their duty was temporarily over.
This cloak and dagger ritual is madness, he thought, stepping over a stray branch as he and young Masbath made their way to the church. I'd rather have a brawl, instead of this hiding and waiting! I'm going to go mad if this goes on for much longer…
Young Masbath had said little during their journey. His brow was furrowed, and Brom could tell that he was not the only one who was worried.
"Why would Katrina burn Crane's papers?" Brom wondered aloud.
Young Masbath looked up at him. "Constable Crane suspected Miss Katrina's father. Perhaps she found out."
"Oh. That makes sense," Brom said after a moment's thought. Why hadn't he thought of that? It seemed so obvious. He probably would have done the same, although his solution probably would have involved flattening Crane's nose, had the constable suspected anyone in his family.
Night was falling as Brom and young Masbath arrived at the church. Outside, the townspeople were jostling each other to get inside. The anticipation of terror in the air was almost as thick as the ever-present fog.
"There's Katrina!" young Masbath exclaimed, pointing. Sure enough, Katrina Van Tassel's blond hair was visible even in the crowd. "But where's Constable Crane?"
"Let's ask her," Brom said, striding forward to the church steps. Young Masbath had to run to keep up with him.
"Katrina!" he called.
Katrina turned to him, her hazel eyes wide with surprise. "Brom!"
Jumping down from the steps, she took Brom by the hands. "I'm glad to see you. Are you feeling better?"
Brom smiled. It wasn't the overjoyed reaction he'd been hoping for, but then, beggars couldn't be choosers.
"Do you know where Constable Crane is, Miss Katrina?" young Masbath inquired, before Brom could answer.
Katrina opened her mouth to reply, but a man's shout interrupted her.
"The Horseman! Save me!"
"Father?" Katrina cried, as the figure on horseback galloped toward the church. Baltus Van Tassel dismounted, and Brom noticed that his hands were shaking.
"He killed her! The Horseman has killed your stepmother!" Baltus exclaimed, his face white as a sheet.
"Lady Van Tassel is dead?" Brom asked in disbelief. It seemed impossible…he had spoken with her just this morning…she had been alive and well then…
Baltus nodded, and Katrina flew into his arms. Looking over his shoulder, Brom finally noticed another figure advancing on the church. It moved silently through the shadows, and finally stepped out into the open.
"Get inside the church," Brom urged Baltus and Katrina. "If he's coming, the men will fight him off."
"He wants me next," Baltus responded, though his eyes were not focused on Brom. "And God knows who else."
Not on my watch, Hessian, Brom thought. Glancing through one of the church windows, he could see Will's face pressed against the glass. At least he was safe. And that meant Brom's mother was safe as well.
Just then, they all looked up as a horse's screech pierced the air. Soon after, hoofbeats sounded through the fog. Brom knew that sound all too well. Against his will, his heart began to pound, and his breath caught in his throat.
"Get inside!" he shouted, just as the Hessian appeared, as though etched from the mist.
Finally, Baltus and Katrina did so, as the remaining townspeople fought to get inside the church. Brom and young Masbath caught up with Ichabod Crane as he ran to join the frightened people.
"Still think Van Tassel summoned the Horseman?" Brom asked dryly, as they stepped inside the church.
"I am willing to consider another opinion," Ichabod said stiffly. "Does that please you?"
"What would please me is getting this demon back where he belongs!" Brom exploded.
The inside of the church was utter pandemonium. Women and children were making for the cellars, while the men prepared to defend themselves. In between, other villagers were in various states of panic. The scene would have been almost comical, had the situation not been so dire.
"Brom!" Griet Van Brunt rushed over to him, throwing her arms around his neck. "I was so worried. Are you—"
"I'm fine," Brom said, as gently as he could. "You ought to go down to the cellars, Mother."
"And wait quietly for the Hessian to find me there?"
"He won't," Crane broke in, his dark eyes flashing. "He's only here for one tonight. Baltus Van Tassel."
Griet frowned. "Will told me about your theory as to someone raising the Hes—"
"Look!" Crane was pointing out the window. Brom saw the Hessian toss an axe at the fence surrounding the church—only to have it disintegrate completely.
"What is this new sorcery?" Brom asked quietly.
"Sanctuary," Crane answered, his gaze fixed on the Hessian. "He can't enter the church."
"That's good, isn't it?" Will asked uncertainly, shooting Crane a sidelong glance.
A musket shot interrupted the conversation, as some of the men had taken up arms against the Hessian. Young Masbath ran to join them. Brom almost followed him, but Will held him back.
"It won't do any good! Have you learned nothing?" Will demanded. "Bullets won't hurt him!"
"Do you know any magic that will?" Brom asked.
Will hesitated. "Perhaps. But even if I did, I couldn't cast any spells in this mob."
More shouting was coming from behind them, and the two brothers turned. A group of men were attempting to drag Baltus Van Tassel toward the door. Crane darted between them.
"Stop this! The Horseman cannot enter! He cannot cross the gate!" he cried.
"He's coming back!" Hans Van Ripper shouted over the din.
"We have to save ourselves!" Reverend Steenwyck exclaimed, pointing at Baltus.
In an instant, Baltus had snatched Crane's pistol from his pocket, and aimed it at his former captors. "The next one to lay hands on me will have a bullet!"
This had to be some sort of nightmare. People did not turn on each other like this, as though courage did not exist. Men and women Brom saw every day were now strangers to his eyes. They appeared the same as always, but, like the doppelganger from his strange dream, were not at all that they seemed.
Brom didn't know what would happen, but he knew he had to act. "Will, take Mother down to the cellar! Now!"
But he never heard the end of Will's sentence, because he had charged headlong into the budding riot. To his shock, so had Dr. Lancaster. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted his brother pulling Griet toward the cellar door.
"Enough have died already! It is time for us to confess our sins!" Lancaster cried.
"What is it that you know?" Baltus demanded.
"Your four friends played you false," Lancaster admitted, looking steadily at Baltus. "We were devilishly possessed by one who—"
Suddenly, a sickening crack sounded at the back of Lancaster's skull, and his eyes rolled back. He collapsed, and Brom instinctively reached out to catch him. There was no need, however—Lancaster was dead. Behind him, Reverend Steenwyck stood holding a heavy wooden cross, now stained with blood.
Panicking, Baltus pulled the trigger, and the Reverend collapsed to the floor. Brom knelt on the floor, still holding onto Dr. Lancaster's lifeless form, unable to process what had just happened.
This isn't like me! Where's Brom, the town hero? Where's the leader of the famous Sleepy Hollow Boys?
The answer was simple. Outside threats were expected, even anticipated. Threats from within were a different battleground—and in that new battleground, Brom was weaponless.
Other men lunged for Baltus, but he dashed up the stairs to the pulpit, pistol aimed. Releasing Lancaster, Brom stood up. Whatever happened next, he knew, was going to end in tragedy.
"There is a conspiracy here!" he roared. "And I will seek it out!"
The window shattered just behind Baltus, and before anyone could move, an iron fence post had impaled him. He was still alive, still standing…his eyes wide with fear and disbelief. Katrina, standing pale-faced next to the stairs, screamed.
Then Baltus was gone, as the Horseman reeled him out of the window. Brom could not see what was happening, but he saw Ichabod run to Katrina. Then came a horrible sound from outside…the distinct sound of a blade slicing through flesh.
Baltus is dead!
That was when Katrina fainted.
Brom dashed over to the pulpit, where Crane was trying to revive the fallen Katrina. She lay perfectly still, her golden hair fanned out behind her. Beyond the pulpit, the bodies of Dr.Lancaster and Reverend Steenwyck were sprawled among the debris, like fallen soldiers on a battlefield. In one night, the remaining town elders had been decimated.
Crane was staring at something in Katrina's hand. His pale fingers closed around the object, and held it up.
"Chalk?" Brom murmured, as young Masbath joined them.
"Sir, look!" the boy cried, pointing. Brom's eyes darted toward the direction young Masbath was pointing. "The Evil Eye!"
There, on the floor of the church, was a strange, arcane symbol drawn in pink chalk. The same color as the chalk in Katrina's hand. Looking from Crane's stoic expression to young Masbath's horrified one, Brom wrinkled his brow.
"But what's it doing here?"
Most of the residents of Sleepy Hollow had fled in terror after the events of the previous night. The Van Brunts were one of the few families that remained, though Brom had done his best to try and persuade Will and Griet to leave with the others. The victims of the previous night's melee had been taken to Dr. Lancaster's former office, to be laid out and properly buried.
Now Brom was in the sitting room of the Van Tassel house, staring into the fire. Katrina had not yet recovered from her faint, and was asleep upstairs. Griet was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast.
In a way, Brom admired his mother's resolve. When in doubt, cook. Half the town was either dead or leaving, and she was making porridge and toast as usual.
They had spent the night at the Van Tassel manor, and Brom's neck was rather sore from falling asleep in Baltus' favorite armchair--or what had been his favorite armchair. It still had not processed in his mind that Baltus and Lady Van Tassel would never come back to this house. Never.
He glanced across the room at his brother. Will was asleep on the sofa, his fair hair resembling a haystack after a particularly bad windstorm. Young Masbath was curled up beside him, both covered by Brom's frock coat. He couldn't help but envy their peace, having barely gotten a wink of sleep himself.
Brom looked up as the sound of the door opening interrupted his thoughts. Ichabod Crane stood in the doorway, immaculately dressed as always. If he was at all disturbed by the events of the night before, it did not show on his face.
"I came to see Katrina," he said, holding his head high, almost daring Brom to refuse him.
Ichabod had refused to explain the mystery of the pink chalk and the Evil Eye symbol, though Brom had asked many times. He had simply gone to bed—or so he'd told them. Brom had heard footsteps all through the night, as though Ichabod had been pacing until dawn.
"She's upstairs, still asleep. Mother's making breakfast, if you want any—"
Ichabod dashed up the stairs.
"—thing," Brom finished, addressing the room in general. He gave a loud sigh of frustration. If someone didn't start explaining things soon, he was going to break something.
"Breakfast is ready," Griet announced, poking her head through the kitchen door. "Is anyone hungry?"
Brom nudged Will's shoulder. "Time for breakfast, you two. Wake up now."
"I'm awake," young Masbath replied, stretching his thin arms and yawning.
Will groaned, and rubbed his eyes. "Is it morning? It feels like we just went to sleep."
The three shuffled into the kitchen, where Griet had a hot breakfast waiting. There was little conversation as they ate. Somehow it seemed inappropriate, almost disrespectful, to talk about trivial town gossip after so many had died last night.
Young Masbath finished first. "I'm going to find Constable Crane."
"He's upstairs with Katrina," Brom informed him. Young Masbath nodded, and left the kitchen. Brom took another sip of his coffee, looking out the window.
Was the Hessian truly gone? Had he finished his work? It seemed possible, but there was no way to be sure. It all depended on who had summoned the Hessian in the first place. But why had they done so? Surely it couldn't be to get hold of property. Brom was not ignorant to human nature, but it seemed a bit extreme to call spirits from the grave only to achieve wealth.
"Mr. Brom! Mr.Will!" cried young Masbath, bursting into the kitchen and careening into Griet. The plate of toast she had been holding crashed to the floor.
"Sorry, ma'am," he apologized. "But Constable Crane's leaving! He thinks Miss Katrina's the one who raised the Headless Horseman!"
"What!" Griet, Brom and Will demanded in unison.
"That's impossible!" Griet cried.
"She would never!" Will exclaimed.
Brom's thoughts raced. The pink chalk…the Evil Eye…could Katrina have drawn it? If she knows something of witchcraft…no, it's not possible. Katrina wouldn't harm anyone, even if she were a witch.
"Where is he going?" Brom asked, fixing his gaze on young Masbath.
"Back to New York City, sir. Says his work is finished here," young Masbath responded. "His coach has just left!"
Brom pushed his plate away, and stood up. "How long ago?"
"Only just now, sir."
He threw the door open, eyes blazing with anger. "Not if I have anything to say about it!"
Racing into town, Brom spurred Lucky to go faster. Bits of dirt, grass and horse droppings flew up from the ground under Lucky's hooves. Above them, the sky was pale and grey. He did not see Crane yet, but he could not have gotten that far ahead so soon. At long last, he spotted Van Ripper's carriage.
"STOP!" he bellowed, riding up alongside Hans Van Ripper, who nearly dropped the reins in surprise.
"What's going on?" he demanded. Brom didn't answer. He simply dismounted from Lucky, and pounded on the carriage door.
The door opened, and Ichabod Crane stepped out. His pale features were as expressionless as ever. With a flare of anger, Brom seized him by the arm, and practically dragged Ichabod from the carriage.
"What is the meaning of this?" Ichabod demanded, wrenching his arm back from Brom's grip.
"You're leaving," Brom spat.
Ichabod glared at him. "Obviously."
"And you think Katrina's the one behind all this?" Brom gestured emphatically, indicating the frightened villagers, who regarded the stopped coach warily.
"Keep your voice down!" Ichabod snapped.
"Here now, are you going or not?" Van Ripper asked, fiddling with the reins impatiently.
"Give us a moment," Ichabod replied. He turned back to Brom, his dark eyes unreadable.
While Van Ripper moved the carriage to less obtrusive spot, Ichabod drew Brom into the shade of a nearby house.
"The facts all point in the direction of Miss Van Tassel," Ichabod said quietly. "I cannot ignore them. But word of her guilt must never come out, do you understand?"
"What facts?" Brom hissed.
"The fact that Miss Van Tassel is well-versed in witchcraft, and has been casting Evil Eye curses on me. I found the symbol under my bed, precisely like the one on the floor of the church. She also has motive—with her father and the others out of the way, she gains everything."
That was the most ridiculous thing Brom had ever heard.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" he exploded.
"The facts clearly—"
"Damn the facts!" Brom snapped. "I know Katrina, she can hardly kill spiders! And you're telling me that she's summoned a demon to kill her family and friends for the sake of her inheritance?"
"Do you think this is easy for me?" Ichabod asked, real emotion seeping into his voice. "I don't want to believe it of her."
"Then why do you?" Brom asked quietly.
"The truth is no one's friend, Mr. Van Brunt," Ichabod said, his stoic expression back in place. "What you or I want is of no consequence."
He turned away from Brom, signaling to Van Ripper. He was just mounting the steps of the carriage when something fell from his coat pocket. Ichabod did not appear to have noticed.
"So that's it, then?" Brom demanded. "You just leave us to fight the Hessian by ourselves?"
Ichabod paused in the carriage doorway, and looked over his shoulder at Brom. "The danger is over, Mr. Van Brunt."
Brom knelt down, and picked up the object that Ichabod had dropped. It was a small, worn book. He did not pause to glance at the title.
"You dropped this," he said coldly, tossing it back to Ichabod. He turned his back, furious with Crane for leaving them at such a time...and for believing Katrina capable of such an extreme act of evil.
Very well, Crane. We shall fight on our own--and win. Don't you know by now that logic and reason have no place in Sleepy Hollow?