Content Warning: Self-harm
Blood bubbled up around her fingers, but she pressed the knife further into her skin, then dragged it upward and to the left, tracing the top line of the scar. Guiding the knife with smooth and practiced precision, she renewed each of the lines that made up the mark on her chest, then looked about until she located the large silver vessel that stood on a shelf nearby. She let the lid fall to the floor and scooped out a handful of coarse salt with her left hand, holding the knife in her right. Then, her jaw hardening in preparation, she crushed the salt against the open wounds and ground it in with her palm. Tears oozed out of her eyes, but she wiped them away with the back of her hand. At last, she used her sleeve to soak up some of the blood and examined her work.
The red flow began at once to disguise the shape, but she knew she had executed well, as always. Another assault upon the door trembled the boards beneath her feet, and without waiting to further appreciate her own craft, she strode across the room to a narrow passage beyond, snatching up the light as she went. Passing through the dim torchlight that sent her shadow twisting and dancing ahead of her in a grim parody of jubilation, she reached at last the heavy stone door. It ground upon rusting hinges as she thrust it open to reveal an even heavier darkness stretching up to embrace her from the bottom of the stone steps at her feet. The flickering of the seven candles she held at the level of her eye as she stalked down the shallow staircase now no longer mocked but threatened her, transforming her lonely silhouette into a sisterhood of seven ghosts that beckoned her to join them in the world of the dead.
As she neared the bottom, the cold air grew dank and thick with decay. She paused as she reached the chamber below, forcing herself to draw in a long, slow breath and quell the nausea that rose up in response. Then, lighting the torches on the walls one by one, she passed around the edge of the crypt, her cloak brushing the stone shelves upon which lay the bones of those who had gone before her. She blew out the candles and set the candelabra on the edge of the last shelf, then approached the far end of the crypt once more.
There lay the still-graying bones of the noble lady whose final days she had shared and who, the last of her house, had bequeathed to her this dwelling place as a shelter from the world that had never offered her another home.
“Forgive me, my friend,” she said.