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Scratches running down her bare arms, rips wrenching apart her frail dress, fear glazing across her bright eyes, a girl darted through the dense woods. Her bare feet bloodied the moss while the trees surveilled her distress flood the forest. Birds jumped in fright at the racket echoing across the sleeping woods, and critters hid in the dense greenery, dismayed and uneasy.
She left behind her a usually quiet town, hidden in tranquil mountains. Yet today, something was different. Two wooden posts stood in the middle of the main square, towering over neatly organized cottages and wide spreads of cut grass. The lengthened shadows hid the puddles of scarlet, and sharpened rocks lay upon the cobblestone, left forgotten by the attackers. Two bodies swayed, their necks chained to the posts, while the whispering wind peered at their lifeless corpses, laughing at the lunacy of humans.
Men armed with gleaming swords carried a harsh glint in their eyes as they rushed through the undergrowth, their boots trampling the fragile flowers. Harsh yells rang through the trees as they pursued the fleeing girl, hiding grins under masked faces. It was a witch hunt between humans.
A cat peered at the racket, balancing precariously on the thin branch of a tree as the breeze ruffled its white fur. The cat watched silently, its blue eyes seemed to display an expression of exasperation as its ears twitched with annoyance. As the sound of the racket grew, the cat gracefully leaped off the branch, disappearing into the deep shadows of the forest.
Alcina ran without thinking, her mind overrun with horror, delving deeper into the mysteries of the forest. The pain of a stitch tore at her side as her muscles screamed and ached, begging for her to rest and hide from her pursuers. How could a bunny hide from a pack of wolves? To stop would mean sure death.
Bloodied footprints and trampled undergrowth mocked her desperate escape. Crucial seconds slipped by as a root snagged the girl’s foot, causing her to stumble. She bit her lip, the metallic tang of blood flooding her mouth while her eyes watered. The sounds of her hunters gradually trailed away as she continued to race through the dense trees, her breathing shaky, her legs trembling.
She slowed to a walk, her mouth dry as her chest heaved painfully. The trickling sound of a stream wove a clear harmony in the cold air. The girl warily approached it, crouching in the ferns as the water from the river scorched her throat. She washed the dried blood from her body and attempted to untangle her hair, knotted strands slowly unraveling. After a few moments, she stood up and followed the river, wandering aimlessly by herself. The sun had set, and she was embraced by the darkness of the night. The sounds of her feet snapping twigs and the chirping of crickets resounded in the still forest as the damp fresh smell of trees clung to the greenery. She pulled at the leftover scraps of her dress, failing to seek comfort from the chilly night air.
Suddenly, footsteps filled the quiet air. Alcina froze, her pale skin pricked with goosebumps as she held her breath. For a few moments, the noise of the faraway stream and the shuffling of critters was all that could be heard.
“Do you need any help?”
Alcina flinched, her nails digging into her trembling palms as she steadied herself with a deep breath. A male voice, quiet and curious. He stood, clothed in the shadows, a few feet in front of her.
“Why would someone offer an accused witch help?” asked Alcina, her voice failing to hide her weariness. She leaned down, her fingers finding a branch among the debris.
For a few moments, there was no response. His voice was quiet, his words nearly lost in the brisk breeze. “Is there anything wrong with a witch helping out a fellow witch?” The moonlight dancing through the gaps of trees fell onto his outstretched hand. His hand was pale, his fingers long and delicate. His blue eyes glimmered in the darkness, gleaming with the colors of the deep ocean. He saw right through her.
“You don’t seem like a witch.” The words slipped out of her mouth. His voice was pleasant and untroubled, holding the same still silence as a peaceful ocean. His eyes were innocent and relaxed, hiding no ill intentions or ugly emotions.
“And you’re the perfect representation of a human,” noted the boy. “Foolish and ignorant. You carve fantasies from lies to understand the unknown while deeper burying yourself from the truth.”
Alcina paused before tentatively reaching out her own hand. His hand was feverishly warm, burning her own deathly cold fingers. The boy’s fingers gently clasped her hand as he slowly pulled her out of the glimmering light of the moon and into the shadows. The stick fell out of her hand, nestling back into the mossy floor of the forest.
Some time passed. It could’ve been an hour or maybe a few minutes. Blinded by the darkness, she heard the sounds of their light footsteps, the whispering of the woods, the scrambling of creatures. The warmth of the boy’s hand was the only comfort she had in the scorning woods.
They approached a small clearance in the woods. Soft moonlight floated through the trees and twirled around an abandoned cottage alone in the middle. Overgrown branches snugly slept on the crumbling stone walls, and pink flowers peeked out of the gaping roof. A peeling white fence held an unkempt garden. Thick bushes suffocated the flowers, and weeds were strewn across the long grass.
Alcina walked into the open, her skin basking in the glowing moonlight. The boy stayed behind, his blue eyes observing the girl.
“Is this your house?” asked Alcina, the long blades of grass brushing across her ankles as she carefully approached the cottage. It clearly hadn’t been touched in several years. Her gaze flicked back.
“It’s not. You can stay here for now,” came a reply from the shadows of the forest.
Alcina glanced back at the cottage, her head tilting as she surveyed it. She walked closer, her hands brushing against the rough, cracked stones. The door was hidden by the roots of a tree. She peered at a nearby window, her fingers sliding down the side before unlatching it. As she pulled herself through, there was a scuffling sound from the woods. She jumped, her head bumping against the top of the window before she fell into the cottage, the soft grass cushioning her fall.
She rubbed her head before calling out, “Are you still there?”
There was no response.
She sighed as she picked herself up, brushing off leaves from her torn dress. She was alone again. She examined the interior of the cottage, her green eyes carefully surveying the cracks and holes. A butterfly was resting on a plate on the wooden table, and a couple of mice had made a home underneath the soiled bed. Her father would’ve laughed, accepting the challenge of cleaning up the mess of a cottage while her mother would have worn an expression of concern. Alcina sat down, her back resting against the cold stone wall as she buried her head in her knees, her frail dress stifling her sobs.
A couple of months passed. The white cat was perching on the window sill as he watched Alcina pick berries from thick honeyberry bushes. The cat yawned as the rays of sunlight warmed his coat, white clouds drifting through the blue sky. His blue eyes lazily rested upon the girl. Her long black hair was pulled back into a bun, and her olive skin was hidden by a loose-fitting pale dress, the sleeves falling to her elbows. Her bright green eyes were tranquil and her posture was composed as she gathered her basket, walking across the neat grass to the cottage. She stopped by the window, her hands stroking the sleepy cat.
“Yael, do you plan on sleeping all day?” asked Alcina, her tone scolding as she frowned.
The white cat stretched. “Perhaps,” murmured the cat, his tail twitching as a ladybug flittered past.
Alcina hid a sigh of frustration as she shrugged, entering the cottage. The wooden floors were recently swept, and the smell of lemon clung to the air. The oak table was adorned with a vase of roses, the sweet aroma drifting around the cottage. A knitted rug was laid across the floor, and the bed was covered in a quilt of gray lilac, melon yellow, and peach blossom tones. Crudely made pots and pans were hanging on the stone walls, and the branch of an olive tree was creeping across the wall.
The girl busied herself in the kitchen. Carved stone counters and baskets of fruits decorated the small corner of the cottage, and a square window showed the dense oak trees surrounding them. The cat reluctantly pulled himself up and moved to the dining table, wrapping his tail neatly around himself.
Soon, bowls bearing salad, soup, and a few slices of bread were organized on the table. The soup held the color of deep orange, and the sweet taste was toned down with a bit of cheese. The aroma of warm bread slept on the table, and freshly picked vegetables were thrown together in the salad. The cat sniffed the soup, his gaze suspicious.
“Why did you put the cheese in the soup?” asked Yael, his voice holding a tone of disbelief.
“It creates a smoother texture,” answered Alcina as she sipped the soup. “Speaking of the cheese, did you go to the village again?”
Yael layed down, tucking in his paws comfortably. “I was passing through so I thought I would buy some stuff for you.”
“I’m grateful but be careful. They’re wary of new faces,” advised Alcina. Her fingers broke apart the bread as a look of languor framed her eyes. “Also, it’s a bit unfair that all of those villagers get to see your human form while you refuse to show it to me.”
Yael’s whiskers twitched uncomfortably. “I’ll show it to you eventually.”
“You better do it before I die,” noted the girl amusedly. “Who knows how long I’ll last out here with my small garden and dainty cottage.”
“Nothing will happen to you,” reassured Yael. “Those who are smart will stay away from an area protected by a witch.”
Alcina stretched, listening to the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves of trees. “Must be nice to have the great powers of a witch yet the appearance of an angel.”
“You basically have them since I’m using mine to always protect you,” snorted the cat. “And I don’t look like an angel. Angels don’t exist.” His tail flicked across the table as a squirrel climbed the empty window sill, drawn by the aroma of fresh food.
“Perhaps, but what’s the point of having all of these great powers if you only use them to turn into a cat?” laughed Alcina, strands of her black hair falling into her face. “If I was a witch, I would use my powers for more important things.” She smiled. Her smile was one of those that lit up her face, bringing attention to her bright eyes and soft features.
“And what are these so-called important things?” Yael blinked slowly, his tone curious.
There was a moment of hesitation as Alcina gazed out of the window, her eyes resting on the lush woods of juniper green. “To be by your side forever and live a long and peaceful life with you.”
Yael looked startled. After a few moments, he got up and jumped to the ground. Standing in the place of the cat was a boy. A white button up shirt hid his lithe figure, and soft locks of pale hair fell into his angled face. Wide blue eyes held a gaze of gaiety as he leaned down, his breath warm on Alcina’s face. Her eyes met his, falling into the swimming shades of azul. If angels didn’t exist, then there was no word that could be used to describe his beauty. She smirked before grasping his head gently and pressing her lips against his.
The story of a lonesome witch and a burdened human. A story that holds the gift that not many others obtain, yet constantly seek. The gift of a happy ending.