Thus began a long autumn for Rossa.
She spent almost all her time in her late grandmother’s basement, reading through her old notes, trying to piece together at least a little bit of the vast knowledge that had managed to protect Ferravia.
Memories of that day did not really abate. For the first week, Rossa managed to sleep only when her body grew weary enough to collapse, folding on itself like the pages she kept turning.
After one month or so, with the new moon and the first cool winds of autumn starting to spire through the pines, she had gathered enough of her bearings to build a modicum of protection that was different from her daily blood ritual.
For thirty-three days she had walked in a circle around grandma’s house, bloodletting from her wrist as she added yet another spiral of scars to her wrist. She reinforced yesterday’s warding circle against the prying hands of the forest. She would peek past the trunks and notice not all shadows stayed still.
Some, hollow, gaunt ones with too many limbs and too many teeth, would slither out of their hiding place as sunlight ebbed, and with the dying of the day they would skitter towards the house, sniffing and biting and screaming at the edge of her protective circle, while she prepared another soup of mashed potatoes from grandma’s thinning stash.
The hardest part was, while holding onto her crimson cloak for dear life, knowing that some of these had come directly from her mother’s hands. A couple of the chairs got their structure reinforced by her father’ skills, as well.
The house smelled like her grandmother, it was full to the brim with her things, her memories and her idiosyncrasies. It just missed her, and it missed her presence and her body.
If at all possible, if she managed to save what remained of her grandma, she’d bury it beneath the floor beams.
But between that bitter desire rising into her throat and it coming into reality lay many a sleepless night. Rossa realized soon enough in her studies that no matter how much time she spent cramming as many notions as she could into her head, she would never be able to learn even a tenth of what her grandmother knew.
Some of the books were written in languages or codes she couldn’t even begin to understand. Some were filled to the brim with handwritten notes too thick to tell apart. And most , completely fair, were just too hard for her untrained mind to grasp.
She would never be a witch like her grandmother.
She had to accept this three weeks into her forced isolation, falling into a tear-filled fit of mute gasps on the floor of the basement. The books trembled between her shivering hands and she could feel the temptation to just rip it off, to just damn it all. Then she would just pretend to forget to renew the protection circle and she’d get devoured like the others, first thing in the morning.
She might have been tempted, if not for the hints that she could actually get her vengeance, if she was clever and patient enough.
But in the end, after she had ran out of tears, the cinders of her heart began to blaze with rage.
Yes, she had been a fool. And yes, it had been her own fault.
But she’d be dead before she let those monsters roam free, laughing at the easy victory they achieved.
Thus, one night when not just the wind howled and battered against the windows, she sat inside a bloodied circle of her own making, under the blinding light of electric bulbs that were by now more precious and more rare than gold, and she spent the whole night trying to commune with the Spirits.
This was one of the hardest and most powerful spells that she had read about in grandma’s notes. She had used a similar one before she gathered enough knowledge to create the wardings for the white path, now destroyed.
In later times, if Rossa had lived, say, fifty years in the future, there might have already been a helpful Vestal to guide her. She had the gift, as did her grandmother. Like the Fae had prophesized, sometimes this kind of skills skip a generation.
Rossa leaned back and forth, naked save for the crimson cloth draped over her shoulders, chanting all night against the noises and ragged voices coming from upstairs. They would not reach her here. They could no pass through her protection, though they may try to make her pierce it through desperation.
But that was a long-gone chance. Rossa heaved and chanted and when the time came, she stood up and danced, wearing her sorrow and her pain and her guilt like the finest shawl.
And the Spirits, blessed be their breath, heard her plight.
Morning came like a thief, tip-toeing in the most deafening silence.
The Woodsman had lived barricaded in his hut for more than one month after the disaster at Ferravia. Back then, he had no idea about what had actually happened. All he knew was that the Eerie had attacked his house out of season, and he had almost been ripped apart. Only thanks to his axe and the traps he had placed around his home he had managed to get away in time.
Followed weeks of siege, where he could not even sleep a wink without some Eerie trying to worm its way inside.
Little by little, they grew tired, and even though he knew they would come back in force as soon as Winter arrived, he finally found himself with some breathing room.
And many other things he found: the destroyed village, now a den of Eerie that while still burning from the remaining steelworks and the shadows of industrial might, were still too merry and drunken with lust of destruction to leave their grave.
The white path destroyed.
He followed it until he reached the witch’s house. He hoped she at least had escaped destruction.
But what he found there was not the old woman.
He found a young one, naked and shivering in the light of dawn. Scars ran all over her wrists like coiling snakes, and she lay sweaty and bloodied, kneeling in the direction of the sun. She held something wrapped in a red cloth.
“Who are you?” He whispered, coming close. She did not seem an Eerie, but the recent disaster had made him suspicious.
Only when she raised her face her recognized her. Something made harder by the strange light in her eyes and by the grey locks of her hair. She had lost all colour, and ever her eyebrows had turned a silver shade.
More details appeared to his eyes: the circles of burnt grass around her, like thin flames had kissed the ground. And a smell like air right after a storm, even though no rain had fallen for a week.
The girl, Rossa, did not reply. She just opened the red envelope, her cloak, and showed him what was inside.
The metal head of a spear, forged in silvery steel.
Author’s Notes: This was one of the hardest Arcana to adapt, but I really like how it ended up. I am keeping the best for my favourite one, though.
Thanks for reading.