Preparation for the final ritual couldn’t really wait, and yet Rossa tried to enjoy those last few days to the fullest. She helped the Woodsman with daily chores, just like she used to with her own family.
Those days were now lost forever, and if everything worked as it was supposed to, these would as well, quite soon.
But for the time being she could still enjoy the small pleasures of slicing bread, making her bed and looking up at the sun, feeling its gentle rays caress her crimson skin. Her latest transformation did not hurt her ability to enjoy sunlight, unlike the Eerie to which it was painful.
If she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, she could almost convince herself she was back home and her parents would come out at any moment.
Any moment now…
On the eve of the seventh day since she had last met with the Fae, Rossa decided to take a short leave for her grandmother’s hut. There were still a few books she had to peruse, and she had an inkling of hope that she might find something to perfect the last ritual she was working on.
With that last part perfected, she might even had a chance to escape it.
“I’m leaving for the day. I need to find more info,” she said to the Woodsman, and feeling bold, she leaned forward to set a kiss on his cheek.
The rest for when I come back, she thought to herself, pleased that the man looked at her with a stunned look, covering the spot where her kiss had touched him.
Something good to look forward to, no matter what.
Rossa walked through the forest with her backpack on her shoulders, her cloak and her spear. Air was much warmer than before, and by now only a few patches of snow remained around the roots of trees. Soon spring would definitely come and plunge the old year back into her deep bag.
She did not meet with any Eerie along the way, which was strange enough. Even if it was a clean day with few clouds, she had expected the will of the Fae to be strong enough, and that it would try to scare her off by sending more and more monsters against her.
But she found the way to her grandma’s house to be free of surprises. The wards were still up, while the traps were completely empty. A little disappointing but with spring coming soon there would come the time of abundance again.
She was about to enter her grandma’s house when something did stop her.
Rossa lifted her gaze. Something was not right. She couldn’t say exactly what, but the blood that now pulsated all over the surface of her skin curled in fear of something that was close, far too close for comfort.
She turned to get a better look, pointing her spear before her. Nothing came out from the forest.
Not from the forest but…
She turned just in time to avoid the door of the house blasting asunder in a thousand wooden shards, a hooked arm stretching out to grasp her.
Rossa pierced it with her spear. Another limb shot out of the home and coiled around her free arm, but her sorcerous skin set it alight with a silver flame. The Eerie withdrew its tentacle with a piercing screech of pain.
The inside of the house gurgled and vomited more of the same misshapen things, limbs and mouths wriggling on the surface of a worm-like creature that must have eaten through the frozen earth for many long patient weeks in order to find its way in.
Her grandma’s home, her last standing remnant of what she used to be, had been devoured from the inside.
“Fourteen thousand years too long,” the Fae’s loathsome voice mocked her. It appeared just at the edge of the forest, soon followed by the largest swarm of skittering, chittering Eerie she had ever seen. “You were right, I presume. How about a little feast to celebrate, then?”
The ruined body of her grandma bent into a cankerous laughter and the swarm of Eerie dashed at her as one.
Rossa grimaced as the house burst apart with so many limbs, mouths and eyes all looking for her. She swung her spear to cut through them, and they fell, but she was soon surrounded. For every pair of talons she cut through four took their place. The Eerie pushed her back. Their direct hits went up in a burst of flames, but it did not seem they’d care. Their usually craven behaviour had been overridden by the Fae’s will, and in their eye glistened a light of feverish hunger.
She fought with every technique the Woodsman had beaten into her thick skull, thinking of him as she parried and swung with her weapon, the silver of her spear so much keener and deadlier than the simple steel of his axe.
But it was not enough. It was never enough, was it? Otherwise mankind could have won the war.
The Fae laughed, stuttering closer inside her grandma’s body as the tide of Eerie pushed her back and into a corner.
Rossa had to think quick. She jumped, hooking herself at the still-healthy beech that had grown besides the destroyed house. She climbed it, swinging upwards with her enhanced strength as the Eerie followed her, coiling on the trunk like a colony of enraged ants.
She reached the highest branch that could still support her weight and slashed at the incoming Eerie, sending many tumbling down.
But more and more came – and even with her weapon and her sorcerous body, she was all alone.
From below came the hideous, caw-like voice of the Fae again.
And not just alone, it whispered to her ear. Her grandma’s body by now paraded like little more than a fleshy mask. It stuttered forward until it was at the base of the tree, looking up at her with a grin clearly visible even through the tattered skin.
Fourteen thousand years too late.
Author’s Notes: Ah, XV, The Devil. Never fails to deliver.
Thanks for reading.