“Alright, I’m finally done!” I can barely contain my excitement having finished moving into my new home.
Luck was on my side when I discovered a great hollow not far into the Weeping Expanse. Great hollows, as their name implies, made for perfect homes for witches like myself. Especially since their roots inhibit the growth of other trees, I can use the circle of open space to plant my herbs and raise some magical beasts!
There is still the issue of sparse vegetation and detritus that I need to remove first. Left alone they can destroy my precious herb gardens in no time. Furthermore, I’m not all too familiar with the Weeping Expanse’s wildlife. Might be a good idea to set up wards.
“Nyaa~” Rio, my black cat familiar brushes up against my leg and purrs.
“Hehe, aww. Are you excited about your new home, too?” I reach down to scratch his ears. “Go on inside first, I still need to get a few things done out here.”
At the edge of the clearing, I hold up my staff and focus. “Enu… shal-atreev!”
Red energy pulses from the red gem set within the gnarled root of my staff. It expands outward, filling the space and disturbing the leaves like a gust of wind blowing through the forest. I kneel down to find a bunny at the edge of the invisible barrier. It looks confused, cocks its head left and right, and then darts away.
I pull out five enchanted wards from my satchel and plunge them evenly spaced into the dirt around the clearing. The barrier should act as a minor deterrent, and the wards will emulate a dragon’s presence to scare off larger monsters. Ideally, they should instinctively scare off creatures with intelligence less than that of humans.
Three boys that I recognize from the farming village just outside of the forest come running to me. They pass through both the barrier and wards without being affected. Good, all that training at the Witch’s Academy paid off. Each of them carries a woven basket that has a sweet smell, reminding me that I haven’t eaten yet.
“Jonah, Mallory, and Ulric? What are you three doing here?”
Jonah, the oldest of the bunch flashes a toothless grin and hands me his basket. The other two do the same, and I’m suddenly encumbered by all the extra baggage. “Mama said to welcome you to the Kingdom of Parthun with our signature honey bread.”
“Thank you so much! Rio and I can’t wait to try them.”
“It’s the least we can do after you cured our farm animals.” Jonah tackles me with a hug, nearly knocking over my hat and burying his face into my chest.
“My grandma wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your alchemy!”
“And my family’s crops are growing better than ever thanks to you!”
Mallory and Ulric also come in for a hug. I can’t exactly push them away without dropping their gifts, and it’s hard to refuse their cute faces.
“Hyah?!” As their hands feel up my back, a stray pair reaches down to my butt. It doesn’t seem to be an accident either, the hands are stroking and groping wherever they can. I know they’re young and raging hormones get the better of their reasoning but… “Okay, boys… that’s enough.”
The three of them let go, and I can finally catch my breath. Their innocent faces are probably a guise all along. But they did go through the trouble of bringing me food. Actually, this is a lot of food. Can I even finish all of this?
“Would you like to come in to see my new home? We can have these together over tea.”
“We’d like to, but…” Jonah and the other two look down. “Parents don’t want us staying out too late.”
I put the baskets and staff on the ground and pat their heads. “Your parents know best. I’ll show you my new home another time, now be good boys and head home.”
The three of them start running off, but Jonah turns around and calls back. “Next time you visit, you can stay in my room!!”
“No fair, Jonah! Hogging Ellori to yourself!”
“We could have a sleepover instead!”
“Goodness.” I shake my head as the boys race away bickering amongst each other.
Picking up my stuff, I take a quick look around to confirm everything I needed to do outside is complete. Since everything is in order, I can retire for the day. It would be a good idea to report to Headmaster Anora.
I come inside to the candlelit interior of the great hollow that is my new home. The entrance is a small foyer which doubles up as the kitchen and dining area. Beyond it leads directly into my laboratory, and a set of stairs curves along the trunk of the tree leading to the second floor where my bed is.
At first glance, the place is quaint and cozy just how I like it. No wasted space, and extra space is available if I so need. More of the tree can be hollowed out above my bed to create additional rooms. But I’m only one witch, and Rio is just a kitten.
After setting the baskets on the kitchen table, I take off my shoes and academy robes, and then throw on a comfy silken gown. The robes issued to us by the Academy upon graduation are way too tight around my chest. I had to take it to a tailor to add some straps to the back so I can wear it more loosely. Even then, it’s still hard to breathe.
Fortunately, I’m no longer in school. I’m an official witch, and I can wear whatever I want at home. I tie off the gown with a loose knot on my waist and sit back on my couch. “Ahh… I feel so free.”
I grab a honey bread from the basket and dig into it as I prepare the ingredients to make contact with Headmaster Anora.
“Pinch of ground mandragora… scorpion’s tail… and dried snake venom.” I toss the ingredients into the cauldron, and a puff of purple smoke billows out from it. The gas begins to coalesce and thicken into a round glass-like frame.
The beautiful yet stern face of Headmaster Anora comes into view with a scowl. “Ellori? Is that you?”
“Yes, Headmaster! It’s Ellori Windrake reporting that I have completed moving—”
“What the hell took you so long?!” The Headmaster’s voice came all too clearly and loudly, almost as though she’s standing right next to me. “You are the final one to report in, and the last witch to report to me was two days ago!”
“I’m that late??”
Headmaster puts a hand to her head. “Doesn’t matter. Are you settling well into the countryside of Parthun?”
“Uhm, actually I made residence in the Weeping Expanse. The capital is only a short ride away, and I’m in close contact with the farming village of Durai.”
“Already friendly with the locals, huh? I expected nothing less.” Her tone shifts to match her scholarly demeanor, “They will be under your protection, so make sure not to bring shame to the Witch’s Academy.”
“Yes, Headmaster. I’ve made good relations with the villagers at Durai. They even baked me a batch of bread!”
“Good start.” She says chuckling. “But Parthun is situated in a precarious spot. A lot of magical beasts prowl the area wreaking havoc along the countryside. Actually, for you to make residence between Parthun and the Weeping Expanse is perfect.”
I’m suddenly filled with a sense of dread. That means I have to fight, and I don’t like fighting. If there is ever a way to resolve things peacefully, that’s the path I prefer to take. “Are… are you sure it was fine to assign me here?”
Headmaster’s eyes flash with surprise, “Out of everyone else, I think you were the best choice.”
“R-really??” I ask excitedly. Headmaster rarely gives compliments, but she isn’t afraid to do so when it’s deserved.
“You’re studious and creative, it’s the perfect combination for you to handle Parthun. Which leads me to what I need you to do— study the wildlife, plant life, and any lifeforms that have some semblance of intelligence in the Weeping Expanse. It’s uncharted territory, but this is a chance for you to really become recognized within the witch’s community.”
The weight of her words bear down on my shoulder. But being relied on by Headmaster and the country of Parthun, I have no choice but to do my best. “Of course! You can count on me.”
“Good,” Headmaster says, nodding her head. “Keep a journal. Start writing down everything. I want details down to seasonal changes, migratory patterns, and even mating habits and sexual customs. Everything.”
“Eh?” My mind replays what she said. “What was that last part?”
“No, before that.”
“Mating habits and sexual customs?”
I gulp, “… and what is that supposed to entail?”
“The usual observation, experimenting, collecting samples, and first-hand research.”
“Ahaha… surely you must not mean—”
“I do.” She says with a stony expression.
I swallow hard and nearly choke on my spit. “D-d-d-doesn’t that mean you want me to— ?!”
“Don’t forget, Ellori. Your reputation as a witch and Pathun’s safety is in your hands. Anora, out.”
The gas dissipates. My legs go limp under me and I drop to the ground. The contents of what she said continues to replay in my mind.
“First-hand research… like…?”
I pick up Rio from the ground. “Riiioooo, the Headmaster wants me to do weird things!”
“Nyaa?” He tilts his head and struggles out of my grasp. I let him back on the floor along with a piece of the bread for him to eat.
“Well… straight to work, I guess.”