For a few wonderful, magical moments it felt as though she were flying. The wind ran through her hair, sending straight-across bangs fluttering discordantly. Her heavy dress no longer felt like a burden or iron chain. Her dress could no longer shackle her to that never-ending tea party behind iron bars. Instead, the thick material swirled round her legs as though it weighed nothing less than a feather, dancing with her, not against her, as she twisted gracefully through the air.
She was free of that cage, and she was free of his control. He couldn't keep her locked away anymore; she would become a spirit, floating through the forest of Rokkenjima on wings as light as air.
Maybe she had grown wings.
Beautiful golden butterfly wings.
She could fly- just like something from a fairytale. Her heart pounded a tattoo against her chest and her eyes opened wide, sparkling as they'd never done before. Her fingers coiled against the cool air that needled her skin/
Even if it was only for a fleeting moment, she was as free as a cloud, flittering through the air like a golden butterfly. Butterflies might have been beautiful, but trying to catch hold of one was like trying to grasp motes of dust in your fingers- almost impossible.
When you did catch a butterfly, it would wither and die.
Kinzo had been killing her slowly for the past twenty years, draining all the color out of her cheeks until they were hollow, ashen, white. But that girl had taught her otherwise. That girl had told her about the world beyond the forests and the imaginary wolves and the shores of Rokkenjima. That girl had taught her about zoos and the taste of ice-cream on a summer day and splitting watermelons on a beach.
Rosa had opened the door of her cage and set her free.
She was a butterfly.
But butterflies, even those that could flutter freely in the blue, blue sky, didn't have very long life spans.
When did the flying turn into falling?
Maybe it when her head smacked across the jagged rocks. The impact pushed one bright blue eye half-way out of its socket, whilst the back of her split open in a mess of thick, dripping red.
She had only been able to fly (entertaining the illusion of escape) for a few seconds.
Perhaps even less.
But she would have traded her entire life for these split seconds, and more, because she'd never felt so alive.
Kinzo wouldn't be able to trap her anymore; holding her in a tangled web of lies ("there are wolves in the forest") and 'love' that turned her stomach and hurt so much- why didn't he stop he never stopped but he said he cared…
She was beyond that now.
Nobody would want to catch a dead butterfly. She would turn to dust and she would disappear; becoming one with the air again.
When she thought about it like that, dying wasn't so bad, either.
A small, barely there smile tugged at her lips, as the blood flowed from her head and her brain began to shut down. Her limbs felt numb, she couldn't even move her fingertips, and her beautiful hair (Kumasawa spent so long fussing over it in the mornings- it seemed a bit like wasted effort now) was coated in sticky red.
She couldn't breathe.
She couldn't fly- not anymore. Her wings had been taken away from her; torn out of her back in a mess of blood and bone and jagged rocks.
But she was still… happy.
For the first time in her life, she was happy.
She died smiling.
"Beato!" Rosa called, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. "Beato, where are you? Beatrice!"
Rosa navigated through the slalom of pointed rocks and jagged cliff face carefully, her fingers trembling in panic as her mind entertained the thought of falling. Her feet would slip, her fingers would spasm, and then her heart would lurch out of her mouth as her body twisted through the air. She would hit the ground like a limp rag doll, her arms and legs twisting at awkward angles whilst her eyes emptied of life and became black pools.
Did that happen to Beatrice?
Was her body lying, impaled, on these rocks, like a broken doll?
Were her eyes dead and empty?
Rosa winced and shook her head, girlish pigtails fluttering in the breeze (Eva always teased her about those pigtails, "you're too old to wear those now"), as she tried to calm her breathing.
It was fine, she tried to tell herself. It's fine, it's fine, it's fine.
She ran the phrase through her head over and over again like a mantra, until it almost began to lose all meaning. It was a coping mechanism; the same technique she used to soothe her nerves when Eva, with her cruel tongue and narrowed eyes, began tearing into all her hopes and dreams like a lioness feeding on an injured antelope. Her brothers and sister could be so cruel, but Rosa was above that cruelty. Rosa lived in a world of fairytales and princes that would come to rescue her from Rokkenjima.
The princes in Rosa's mind sweep her off her feet, pulled her to their chests, and made promises they would always, always keep.
Rosa had been allowed to believe in those childish delusions for a while as she was the youngest- the baby sister. However, when she became a teenager and she still didn't relinquish her dreams of true love, her siblings began to scorn her. By this time Rudolf had already begun to cycle through girls as frequently as he went through clean shirts (he was the worst kind of man; so completely opposite to Rosa's ideals he scared her, just a little), and Krauss was ready to enter an arranged marriage. The idea of an arranged marriage scared Rosa, too. That wasn't 'love', that was… 'business'.
It was heartless.
Then again, a lot of things scared Rosa.
"You live in a fantasy world and you act like a little kid because you're too cowardly to accept the truth!" Eva had said once, grabbing hold of one of Rosa's pigtails and pushing their faces so close together Rosa could see the molars at the back of Eva's mouth when she spoke. "Grow up, Rosa! You're a successor to the Ushiromiya family, and you should start acting like it!"
Maybe Eva was right- but Rosa didn't want to 'act' like anything.
Rosa didn't want to be cruel and callous, hurting others for her own personal gain. She didn't want to be like Krauss or Rudolf or Eva.
She only wanted to be herself.
A young girl.
That was why she'd try to save Beatrice. Even thought the blonde-haired woman had been a little arrogant, surveying Rosa with initial disdain as though she were a speck of dirt, Beatrice had soon warmed up. Beatrice must have been five or six years older than Rosa- a woman, not her child. Her body had said that much. But when Rosa had looked at Beatrice's face, she'd seen, beyond Beatrice's fragile façade of self-importance and grandeur, they had been quite similar.
Like her, Beatrice had been nothing but a lost, lonely little girl.
A real princess locked up inside a tower.
Beatrice had even looked like a princess, what with her elaborate hair, piercing blue eyes (Rosa had never seen eyes that blue before; they were like the line between the sky and the sea, when the two bodies merged and it was impossible to tell them apart) and that breathtakingly beautiful dress.
The two tower princesses met- but Beatrice had been more of a princess than poor Rosa ever could. Her eyes might have been narrowed in disdain, initially, but even scowling she was the most beautiful person Rosa had ever seen. Rosa might have been fooled into believing Beatrice was an illustration in a novel, or else the product of some strange dream, if the feel of her fingers under hers had not been so warm and real.
Rosa wanted to save this person. Rosa had entertained the thought of being saved from Rokkenjima for years- but now she herself had a chance to help somebody.
Rosa wanted to protect this beautiful fairytale illusion before the real world spoilt her.
The real world had an excellent knack and destroying beautiful things.
So Rosa, with her unfailing optimism and childish ways ("you need to grow up") had led the captive princess by her hand, guiding her through a hole in the metal fence towards freedom.
Rosa should have known better.
Beatrice couldn't navigate the sheer cliffs in those skirts; it was ridiculous. An accident waiting to happen. Rosa had been stupid- incredibly stupid. One moment Beatrice had been there, and the next second… she'd gone. Disappeared.
She had screamed, though.
Rosa had heard a scream.
Maybe it was hers.
Don't be dead don't be dead oh please don't be dead…
Rosa winced as the rock face cut into her fingers, leaving small lacerations across the skin that oozed blood. She tried to swallow that pain and continue her descent downwards, even though her body was numb and she could hardly move.
She needed to grow up; they were only a few cuts. Hardly fatal. It didn't even hurt.
Beatrice was fine. Beatrice was fine. Beatrice was-
But it was a little difficult to keep living in a fairytale when the truth of what you'd done was staring you right in the face.
Except Beatrice couldn't stare anymore.
Her eyes were blank and dead, those sky-sea blue irises drained of color as though somebody had pricked them with a pin and the dye had seeped away. One of her eyes had been pushed half out of her socket, blood running down her pale cheek like tears. The rest of Beatrice's face was, mercifully, untouched- but the back of her head had been carved open like a Halloween pumpkin, leaking bone and brain out onto the grey rocks. The fluid from her split-open skull looked a lot like jelly, Rosa thought wildly. Just like jelly and ice-cream, all mixed together with a spoon.
Rosa gave a small, muffled squeak of horror, her fingers clapping against her mouth- and then, seconds later, against her eyes. She didn't want to look. She couldn't look. If she pretended it never happened, then maybe…
But that won't change anything and you know it.
You killed her.
The fairytale princess died because of you.
Does that make you the evil witch?
Rosa felt the contents of her stomach mix around, triggering her gag reflex.
Perhaps her insides looked a little bit like Beatrice's; perhaps everybody, regardless of outward appearance, looked exactly the same on the inside. If Rosa smashed open her own skull with a rock (there were plenty lying around) then… would she begin to look like Beatrice? Even though Beatrice was beautiful, she was no illustration of water colors and white paper, because illustrations couldn't bleed.
Fairytales were eternal, but Beatrice was only human.
That didn't change the fact there was blood dripping from Rosa's hands. That didn't change the fact Rosa was a murderer. You couldn't kill fairytale princesses because they never existed- so maybe it would have been nicer to live in a fantasy world where Beatrice was unchanging, untouchable, waiting for a prince to rescue her. But Beatrice was merely a lonely, lost girl like Rosa.
And Rosa had killed her.
Rosa winced, tears beginning to bead in her eyes. Her throat burned. Her body trembled.
Then she turned round and vomited over the ground.
Battler could only survey the black and white, monochrome scene with horror. He had seen many terrible things during Beatrice's 'game', but Beatrice's split-open skull (shattered like an eggshell) wasn't nearly as terrible as the look of pain and panic on Rosa's face. Battler couldn't help but think, perhaps a little wildly (hysterically, maybe even unfairly) that Beatrice had managed to freeze the scene at the exact moment when Rosa's heart tore in two.
Even though Battler was only an addition to this frozen scene and could not change or interact with anything (it was like looking at an old photograph), he swore he could smell the haphazard scent of salty sea water and rusty blood and Rosa's vomit. It turned his stomach.
Battler couldn't even look at Beatrice's corpse, those impractical skirts fanned out around her twisted legs. But he couldn't look at Rosa, either.
When Rosa was younger, she'd looked quite a bit like Maria. Maybe her personality had been similar, too. Innocent.
But that innocence had gutted out like a candle now.
You couldn't watch somebody die and remain unaffected. Battler had learnt that himself, after watching his family and their servants suffer over and over again in Beatrice's hands.
Rosa looked as though her whole world had shattered from under her feet.
Battler had believed Rosa was 'just his Aunt' for most of his life; treating her as a big bad adult when he was younger, as most children did. Then he left the Ushiromiya family for six years, and during those years he'd never spared Rosa a single thought. He'd thought about George and Jessica, and just a little about Maria, but never once had he thought about Rosa. Maybe… he'd never really seen her as a real person, or a human being.
But this young girl, with the cute pigtails and the look of horror on her face, was another human being; a human with thoughts and feelings and dreams- and those dreams had just been torn out of her heart and shredded into confetti.
Battler been fighting on behalf of his family, but he'd never really considered their pain before. Maybe he'd even been fighting, just a little, out of spite, or a childish desire to irritate Beatrice.
But no more.
He had to start taking this more seriously.
Battler had never liked to see broken people. Perhaps it was too late to save that younger version of Rosa- her skin was sallow, her eyes haunted, flecks of vomit on her chin and in her hair she hadn't yet managed to wipe away- but he could try and save her older self.
He had to.
Perhaps he was the only one who could.