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Silence was a painful, hateful thing.

Batyushka woke up to silence. Even though the sun shone brightly through the window, a rarity in the otherwise dark Russian winters, the room was still cold enough for skin to sting. She got up slowly to add a log from her small pile of firewood.

Her bones creaked from exhaustion and she sighed.

Yesterday she had another ‘psychotic episode’, as the villagers liked to put it. She went to the forest with an axe. For a good month now, she had only been taking an axe, something that with enough force could cut off a head, because she believed and swears she could sense a dark aura from deep within the forest.

‘Avenge Bok and Ilyusha. Avenge your family. The monster is in the forest. Chase it. Kill it.’

Finally, after months, maybe years, the voices in her head started making sense and she welcomed their loudness because she had a will to do more than just lie in her bed and starve from grief and self-pity.

Years. It’s been three years since that night. Bok would have been four years old. Just a few days ago was his birthday. Batyushka felt tears well up in her eyes at the thought again, but she quickly wiped them away.

Batyushka earned herself the nickname псих вдова – crazy widow, a cruel nickname that made her eyes sting even more. None of the villagers believed her when she finally mustered up the courage to tell them about the monster that killed her family, when she finally started blaming something other than herself.

“Poor woman, the tragedy had wiped her senses…”

“It must have been a bear! I’ve seen some on my hunting trips.”

It wasn’t a bear.

It was a demon. It had to be. She remembered how human it looked.

Batyushka hadn’t gone to the village for a long time, fear, shame and grief keeping her from seeing the other children.

She savoured whatever food Balalaika brought her, whenever the babushka decided to come. Batyushka still couldn’t understand why she hadn’t given up on her, even though Balalaika despised her.

These depressing thoughts had become quite numb. Always present, she wasn’t able to handle so much negativity.

Batyushka grunted when she got up to full height. Her head was always spinning, her knees always at the verge of giving out unless she was in the forest, looking for that ‘demon’. Her house didn’t have a mirror, but she could easily judge from her thin hands just how sickly she was.

Batyushka took a shovel, repeating her routine of shuffling snow from around the house. It’s the least she could do for Ilyusha, keeping a home he was once so proud of from rotting away.

Opening the door, Batyushka was blinded by the sun. She had to cover her eyes from the brightness, and stayed that way for a long moment.

It surprised her how nice it felt. So warm. She couldn't even remember the summer sun being this warm.

But opening her eyes, Batyushka was surprise again, this time by an old man clad in black. He stood out like a sore thumb in the white sheet of her yard.

“… Hello…?” Batyushka held the shovel closer to her chest and walked forward, but not too close to the man. She was cautious, he was a trespassing stranger, and his silver sword could easily be noticed against his black attire, which covered him from head to toe, only revealing the light complexion of his face and hair. But when she made eye-contact with his icy blue hues, the hairs on the back of her neck rose.

For a moment, they stared at each other. Waiting for whoever would make the first move. The elderly man grabbed the pommel of his sword, his expression calm and wise, but eventually he looked elsewhere. He strode to the barn door, and Batyushka swore he positioned himself the same way she stood on that faithful night.

“I thought so.”

His voice was deep, rough and calm. What he said next made Batyushka estatic, something she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“I sense the presence of a demon.”

His accent was prominent, but his Russian was fluent.

Her breath hitched, and Batyushka thought she was going to cry from relief and disbelief.

“W-what did you say…?”

“There was a demon here. I can sense it. You sense it too, I can feel it.” His spoke in a monotone voice, but there was also a lingering anger and sadness. He looked at Batyushka again, his every word like a choir to the empty space of her heart. “You are a victim of the demon’s violence.”

“Who are you?” Batyushka whispered and her shovel fell to the ground. She felt tears falling down her cheeks from so many emotions.

“My name is Hiiragi Daiki, I come from Japan.” The man, Hiiragi, continued to walk around Batyushka’s yard and stopped again before the fixed window where Ilyusha’s dead body and decapitated head hung. “I came here to fulfil my duty as a demon slayer.”

“Demon slayer… demon… Y-you don’t… you mean you believe it was a demon? And I’m not crazy? This isn’t another hallucination?!” Batyushka grabbed his shoulders and shook him desperately, afraid that he would vanish. Hiiragi stayed silent, his stoic face masking whatever emotion he was feeling, but his eyes displayed sorrow and sympathy Batyushka hadn’t seen before – as if this man understood her pain, her loneliness, and above all, the guilt.

“I…” Batyushka hiccupped and did her best to compose herself. She picked up the shovel she dropped, put it next to the wall and opened her cottage door.

“Please, come inside, I have some left over stew, if you have time...”

Hiiragi followed without a word.