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The Hanging Festival

Mid-morning Sky tiptoed out of the room the brothers had given her and Scottie for the night. She silently closed the door and was about to let go of the handle when…

“Morning, Mrs. Melnik,” Brother Nimbus calmly said from behind her, being both unexpected and awkwardly close.

Sky jumped, feeling like she was about to peel out of her own skin and bolt somewhere. She spun around, her long skirt twirling with her sword and pale blue eyes wide, “Build—” She stopped before completing the curse, trying to gain her composure with a smile, “Ah, Brother Nimbus, good morning to you too.”

Nimbus took a step back and looked amusedly at the woman, nodding towards the door behind her, “Is Mr. Melnik well?”

Sky smiled, admittedly pleased to have more personal space, “Yes, he’s just rather exhausted from the journey. He needs his rest before we go out on business tomorrow.”

“So you are left to your own devices. Would you care for a tour of the Church grounds and the city? You have a unique opportunity to witness a Hanging Festival today.” Brother Nimbus said ‘Hanging Festival’ as if it was a common term and pushed his spectacles up to the bridge of his nose.

Sky grinned, “Oh yes, I’d love that.”

As if in response Nimbus started walking away briskly, down the wide corridor towards the well-maintained courtyard. He was exiting the corridor when Sky finally realized she was expected to follow him. She quickly caught up, falling into stride beside him. Before Sky could say anything Nimbus began explaining the histories of the Church buildings. His tone indicated that he was reciting from route memory. Sky looked at every detail that was pointed out and listened to every tale about building materials. She was devout, after all.

Eventually the pair left the Church compound, walking through a brightly decorated square which was packed full of vendors and revelers. Most people were walking in the direction Brother Nimbus was taking Sky. After walking through winding alleyways and tunnels, which vaguely reminded Sky of Clockhaven, they reached the outer wall of the city. Right outside the wall rows and rows of gallows stood with empty nooses blowing in the breeze.

Scores of people merrily buzzed in front of the gallows. Quilts dotted the ground, families had picnics spread out, children chased one another and soft music wafted from musicians who, after searching for a moment, Sky saw were perched along the top of the city wall. She tried to hide her shock and personal horror at what was going on around her. She said quietly to her guide, “When you said ‘Hanging Festival’ I did not take you quite so literally.”

Brother Nimbus surveyed all of the people around them, saying dryly, “What else could I have meant?”

Sky only shrugged, silent as she processed all she was seeing. Her eyes darted to a wide tunnel in the wall. She thought she saw a bare human foot under a pile of… Sky shook her head, her eyes tightly closed as she asked, “Brother, are these going to be the first hangings of the day?”

“No. They have been taking place bihourly since eight o’clock this morning,” Nimbus responded.

She opened her eyes, watching as small groups of people neared each gallows station. The crowds quieted as the preparations began. Sky had seen a lot in her life, including a fair amount of death. Still, that did not mean that she enjoyed it. She closed her eyes once again during the ‘main event’ and waved her hand in front of her in the Sign of the Hammer in unison with Nimbus afterwards.

Brother Nimbus led her through much of the Church quarter of the city, pointing out specific small events that were only present due to the festival. They both had a good laugh at a puppet show and Sky’s spirits lifted to their usual state. The sun was beginning to go down as they passed by a few shadier looking pubs. She couldn’t help but smile at the familiarity of them. Sky ran inside a grungy looking inn and reserved a room for herself and her husband for later that night.

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