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[Fiction] Neil Preston: Run No More


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Author's Note: This story is based on ideas taken from the Elseworlds/What If? stories of DC and Marvel. The question is...

"What if Neil Preston was born and came into his nova powers during the witch hunts?"

I hope you enjoy my effort.


The witch hunter had found him again.

From London to Scotland to Ireland he had chased Niall mac Craig despite the efforts of the healer to evade the pursuit. He was able to find him anywhere, anytime, but the boy remained one step ahead. Just.

A child breathing again after drowning. A girl's broken arm mended with a touch. An old woman's eyes cleared of cataracts. Sins in the eyes of God, for all the supposed compassion the demon-whelp was supposed to possess. God had laid those burdens upon those 'victims' and the boy had removed them with the laying on of hands. Blasphemy against God. He had punished those who had availed themselves of Niall's powers before going on to seek the demon himself.

Niall was a heartbeat away, located under a pile of loose hay in that farmer's rickety barn. The O'Faolains were known pagans and unashamed of that fact. They often hid fugitives from God's justice, including those of their own demon-worshipping faith. Once Niall was dead, he would burn them alive as an example. Ireland was too wild anyways.

Closer. The scent of mouldy hay intruded upon a sensitive nose, making him stifle a sneeze. Closer. The smell of sweat and fear thick in the air. Closer. The onions on his breath from the O'Faolains' meagre crops. Closer. Harsh breathing, ragged from the run. Closer. A faint hitch to it from the broken ribs he had dealt the demon. Closer. The whicker of a horse, the snort of a donkey. Closer. The fear could almost be tasted now -

Closer. Blackness, coldness, numbness, silence.

"Surprised, hunter?"

The sensation of nothingness passed as swiftly as it came, leaving the witch hunter disoriented for critical moments.

Niall's voice was harder and older than that of the young apothecary he'd once been. The slender youth with the unfashionably - effemininately - long black hair knelt in front of the hunter, a slight redhead just behind him, her eyes glowing eerily green.

"This is Bridey O'Faolain. She is a 'demon'," he spat the word, "like me. See her scars? You dealt them to her, and she was no 'demon' then, just a girl who was unfortunate to cross your path."

Niall rose to his feet and dusted off his homespun breeches. He looked like a peasant now with his sun-darkened skin and work-roughened hands, the musculature on his exposed chest and arms taut from heavy labour. Bridey was pure Irish with her flaming red hair and deep green eyes, but her face was marred by scars.

"Irish are demons!" the hunter retorted, attempting to get up. The expression on Bridey's face altered from anger to satisfaction as he stumbled, suddenly unable to tell up from down.

"I'd make your peace with your gods if I were you," Niall answered grimly. "We of the Old Ways are sick of being hunted and tortured. You will be an example like all of those people you made examples of."

The hunter attempted to lunge at the demon, but his muscles were paralysed with one gesture from Niall. What was worse was the jerky motion of his muscles moving under the command of Bridey, whose smile could only be described as vicious.

A number of people had gathered around a stake with firewood piled under it. All of them were Irish and full of fury and satisfaction. One of them, a big burly man with greying rust-coloured hair and a striking resemblance to Bridey, stepped forward and took charge of the hunter. He dragged him to the stake and tied him there, Niall keeping the hunter's muscles locked.

"We run no more," Niall said as the torches were brought forward. "Not from you, not from anyone."

It took the hunter only a little while to die, for Bridey's father, a man immune to fire, broke his neck before stepping out of the flames. They watched the hunter burn with mingled emotions - relief, satisfaction, anger and regret, but never hatred.

The hunter had been one of them once.

"I pray he finds his way back to the Light," Niall observed softly as Bridey slipped under his arm and wrapped hers around his waist. "He..."

"I ken, asthore, I ken," Bridey murmured softly as he tightened the embrace around them. "But we must protect ourselves an' our children. He made his choice. Ye made yours. Let it go."


The hunter's ashes were buried under rowan and yew to stop his ghost from haunting others. He was given more of a service than the victims of the witch hunters were, and with more genuine emotions as well.

Then the fighting back began.

All because a healer chose to run no more.

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