The Girl left the stone hall one day and set off into the frozen forests. The Wizard would wait for her, she knew, still whispering to her hair in that great mass of dead man-stone.
For a day and a night the Girl walked into the heart of winter, her little feet bare in the gripping, merciless snow. She left a trail of red footsteps in the diamond glimmer of perfection, a path that was blurred and confused by the thick drag of her long, white fur cloak.
The reaching fingers of black branches clung to the Girl’s curled brown locks, dragged harsh lines across winter-pale cheeks and ruby red lips, and tried at the last to hold her back.
But, after a time, she came upon the Twins.
Seated in his throne of thorns to her left, the boy-prince scowled at her, his chubby little hands clenched on the bristling arms of the seat, just above the tips of his hairs. The throne looked grand, and more than a little out of place.
The princess sat facing him across the clearing, her seat of ice little more than a footstool. She was regal, her back straight and narrow, her feet placed daintily upon the earth, and her face slimming towards womanhood. She was dark like night, even as her twin was moon-pale.
The Girl trekked her bloody trail into their midst.
“What say you, girl, of horror?” Said the boy-prince, his head resting back upon the sharp bramble seat as he looked up at her.
“Horror is a dread thing, prince. A feeling for white men to feel as they look ever inward. A feeling for the stiff and the cold and the too-good-to-feel.” The Girl heard the snarls of wolves in the undergrowth and turned about. She looked for the yellow of their eyes, but saw only snow.
“What say you of disquiet, girl?” Whispered the princess, her voice the sigh of the wind, her lips unmoving. They lay, blue-black, as though dead in her too-still face, her eyes staring ever forward into the face of her brother.
“I feel it as ever. In the shadow of the highest noon, in the silence of the empty hearth.
Who are you?”
“Who are we, she asks,” the boy’s lips parted in a terrible grimace. His teeth were stained dark red and his gums were swollen and livid. “We are the darkness,”
“We are the terrible,” whispered the wind.
“You are but wraiths,” claimed the Girl.
She took from her magic pelt purse a cauldron, and a jar of ever-burning witch-fire. The fire glowed the green of the Girl’s eyes, a deep, rich, forest green. Ignoring the Twins, the Girl moved about the clearing. She gathered twigs and branches, heaping them beneath the cauldron. The boy-prince chewed on his lips as he watched, his dread-smile running with fresh blood. The thrusting, growing limbs of the thorn-throne squirmed and shuddered, and without a murmur, a tendril thrust through one of the boy-prince’s tightly clenched baby hands.
The princess allowed one black tear to fall, but she otherwise made no move. No breath stirred her naked breasts, no breeze touched her long, straight hair as it pooled about her ice seat. The Girl watched her uneasily, looking firmly away from the twitching, nervous face of the boy-prince.
“I have not come to speak,” she declared, taking from her purse a fine black powder. It shone metallic as she let it run between her fingers into the cauldron. To it she added handfuls of glimmering blue-white snow, and the dead and cracked branch of an apple tree. At the last, she drew forth a knife. Raising her hand high above the mess in the pot, she sliced daringly into her palm and allowed her blood to add to the mix, along with the knife itself. Standing back, the Girl threw the jar of witch-fire at the base of the cauldron. Shattering, the jar showered the fire over her gathering of twigs.
A terrible, lurid green light rose, inverting all the light of the clearing. A wailing scream howled through forest, shuddering on the wind. The princess did not move, her body by turns pure white and darkest black as the flames danced. The fire rose higher than the little pile of twigs had a right, a bonfire silent in that fey forest clearing. The boy-prince grinned manically, his hands thoroughly pulped by the growing vines of his throne.
The heat sent waves of shock out from the white-yellow-green monstrosity the Girl had awoken. It lapped at her bloody feet, crisping the hairs of her fur cloak. It boiled the frozen sap in the canopy, exploding the delicate fingers of wood as the heat bore into them. It slowly fanned into the Twins. It melted the seat beneath the princess. It set her long, perfect hair ablaze in green. It caught on the throne of the boy-prince, greedily tonguing at the wood.
“We are your hauntings, girl,” the wind curled about the throat of the Girl, tremulously choking her. She ignored it, even as she ignored the heat that was slowly lighting along her white raiment, as she ignored the pounding terror of the fire, “we do not die so easily.”
“We are your worries, and we are the cracks in your armour,” the boy-prince agreed. Slowly, he turned that manic grin towards her, his blue eyes staring into hers even as the throne grew through the back of his blond head, spearing the eye into a terrible jelly as it pierced it and bulged it towards her. The fire blazed around him, crisping his hands and hair, but his perfect oval face with its red smile, was untouched. The princess was a pyre of green, nothing left to be seen behind the blinding fire. Even the Girl had allowed herself to be caught by the heat. Her cloak quietly burned in comparison, turning to a soft ash around her naked white body. She looked away from the Twins, staring at the cauldron in the centre of the blaze as she waited for it to eat its fill.
Eventually, as the wind and the cold and the quiet of winter pounded back on it, the fire grew less. It gave up the trees reluctantly, the bleached and cracked bones of the boy-prince in his thorny throne, the perfect, ash body of the princess. With a touch, the Girl allowed the princess to disintegrate into the wind. The howling on the air became only the distant howls of the fleeing wolves, then. Slowly, the Girl stepped naked towards the melted remnants of her cauldron. Sifting between the twisted metal and lightly glowing wood, she reached deep into the mess. From between it all, she drew forth a perfect, round, red apple. The gleaming ruby glow of its surface perfectly matched the Girl’s lips. She allowed those lips a smile, and cupped the apple in between her bloody palms.
“I do not fear you, my demons,” said the Girl. Step by step, the Girl left the blackened clearing. She followed her bloody trail home, for a day and a night. The winter raged against her as she pushed back through the forest, but the Girl was not afraid. At last, the Girl came back upon the keep. The Wizard stood before the doors, her sorrowful face looking down at the Girl as she stepped slowly up towards her.
“What is this, girl?” Asked the Wizard. Her hair whispered into her ear, some nonsense, and the Girl ignored them both. She stepped past them, into her palace and through the great echoing hall. The quiet eyes of the hibernating summer creatures watched her sleepily, feeling the lapping warmth of the fire-creature she had become. They stirred, waking at her passing, lifting heads from their leafy piles and the furs of their brethren. She walked the length of the hall, the brown hair from her head crisped away in the burn. Now as she walked, it grew swiftly and untamed, a flaming red mass tangling its way past her shoulders and over her breasts. At last, the Girl ascended her dais, turned, and seated upon her own lovely throne.
“I have seen the heart of winter, my children,” she told her audience, her lambent green eyes staring down upon them all. The red apple lay waiting in one slim, white hand. “I have slain the dread Twins in their grove. Let us celebrate, today, for I have tasted summer- at last it comes for us.” Raising the apple up to toast the Wizard, the Girl took a bite.
By Danielle K. Day