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Stormwind kept its namesake overnight with a vicious downpour. The building groaned with every gust of wind and a slow drip drip from the ceiling served as Idella’s reminder that she again neglected to summon a thatcher to fix her roof, for the fourth stormy night in a row. It dripped like an impatient clock, the sound growing louder in her ears with every drop.

Sighing, she lifted her head to again check on Ryo. He slept soundly, the day’s events still weighing on his sleeping face. She lay tucked beside him, awkwardly clothed in her nightgown, a hat, an itchy pair of wool leggings, and thick winter boots. Their relationship had hardly progressed to such intimacy yet, but on discovering Ryo’s rage subsided when she was near, Idella resolved to spend the night in the lion’s den. The end result was her nervously going to bed with far more clothes than necessary. Ryo hardly noticed, either accepting it as a strange human custom or too exhausted to comment. She was certain he’d either inquire her or a Templar about her attire once he made a full recovery. The explanation was going to be equally embarrassing.

Seeing him resting as he was, she took a chance. Slowly, limb by limb Idella extricated herself from the bed. She took two steps before the clunky winter boots nearly betrayed her, the extra weight setting upon the wood floor with a drawn-out creak. Flustered, she checked Ryo again, found that he had not moved, and shed the boots before quickly retreating downstairs.

The smells of the darkened shop were welcoming. The drying herbs and manicured flower pots released a soothing smell into the air, acting like incense without the flame. Lighting a small lantern, Idella curled into a chair and pulled a research tome to her chest. The midnight reading was sure to calm her nerves, not to mention find a cure to Ryo’s ailment before it devolved beyond managing.

A sigh. “You are getting slower, my dear.”

Idella jerked up, nearly bouncing the back her head off the wall behind her chair. The book clattered to the floor. Swiveling in her chair, she at first found the room still empty, but when she strained her eyes, a faint outline of red stood in the darkest corner from the lamplight.


“You said you weren’t going to come anymore,” Idella slowly stood up from her chair. Suddenly her odd attire felt even more silly, but she fought down the blush that threatened to creep into her cheeks. Still, she straightened her posture, squaring her shoulders towards the shadowy figure occupying the room.


“Contract, my dear. I reserve the right to visit should you stray. And you’ve been straying,” a woman clothed in deep red stepped into the light. A hood cloaked her face and her feet never seemed to touch the floor. She wandered the shop shelves, idly brushing a transparent hand across its immaculate labels.


“Things… happened,” Idella replied lamely. She saw no reason to argue. Claret despised lying far more than laziness.


“An astute observation. You did not lose your attention to detail, at least,” Claret chided, yet her tone was ever honey sweet, somehow able to mock and soothe at the same time. It set the hairs on Idella’s neck on end.


“I have responsibilities,” Idella added more firmly. “I can’t just drop everything and –“


Contract, my dear,” Claret snapped, swiveling her head towards Idella. The young witch had an unsettling moment when she realized the head turned in an about face long before the body followed. She held her breath to stave the gasp in her throat, but couldn’t stop her eyes opening wide in paralyzing fear.


“Contract,” Claret repeated more calmly, her figure righting itself. “I helped you, you return the favor. Do finish this business quickly and return to task. You are so capable, surely you could do it. Else,” she added with emphasis, her hooded face inclining upwards, indicating the upstairs bedroom. “He’ll simply have to go.”


Idella bit down on her lip, curling her fingers into fists and squeezing her eyes shut. She wanted to scream, throw something, or even hurl a spell at her, but forced herself put. Her fingernails dug fine red lines into her palms.


Claret nodded approvingly then turned, returning to the darkened corner where she appeared.


“Oh,” she added, a hand blithely gesturing to the neglected tome Idella dropped on the floor. “The answer is an infernal. A parting gift, one I give for free. Do take my token of good will and fulfill your promise, would you?”


With a step into the darkness, Claret was gone.

Author Ari
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