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Latching the door shut, Idella braced against the back of the door and slid to the floor. Days of turmoil boiled within her, finally spilling tears. She wept, face buried in her knees, sobbing till her breath was too thin to manage anything more than gasps. Her tears faded and lifting her gaze, she spied Boots tilting its head at her. The mechanical cat kept watch over her shop in her absence, and apparently not possessing proper protocols to respond to human anguish, it broke feline character and openly inquired:

“Why are you crying?”

 With a smile, Idella patted the mechanical creature. Boots quickly reverted to feline protocols and gave off a grateful purr. “Sometimes… sometimes humans do that. And what you do is help them feel better,” she replied. “And this is pretty close to what a cat would do, except more purring,” then she added, thinking. “And asking for treats.”

At the very mention of the word, Boots immediately started begging for treats. Like all mechanical companions, it had no actual use for eating. But Boots did its best to recreate its intended species. However strange it was to share a space with a cat that had no use for food and was metal to the touch, Idella was suddenly grateful it was there. Dropping a few “treats” to the floor (mostly scraps of leather and a few feathers from her earlier craft making), Boots set to entertaining itself while she lit the shop lanterns. Bringing light into the room heightened her spirits. Her hands went through the motions of brewing tea while she vacantly stared at the wall, her mind thousands of miles away.

Days on the run with Ryo and he was stabilized. He even had new glaives, partly thanks to her. She had little time to check his tattoos before the weight of their exile proved too much. A guilt weighed on her, chastising that she left too soon. What came over her? Was it really that bad?

What was she doing here?

“You should trust your intuition, dear.” A voice from the corner of the room. Idella whirled around. Of course, she should have expected it. Of course she would be here.

Standing in the darkest corner left by the lamplight, Claret was a red fixture. Hooded, tall, and her figure fading before it met the floor, no feet appeared as she moved across the room. “You doubt yourself in every thing. It’s the greatest weakness about you. But you left for the right reasons, even if you don’t believe so.”

“You said you would stop coming,” Idella said through clenched teeth. It felt like the twelfth time. In spite their bargains, Claret appeared any time she liked. Again Idella was reminded how much more advanced the red witch was than she ever could hope to be.

“I said I would leave you be as long as you fulfilled your end of the contract. You have been on the run, my dear,” Claret admonished. Slowly, she circled Idella. Boots, recognizing signs of human consternation in Idella, dropped its play protocols and curled around Idella’s feet. “That is hardly what we agreed on. I came here to affirm your decision and spare you a few night’s dwelling over it. 

“He could still be a — be in… danger,” Idella hastily corrected herself. In truth, she wasn’t sure what to say. Stumbling over her words, she admitted aloud a fear she carried alone for days. It nearly spilled itself when she saw Drakku. Something about the old Draenei comforted her, as gruff as he was. Perhaps it was his age, his experience with his own people playing too frivolously with fel, or something else altogether. He was a priest. Was it his connection to the Light that made her feel more at ease?

“Yes, he is quite dangerous. That was rather frightful, wasn’t it dear?” As always, Claret found the crack and pried it wider. “Days alone with someone other Templars called a killer. He tried to kill them, you know. Even the priest you trust is wary. They may have the right notion. No feral creature should be left to roam. It will continue to scratch and bite others till it’s put down. That is his fate, dear.”

“You just don’t like him because he’s related to Zen,” Idella snapped, a rare but brief fierceness to her eyes.

“I don’t like him — ” Claret said harshly, her first words emphasized. The room grew darker as her tone dropped to its low octaves. ” — because he is a threat. He could turn on you, Idella dear. That’s why you ran. You don’t know how long or many times your precious little control on him will hold. He attacked you, came within a hair’s breadth of tearing you apart. Could you live with that? Could you live with a monster in your life?”

“Stop it,” Idella whispered. A tremble began in her hands and crawled up her arms. 

“You did the right thing, Idella. Stay away from this monster. It does not listen to you. Its feelings for you can only go so far. You are not a partner, you are a charm. A convenient little charm stashed in his pocket to keep himself acceptable. That is what he thinks of you. And he will keep doing as he likes.”

“Stop it,” Idella repeated, shaking. Her breath choked in her throat.

“You did the right thing — You’ve lost time, and you have such precious little of it to waste. Leave the monster, let it be caught as it should. It will be cornered and shot, and should you insist on staying with it, so will be your fate. The hapless little charm that got in fate’s way.”

Stop it!” Idella screamed. A sudden heat brushed by her cheek, lit the room. It took several moments for her to realize the source was herself. Her hand instinctively flung towards Claret, channeling a fiery red that lashed forward and through the apparition. It tangled into the curtains, immediately setting them blaze. The wood framing of the windows quickly followed, the hot flame eager to lick the shop clean. Recoiling, Idella retreated from the growing flames as they curled towards the ceiling, her feet catching on her robes and tumbling her to the floor. Claret stood inert, unmoved by the growing heat and flame. In spite her growing panic, a blur in the corner of Idella’s eye caught her attention. Boots leaped forward, its eyes flashing in warning, and through two jets that sprung from its back, the mechanical cat sprayed the flame with a bubbly foam. It frothed and spread, quenching the blaze. The curtains hung in smoldering tatters, the wood frame a charred outline, and the glass painted in black soot, but the blaze was gone. 

“Fire extinguished,” Boots dutifully informed them, and returned to its post by Idella’s side. The young witch was so stunned, she remained prone on the floor, gaping at the destruction she wrought on her own home.

“Red flame,” Claret commented, surveying the damage. “How very… like someone.” Her hooded face slowly, pointedly turned back to Idella.

The barb stung as intended. Biting back a comment, Idella seethed from the floor, her face red not from her usual embarrassment, but from fear and the heat of the flame.

“You’re safe now, Idella.” Claret said, her tone as if she granted a comforting reminder. “Safe, as long as you don’t set your life ablaze again.” With a wave of her hand, she faded. “Good night, dear. You are worth more than a little charm. He won’t listen to you. You did the right thing,” Idella could hear the smile on Claret’s voice as she faded entirely. “You did the right thing.”

Laying on the floor, Idella toiled over those words, far from spared a night of dwelling.

Author Ari
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