Alba yowled. The searing pain exploded through her fingers as she held the Witch’s hand.
“Princess!” she heard Alfiere shout, rushing through the door.
“Stand back!” She hissed through gritted teeth. “Do not… interfere. I know… I know what I am doing.”
Slowly, she raised her gaze to meet that of the Witch. Her green eyes roamed over her face. But if she was looking for a sign of weakness, she’d found nothing. Her ancestors did the same – who was to say they did not feel pain and fear when they also accepted their Pact with the Witches? They had to cut themselves up and let blood flow. She would not be the weak link right at the end of a long chain.
“What… what did you ex-expect, Witch?” She panted, a feverish grin appearing on her lips even as thick droplets of sweat accrued over her brow. “I am strong-stronger than any pain.”
And bit by bit, the pain did recede.
Alba looked down at her hand. Her skin was turning paler, losing any and all colors. A grayish patine spread down her fingers, blotting out her natural color from knuckle to knuckle even as the feeling of the Witch’s fingers in her own seemed to slowly fade into numbness. The pain, that had been like being stabbed with molten knives, now was more like a dull ache.
“What…” Alba watched, could only watch, as the grey withering reached her wrist, and there it stopped. As did the pain.
Or any other feeling.
Her breath came out in short bursts, trying to make sense of what was going on – she did not feel… anything. Her hand lay limp and feeble in the Witch’s own. It was as if her body had died right at the wrist.
“What… what is this…?”
The Witch let go of her hand. She took a quick glance at her alabaster fingers and then came back to her posture, hugging her legs over the bed and slowly rocking back and forth.
“Your Highness,” Andronikos reached her and took her hand in his own, judging the extent of the damage. She did not feel his fingers pressing down on her skin. Oh, Heavens it was her right hand! Did she… “Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore. I don’t feel… I don’t feel anything.”
“What did you do to Her Highness?” Alfiere roared, pointing his improvised weapon at the Witch.
“What she asked me – that is all I did do.”
“Leave her alone,” Alba brashly hissed, cradling her hand in her lap. Her fingers curled like a dead spider. “I can deal with it.”
The Witch tossed her a skeptical glance, but she did not say anything further.
“It does not hurt. I am fine. It’s nothing, it’s nothing. I am sure it will be nothing… what did this bring me? Are you satisfied then? Is our Pact renewed?”
“It is fueled by what you have given up,” she explained. The shadows of the room quivered and quaked like wine in a tumbler. They left their parents objects and even disappeared, running down like ink, from Alba’s body, leaving her standing under an unnatural light, like a grey eclipse that mingled each shade into an unhappy dimness. A pool of darkness formed around the Witch – thin strands of hooked blackness rose like reeds from a riverbed – they fanned out, ready to strike.
Alba took a step back.
But then the Witch grimaced. The tinkling bands over her arms glowed and she let out a brief gasp of pain. Her hands fell limp to her sides and the bands stopped glowing as well. In a flash of blackness that let her feeling like she had turned blind, each shadow came back to its proper place.
“What do… what do you mean?” Alba croaked, leaning over to keep her ruined hand from further pain. But no pain would ever come, it seemed. Nor any other kind of feeling. It seemed any sensations stopped right at her wrist. She knew she must feel her other hand against it, but she only felt it in her left hand… her right one was gone. What did that sort of ritual, of spell, do?
“Not in Blood but in Bond,” she explained. “Your blood is your vis viva, as mine family would have called it. I do not deal in that kind of commodity, not do I have need for it.” She lifted her hands, moving them as if weighing a scale. “What you shall offer is what you get. The stronger the bond, the most valuable what it preys upon. As soon as I am completely freed, for I am afraid these shackles greatly impede any use you might have of me, Your Highness.” The last two words were spat out in a scornful hiss.
“W-Wait…” Alba looked down at her wizened hand. “You mean… you are going to need me to fuel your magic? As in… my body?”
“Your flesh, your sinews and all you could do with it. All the actions that you could have taken with that hand are now the advance payment for our Pact. All I touch turns into dust, Your Highness.” She gave her a lopsided smile. “Are you regretting your brashness yet?”
It had taken Sparagmos the better part of three days to reach the Venetian lagoon. It was night already, and he was tired, aching for a good night of sleep and to explain his uncle why the worst-case scenario he had planned for was just about to actualize.
The horse pulled forward on the gravel road that passed by the lagoon. The moonlight shone over the black waters. The golden lights of Venice glistened far-off, like a series of golden pearls suspended over the sea. The faint night wind carried with it a smell of salt and wet marshes.
And something else. A hint of sulphur… perhaps the sweet smell of decomposition, the same he experienced too many times during the revolts of last year and up to that spring.
A soft light attracted his attention. There, a few hundred paces ahead, what looked like a young woman in a maid dress sloshed about in the ankle-deep waters. He smiled at the sight. He had hoped to meet her soon, and it was a bit of treat to see her.
He saw her find her way back to uncle’s Venetian home, a low house amidst a garden and tall trees that seemed to beckon him. She stopped right at the outer gate, holding up a lantern that burned with a weird kind of flame – it sent a strange feeling up in the air, as if what was burning was not oil, nor grease, or gas.
She turned to look at him: a young woman with auburn hair that reached he shoulders, green eyes and a thick dash of freckles around her face. She might have seemed harmless enough, were it not for the series of pale scars and etched symbols that ran from her neck all the way to her exposed arms.
“What a fortune to meet you right away,” he welcomed her. “Is Uncle sleeping yet? I will need to talk to both of you.”
Author’s Notes: excited to finally introduce Lucilla Brughiera! I hope I made a good enough job explaining the Pact. Thanks for reading!