Content Warning: Scarring, self-harm
The edge of the knife rang as she drew the blade down the length of the well-oiled stone and pulled it away for the fifth time. Warming as she ground away its dullness, the steel glinted against the dim light of the candelabra behind her. Then, as the massive thud from outside shook the floor, the blade trembled in her hand and twisted upward just enough to reflect her own hollowed eyes back at her. She held it in that position for half an indrawn breath, considering the gray tinge that had crept into her skin, the mark of insomnia and grief. Then the room shuddered again, and she resumed the honing of her weapon.
They would never let her live now, she knew. Following her even to this shelter, this retreat she had made for herself far away in the hills, showed the extent of their resolve. They had tracked her to this remote place, over a wild and hostile country, following the evil rumors and superstitions that had sprung up about her, had broken past her outer defenses and had made their way through the labyrinth she had constructed around herself. Soon their assault on the door would splinter the wood into fragments, unleashing their righteous fury upon her.
As she swept her knife along the stone for the final time, she rose and looked about the room in which she had cocooned herself for so many years—years of isolation, of solitary contemplation uninterrupted by any shameful desire for significance or delusion of purpose. She had made herself comfortable here, amidst the rich furnishings, the vaulted ceilings, and the masses of books ancient and new, all filled with the vapid philosophies and ponderous futility of man. Whiling away years beyond count, she had let the chambers grow stale with the dull despair she had long ago embraced, until a new force had burst in upon her like the very battering of her enemies outside.
Soon they would be upon her. She turned, holding the knife in a loose grip, but before she could pick up the candelabra, her eye caught a movement to her left: her own reflection in a mirror across the room. Despite the new shock that reverberated about the chamber, she took a step toward the mirror, her eyes drifting downward to her shoulder, which the wide, scooped neckline of her dress exposed to view.
Faint lines still lingered there, below her collarbone, but the scar was fading. Disregarding the renewed shouting she could hear from beyond the door, she kept walking toward the mirror, pulling one side of the dress down to free her entire shoulder. When she reached the mirror, she squinted down at the scar and ran the fingertips of her right hand over it. Frowning as she realized that it was now no longer discernible by touch from the rest of her skin, she raised the knife in her left hand and shifted her grip from the hilt to hold it near the point, giving herself finer control over its movement.
The tip of the blade broke the skin at once, and she did not even have to grit her teeth.