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Friday, January 27, 2017

Chapter 4 – Of Tea and Magic

 Sunlight did not enter the dilapidated hut the same way it did a normal house. It did not come in through the windows, which were dirty and dark. Instead, it crept through cracks in the door, and dripped down through holes in the roof. A splotch of trembling light fell on Toadmila's left eye, waking her up. She pulled her blanket tightly around her and considered getting up. She was shivering. Even before opening her eyes, she knew she needed ore tea. The cup she'd left on the table was calling to her in a low whisper. Every muscle in her body hurt with withdrawal. And, worst of all, she knew the sight that would greet her when she'd open her eyes, the dirt and degradation that she could still smell around her.
Finally, she opened her eyes. The dilapidated hut did not look any better in sunlight. The holes in the roof were fully visible now, leaking light where they would leak water at the first rain. The room seemed empty, devoid of the shadows from the night before, too large for the small table and three-legged stool that stood at its center, both of which were blackened by grime and decay. And the floor itself was nothing more than hardened earth, flattened by the passage of hundreds of footsteps, and mixed with dung that had fallen from the walls.
But there was a cup of calming tea, steaming invitingly on the table, magic tea to soothe all thoughts. One sip, and everything would look much, much better.
A most uncomfortable pressure in her bladder reminded Toadmila that it had taken much more than just one sip to accept her current station. Perhaps magic tea was not such a good idea at this particular moment. She looked around for a chamberpot. There was no chamberpot to be seen, and the round hut did not hold any dark corners where one might hope to find a lost object upon closer inspection. Toadmila considered leaving the relative warmth of her blanket and going outside in the cold to look for a substitute. After a short interior struggle, she reached a compromise and puled herself up, holding the blanket tightly wrapped around her like a cape.
Outside, the woods were still dark and dead. Shriveled, leafless branches reached across the sky, and gnarly, blackened roots reached across the ground. But the dark clouds had mysteriously disappeared, and in the new light of the morning sun, Toadmila could see several paths among the trees. One was at the front of the hut, a wide path that she had taken to get here. Several more opened up to the sides of the hut, narrow corridors that lead away, into the woods. Instinctively, she looked for the less obvious trail, at the back of the hut. It was barely wide enough for her to squeeze through, and it was maddeningly long and winding. It ended abruptly in front of a large clump of undergrowth, strangely covered in leaves among the leafless trees, though the leaves themselves were black as coal. Toadmila winced, and tapped the branches with her wand. The leaves rustled, branches opened up, tiny roots stretched and tiptoed away a few steps, and the whole thing opened up. And there, at the center of this leafy hideaway, there stood the badly-needed chamber pot, squeaky clean and pleasantly scented with a minty smell combined with a touch of lavender, propped up on a pedestal of polished wood of just the right height – or at least adjustable to the right height at a tap of the wand. It was, indeed, a witch's chamberpot, and, as Toadmila had cause to ascertain, a self-cleaning, self-emptying chamberpot, equipped with a void seed and air-refreshing spells.
The hut, when Toadmila returned to it, looked even more depressing after the momentary comforts she had enjoyed. The smell of dung emanating from the walls felt somewhat amplified by the recent memory of the minty scent with lavender undertones of the chamberpot. Toadmila noticed that there were no cobwebs, but their absence made the place look eerie and dead. There were none of the usual creatures rushing across the ground or over the walls, and no spiders dared approach the edges of the clearing. Toadmila remembered the thing that had rushed past her the night before, and a shiver went down her spine. But, more than fear, she felt anger All those years spent studying, all her best years wasted on her ambition, her one hope that the bleak days at the orphanage were over and that she'd have a bright future ahead of her if only her grades were good enough, if only she studied long enough, if only she worked hard enough. And, for all her good grades, she'd ended up here, stationed in the middle of nowhere, forced to live in this dump of a place, the “Hole” that no one ever got out of alive. She felt her blood rise to her temples. Tea. She needed tea. She needed to calm down, to accept what she could not change, to adapt to this joke of a job that she had gotten herself into. She rushed into the hut, slamming the door open on her way in. Straws rained down o her from the roof, increasing her aggravation. She snatched the cup from the table with both hands, trembling, and dropped her wand.
Ten years' worth of training kicked in in an instant.
“Your wand is your friend,” The Spells Drill instructor used to say, day in and day out. “Your only friend. Keep it polished. Keep it safe. Keep it close to you at all times.”
Toadmila sprang down to catch the wand before it could touch the ground. Without thinking, she dropped the cup, both hands reaching for her most treasured possession. Threads of magic reached out from her fingers and caught the wand, making it float gently into her hands. The cup clattered on the ground, spilling an endless stream of warm tea, soaking the hardened earth, turning it to mushy mud.
Toadmila straightened her back. With one flick of her wand, she made the cup fly back onto the table. With a sweeping motion of her wand, she made the mud dry up. Then she went outside and, with a spindling motion, she began to weave a stream of water out of the moisture in the air. She splashed her face, and then she drank, letting the water wash away the effects of the tea.
“I am a witch,” she whispered to herself. “I will not calm down. I will not be content.”

And then she began the slow task of turning dung into plaster, one alchemical diagram at a time.

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