My knife was deep in his belly. His eyes were wide across from mine. I pressed my chest into his, twisted the blade, and his dying breath warmed my face.
I pulled the blade. It was slick with his blood; my hand was covered, too.
His body, eyes empty of thought and memory, leaned against The Crossroads Tree. The others had been swallowed by the trunk as soon as a blade had cut their life-cord.
You must give him to me, Victoria, the ancient tree whispered into my mind. If you don’t, you won’t know how to return to your family.
I stared at the blade in my hand. Blood can be so black. While everyone else was also killing strangers and neighbors, in hope of being the one whose life-cord would be lengthened by every life ended against the tree, I was sure I wanted to be the winner. “My name is not Victoria,” I said to The Crossroads Tree.
You fed me last—his life, his memories… and yours. The name is recompense. Every other life you take under your new name, Victoria, will feed my strength and keep you young. End him. Begin anew. Wish him bled. Wish him gone. Wish him mine, Victoria, and I’ll give you back your memories plus life everlasting.
“No,” I said, sheathing my knife in my boot and reaching for the man’s body. I dragged him away from the blood drenched tree, and placed him gently on the ground. “What we were fighting for, what I did to you… it was wrong.”
I put two leaves between his eyes and me; then piled more leaves, sticks and stones over his entire body. My knife lay flat on the makeshift tomb. “I won’t kill to live.”
The sun was warm. Cool breeze played on my skin. I was standing in from of a earth mound that was covered in green grass and tiny wildflowers. A tree, its thick trunk resembling people hugging each other, grew crooked by the side of a bright trail.
I didn’t know where I was, or who I was, but I wasn’t scared.
There were a large blackened knife and a polished staff atop the mound. I grabbed the latter and walked passed the twisted tree towards a new path.