Hexalepsy
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It was the next day.

The party had safely made it home by the fall of dusk, and Catorsia had left, returning to their home in Thea. Their mother would have kicked up a storm had they been out any later without her consent, and thus the initiation of Catorsia as an official "witch" as recognized by Chalcum had to be put off until the next week.

Normally, Hrefna would be alone by now.

But not today. Today, she had company — two people with whom she had a lot of catching up to do.

The life of an elderly woman was a difficult one, consisting mostly of blissful solitude, as old age often gifted one with a terrible resentment of all other people. And thus, Hrefna was mildly annoyed by the continued presence of her own grandson, Stenzin Ghetrun, and her teacher from nearly a century past, Idwal Carnicelli.

Hrefna was lucky enough to call herself in control of her emotions, and was able to hide her annoyance. She conveniently reminded herself along the way that she was actually rather glad to see the two of them.

The pair was waiting patiently when Hrefna came in, holding another tray of Earl Grey tea, chipped off the ancient and seemingly never-ending block her husband had given her just before The Spell was cast.

"Alright, this is for you—" she said, handing Stenzin a cup, "And this is for you." she followed up, handing Idwal a cup as well.

"Thank you, grandma." said Stenzin.

"Yes, it's much appreciated." said Idwal.

"Least I could do." said Hrefna, sitting down and sipping at her tea.

"Ah," said Idwal, "It's been so long since I've had a nice cup of tea. Almost forgot how good it was."

"Nothin' starts off a morning right like tea," said Hrefna. "Have it every morning, I do."

"I usually have coffee instead," said Stenzin, sipping bitterly at the tea. "But this is alright, I guess."

"You need some sugar in that?" asked Hrefna.

"Yes, please."

Hrefna stood up and began to hobble over to the compartment in which she kept her spices — when suddenly she stopped, as though she had just remembered something.

"Right," she groaned, heading back to sit with the others. "No sugar. Haven't had the chance to head out and get s'more."

"We could head out today," said Idwal. "It would give us some time to catch up."

"We could catch up just as well here, though." said Hrefna.

"Yeah," agreed Stenzin. "The sugar's not that important."

"Fair enough." said Idwal.

"Anyways, on the subject of catching up," said Hrefna, setting her empty cup down. "I haven't seen the two of you in a while."

"I've only been at the Royal Wizarding College for six months, grandma." said Stenzin.

"Well, yes, but it's felt like an eternity. And even longer so for you, Idwal."

"I've been a bit out of the picture for the last eighty years." laughed Idwal.

"That you have." said Hrefna. "Mind tellin' us about it?"

"Oh, alright," said Idwal, finishing her cup of tea as well, "I'll see what I can remember."

Stenzin continued to sip idly at his tea. He rather wished there was sugar, after all, but sensed that he was now in the midst of an inescapable conversation in which he would be forced to be nothing more than a mere observer. Best to put on his listening ears, then.

"So," said Idwal, crossing her leg and laying her hands in her lap in an attempt to get comfortable, "You remember my ability to see into the future, right, Hrefna?"

"I vaguely recall." replied Hrefna.

"Right. Every witch has their gift. Every spellcaster, really. It's something that comes with being in tune with magic. My gift was… a vague intuition of the future. Nothing's ever set in stone, or told to me directly, but I get prophetic dreams and strange visions, premonitions, et cetera… rather common gift among witches, really."

"But regardless," continued Idwal. "That was my gift, and I happened to notice that The Spell was coming. I didn't know when, didn't know how, just that there was an awful magical event coming soon that would completely change the world."

"And you din't tell anyone about this?" asked Hrefna. "I could've helped."

"It was too urgent, Hrefna. Asking for help had hardly crossed my mind before, well, it had already happened."

"Fair 'nough. Go on."

"With the urgency of my premonitions, I felt that I had to do something about it immediately. My mind racing, I set upon what seemed like the simplest solution to protecting myself in the face of the end of the world. I planned to turn myself into a lich."

"A lich?! Chalcum, Idwal, that's forbidden magic!" cried Hrefna.

"I know, Hrefna, I know. You must understand now how panicked I was, back then." sighed Idwal.

Hrefna nodded. "It were dark times. Dark times call for dark magic, I s'pose."

"Quite. Anyways, I got the timing a bit off." said Idwal. "I don't exactly know what happened at the end, there, but I have my hypotheses."

"What's a hypotheses?" asked Hrefna.

"An idea, more or less, of what happened or will happen." said Idwal.

"Oh. Well, you could've just said that."

"Saves syllables." said Idwal.

"Fair 'nough."

"My current leading hypothesis is that my ritual was complete at about the same time as The Spell went off," said Idwal. "And it must have been vastly empowered by such a massive discharge of wild magic."

"How's that explain the horrible mass of dead people we found you inside of, then?" asked Hrefna.

Stenzin blanched, and began trying to think about anything but the events of last night. He could feel the bile rising in his throat again, and coughed.

"E-excuse me," he said. "I think I need to go outside for a mo'."

"Alright, Stenzin." said Hrefna.

Ring-ting-a-ling-ding-ding… went the chimes at the front of the tent as Stenzin excused himself.

"Carry on," said Hrefna, turning back to Idwal.

"Right," said Idwal. "About all that… the ritual to become a lich involves the joining of a soul with magic. I reckon that during the casting of The Spell, when the ritual was amplified, the wild magic sort of… changed it, and what really happened was that I got fused with the souls and bodies of the rest of the people in my town. As they all died, the ritual called out to their souls, and merged all of us into a horrible amalgamation. That's probably how I survived for eighty years, by feeding off of the life force of the rest of the souls that had just been forcibly joined with mine."

"Sounds horrible," said Hrefna. "Sorry you had to goes through somethin' like that."

"I don't feel miffed too much about it," sighed Idwal. "All those people were going to die, anyways."

"Bit pessimistic way of lookin' at it," said Hrefna. "But understandable, I s'pose."

"Anyways, that's the end of my story," said Idwal. "And now I'm back, still forty years young, while you're just starting your hundreds."

"We've come a long way," said Hrefna. "Problem is, with you, you were kind of put on hold."

"Yes," laughed Idwal. "I suppose that is one way to put it."

The chimes rang again as Stenzin re-entered the tent, wiping his mouth.

"You done talkin' about it?" he asked.

"Yes, Stenzin." said Hrefna.

"Good," he said, sitting back down. "Sorry about that."

"It's fine," said Idwal. "Anyways, I guess I ougtta look on the bright side of things. Now I've got a chance to start over, and see what's been going on these past eight decades."

"Quite," said Hrefna. "And you managed to stick around long enough to see another witch been trained."

"Yes, that is quite… satisfying. Good to see our art hasn't completely died out."

"Everything's been stunted," said Stenzin. "But nothing's completely died."

"That's good to hear." said Idwal. "Speaking of that new witch, I found her appearance rather curious."

"Their," said Hrefna. "We ain't really sure what they are."

"Oh," said Idwal. "That's quite fine, then. You ever tried asking them?"

"Tried once," said Hrefna. "They told me they thought it din't matter, and then asked if I had any fish. Must've been especially hungry that day."

"At least I wasn't the only one wondering about it," said Stenzin. "I was too nervous to ask."

"Don't be nervous, boy," said Hrefna, nudging him. "Just be respectful. Nobody likes a bigot."

"The wizards up in Erminya would argue otherwise," said Stenzin. "But I agree."

"Anyways," said Hrefna. "Catorsia's an osker. A rather feline-looking one, more so than most others."

"An osker?" asked Idwal.

"Agrona had one. You know, your old teacher?"

"Oh, right! How could I forget Kessung? He was quite a nice child."

"Yeah," said Hrefna. "I only met him once he'd all grown up. Din't much like his attitude."

"He was just broody at that age," said Idwal. "Anyways, I'm surprised that oskers are still around, even after The Spell. How'd they survive?"

"Don't know," said Hrefna. "Never asked. Maybe I'll speak with Letha about it next time I see her."

"Letha?"

"Oh, that's Catorsia's mom."

"Ah, right. Where has Catorsia gone off too, anyways?"

"Left to Thea. They only come down here once every Tuesday, and they have to ask mom about it if they want to come at any other time or stay for longer. Letha'll have my ear if I keep them out too long."

"I don't imagine there's too much an osker could do to you." said Idwal.

"Not an osker to a human," said Hrefna. "But a mother to a witch? Even witches have to defer to mothers, sometimes. Nothin' beats that kind of power."

"Suppose that's true," said Idwal. "Wouldn't that have made Agrona the strongest witch there was?"

"And the strongest mother, too."

The three sat there in silence for a few short moments, before Stenzin spoke up.

"So, Idwal's staying here, now?"

"Looks like it." said Hrefna.

"I suppose I could go back and live in my old shack," said Idwal. "But that's rather far away from here."

"Right. Well, I'm off until next Tuesday. Vacation."

"Will you be able to stay around for Catorsia's initiation?" asked Idwal.

"I think so," said Stenzin. "Just barely."

"Good," said Hrefna. "Then you'll get to watch the birth of a real witch."

"I don't think I'd much like to watch the birth of anything." said Stenzin.

"It's a metaphor," said Hrefna. "Forget about it."


Chop, chop, chop, chop…

Catorsia heard the sound of a knife chopping against a cutting board as they entered their home. Their mother must have been cooking dinner.

As they shut the door quietly, they tentatively raised a fist towards the wall and gave it a few solid taps. Then, they called softly out into the foyer.

"Mom? I'm home."

"Welcome home, sweetie," Letha called from the kitchen, "How did your training today go?"

Catorsia sighed as they set down their bags and books, and walked into the kitchen. "Not very well."

"Oh no! What happened?" Letha asked, continuing to chop vegetables.

"A lot," said Catorsia, as they tried to peek at what their mom was chopping. "What are you making?"

"Marmitako."

"What's that?" asked Catorsia, tilting their head.

"Some sort of tuna dish from overseas."

"Oh boy! I love tuna."

"That's why I'm making it!"

Catorsia hugged their mother. "Thank you, mom!"

"No problem, dear. Now why don't you sit down and tell me all about your day?"

"Okay." said Catorsia, pulling up a chair and sitting down. "Where do I even start?"

"Take it from the top."

"If you say so," said Catorsia. "It's a long story, so I hope you're ready to listen."

Letha merely nodded, and continued to prepare their dinner.

"So this morning, I went in to see Hrefna again, cause it's Tuesday and all. But when I got there, there was someone else there already. Apparently his name is Stenzin, and he's Hrefna's grandson."

"Oh my, I didn't know she had any kids. Or grandkids, for that matter."

"Yeah, me neither. He's a wizard—"

"Really? The son of that witch grew up to become a wizard?" asked their mom, pausing momentarily in her chopping to express her surprise.

"Well, yeah, I guess it's sort of a gender thing…"

"There are men who become witches. And you're trying to become a witch too."

"Yeah. That's true. I think he said he's doing it because he's trying to spread Hrefna's ideas at the wizarding college."

"And how are they taking that?"

"Not very well," admitted Catorsia, shaking their head. "Wizards are very stubborn."

Letha nodded sagely.

"Anyways," Catorsia continued. "Me and Stenzin chatted a bit, then Hrefna remembered that it was a lesson day today. So she told me and him we were going out on another of her open-field lectures—"

"Another one? That incident with the obelisk was bad enough." huffed Letha.

"Yeah, well, it gets worse. We were going out to find an artifact that used to get passed down among generations of witches, until well… they all died."

"Yes, I do recall you telling me Hrefna's the last witch."

"Mhm. We went to one of her old friend's houses and we had to search around for this Chalice thingy but we didn't find anything but a whole bunch of dust. I stuck my hand down a toilet."

Letha burst out laughing. "You what?!"

"Yeah, I… I don't know! I already looked everywhere else and I thought maybe the Chalice was small enough to flush down a toilet and hide it that way!"

"I love you, you doof." said Letha, wiping a tear from her eye. "Anyways, please go on."

"So we didn't find anything in Idwal's shack— that was Hrefna's friend's name, by the way— and then we went around back and down into a basement. Stenzin got afraid of going down there and said he couldn't see anything. I still don't know why, I could see just fine."

"We're oskers, honey. We've got night vision."

"Do we?"

"Yeah. Cats have night vision."

"But we're not cats."

"We're descended from them. I think."

"Oh. Anyways, the basement was really big and we went down a long hallway until Hrefna found a wall of solid metal with a whole bunch of buttons in the middle of it. She pressed some of them, and then the door opened up, and I got really scared because it started closing again when we walked in, but there was another set of buttons on the inside too."

"Sounds like ancient technology," Letha mused. "I wasn't around to see any of it, of course, but grandpa used to tell me about stuff like that. Er, my grandpa. Not yours. He'd be your great-grandfather."

"Interesting," said Catorsia. "I'll have to ask you more about that later. Anyways, we went through that big metal wall, and there was a room with a glass case and the Chalice inside it. But I was hearing weird sounds the whole time I was down there, like squelching and skittering—"

"And you didn't tell anyone about it?"

"No, no one else seemed to hear. I was afraid they'd call me crazy or something."

"They wouldn't call you crazy."

"I know, I know. Anyways, Hrefna went up to the case and pressed more buttons and it started to lift up and reveal the Chalice, and it was really pretty and all, up until a big squelchy skittery thing fell down from the ceiling and smashed through the glass."

Letha stopped chopping, and went completely silent, listening.

"It turned out to be a mass of bodies that Idwal had accidentally fused herself with right before The Spell was cast when she messed up some sort of ritual or something. But Hrefna touched it and all the extra dead flesh fell away and Idwal came out coughing and apparently fine. Then when we left I saw all the ghosts rising up and they… they waved at me."

There was a tiny crack as Letha balled up her fists.

"Um… Mom, you okay?" asked Catorsia.

"How many times have I told that woman…?" muttered Letha. "Not to put my child in danger?!"

Catorsia jumped as their mother slammed her fists down on the counter in front of her.

"First you tell me about your close-up visit to the very Spell that nearly ended all life on our world, then you tell me you were attacked by some manner of beast made of corpses? What's next, you're going to go off and get yourself consumed by some unknowable entity?!"

"Mom, it's okay, really. I'm fine." said Catorsia, not really sure what else to do besides reassure her.

"Sure you're fine now, but what about next week? And the week after that? I just don't want to lose my only child, Catorsia!" cried Letha.

Catorsia stood up, and hugged Letha, wrapping their arms around her. "You're not going to lose me, Mom."

"…Do you promise that? Can you promise me that you won't go off and get yourself killed?" asked Letha.

"I don't know." said Catorsia. "But I can promise you that I'll never leave you behind."

"You say that as if you think you'll die." said Letha.

Catorsia was silent for a few seconds.

"…No." they said. "I don't think that. I promise you that I will not die because of this."

"You better keep that promise," said Letha, wiping a tear from her eye. "Or you'll never hear the end of it in our afterlives."

Catorsia gave a small, strained laugh. "Yeah, um. I'll try my best."

They disengaged from embracing their mother, and sat back down at the table while Letha collected herself.

When it seemed that she had calmed down, Catorsia broached the next subject.

"Mom?"

"Yeah, sweetie?" said Letha, as she returned to her cooking.

"I've got some sort of initiation next week."

"Do you now?"

"Yeah. I'm going to become a fully-fledged witch, purportedly."

"That's great."

"Do you want to come?"

Letha paused. "Sure. I suppose I could use the time to talk to Hrefna about things."

"You could. It'd also be fun for me to show off what I can do for you. I haven't done a whole lot of actual spells yet, but I've been studying and I've got some neat tricks in mind." said Catorsia.

"I'll be surely impressed." said Letha.

"…You're not going to yell at Hrefna, are you?" asked Catorsia.

"Only if I feel I need to." responded Letha.

"Oh."

There was silence for a few minutes.

"I'm sorry if I don't sound really into this whole magic business," sighed Letha. "It's just… hard for me to be excited when I'm constantly panicking over how near you come to death every week."

"No, no, it's fine," said Catorsia. "If I were in your position, I think I'd be pretty scared too. Being a mom sounds like a really tough job. But you pull through."

Letha laughed. "Yes, yes it is," she said. "Would be nice if your dad was around to help."

Catorsia decided not to engage with that subject, and instead fell silent. A few minutes later, Letha washed her hands and some dishes, and then brought over two plates of food.

"Dinner's done." she said, passing one to Catorsia.

"Thank you," said Catorsia, as they took a bite of the strange foreign tuna-based dish — marmitako, as it had been called. It wasn't the best thing they had ever tasted, but the tuna certainly livened the dish, and the motherly love poured into it made it one of the best meals they would ever have.

"Is it good?" asked Letha, poking at her own food.

"It's delicious!" exclaimed Catorsia.


Ring-ting-a-ling-ding-ding…

Hrefna looked up as the chimes on the front of her tent opened up. It had been a mostly uneventful week, consisting mostly of chats with Idwal and Stenzin. The two of them would sometimes go off and take care of their own errands, but Hrefna mostly stayed at home. In her old age, she was beginning to find it difficult to go anywhere for long periods of time, and refrained from doing so unless she felt it necessary.

Idwal and Stenzin were currently snoring, sleeping in sleeping bags on opposing ends of the tent. Their ears had not been trained to pick up the tell-tale ringing of the chimes, and had not been briefed on the task of wresting their consciousness from deep sleep. So it was that Hrefna was the first one awake.

She grumbled, and pulled herself out of bed.

"Catorsia? That you?" she asked, rubbing her eyes. "It's a bit early for—"

She stopped mid-sentence, as her eyes adjusted and she saw the petite motherly form of Letha, Catorsia's mother.

"Ah, Letha." she said. "What're you doing here?"

"Good morning, Hrefna." said Letha, stepping into the tent and sitting down. "Came to speak with you. I left a note for Catorsia, don't worry. They should be coming around in a bit."

Hrefna sighed. "Alright, what's it you wanna talk about this time?"

"I don't think I need to explain it again, Hrefna. It's just… a mother's worries."

"Look, I tell you," said Hrefna, as she stood up and stretched her back. "The kid's gonna be alright. If they ain't alright, you can sue me. Damn me to hell, I don't care."

"You don't care?" asked Letha. "You don't care that my child constantly reports being in danger when you take them out for lessons?"

"No, of course I care about that." said Hrefna. "Before I talk about it any further, though, some tea oughtta do us good."

Letha sighed. "Fine. I'll just wait in here."

Hrefna stumbled out of the tent, and Letha listened to the lighting of a fire under the cauldron outside, and the pouring of water. Hrefna stumbled back in.

"Forgot the tea," she mumbled, as she grabbed a large black block of Earl Grey and a knife, then stepped back outside.

Letha crossed her legs and waited. It didn't take very long for her to notice the snoring, and the shape of two huddled forms on either end of the tent.

"Hrefna?" she called, craning her neck towards the outside.

"Yeah?!" called Hrefna.

"You didn't tell me you had guests."

"Oh, yes, them. That's me grandson and me old dead teacher. Well, I thought she were dead, but turns out she ain't!"

"Oh." said Letha. "That makes perfect sense."

"Look, the tea's still boiling, I'll tell you about it in a couple minutes!" called Hrefna.

"Fine, fine." said Letha, pursing her lips. She made a mental note that read as follows: Hrefna is not very good at keeping people updated.

A few minutes later, Hrefna bustled back into the tent, carrying the pot of tea and some teacups.

"Earl Grey, as usual." she announced. "Remembered to get sugar, too."

"Were you out?" asked Letha, as she took her teacup and began to sip at it.

"Yeah, for a couple o' days. I had Stenzin go out and get some while he was doin' his other errands. These old legs are getting a bit too sluggish for me to be going all the way out there just for one thing." replied Hrefna, as she sat down.

"Right," said Letha. "We'll get to whoever this 'Stenzin' is later. For now, I really need to hear about the future of my Catorsia's lessons. They told me last time that they had to witness a horrifying mass of organs and dead flesh and whatnot. I need you to tell me things like that aren't going to happen again."

"Things like that?" asked Hrefna, sipping her tea. "No, no, nothin' else like that. But…"

"But?" asked Letha.

"Under my care, I can't promise Catorsia is always going to be in the utmost of safety." said Hrefna. "You must understand. Magic's a wild, nearly uncontrollable thing, and I'm just an old woman. What'm I meant to do if they lose themselves entirely?"

"Save them, of course!" cried Letha. "At least try!"

"It'd be nothin' more than futile." said Hrefna. "I've warned them about it, and that's… about the best that I can do."

"I'd rather learn that my child died and that there was at least an attempt made to save them than for you to simply leave them on their own, you insensitive old coot!" yelled Letha. "You must not know the struggles of a mother if you can say such things to me. No guarantee? You won't even say you'll try?"

"Letha, you don't know me." said Hrefna. "Now'd be a good time to bring up that that 'Stenzin' I mentioned earlier is my grandson. I mentioned one earlier, din't I?"

"Yes, of course." said Letha. "Of course you're a grandmother. I suppose I can't say you don't know the struggles of a mother, then, but please… at least promise me that you'll do your best."

"I can promise you that." said Hrefna. "I can't promise you that I'll succeed, but if Catorsia's ever in danger, I will do my best to keep them safe."

"Thank you." said Letha.

"But if I fail," said Hrefna. "Then that's it."

"Try not to fail, then."

"It ain't as easy as that. But I'll try."

The two of them sipped their tea in silence.

"How much danger will they be in, in the future?" asked Letha.

Hrefna paused momentarily. "Can't say. Truth be told, I din't get very far in my own studies before The Spell was cast."

"You're an amateur, then." said Letha. It was not a question.

"You could call me that, yes." said Hrefna. "But I've been around long enough, kept dabbling with magic long enough… I can tell you there are some very scary things out there."

"Will Catorsia have to see any of them?"

"Have to? Certainly not. But will they? Almost definitely."

"Keep them from seeing anything you can." said Letha. "If I find out they died because of you, I'll never forgive you. Even if you tried your best to save them, knowing that you subjected them to whatever it was that got them… that pain would never leave me."

"I understand." said Hrefna. "If I lose them, I would never dream of bein' forgiven."


COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!

Catorsia rubbed their eyes, and turned over in bed. It must have been time for them to wake up, for their family's prize rooster was now cawing with all his might at the first crack of dawn. The age of alarm clocks was long forgotten, and the quaint little town of Thea had no clock tower like the one at Erminya.

Catorsia grumbled, and tried to fall back asleep. Just five more minutes…

COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOOO!!!

Catorsia threw their pillow onto the floor and rolled out of bed. It seemed that there would be no chance of garnering additional rest, what with the constant clucking of the chicken who has made it his sole duty in life to cry furiously at the sun each morning.

Standing up and stretching, Catorsia noticed a slip of paper on the ground, next to their pillow. It must have been left underneath it.

They bent over and picked up the note, flipping it over. There they noted the scrawling, yet fanciful handwriting of their mother.

Catorsia,
Left early for a serious talk.
Meet you at Hrefna's for your initiation.

— Mom

P.S. Make sure you eat your breakfast!

"Tuesday already…?" Catorsia asked, to the open air.

"Oh well. Can't be helped." they said, as they set the note down and began to dress themselves.

Shortly thereafter, clad in the red star-spangled robes of the Royal Wizarding College — which they had kept as a souvenir — Catorsia walked downstairs and into their kitchen. They poked around in the icebox for anything to eat, and found a couple of eggs. Mom must have gathered them this morning before she left. they thought, as they picked up a couple and began the cooking preparations.

Cooking had once been a very serious and terrifying task for Catorsia. They used to tremble in fear at the very thought of handling a hot instrument over a stove. The mechanisms of cooking were easy enough to understand, but it was the timing and the carrying through of the act that always stumped them.

They had constantly feared that they would somehow mess everything up, even the most simple of meals. They worried that they would burn themselves, or that they would burn the food, or that it would end up all over the floor. Sometimes, they even worried about freak accidents, such as the oven spontaneously exploding.

It had taken some trial and error, but they had finally gotten over this fear just a couple of years before. Their desire to cook and to ease their mother's burden won out over anxiety in the end, and Catorsia had now nearly mastered the art of cooking. Well, perhaps "master" was an overstatement — they were no grand master chef. Regardless of skill or taste, Catorsia took pride in the fact that they were now able to accomplish a task that had once seemed immeasurably daunting without so much as flinching.

In some ways, they thought, cooking could be likened to magic, as they stirred the eggs around.

Magic was too a task that had once seemed immeasurably daunting, but now that they were in the process of actually studying it they found that magic was a lot easier than they had made it out to be. Much of it involved simply feeling it out — you needn't worry about specific timing, what spices you used or how much, and you didn't have to worry about the end result. What you wanted usually came out, and when it didn't, it seemed easy enough to clean up.

But like cooking, you also had to be very careful with magic. If you messed up and lost control, broke out of your rhythm, then everything would quickly fall apart. You'd make a big mess on the floor, break the pot you had been cooking with, cause a dent in the oven, and burn yourself with the resulting splash-back. You could clean it up, but those burns would always be there, and that pot would never be quite the same.

Catorsia shook their head as their stomach grumbled, and observed the eggs in the pan. They seemed to be done… enough philosophical debate, it was time to eat.

They enjoyed their breakfast swiftly, then packed up their things and left, making sure to lock up.


"They're sure takin' a while, huh?" asked Hrefna. "You sure they din't forget what day it is and decide to sleep in or somethin'?"

"The morning rooster should've woken them up." said Letha.

"Ah. Right. Usually I get woke up by the chimes. Haven't had a rooster in a long while."

"Yes. I hear in Erminya they get woken up by a clock tower." mused Letha, crossing her legs.

"Ancient technology, that. Erminya's one of the few surviving remnants of the Old Society."

"That clock tower is quite loud," said Stenzin, stepping out of the tent. "It's been nice being able to wake up on my own time this past week."

"Would be nice," said Hrefna. "Unfortunately my ears are trained to wake me up soon as they hear those chimes."

"Doesn't that get kind of annoying?" asked Letha.

"Some nights. It gets real hard to fall asleep sometimes, what with the wind constantly blowing."

"Why don't you just take the chimes off, then?" asked Stenzin.

"Then how'd I wake up when guests come around?" retorted Hrefna. Rhetorical questions were fine for answering other questions with. It was when you asked a question that was meant to be answered, in response to a question, that really bothered her.

"Oh. Right." said Stenzin.

"Let's see…" said Idwal, tapping a finger to her chin. "I believe before The Spell, I used to wake myself up with an alarm clock. Do they still have those?"

"'Fraid not," said Hrefna. "That's a bit of archaic technology that's been totally lost. Not much survived."

"Ah. A shame."

"Everyone, shush!" said Letha, leaning forwards in her seat. "I think that's them."

Sure enough, rounding the corner of the mountains that framed Hrefna's tent, was the approaching figure of Catorsia, dressed in their finest red star-spangled robes. As they approached, Letha stood up and began to wave. They paused for a second, then started waving back. Then, they broke into a jog, and quickly arrived at the tent.

"I'm here! Sorry I'm late." said Catorsia.

"Don't worry about it. We weren't waiting long." said Letha.

"Oh. Well, I'm glad that I didn't make you wait."

"Where did you get those robes?" asked Stenzin, picking up a length of them and inspecting it.

"I told you I went to the Royal Wizarding College for just a bit, right?"

"Oh, right, you did. I wonder why I never saw you."

"Well, I went there a couple years ago," said Catorsia. "And I didn't really get out of my room much. All those people around made me nervous, so I kind of tried to hide myself as often as I could."

"Oh." said Stenzin. "I'm sure no one would've minded. Your being there, that is."

"Definitely not," said Catorsia. "But I would've minded my being minded at all."

"Fair enough."

"Enough chit-chat," said Hrefna. "It's about time we got started with that initiation."

"So soon?" asked Idwal. "I mean, I'd assumed we were going to give them at least a few minutes to collect themselves. Maybe some tea?"

"But we just had tea this morn!" cried Hrefna. "If I keep doling it out more than once a day, I'll end up with none left in no time flat!"

"But Catorsia hasn't had tea." said Letha.

"It's fine, mom. I just had my breakfast before I left and I'm still quite full." said Catorsia.

"Alright. If you say so."

"So how does this initiation work?" asked Catorsia. "Is there some kind of ritual, a speech you have to give, or—"

"Nope," said Hrefna. "None o' that. Mostly you just drink from the Chalice and that's it. But I can give a short explanation and some warnings, if you'd like."

"That would be nice."

"Alright." said Hrefna. "Guess I can start with the most important thing the Chalice does for you."

Hrefna walked into the tent, and quickly reemerged with the Chalice of Chalcum in hand.

"Let's learn about rebound." she said.

"Rebound?" asked Catorsia.

"Oh, I know about that." said Stenzin.

"Hush, boy. I'm teaching." said Hrefna. "Rebound is the idea that what goes around, comes around. Essentially, any magic you cast eventually comes back to you."

"Isn't that dangerous?" asked Catorsia.

"Quite. It won't do exactly what you cast the first time, but it'll have about the same level of energy. So, spellcasters need to learn how to protect themselves from rebound."

"Wait, why didn't I get any rebound when I cast those spells before?" asked Catorsia.

"Those are easy spells," said Hrefna. "Easy to understand, at least. I'm not quite sure how you avoided the rebound of True Sight, but the Second Sight has such a weak rebound it may as well not even be there."

"Oh." said Catorsia. "I guess that makes sense."

"Right, right. Now quit your yammering for a sec, I'll get to everything else. Save your questions for the end." said Hrefna.

She looked around for a second, to make sure that everyone was keeping quiet.

"Right then. So, witches and wizards have very different ways of defending against rebound. Witches avoid rebound by only casting magic in short bursts, and preparing to focus the magic away from anything important. Some witches will take the rebound right back into themselves, and channel it into nature before anything happens. Wizards, however, do not really defend against rebound at all. Rather than spreading it out and diffusing it, they focus it into objects. This works most of the time, but every object has its limits, and it'll eventually explode. That's the idea behind the obelisks I showed you a few days ago. Whatever they're made of is good at storing magic, but The Spell is obviously much too strong for them. So, it constantly spills out and gets sent to the next obelisk that's got any room. Questions?"

"Yes…" said Catorsia. "If what you're saying is true, wizards use things like wands so that when the magic rebounds, if anything goes wrong it'll affect the wand and not them?"

"Correct." said Hrefna.

"So why don't witches do the same?"

"Witches understand magic, and they understand how to divert themselves from harm. They know how to take the magic into themselves and pour it somewhere else. Kind of like a bucket."

"I was thinking about likening cooking to magic earlier," said Catorsia. "In that sense, would that then mean that wizards cook normally, but witches don't use a pot or pan at all?"

"Wizards cook with a pressure cooker," said Hrefna. "And witches… they are the pot."

"Oh. That sounds… very dangerous." said Catorsia.

"It ain't that bad once you get used to it."

Catorsia put a paw to their chin and thought about this. The wizardly way of casting magic sounded safer in the short run, but could lead to catastrophe if left alone for too long… and the witches way of casting magic sounded catastrophic in the short run, but over time… everything would turn out just fine. Neither method of casting magic was safe, but witch magic, they supposed, could be considered safer.

"Alright then." they said. "Was there anything more to it?"

"Nope." said Hrefna.

"Then I think I'm ready to drink from the Chalice."

Hrefna handed the Chalice to Catorsia. "We don't have to do anything special for it, if you don't want."

"Hmm…" said Catorsia. "I'll just do a short little vow."

"Go for it."

Catorsia took a deep breath. "I, Catorsia Cauxten, do solemnly announce that today marks my initiation. Today, I shall become not just an apprentice of magic, but shall be recognized as a fully-fledged witch. I will gain a greater understanding of magic and how to control its rebound, and how best to safely cast spells without bringing harm to myself or others."

"Truly poetic," said Letha. "I raised that kid."

"Where did they learn how to speak like that?" asked Idwal.

"I sent them to a good school."

Catorsia sighed, and took a sip out of the Chalice of Chalcum.

They waited.

… And nothing seemed to happen.

"Well? Do you feel any different, dear?" asked Letha.

"Not… really." said Catorsia. "I was expecting a bit more ceremony."

"Witches aren't really the ceremonious type," said Hrefna. "Go ahead. Try casting a spell."

"Which one should I cast?" asked Catorsia.

"Just any spell will do."

"Alright…"

Catorsia closed their eyes, and began the process of casting a spell.

They reached out to the magic… and it reached back.

Before they had even had time to imagine, there was a faint pop! Startled, they snapped their eyes open, and were greeted to the shocked faces of their mother, their master, and their master's acquaintances.

What? What is it? thought Catorsia, as they tried to speak. However, instead of words coming out, a swarm of pink bubbles came gently floating out of their mouth. They clasped their hands over their mouth, and looked to Hrefna for help.

"That's… okay, I have never seen that before." said Hrefna. "Well, not so suddenly, anyways. Looks like there's been a bit of a wild magic burst."

Am I stuck like this forever? mouthed Catorsia, as more bubbles flew out of their mouth.

Hrefna tilted her head. "Hmm… it looks like the number of bubbles is decreasing, so I think that part will be over soon… but as for the rest…"

"The rest?" asked Catorsia, sighing as they realized that their voice was no longer replaced with bubbles.

"Well, for one thing… you've got a new eye, dear." said Idwal.

"And you're taller than me." said Letha.

"I was always taller than you, mom." said Catorsia.

"I know, but now you're much taller."

"I reckon they grew 'bout four inches." said Hrefna. "It happens."

"Will that be permanent?" asked Stenzin.

"Not sure."

"I wouldn't mind being taller," said Catorsia. "But what's this about an eye? I don't notice any changes in my vision."

"Well, it's clamped shut." said Idwal.

"Yes. That is quite worrying." said Letha.

"Oh, don't worry 'bout that." said Hrefna. "This'll probably all go away in a couple of minutes. What kind of spell were you trying to cast, might I ask?"

"I-I…" stammered Catorsia. "I hadn't even decided yet!"

"Oh dear, oh dear." said Hrefna. "That is quite peculiar. Nothing I'm not sure I could fix, or least help with, but still. You surprise me every week, Catorsia."

"Thanks?" they asked, not sure how to respond.

"Will things like that happen every time they cast spells?" asked Letha.

"It's possible."

"Then I want them to give up studying magic. Right now."

"Right now?!" cried Catorsia. "But I only just started being a witch!"

"I don't care." said Letha. "I don't want my baby getting hurt cause they can't control their magic."

"I can control it, I promise!" begged Catorsia. "Just let me keep studying and I'll prove to you that I can get my magic under control."

Letha sighed, and crossed her arms. "Fine. You know I can't say no to you… Just please, don't get yourself hurt, okay?"

"I won't, mom." said Catorsia.

"What do you think, Idwal?" asked Hrefna.

"Hmm…" muttered Idwal, as she furrowed her brows. "We… might need to name a new disorder after what just happened? Something like… spellyxia… or… hexalepsy, how about that?"

"I ain't talking about anatomy, you daft girl." said Hrefna.

"I happen to be your teacher," snapped Idwal. "If anyone's the daft girl here, it's you."

"Sorry," said Hrefna. "I'm just a bit irritated right now."

"You seen anything like this, Stenzin?" asked Letha.

"A couple of times, yes. It usually only happens when there's a lot of rebound, but they hadn't even cast a spell yet." said Stenzin.

"Do you have any hypotheses as to how something like that could happen so suddenly?" asked Idwal.

"Search me," muttered Stenzin. "I'm just a sophomore. Ain't know much more than you do about magical matters."

"Is there anyone here who isn't an amateur?" asked Letha.

"Can't help but notice that eye ain't going away and they ain't shrinking, neither." said Hrefna, quickly changing the subject.

"I think I could get used to this," said Catorsia. "I've always wanted to be taller."

"Well, as long as you're happy with it… initiation successful?" said Hrefna.

"Let us rejoice for the arrival of this new hexaleptic witch to our ranks," said Idwal.

"I guess that's the excuse I'm gonna start having to use from now on, isn't it?" asked Catorsia. "Any time I fuck up, blame it on hexalepsy."

"Exactly. You can blame a lot of things on made-up illnesses. You just have to be a bit creative about it." said Idwal.

"Who's ready for lunch?" asked Hrefna. "I think I've got enough for a picnic or somethin' like that."

"Oh, me." said Stenzin.

"I was full just a second ago," said Catorsia. "But I guess putting on four extra inches of height took a lot out of me. My appetite's worked itself right back up."

"I suppose I could go for something to eat," said Letha. "I had some errands to run today, but now I think I'm much too worried to do them."

"It's off to lunch with us, then." said Idwal.

The group of five stepped into Hrefna's tent, and helped her prepare a picnic.


Later that night, Catorsia lay awake in bed, unable to fall asleep.

Stenzin had gone back home to his dorm in the Royal Wizarding College that afternoon. His vacation had come to an end.

Idwal however, remained behind. She was staying at Hrefna's tent until further notice — which likely meant until Hrefna got tired of her and sent her back to her shack.

The picnic they'd had was delightful, and spending time with everyone was fun… and they were quite excited to be fully recognized as a witch. But something still unsettled them.

Whatever was in that Chalice had changed them, somehow. Now, they hadn't the faintest idea how they were meant to control magic. Every time they tried to cast a spell, it would force itself in, and weird changes would come to them and the land around them. Luckily, the only ones that had stuck from their trials that day were the boost to their height and the new third eye that remained closed on their forehead.

But it was fun, right? asked a voice from the back of their mind.

No. It was terrifying. they responded.

But nobody got hurt, did they?

That was right. Nobody had gotten hurt, not even themselves.

But something had changed.

«Back | To Be Continued…

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