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Fire scorched her ankles, licking the soles of her feet as she squirmed in the hold of the scratchy rope. Tears would have stung her cheeks if flames were not burning them instead.
“Witch! Witch! Burn the-” the mob chanted, stomping their feet in unison. She tried to push them out, to focus on getting out of her bindings so she could have some chance to escape, but their voices refused to fade. These people were her friends, her neighbors. Out of the corner of her eye she could even see the baker she buys bread from every morning cursing her and making the sign of the cross in front of his chest. There was not a single person in the crowd she did not recognize, and not a single person who was not smiling from ear to ear, their teeth and eyes glistening in the firelight, sweat beading on their foreheads. She wanted to scream back, to tell them that black magic was not in her heart but in theirs, for while she was erroneously deemed a servant of satan, they all unknowingly did his bidding when they tied her to this unholy place and set a match to her premature grave.
A man stood in the center of the mob. He was not hollering at her like those who surrounded him, but nevertheless he grinned a whole tooth smile. The intense heat warped the air between them, but she thought for a second that she saw a golden light in his eyes.
In a moment he was gone, lost in the crowd, and she found herself feeling more alone than before he had appeared. She thought more and more about the man, though she had little to think of, but while she thought her feet burned less, the temperature began to settle. In fact, she felt fine, even a little chilly. Her bindings were gone, and she absentmindedly stepped forwards towards the mob. Their shrieking was the only thing to break her from her stupor.
“Witchcraft!” the screaming started, small groups of townspeople darting into their houses and the small stores that surrounded the square. Anywhere to get away from the witch. Perhaps her black magic was contagious. She would infect them all with the devil! She could only guess at the thoughts running through their minds, but it did not matter what they thought, of her or anything else for that matter. She had been given the chance to escape. She had to take it.
At first she only walked, her bare feet scratching against the cobblestone, but soon she was running. Who knew how much time would pass before the townspeople thought they could overpower her once again? The next time she doubted she would be so lucky. Where did the rope go? Why did the fire cease to burn her?
At the end of the road she found herself glued in place. When she tried to move forward her feet refused to cooperate. When she tried to move backwards she was faced with the same conundrum. Neither left nor right could she move. All she could do was stand where she was, and if she used all of her will, turn a bit at the hip. In every sense of the word, she was stuck.
“Sorry darling, I couldn’t have you run off on me. Not when we have oh so much to do.” a voice behind her murmured.
“Yes of course…” she mumbled, her eyes feeling heavy, “I should have known better.” But she hadn’t known better. She was quite clueless in this whole situation. However now was not the time for her to question, so she hazily went along with whatever the voice commanded.
For a second she was confronted with the sharp smell of peppermint, but in a moment it was replaced with a strong waft of sage. It reminded her of the spice shop on Honeywater Street.
“Drift off to sleep now. The world will be a brighter place when you awaken.” the voice instructed.
“Okay.” Her body hit the ground with a thud.
The voice, or rather the man that had the voice, picked up her loose body and hoisted it over his shoulder. With everyone still inside, hiding in terror of the witch who escaped the fire, no one was there to see the mysterious man take her away.
A couple hours later, in a small shack carelessly constructed on the shore of a pathetic pond, she awoke. Laying on the floor with no other people in sight, she shoved herself to her feet, stumbling as her dizziness caught up to her. She fell forward, her face crashing into the dirt floor, using her hand to brace her fall. Pain soared up her arm, the bones in her wrist snapping against each other. She cried out, her voice but a whimper. After forcing herself up, cradling her broken wrist in her uninjured arm, she began to inspect her surroundings, but stopped when she noticed the piece of manilla, crumpled paper on a small table in the corner. It read: Make the bed, sweep the floor, clean the dishes, make dinner (you’ll find food in the boxes outside), and meditate for an hour at the least. Think about the fire, the heat. Think about your anger. I will arrive at sunset, and all tasks must be complete.
She couldn’t see much reason to follow the note. What was to stop her from leaving the small house and never returning? That was her thought process when she began to walk out into the woods in search for civilization, but she didn’t get far. The same force that held her just outside the town square prevented her from walking past a massive oak with another piece of paper nailed into it. It read: Thought you’d run away so easily? Do not attempt again.
When she finished reading the note a sense of foreboding overcame her, and she went back into the house. She did not try to leave again. Instead, she made the bed. Swept the floor. Cleaned the dishes. Made dinner (and also a small fire in the feeble fireplace that was, for whatever reason, hidden away behind an unseemly pile of unsewn fabric, although that was not asked of her). She did not touch the food she cooked. She was ten minutes into her hour of meditation when she noticed the sun begin to set. She did her best to shut her eyes and focus on her fury and the blistering flames.
When she closed her eyes, sealing her tomb only temporarily, she was not surrounded by darkness. Before her stood a single wisp of light, suspended in the air with no visible means to support it. She wafted her hand through it, and winced back in the expectation of pain, but it was undue as she felt nothing.
“Good, you followed my instructions.” a voice boomed from above her, “That means it is time.”
“Time for what?” she questioned, still aware that she was sitting in the shack, closing her eyes. This wasn’t real. Yet she recognized the voice, and knew somewhere in the back of her mind that there was a face that accompanied it. She could almost picture it if she just-
A hand rested on her shoulder, “Time for your training my dear. Time for you to become what they all feared you to already be.”
“I’m not a witch!” she protested, stomping her feet and clenching her fists.
The hand squeezed, “No. But you will be. All it takes is practice and a little hatred.”
She glared at the light, and found herself twisting it in her mind. As her heart raged, so did the light. It flared and grew, flickering spasmically. There wasn’t much control, but there was passion. In a second, the light went out. She opened her eyes and she was back in the shack, but this time, the man from the burning was in front of her, sitting cross legged symmetrically to how she herself was sitting. It was pitch black outside.
“Good work my dear. With some training you could have extraordinary power. Are you ready for that?”