“Think of the children, please.”
She had told them so many times.
“The children. I beg you, all of you. Think of the children.”
They had ignored her, and now James kind of wished they hadn’t.
Their torches light up the cave’s walls, barely pushing back the darkness, just enough for Catherine to read and half-whispering translate the ancient symbols scrawled all over them. James is by her side, one arm around the woman’s neck, and goddamn it, the old hag is still whimpering about children and won’t anyone think of them, please.
“Shut your mouth,” James growls at her, squeezes a bit. The old woman croaks. She goes still then. Her eyes are fixed on a point over James’ head, going wide and huge and he’s got enough of that. “What is it now, huh? You already insane with fear?”
The rest of the group laughs. Their silver daggers catch the torches’ light, reflect it into the dark.
“James,” Catherine says. “James, be quiet.”
“You know, this is why I’m a hunter.” He pulls the old woman close, frowning when her jaw falls open in silent horror. “Hey, listen when you’re talked to. Unbelievable. But seriously, you people are pathetic. Can’t even take care of a few bloodsuckers by yourself. Aren’t you angry? Huh? They took your children, forchrissake.”
“James.” A gloved hand touches his arm. Catherine’s face is pale like death in the torchlight. “We have to go.”
Something shuffles behind him. James throws a look over his shoulder, the others shifting their torches into his field of vision, but nothing’s there. The old woman lets out a pathetic wail. He shakes her off.
“Crazy old hag. You’re all cowards, your entire damn village. If it had been my kids, I would’ve marched here on my own, killed them all at once - hey!”
The woman is at his feet, digging her clawy hands into his legs where she grips them. “Now you’ve done it,” she whispers. “The children. I told you to think of the children.”
“James,” Catherine says, and then a white hands reaches around her neck and pulls her into the dark.
“What the fuck - Cat!”
A torch drops. James whirls around just in time to watch the fire sizzle out on the wet cave floor. For a second, the light illuminates the ground in brilliant, terrifying red.
“Oh God.” He can’t breathe. The torches go out, one by one, each falling when another hand claws into a neck and another man or woman is pulled into the dark.
Then, the old woman is in front of him. Blood pours from her thin lips. James stares, a scream stuck in his throat, as a claw wounds its way through her neck. The last torch blows out.
But the cave doesn’t plunge into darkness.
“The children,” a choir of hundred voices hums. Two hundred eyelids slip open with a wet, sucking squelch. Two hundred small, round circles awaken on the walls of the cave that has never been one but a nest instead, and the scratch of hundreds upon hundreds of stinking nails over rotting stone sway the choir’s soft song into a rhythm:
“The children, the children, how could you forget the children?”