Every woman in Evanston over the age of twelve owned a red dress. These aren’t prom dresses, or the dress they wore for valentine’s day, the dresses didn’t start out red either. They were originally white, pure white, not a drop on them. It was a test to see how red the girls could make their dresses during the rites. Some only managed stains, others managed the whole skirt, very few managed the entire dress.
Marcella was one of the few that had waited to take the rites until she had finished schooling. Most took them at twelve but Marcella had seen what became of those girls; how their eyes dulled in the next few years and all hope and light had left them by the time they were her age.
When it came time for her to dawn her white dress Marcella stared at herself for hours in the mirror. It was the only time she was permitted to wear the dress before she stained it. It was the cleanest piece she had ever and would ever wear.
Exiting the steel front gates at dark Marcella felt a twinge of nerves. She had gone over what she was supposed to do hundreds of times in her head. Each instance was flitting out each ear as she walked forward. The knife in her boot reminded her constantly just how unarmed she was. But that was the way the elders wanted it. She was to earn her place, prove she deserved to live in the community. She had heard stories of several girls who hadn’t succeeded, the stains pitifully small, and had been shunned, left outside to fend for themselves. They were the cautionary tales told to make sure each girl paid attention in class.
Marcella wasn’t sure what she would encounter first, there were reports of werewolf gangs hiding close to them. Others said she had best go after something smaller to start, a gnome or fox spirit, just to make sure she was up for it.
That was her plan, until it wasn’t. She was barely twenty minutes from the gates when a minotaur sauntered into her path. No one took these on, they were well over twelve feet tall and had eaten several of her community that were unfortunate enough to get caught.
It sniffed the air and circled to her, they were better than bloodhounds once they had a scent, it was defeat it or die, neither option seemed better to Marcella. She had prepared for a vampire, a werewolf, maybe even a centaur but nothing like a minotaur; and she really didn’t feel like dying at the moment, this was not her night.
At the first step towards her Marcella turned and flew through the trees. If she was going to have even a fool’s chance at surviving she needed space. Trees crashed behind her as the thing lumbered after her. Spotting a low branch she grasped it as she ran and flung herself backward up the tree. Branches slashed her face and arms leaving angry cuts behind. She climbed quickly, glancing to see the beast closing in. It hadn’t seen her ascent yet and she hoped if timing was on her side she might be able to pull of her less than crafted plan.
Once she reached, what she hoped was the right height, she pulled her knife out and stepped to the edge of the branch, hanging onto the ones above for support.
Her prey crashed through the trees before her.
“Hey! Over Here!” Do you have a death wish Marcella? Because this is by far the dumbest thing you have ever done. You are yelling at a minotaur. A MINOTAUR! Yes you have lost your mind. These were only a few of the many voices yelling at her that this was in fact the moment of her willing demise.
The beast’s nostrils flared and it’s eyes focused in on her small form. She could have touched it’s nose if she had been inclined. What she would be touching wasn’t something she was going to think about. As the minotaur leaned in close she stabbed it in the eye. It roared in agony and Marcella took the opportunity to dive off the branch and down it’s throat.
It was dawn by the time Marcella dragged herself up the steps to pound on the steel doors. Part of the rules meant dragging all kills back as proof. Marcella hoped the head would be enough, it weighed twice what she did and was made unruly by the horns. They got caught on everything.
As the doors opened Marcella noticed more than the usual crowd of spectators lining the path. Usually it was only family that came to witness, she had drawn many more than that. As they caught sight of her she felt the stillness run through them. Dragging the head behind her Marcella made her way towards the elders and the end of her trial.
“Marcella Dewalt, what have you slain as proof of your bond to this town?”
“I have brought you the head of a minotaur, as a sign that I will defend from enemies both great and small.” She hoped she kept some of the weariness out of her voice as she presented the head to the elders.
“How are we to know you did not just find this head? The rules state all corpses must be returned.”
Her tongue moved before her brain could stop it. “It was over twelve feet tall! I’m barely five two, how was I supposed to drag that back here?” That and gore and blood covered her from head to toe. At least she didn’t have to worry about making sure she stained as much as she could.
“Tone young lady.” Marcella cowed. The group turned to discuss her fate. It didn’t take long for them to reach a decision. “Marcella, as you have brought the head, and it is clear from your state you could not have been fighting anything else, the council accepts your trial and congratulates you on your success.”
Cheers erupted around her and she sank to the ground, finally released from the trial. Her brother was the first to reach her.
“How on earth did you kill a minotaur, no one’s done that before.”
She peered up at him through hazy eyes “I jumped down its throat.” His eyebrows shot up.
“It ate you?”
“No, I force fed it my face, huge difference.”