I ran out of the Shrine immediately and saw Salvacion’s shadow disappearing towards the inner courtyard. I had no time to think about her plans. We needed to gather the villagers and get them out of harm’s way before the town came under attack. But as soon as I stepped out of the temple’s front porch, I understood the flaw in my reasoning. Under the light of torches, possibly every man, woman and child in Esperanza stood before me, wielding whatever makeshift weapons they could find. The mayor and the city council had had them surround the building. I tried to shout something, but my voice was drowned by their cries. They were evidently demanding the release of their priest. Finally, the mayor’s face emerged from the rabble. He came forward and a tense silence fell on the scene. The hint of fear that I had noticed in his features had turned to the desperate obstinacy of a cornered beast.
“We won’t let you take priest Ernesto away. We will let you go, but not with him.”
His voice was more frantic than threatening. He had no illusions as to the outcome of a battle against a magic-user from the temple. But I am not a magic-user, and the metallic sheen of pitchforks and shovels as well as the grim, unmoving stare of their wielders, simply paralysed me. I was barely able to blurt out some word of warning. Time was running short, and still my throat refused to obey my confused, incoherent orders. He repeated the same exact sentence, probably rehearsed with the rest of the council. I was about to retreat from the increasingly hostile confrontation, walking backwards slowly, fearful that a sudden move might make me the target of some projectile or other, when a sudden tremor made me fall flat to the ground. The earth shook brutally, leaving me breathless and disorientated. It lasted for about half a minute. When I finally managed to get back to my knees and looked round, the crowd was in tatters. Bodies crawled and groped round in the darkness left by the fallen or blown out torches. The cries of children and panicked voices rose among the turmoil. Then a monstrous crack echoed in the desert. The silvery trail of water above the town deviated, sputtered and finally collapsed. In a deafening rumble, the ground under the fountain in the middle of town parted as the entire plaza crumbled. The vision of that morning rose to my eyes again: the town was being swallowed up.