Rossa did not cry. She lay on her knees, stunned and paralysed like a rat before a serpent. All she could do was feel her breath rake against her throat as the Eerie wormed their way through the buildings, the life and the people of Ferravia.
“And for the most clever of girls, an applause,” cawed the voice of her Grandma, coming right from besides her. The body was still wearing her clothes, but they hung ripped from her body, displaying her discolouring skin and the patches of charred flesh that burned through what had been her grandmother’s meat. The body wore by the Fae like a robe was rapidly turning out to be far too tight for it.
But it still have the energy to give her a rictus grin and clap those hands together, producing a hollow and horribly-wet slap after slap after slap with each time her palms hit each other.
“We are all so very proud of you.”
Rossa heaved. She balled her fists until they were white. Instincts took over and she stood up, walking away from the thing that was wearing her grandmother.
“Leaving so soon? How boorish.”
Still shaken by sobs, she tossed one last look at the devoured town, but all she saw were flames, all she heard faint cries and the noise of ripped flesh. She did not want to enter and find the bodies of her parents.
No matter what, she wouldn’t do this.
“Run along then.” The head turned to follow her steps, creaking on its still shoulders like a branch bent by a storm. “We will make sure to keep you company for the longest time. After all, we wouldn’t be here without you.”
Rossa turned and ran. She did not leave the path, even though at this point whatever magic or spell had kept it together was long gone. She traced back her steps, as more gaunt and skittering shadows appeared at the edge of her vision.
She had a glimpse of fanged visages and clawed hands running together with her, barking moans and yells with the language of hunger. Eerie who now could roam free all over, most of them still foaming with blood.
Rossa shrieked and in sorrow and fear as she struck her grandma’s door and shut it behind her, locking it.
From outside came raspy breaths and talons that scraped at the wooden door.
Come on now. You will not think a simple wooden hut is enough to keep you away from us? And you are so entertaining!
The voice she had followed, the voice that had followed her, cawed right next to her ears.
“Nooo!” Rossa cried. She stepped back and her foot hit something sharp and metallic.
She picked them up and without thinking, without allowing her mind to stop or even slow her down, she cut her arm in the required pattern.
Did she even feel pain? At that moment all she could focus on was the fear like a hook in her stomach and the horrible pressure of the black, slick voice that sizzled against her ears.
What was that now? Are you playing with fire, little one?
Her blood dripped down her pale hand, as crimson as the cloth hanging from her shoulders.
She opened her mouth and pronounced the words that she had learned from the book, not one hour before, an entire world ago. With trembling gaze, she shivered as an unseen force rippled through her – the droplets on the floor formed a circle all around her and displayed an intricate pattern of forms and letters that coiled in a ward.
Ah, so the skill was passed on to the grand daughter.
“And you… stay… away,” Rossa panted. Those not very clever words were the only ones that came to her mind.
She sat in the circle, waiting with the scissors in her hand. The blood stopped flowing and her wound healed itself quickly, but it left her with a nasty pale scar on her arm, like the thick wrinkle slithering up the bark of a tree.
She lay there in the circle, panting and gritting her teeth as the shadows outside danced and rippled.
The voice had left, but the Eerie did not. They howled and scratched outside the door, though it seemed that whatever she had done had been enough to keep them away.
Rossa had time to think, but she did not. She knew that if she allowed herself to go back to those moments, she would fold up like a card and she’d never recover.
Instinct held her in its palm. Not at all gently. She rocked back and forth, trying not to fall asleep. Night brought the terrors of winter with it now that the grandmother’s spell had been thoroughly broken, and the Eerie kept slobbering their faces all over the walls, she heard them scratching against the two trees standing on the sides of the house, but they did not come in.
As the sun peered through the blinders again, Rossa leaned forward, falling like a tired boulder. She hit the floor and fell into a shivering slumber.
She awoke to a changed world.
Stepping outside, she saw the signs of the previous night. The Eerie had scratched and clawed at every surface, but their claws could only leave faint marks. Her blood had protected her.
The forest seemed to be the same as always. She gulped, falling to her knees again under the weight of her sin.
She gritted her teeth until she feared she’d feel her bones snap, chattering the names of those that were lost due to her foolishness.
Her world had changed utterly, and she now had to pick up the pieces.
She lifted her head from the tear-stricken porch and let out a scream, a heaving yell that continued and continued and continued until she couldn’t push more breath out of her burning lungs.
And perhaps she had pushed out something else. Perhaps she had pushed out the hesitation of the old Rossa, the one who had died on the road just yesterday.
The new Rossa had a house to herself, a refuge, and a cellar full of food.
And more important than everything, she had her own blood.
And her grandmother’s basement, full to the brim with forbidden knowledge.
“May it take me a hundred years,” she growled, coming back inside.
May it take me a hundred years, you will all burn, she completed in her mind.
I will be waiting, replied the voice, amused.
Rossa shook her head and opened the door to the basement.
Author’s Notes: I did not feel like I completely got the Arcana of the Hermit here, but I wanted to once again focus on the consequences of Rossa’s actions.
Thanks for reading.