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26 – Unsettling Times

Once everything is unloaded from the wagon, Luugen and Fergus gladly go their way. Being under the presence of a witch like Miracella Dawncrest probably spooked them worse than the wards.

When we were still attending Academy, Mira boasted the highest marks in academia and practical arts. She’s never been afraid of demonstrating her aptitude as a witch, and her innate talent allows her to excel in just about anything. It’s why no one was surprised when she summoned a greater soul of the deadly sins— envy.

Talos, the black raven antagonizing my familiar and chasing him around the field, was imbued with the envious soul. Unique to the seven sins, envy can replicate a witch’s incantations yet expends no additional magic. It’s believed that such familiars can also draw strength in reflection of their master’s envy.

Given her capable background, it stands to reason that she may know more about the soul stone than I do.

Mira rolls the purple gem between her fingers, occasionally weaving it from the pinky to the thumb, and then over again the opposite way.

“There’s no way to actually determine what soul is inhabiting this. Though, there’s no doubt in my mind this is a ripe soul.” She says conclusively, setting the gem back on the table.

“Should we send it back to the Academy?”

“Why? You found it. Treat yourself to another familiar.” Mira scoffs. She takes a long drag from her pipe and expels the fumes into the air.

“I don’t want to get in trouble with Headmaster Anora. Besides, we don’t know what the summoning ritual will bring.”

“We could always experiment with it. How often do you use a soul stone as an alchemy ingredient? Never. ‘Too expensive!’ That hag is always telling us.”

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The worst that could happen is we accidentally summon a wrathful soul and not have the strength to subdue it.

“I’ll just put this in the box of things to not mess with… along with Headmaster Anora’s seeds…”

I glance up to see Mira staring daggers at Gurk who has hidden himself at the stairs leading down to the baths.

“S-shall I show you the slime now?” I offer, trying to divert her attention away from the goblin.

“Very well.”

***

We head down to the underground garden where Miuna had been poured onto the crystals. Its corrosive and regenerative slime body is already hard at work expediting the production. Soon, I’ll have a steady source of magic crystals for both Mira and myself.

“Uwah, it’s the scary witch!” Miuna exclaims as we walk in.

Mira taps her staff against the container holding Miuna. “Ho? It does speak, and its first words to me means to cause offense? Shall I freeze it over?”

“N-no…” Miuna shrinks in size, quivering.

To my horror, Mira reaches out to touch the red slime. However, Miuna flattens itself to avoid contact. 

“Do not avoid me, creature!”

Mira reaches down with both hands, but Miuna continues to form its body in strange shapes to avoid being touched. I have to wrench Mira away before she hurts herself or the slime.

“What are you doing?! You’re going to lose a hand!” I push Mira away and set myself between her and Miuna.

“Oh, pshh. There is a two-second window between the moment of contact and applying a neutralizer before any lasting damage can happen.”

“Education was supposed to make you cautious, not reckless!” I say, shaking my head.

A light goes off in Mira’s head. She grabs my shoulders and says, “Slimes usually have a magical crystal core. What if we feed the soul stone to it?”

“You’re insane.”

“It’s just a thought. The worst that will happen is the slime will degenerate and collapse on itself.”

“I don’t wanna die!” Miuna puffs itself up in the container.

Fortunately for Miuna and myself, Mira’s inquisitive nature leads her back upstairs where her eyes settle on the anoragrathi. She approaches them without caution and bends down to inspect the buds.

“Are these…”

“Mira— don’t touch them!”

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The tentacles spring up from the ground and latch onto Mira’s limbs. Just like the first day, she’s entangled as I was, and is now at the mercy of Headmaster Anora’s dumb plants.

“Is this supposed to happen?!” She yells, trying to close her legs but the tentacles are far too strong for her. More stems and roots emerge from the ground in response to her struggle. They slip under her robes, teasing her body underneath. “Unhand me! I shall not accept bondage play from anyone other than Ellori!”

Hold on. Isn’t this exactly the kind of play Mira’s into? Should I just leave her?

“Oh— oh? It’s trying to penetrate me?! Ellori, don’t look— nngh… I mean, please look! Aaah… Being teased while you watch… isn’t so bad… kuh!”

I can see the tendrils’ outlines against her breasts. They’re making circles around her nipples and spreading across her body.

“I’m going to go back inside. You have fun out here.” 

At least while she’s preoccupied, I can get some much needed alone time with Gurk.

“H-How cold! We haven’t seen each other in years and this is how you treat me??”

“I know it’s what you want. Just be a good girl and take it.” I say, eager to get back inside.

“To be so thoughtful yet disregarding of my concern… Unnnaahhh!!

***

After I have my fill of Gurk, and the anoragrathi of Mira, I help her into the baths to wash off the goo. I can already tell having her here is going to be a handful. But that’s the tradeoff of having one of the more powerful witches of the Academy help me.

“What do you think Eudora is doing all the way out here?” I ask Mira as I brush her silky platinum hair.

“It does nothing to ponder on that which you have no clues to. We’ll hear it from her own mouth, bit by bit with my hands around her throat.”

“Ehh… do you have a personal stake in this?”

I wasn’t around when Eudora Faust attended the Witch’s Academy. I did learn, however, that she was in her final year around the time Mira became a student. 

Mira sunk an inch into the water and kicked at some bubbles. “The witch behind the Randover incident squeaked out a single name as she bled out in my arms— Eudora.”

“T-They’re connected?” I choke out at the startling revelation.

“I wonder? But as I’ve said, it does nothing to dwell on such things.” Mira turns around to play with my hair instead. “Pop quiz, darling: What is Edith’s Prerogative?”

“Oh, oh! It’s the philosophical theory that a witch powerful enough to see no equal will inevitably betray the covenant.”

“Correct.” Mira pats my head. “It is the covenant’s duty— every witch sworn to it must keep each other in check. Eudora saw herself as peerless, and thus believed she needn’t answer to anyone beneath her.”

That same irresponsibility is what led to the persecution of witchcraft centuries ago. When Eudora was assigned to one of the greater northern empires, she manipulated her way to the throne. A single witch toppled a thousand-year dynasty in a single year simply to demonstrate that she could.

I wasn’t there for her trial, but I was told the crazed witch was made to kneel before the covenant and Council of Kings. Apparently, as the jury announced the verdict of the death sentence, she merely laughed. She laughed until her body melted away in what turned out to be a complex illusion spell.

Eudora had everyone fooled, and it was on that day she became known as the Cackling Witch.

Headmaster Anora and her allies walked a tightrope to narrowly avoid a second inquisition. One that would have likely ended witchcraft for good. Powerful as we are, witches are humbled by being few in numbers. A sizable coalition of kingdoms would easily have us erased from the history books.

Tensions between nations and witches have stagnated in recent decades, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Eudora’s transgressions have united the two closer than the last hundred years combined.

“On the topic of rogue witches, what exactly happened in Randover?”

Mira cupped a handful of water to pour over my head. “The cur tapped the King of Randover’s younger brother with a mind-maggot and incited a rebellion. She wanted a kingdom of her own. I introduced her to the kingdom of damnation instead.”

“Are the two of us enough to beat Eudora?”

“Enough of this dull talk.” 

Mira draws me tighter into her embrace, nuzzling her face into my dampened hair. It’s been a while since we’ve felt the comfort of each other’s skin. Warm and smooth, tenderly she strokes my hair and shoulders.

Our friendship was a unique one.

One that drew awkward glances from our colleagues, but none of them dared speak up about it for fear of angering Mira. I don’t quite remember how it started— this very physically intimate friendship that we share. I know only that we became fast friends since my very first day attending the Witch’s Academy.

“Do not fear Eudora, darling. She is but one witch, and we are two.” 

Mira’s cooing sends shivers up my spine. Her very touch makes me melt. Her lips draw close, but before we kiss, Gurk crashes down from the stairs in a panic.

“Bold of you to interrupt, creature.” Mira points a finger crackling with energy at Gurk.

“Gurk sorry! But something happening outside!”

The water around us ripples violently, and the ground shakes with cataclysmic tremors. Mira and I quickly dress and arm ourselves. We race upstairs, past the vials toppling from the shelves.

As soon as we get outside, it’s clear something is happening that shouldn’t.

“You’ve been here longer than I, darling. Is that… normal?”

Towards the east, a massive stone pillar— or rather, a tower rises into the sky. It’s so tall, we need to crane our necks to see the top.

Mira uncorks a vial from her person, pours it into her mouth, and grabs me by the shoulders. Our lips make contact, her tongue screwing open my mouth to allow the liquid to flow down my throat.

“Jump.” She says, taking my hand.

The two of us leap into the air, the levitation potion carries us high and past the canopy. The sight before us takes our breath away. More stone towers emerge, shooting past the verdant ceiling of the Weeping Expanse.

Flying around them, just barely visible to the human eyes, a number of winged beasts soar around the towers— Wyverns, manticores, harpies, and even… dragons.

“No…” I answer. “That’s not normal at all.”

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