The forest looked dead under its coat of frozen snow. But Toadmila knew that in spring there would be new life budding from the black branches. But not from all. She checked carefully each branch along the path for marks of burns. But the trees, even those around the Dilapidated Hut, were not charred. Something else, something cold and dark, had stolen their lives in quite a different manner.
Toadmila didn't stop at her cottage longer than to leave behind the shawls that the three brothers had lent her for her disguise, and the bag of healing potions. She took her broom and sat on it, side-saddle, trying to make herself as comfortable as possible. As she rose through the air, she tried to think of where the evil spirit could be hiding. But when the forest lay below her like a frozen map, she decided that it didn't matter. Far from the village, there was a clearing wide enough to offer the freedom of movement that she was going to need. Toadmila landed in a soft layer of snow that reached up to her knees. With a swish of her wand, she threw the snow flying in all directions, clearing the ground, revealing the black earth beneath. She leaned her broom against a tree, then stood in the middle of the clearing, her chin raised, her wand ready.
“Come,” she called, “Rosalba!”
At first, nothing happened. Then the wind stirred. Far, deep within the forest, it howled like a wild beast, closer, closer, until it burst into the clearing in a whirlwind of snow.
“Saint!” the wind hissed in a hundred voices. “Saint! They call me Saint Rosalba! They pray to me! Pray for my protection!”
The wind twisted and turned around the clearing, spewing snow in all directions, until there was no snow left in it, nothing but a black smoke, like a rag flying in the wind. And the smoke had a face.
“Saint!” the face shrieked, contorted with rage. “Saint! And they burned me! Burned me! Burned me!”
“That was hundreds of years ago, Rosalba,” Toadmila said gently. “Those who burned you are long dead. You have to let go of your hatred. There is no one left to hate.”
“You!” the face screamed, turning to Toadmila. “Witch! It's you they should have burned! And they burned my hut. My hut that I made with my own hands! Because you took it. Burn!”
The smoke charged at Toadmila, as if it wanted to pass through her. Toadmila raised her wand high above her head and a wall of ice rose from the ground in front of her. The smoke smashed against the wall, tendrils of black smoke curling back. Yet more tendrils seeped through the ice and came out on the other side. One coiled around Toadmila's right hand. Where it touched the skin, it burned. Toadmila pulled her hand back and checked her wand. But even though her skin was blistered, the wood had not suffered any damage. She breathed a sigh of relief before the smoke engulfed her wall of ice and reached for her.