Part of the Mirror, Mirror campaign. This is an open storyline. PM me if you want to get involved! ))
Idella sat cross-legged, back hunched and face wincing as she again carefully traced her fingers over the lines burnt into the wooden floor. Her eyes closed, forcing her fingers to grope blindly, filling the scorched groves and following them to the next sharp curve. When her fingers slipped from their mark, Idella gasped in frustration, steeled herself, and started again, her fingers tracing until every line was perfectly memorized.
Around her were shelves crowded with books with pages folded, potions barely a quarter full, and candles whittling to their final inches. Outside, the darkest grip of twilight held its breath at the window like an unwelcome caller staring inside.
"Next test," Idella said aloud, finally turning away from the spell burnt into the floor. "Final test," she affirmed, steadying her voice. Her first words sounded hoarse from the throttle of no sleep.
Her eyes landed on a set of empty bottles arranged in line beside the spell on the floor. The bottles held no visible potion or liquid yet Idella's eyes latched upon them, a vein rising and pulsating through the skin at her temple. Her breath quickened and fingers griped tightly at her knees, her knuckles turning white. Gritting her teeth, she jerked her head away, muttering a curse beneath her breath. The curse went unnoticed by anyone save the outside twilight, yet she still felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
"Again," she told herself, again speaking aloud. And she set herself to a tense staring match with the silent bottles once more.
It was not long till she broke her gaze again, this time unsteadily rising to her feet and pacing the floor. Her gait was a pattern of shuffles, toes digging into the floor from sitting curled and unused for so long. Regaining her stride and breath, Idella leaned heavily against the counter, this time gazing upon the bottles with a nip of her teeth against her bottom lip.
"Damn," she repeated from before. Even at this distance, the spell cast upon the bottles was palpable: an alluring spell, one that compelled her feet to disobey and eyes to deceive. Upon the floor stood bouquets of flowers or sacks of gold, not four nondescript bottles with no beauty or treasures waiting inside.
"Damn," she said a third time and leaning on the counter, she pressed her palms into her eyes. The late hour ticked away outside the window, an ever-present guest with the most unpleasant, prying habits.
"Okay," she whispered on a bare breath between her hands. "Not like I'm going to get any better."
Turning from the counter, Idella shuffled to the intricate runes burned into the floor and dipped her fingers into an errant groove. This one stood out from the rest, delicately jutting from the heart of the circular shape and curving in an opposite direction. To the layman eye, it was much like a shortened line of a delicate kite's string.
Sharply drawing in a breath, Idella closed her eyes and pressed her fingers into the groove. A green light sprung from her fingertips and splashed like water down a throat parched with thirst. It filled and sloshed, twisted and turned through the construct until all the lines lit from a brilliant yet sickening green. Still thirsty, the spell lapped eagerly at her fingertips like a returning wave would at a shore. The young witch did not withdraw her fingers. Instead, she pressed them in deeper, spreading her hand until each finger touched a separate line of green on the floor. The magic splashed up to meet her, curling around her fingers, hand, wrist, and forearm in its hunger. Idella did not flinch save biting deeper into her lower lip.
"You can't miss this, Claret," she whispered, her voice still hoarse. Green slipped up her arm and crept to her shoulder, like a poison steadily streaming toward the youthful thump of her heart.
"No dear, I really cannot," said a demure voice.
Idella flinched. Two sets of panic seized her: one that screamed she reel away while the other commanded her to be still. Their forces collided into one another, arresting even the very breath in her chest. Pressing her fingers deeper into the floor, the dueling panic within Idella drove her efforts further even as it kept her stock still.
"Claret," Idella said, resuming her breath. Overcome as she was, she could not tell how her own voice sounded now.
"Idella," she replied.
The single word spoke depths: welcome, appreciation, warmth, embrace. Clamping her jaw, Idella stole a glance to the bottles on the floor, her eyes seeing them again as roses and coins, then lifted her gaze slowly to the woman in red seated in the corner.
Her figure was obscured, the light of the shop too dim to give an accurate description. And yet Idella's eyes told her of beauty, both minute and exquisite, perfect in its every line whether you behold from afar or up close. Gazing at Claret, Idella immediately felt drawn to her, her legs moving without request and lips upturning in a smile without consent. Every memory and thought of beauty sat waiting in the corner, speaking her name and her name only.
"You came," Idella managed, her fingers trembling and twitching until her hand finally obeyed and gripped at spell on the floor. Beneath her, the young witch's feet restlessly squirmed in protest.
"Of course," Claret replied, unmoving. The Red Woman's voice only added to her beauty and Idella felt her feet attempting to lurch her forward once more. Glancing to the bottles, the young witch watched as the flowers stretched their petals into the most exquisite bloom and the gold coins swelled in number.
"I could not stay away while my own summon spell cast itself," Claret continued, slowly rising from her chair. She rose with a grace that made a dancer look the fool, her red robes pooling about her in silken cascades. "Imagine my pride to see my protege, herself."
"Don't call me that," the words flew quicker from Idella's throat than expected. Even the hoarseness was temporarily driven away, if even for four snapped words.
"The truth, dear, is something you run from far too much," Claret said, the warm welcome to her voice giving way to a mother's chiding. Beneath her, Idella felt the twitch of her knees, compelling her downward like a repent towards the floor.
"The truth?" Idella scratched at the floor, still gripping the green runes as if they were a net. Her words returned to the earlier rasp. "The truth… you're the liar. You're the lying one."
Though she had felt its sting before, the hot lash striking her cheek still made her gasp. Her head inflexibly jerked and she felt her hair plaster against a spill of wet warmth dripping down her cheek. Latching onto her panic, begging for it to continue its paralyzing commands, Idella gripped tighter at the glowing wood beneath her hand.
"Shameful," Claret scolded, slowly circling around her. Despite the spell she so recently cast, it was as if Claret's arm hadn't moved at all, that her will simply deigned the cruel spell to be so. "You know better than to fib, dear Ida."
"I…" Idella couldn't finish. Pain throbbed from her cheek. Her eyes returning to the bottles, she watched as the gold coins continued to swell in number, tumbling in waves from each other down a growing pile. The flowers grew brighter, flourishing in spite of the lack of soil and light. Just as Idella felt compelled to reach and swap a coin or pluck a flower did she feel compelled to silence every word that spoke ill of the alluring Claret.
"I've received many letters," Claret continued, a slow smile clear in her voice. "Some are from your friends. Zen, was it? The first one you met?"
It took everything within Idella to keep her legs and hands still.
"He is darling. I can see why you liked him. And inquisitive, at that. A trait the both of you share," Claret sat upon her chair once again. Idella was struck with the fleeting thought that her shop never had a chair lingering in that corner.
"I should reply to him, of course. I have been rude thus far, but I've received so many letters," though she spoke from deep within her silken red hood, Idella could feel Claret's eyes setting directly upon her. "I've become so popular as of late."
"Don't like it?" Idella's voice was raspy squeak.
"Manners, dear Ida. You forgot them so quickly after leaving," though Claret sat still, Idella felt as if the distance between them closed. The air hung hot, stifling around them. "You left a rude, shameless little thief."
"Because, because you…" Idella gasped. Words came too difficult now. Again, even as Claret sat still, it felt as if the distance continued to shrink between them. Glancing fleetingly at the bottles, Idella's heart sank low despite its desperate pounds and flutters, like a bird struggling to keep aloft. The gold coins were innumerable, the flowers nearing a garden. The alluring illusions closed in around her yet all in the room in truth sat still.
Claret's face pressed closed to hers, her forehead only a hair's width away. And yet stil, the sliver of Idella left knew the Red Woman hadn't moved, just as the bottles dec.
"I will pay him a visit," Claret told her, her voice just above a whisper. The warmth and welcome disastrously gone, replaced with what Idella could only feel was the fall into the deepest, darkest pit. "I will finish all that has started between us."
Idella felt nothing. No panic, no urging, no command, only a paralysis that came moments before a depth-less plummet. Her hand was arrested on the floor, her eyes chained on Claret, on the featureless yet perfect face that never appeared beneath the silken hood.
"Because," Idella whispered, choking on the word. Trembling, her hand flinched, feeling blood in its tips again. Her eyes painfully pulling away till they rested on the deceitful bottles once more.
The garden was beautiful, the gold tantalizing.
A single red rose bloomed within the garden, every curl of its petals utter perfection.