Hansel bit his lip; waiting while others got to be in the thick of things was never his strong suit. His body was screaming to move, to do something other than wait; he was a coiled spring begging for release but none was in sight. The sounds of a well waged war could be heard in the background and he had to remind himself that Gretel could, under most circumstances, take care of herself. They had a plan and deviating from it could put everyone in danger. The hunter let out a huff, opting to pace while he drummed his fingers against his thigh.
All he had managed to do was some prep work for this battle and that had left him weak and shaky. He would never admit it to anyone, but Gretel might have been right about him needing to limit his involvement in this one. Hansel cursed himself work being weak, not just physically but for allowing any of it to happen in the first place.
In a rare moment he remembered his mother, her kind eyes and loving smile, the warmth that embraced him whenever she hugged him. They were brief but uplifting memories that he buried deep. Life didn't hand out happy endings and there was no point in deluding himself . It was shortly after those precious moments that everything was taken from him, his mother and father killed, abandoned in the forest, all because of the curse their mother had passed on to them: witchcraft. In that moment he cursed Adrianna too. Hell, his father wasn't innocent in any of it either. He knew she was a witch and still chose to be with her, have children that would suffer because of what she was. Hansel never hated himself more than that moment but as the sounds of witches meeting their demise drifted on the wind, he pushed it aside.
The barn door burst open with enough force that it rattled the walls. Hansel snapped his head around to look at the intruder. His stomach dropped as he took in the mangy creature before him, the all too familiar smile twisting his insides. He could feel her hands on him, jabbing his injection into him to prolong his suffering.
Katja stood there, her eyes hungrily searching for the human that had cost her so much. His wretched sister had managed to inflect some pretty impressive scars upon her and she was going to make Hansel pay for each and every one of them. Her shrill cackle sounded as she found her target still looking pale and weak. It would be as easy as stealing a baby in the night.
"Poor little hunter, left all alone. I'll take care of you," taunted the hag.
"Yeah, I'll bet you will," sneered the hunter.
Hansel braced himself as the witch lunged towards him. Her weight crashed down upon him and they both collapsed to the floor a flurry of fists and claws. The hunter sucked in a deep breath trying to force the air back in his lungs after such a hard hit. He began to feel his limbs burn with effort far sooner than he was use to and with sheer determination he managed to get his legs up to deliver a vicious blow, knocking Katja backwards.
The witch shook her head to regain her focus, turning her growing rage back to the annoying human who was scrambling to his feet. With lightning speed she lunged again at her pray scampering across the hay littered ground after him.
Hansel's hand brushed the rung of the ladder in a desperate attempt to flee and gain higher ground on a far more prepared enemy. Sharp claws ripped into his side yanking him from the ladder. Using the witch's momentum against her, he pushed back with his feet throwing his whole body back onto her. His combined weight along with a carefully aimed elbow to the head was enough to get the witch to loosen her damaging grip.
Scurrying to his feet once more, Hansel imparted to Katja a very satisfying kick to stomach before searching for something he could use as a weapon. His dealings with Andrea had had left him sloppy and off his game; he had left his weapons near the door to the barn. Part of him wanted to make the attempt to get his gun, correct the rookie mistake he had made but the distance was too far and one very pissed off witch was quickly getting to her feet.
A pitch fork gleamed in the pale light of the barn, a beacon of hope in a pile of discarded hay. Hansel pushed himself to move as fast as he could, which at the moment was shamefully slow. His heart pounded in his chest at the exertion in time with the pounding of Katja's footsteps behind him.
The ground rushed up to meet him as Katja wrapped a gnarled hand around his ankle. A moan escaped his lips as his face ploughed painfully into the stone, his nose releasing a river of red. Wiggling for all he was worth, Hansel inched his way forward, ever closer to the sharp useful teeth of the pitchfork.
Katja coiled her arms around the wiggling worm beneath her, trying to get a firm grip to hold him steady. Despite the odds being in her favour, the pair found themselves getting closer to her pray's intended target. Opting to play as dirty as the foul human under her, Katja leaned forward, sinking her teeth into the fleshy part of his shoulder. The hunter let out a growl as the warm delicious liquid poured into her mouth. Even the bouquet of the blood was divine and unlike any she had experienced before; Andrea was right, there was something special about this human, this half witch.
Greedily she dragged her teeth further across his flesh freeing more of the delicious nectar. The heavenly indulgence cost her as the sharp burning sensation of impalement ripped through her side. Her hands frantically fumbled to remove the protruding pitchfork but the satisfied smirk on Hansel's face fuelled her rage. With a hiss and a snarl the witch used her magic to send the hunter flying into the stack of barrels in the far corner, gaining her a moment to right herself.
Hansel felt the force of the magic hit him followed by the unmistakable force of connecting with a solid object. His side screamed in agony and he couldn't hold the sound in, letting a painful cry follow the thud of his already abused body slam into the floor. He had enjoyed the feeling of the pitchfork as it slide into the witch with an all too familiar ease. The hunter realized his mistake too late, as now he was unarmed and staring down an infuriated witch wheedling the only weapon he had. In a split second the pitchfork came flying at his head with tremendous force. Instinctively he raised his arm to shield his face; and ineffectual move but the only one his brain could coordinate in such a short period of time.
All encompassing warmth surged through him and just as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared leaving him feeling empty and exhausted. He opened his eyes to find the pitchfork impaled in the opposite wall and the barrel of oil that had been sitting next to him in shambles on the floor at her feet; its contents thoroughly soaking the witch. The hunter let out a shaky breath as he tried to piece together what had happened; even Katja looked confused.
The two opponents stared at each other but before either could make sense of the situation, Hansel reached into his pocket and pulled out his flint striking it. Sparks danced down catching the oil and coiling along until the flames engulfed all the fuel. "Where's your smile now bitch?"
Edward had meant to burst into the barn and offer aid to the hunter but as he crossed the threshold he froze. Watching as the air crackled with green energy around Hansel, curled in a heap by the barrels, Katja waiting for her weapon to strike, the troll's stomach twisted into knots. The barrel moving under Hansel's misguided and unintentional will caused the creature fear. Gretel wasn't the only one with magic in her blood.
It was Katja's screams as the fire consumed her that spurred Edward into action. He grabbed Hansel by the shoulders and dragged him out of the barn before he shared the witch's fate.
Hansel let out a bone shaking cough as Edward set him on the ground. The sun had been blackened out by the smoke rising from the ruins of the barn but in the faint glow of the fire he could see the look of concern on Edward's face. Neither spoke, both to shaken by what had happened in the barn to form words.
The blank look on Hansel's face shifted to determination as he heard Gretel engaging Andrea. As the hunter got to his feet and rushed to aid his sister, Edward felt guilt start to gnaw at his insides. Hansel had no idea what had happened or the implications of it and the troll didn't know if he had the heart to impart the bitter truth to either of his friends.
Andrea paused as she heard Hansel approach. A smile twisted her face at the prospect of having the hunter served on a silver platter. All she had to do was finish off his insolent sister and the world would tremble at her feet.
"I'm so glad you could join us," cooed Andrea. She tried to maintain a look of confidence and control but Hansel could see the fraying around her edges just as he could see Gretel coming to the end of her rope too. Sabine had been right, magic couldn't bring Andrea's demise now.
"Well it isn't polite to miss a funeral," retorted Hansel.
"Oh, did your mother teach you that?" mocked the witch.
"You don't get to talk about our mother," added Gretel.
"You think you're better than me?" shrieked Andrea, "you're no greater than the beasts that crawl and slither across the ground. You humans turn easily on one another pretending to be just and honourable but in the end you're all just mindless beasts clinging desperately to the idea that you could be something more. You..."
"You talk too much," interrupted Hansel, tugging on the wire twisted around the tree next to him. The leaves and branches swayed as the tension in the line was released. A downpour of oil splashed across the battlefield.
With a swing of her arm, Andrea unleashed her furry upon the two hunters, sending debris flying to knock them across the field.
Gretel got her feet under her faster than Hansel, her hand instinctively reaching for her wand only to come up empty.
"Looking for that?" asked Andrea, nodding in the direction of the wand laying discarded on the ground. With a slight flick of the wrist she launched it well out of reach or either of the siblings. "Now what are you going to do? You don't have the talent to direct you magic without a wand."
"Guess we'll have to do it the old fashioned way," replied Gretel before turning to Hansel and adding, "light the bitch up."
"With pleasure," answered Hansel, igniting the flame that would dispatch the carnal form of his recent nightmares.
The flames moved quickly and with purpose, giving the witch no time to react. She simply failed, releasing an ear splitting scream until there was nothing left but ash.
The siblings stood there watching the fire until it died out. A sense of relief embraced them. Their small group had defied the odds and won the day. Ben, a little worn but nothing that wouldn't heal within a day or so, had held his own. Edward had found a way to help despite an inbred need to serve those who embraced witchcraft. More importantly the siblings saved the day using the honest methods they had learned. Gretel's magic hadn't corrupted her and just maybe Hansel could begin to see a world in which their heritage wasn't the elephant in the room.
As they stood there in front of the smouldering pile ash that was their victory, it was like a weight had been lifted. Edward wasn't sure he could bring himself to replacing it by revealing what he had witnessed in the barn and the looming death sentence that would surely be looming over Hansel's head.
"Are you coming Edward?" asked Gretel looking happy for the first time since Hansel found Muriel's wand in her possession.
The troll bit his lip and nodded. They should celebrate the victories while they had them. Sorrow could wait for a new day and new problems. The troll silently fell in line with the others as they made their way down the trail, leaving Sage and the small witch community behind.
"So where are we going next?" asked Hansel.
"Well there were some reports of witchcraft in the village of Böse," supplied Ben with more enthusiasm than anyone having survived such a battle should.
"Böse... that sounds ominous," sighed Hansel.
"I don't care where we go, as long as there's a healer. You look like shit Hansel," chuckled Gretel.
"You're not so pretty either," answered Hansel as they settled into their usual easy banter. Things looked like they were returning to normal, whatever normal was anyway.
A million thanks for reading this tale and a million more to anyone who reviewed. It took a shamefully long time to get this posted and I thank those who were patient and stuck with it from the beginning.
I've been toying with the idea of doing another Hansel and Gretel story. So I guess I'm wondering if there's any interest?