Rossa, by now only kept true to her name thanks to the crimson shade of her cloak, wrapped a white lock of hair around her pale finger.
She was looking at another person in the mirror, compared to how she had been past year, when she still lived in the village and she still managed to hold a peaceful existence. When her troubles were so small compared to those plaguing her now.
And her guilt surely did not rest on her shoulders like it did now, hooked and heavy, pushing them down with the pressure of her regrets.
She thought once again about that rabbit caught in her trap all those weeks before. By now the worst of winter was behind them and the first few hints of a rich spring came up in the corners where snow was already melting. Even the nightly Eerie assaults had reduced in size and threat.
It only meant that a new cycle was about to begin, but she did not want to even let it start. She’d pay the Fae back before the end of winter.
“Are you leaving?” The Woodsman asked her from behind, leaning against the doorframe.
“In a bit. I wanted to thank you for everything you did for me during these past few months. Sharing your food and your home.”
He shrugged, as if to mean that it was actually nothing much, nothing important.
“I would still prefer if you would share with me what you are about to do.”
He clearly wanted to protect her again, and she smiled at that. But she was a far cry from the scared girl who thought she could break the rules and nothing would happen.
“You will find out soon anyway.” She picked up her things, the book that contained the spell she had started to practice, in part, during the last few weeks and walked out.
Along the way she met with a few of the skittering shadows of Eerie, but she ignored them. They did not ignore the silver-tipped spear she carried, and kept their distance.
She found her grandmother’s house just like she had left it, even though inside she found a lot of dust and even some mould growing from the warmer corners. She ought to give it a thorough cleaning, but come Spring she doubted she’d have time for that. Or anything else, really.
Rossa shook her head and walked to the basement. As she did, the windows rattled, without a breath of wind.
She turned to see a pair of beady eyes pressed against the glass, to which she offered a grin.
“Do you want to pass through the protection and come see for yourself? Be my guest, as you were before.”
The black thing only offered a snarl in reply and disappeared.
“Thought as much.”
Rossa shut the basement door behind herself and reached an open space she had prepared during these past few weeks, cleaning out a wide circle where she had drawn lines in chalk.
Like she did the time she had asked for help, she took off her clothes and lay naked inside the circle, where she traced more lines by scooping up salt from her backpack. As she drew two more circles with letters and numbers between them, she began to chant, trying to keep her voice level, knowing what would happen to her.
Did Erepeople devise such a baleful spell? Or was it something else, something that had crawled out of the ruins of the Eldritch War and her grandmother had picked it up? Maybe patched it together. Whatever the answer, Rossa was long past caring too deeply about such things. She was beyond caring too much about the past and was now only focusing on her future.
No matter how short it might actually be.
She picked up the spear and aimed the metal tip to her chest.
Not her wrist this time. No, she would need much more than that for this kind of spell.
She nodded, giving her full consent to all those who were listening, unseen.
Rossa plunged the spear deep into her body.
It eagerly cut through her skin, flesh and bone like they were nothing, coming out the other side with the smoothest motion. It stood there and Rossa choked on blood that was quickly coming to boil up in her mouth. She coughed and stammered but never stopped talking, never withdrew her focus on the spell.
The wound spread, unravelling like a flower before the dawn. Her skin curled back as if it was an old rug, revealing the sinews and bloodied muscles beneath.
Rossa felt the pain – it lashed across her body like a thousand burning knives, rising to her head in flashes of pure agony that cut her breath into a series of spurts. But she still kept chanting. She hang onto the memory of her lost village, of her guilt, of her family, and she had promise herself that she would avenge them.
No matter the cost.
She sputtered the last few syllables of the spell.
Her skin pulled back, revealing the entirety of her body, flayed clean like a ragdoll. Floating in the air, the strips of her skin began to flicker with silver sparkles. One by one, on the underside of each of them began to appear words and numbers and formulae, knitted and tattooed by an invisible needle.
Rossa couldn’t keep her scarified eyes open and she fell back, floating in the air in a sea of agony as the spear kept her airborne, hovering in the middle of the circles.
When she knocked on the door it was night-time already.
She expected the Woodsman to hesitate, but he immediately came to open up. At this time of the night Eerie were already supposed to surround the house, but nobody had come that night.
She could still see them of course. They waited between the trees, far away, not even trying to come close.
The Woodsman came forth holding a lantern. She had to shieled her reflective eyes.
“Rossa?” He gasped.
She smiled. Her skin had turned a sheer crimson, white lines running all over them, creating lines and words that covered her from head to toe. Her golden eyes shone like those of a cat. With her white hair, she might have looked like a devil out of a nightmare, but her smile was back to how it had been, before she set step on that wretched path.
“In flesh and blood.”
Author’s Notes: This might be one of my favorite chapters, and it comes with my favorite Arcana of them all. Those of you who know Tarot will understand why this chapter has the title card in Roman numbers.
Thanks for reading.