The shriek came from a young woman, as she saw her frail mother dragged from their home.
The older woman, who had pale hair and lines carved into her face around her eyes, was shoved down by strange men dressed as shadows. She and the screaming daughter looked almost nothing alike, if not for the latter’s desperate cries.
They were being extracted like mice from their burrows, and the wolves’ jaws were closing around them.
The men continued to yank and kick at them. The daughter saw her head bashed against the ground. Fear crushed her heart until she felt sick and breathing insufferable. She trembled at the thought of the concussion the blow had inflicted. But worse things were to come.
“What an unfortunate turn of events, Frieda. Your own father abandoned your mother for a blond whore and her child, even casting out his eldest daughter...”
There came the sweet voice of a killer. Kenny Ackerman. Frieda had met him on rare occasions before together with Rod Reiss. She knew of his shady background. And despite his lax posture his dark presence had always triggered fear in Frieda’s own mind.
Now, Frieda feared that his would be the last voice she would hear, and the last face she would see: this man had been a close friend to her uncle. The thought terrified her and grieved her to no end.
But instead of coming to her first, Kenny Ackerman turned to her father, whom she had momentarily forgotten was still there.
“So, Lord Reiss,” He inquired nonchalantly. “Do these two bear any relations to you? Is this woman not your former wife?”
Frieda turned a desperate eye towards her father, giving him one last pleading look. He could save them. She knew he could. One word from him, and they’d be free. One word, and this night’s events would disappear like a bad dream - never happened, never spoken of again.
Instead of looking at her mother, who sagged unconscious in Kenny Ackerman’s arms, Rod Reiss turned to his eldest daughter and caught her gaze. From his cold and jaded eyes, something stirred as he regarded Frieda. But what was it? Doubt? Sadness? Regret? The last of what could be remotely called fatherly feelings?
Whatever it was, for but a few seconds, it gave Frieda hope. Futile. Foolish. Naive hope. Hope that believed even now, as her arms were trussed behind her and a blade ready to slice her throat, she would be delivered.
The next words he spoke would be a hammer onto her fate.
Lord Reiss clicked his tongue, his face was hardened with resolution. “...It can’t be helped. They have no relationship with me.”
The cry was ripped out of Frieda’s lips - shrill, anguished, disbelieving - before a hand clamped down on her mouth like a guillotine.
In an instant her mother was forced down on her knees. Kenny Ackerman was behind her like a phantom, the sinister grin on his face and the glinting blade in his hand made him looked like a devil ripper.
“In that case...” He bent over her mother, left hand cradling her chin like an infant, and deftly placed the knife between her throat.
“You didn’t exist. You didn’t live inside this house. Nobody knows anything about you...”
Frieda lunged forward. Her sudden burst of strength had stunned her captor enough to wring herself free. She put a fist to the man’s jaw and twisted his knife into her hands. Clenching its hilt in her fist she made a mad dash towards Kenny with a furious and primal cry.
Then, she was grabbed from behind. This time two pairs of hands trapped her like a vice. Her hair was pulled upwards to expose her slender neck. Despite her twisting brutally, she couldn’t even move. For a second her body grew limp at the stabbing realisation that not only was she too weak to stop her mother’s execution, she was powerless to stop her own.
“You -” She hissed, eyes full of disbelief, sorrow and anger. “Stop it! Stop it! What did we ever do? MOTHER!”
Kenny the Ripper turned towards her. The death dealer’s eyes alone were enough to silence her, her screams clogged in her throats. Those eyes held nothing like pity, only perhaps a cross between boredom and impatience. Yet, they were colder and harsher than the blade he was holding to the flesh of her mother’s neck.
“Sorry kid. If you want to blame someone, blame your useless mother who can’t keep herself from falling out of favour.”
She gazed at her mother, at the lines on her face, at her thinning hair and hollowed eyes; and her bones turned cold, for Kenny had been right. It was age. Time had combed away all youth and beauty.
But is this her crime? Not being beautiful enough for the whims of men of power? For this, her husband would abandon her and their daughter? For this, blood had to be spilled, and bodies cut open and slaughtered like animals?
Her mother blinked hazily. Regaining consciousness a moment before her death, she looked for her daughter’s face. But Kenny ended her quickly. With a slash of the silver knife deep into flesh. Perhaps he did it out of mercy, killing her before she became fully conscious.
Her mother’s body fell to the ground, blackened with fresh blood. Her hands raked into the ground;a gurgling sound escaped from the split in her throat. Then all was still.
Frieda also slumped to the ground, the weight of reality too great for her knees. Frieda, alive, and felt it was her own throat that had been cut into so deeply. Her own soul which had been ripped away... She could only stare, but she didn’t know where she was looking at. Ah-
What did she do that morning? She remembered waking and combing her hair, greeting her mother with a smile and an innocent kiss, and heading to the library after breakfast. Regardless of her will, her memories - the best of them - began their final march through her mind. Why did I think that I could have those days forever? Why, when did I ever stop saying I love her? It was the last time we spoke to each other, and we didn’t even say goodbye properly, and now we never shall...
The Ripper had turned and looked at her, his ruby-tipped blade inching ever closer, closer. Frieda’s eyes followed its every movement, but - again - saw nothing. Slowly, she closed her eyes, not wanting to accept that the scene around her would be the last she sees in this world. A calm darkness enveloped her. It was more comforting than any that reality offered.
Death would be like this. It would be like falling asleep, she told herself. Down the curtain would would sweep over the painful act of living. How can it be possibly be any worse, any more painful than this infinite anguish that the world has inflicted on her? Words from an old story from a more peaceful time came to her. Pity not the dead, but the living. She thought she finally understood those words.
But... but the injustice of it all, the damning cruelty of this world. It was the last spark in a dead flame. She couldn’t help but weep. For the world. For herself. For her mother. For her younger sister whom she would never see again.
I’m sorry. Farewell.
The single voice that could have saved her then. Her father’s. It rang out when the knife had only been a hand’s length away from Frieda’s throat. She opened her eyes as if something had commanded her to do it.
“Your name...” He met her with shadowed eyes. Hers was stained with grief, unclear and unfocused at first, but growing a startling sharpness. The eyes met his, and a flame was at once lit.
Same pair of eyes. One as icy as a lake in winter. The other seared like bright blue fire.
“... is Freya Klein.”
And with those words, Frieda - heir to the Reiss bloodline - was forever dead. And a new person was born from her ashes.