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Sniff. Everything ached. Luz ached. 

 

A cold sweat covered her entire body. The sheets clung uncomfortably to her overheated skin. Luz was miserable. She’d kick them off, let the chill in the air cool her skin, and then fumble to pull them back around her when the shivers racked her thin frame. Rinse and repeat. Hours of the same motions. She was so tired. But sleep, unsurprisingly, abandoned her tonight. 

 

Sniff. Cough

 

Her head felt heavy as it limply lolled to the side; her eyes blankly staring at the dark screen of her phone on the nightstand. She reached over and hit the home icon. Nothing. Not a single sign of life. Dead . Unsurprisingly, again . She hit it again -hoping beyond hope that something would change this time but disappointed all the same when nothing happens- sighed, and stared up at the ceiling. I’m sorry, mami. Lo siento, no pude estar allí.

 

Sniff

 

Luz slowly sat up in bed. A dull throb was slowly building like waves in her head, which meant she needed to get up. Hydration, yes. Mami always said to stay hydrated when you’re sick. Drink lots of water. Take the prescribed amount of medicine. She twisted to set her feet on the floor and prop her elbows on her thighs, her head bent and held by the palms of her hands. They shook under the weight. Her body screamed to stay down

 

Sniff. The floor was ice beneath her bare feet, and she just sat there in wretched defeat, the telltale sting of tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. Her mouth moved but failed to voice any of the words clogged in the back of her throat. Mami

 

She wanted to scream. But only muffled noises bypassed her dried, chapped lips. Mami, por favor, ayúdame!

 

Luz was running on pure instinct now. Find comfort. Find mami .

//

Sniff.

 

Lilith awoke reluctantly and hot.

 

The fog of unconsciousness began to fade slowly, and with it a single eye blinked open with sleepy effort, vision blurring in and out of focus. It was still quite dark in the room, the older woman observed. The only light came from the scattered rays of moonlight from the window. At least, until she noticed the single ball of light that hovered on its own over her bed. Wha -

 

Ugh, no. She immediately dismissed the light spell, dreading having to think on why it was there in the first place. 

 

What was important -to her, at least- was the heat bearing down on her between her shoulder blades. It was hot and heavy and Lilith wanted it off

When she tried to roll off of her stomach, her hands braced under her chest to lift herself up, a sudden whine cut through the silence of the darkened room. She froze midway up. More startlingly, the dead weight pinning her body down to the bed moved with her. Clinging tighter to her. 

 

Sniff

 

Entire body stiff as a statue, a myriad of thoughts ran unfiltered through her mind. King? Impossible. She dismissed that option instantly. The little demon always slept with the human at night, curled up at the end of her bed. Edalyn? Most likely. Her little sister loved throwing herself across Lilith’s back when they were kids, demanding Lilith spend less time buried in her books and more on her latest prank. It certainly followed her into her adult years, especially when she knows Lilith hadn’t slept well the night before. ("You can sleep when you’re dead, sis. We’ve got work to do.”)

 

Wait. She recalled her sister wasn’t even meant to be home until morning. One of her sister’s suppliers had mentioned a seller who might have concocted a stronger elixir to contain their curse somewhere in the Night Market and left earlier this evening with the little demon. Which leaves me with -

 

Sniff. “Lily ?”

 

Oh.  

 

It was Luz

 

It came to her with startling clarity. The human was lying on her side upon Lilith’s back, one of her hands clutched desperately to Lilith’s hip; short nails digging into her skin through both her nightshirt and sheets due to the older woman’s attempt to dislodge her. A glance over her shoulder confirmed the other hand held the girl’s own blanket against her heaving chest. Her face was buried between the woman’s shoulder blades, her hairline drenched in sweat. The source of the unbearable heat, she thought absentmindedly. 

 

“What’s wrong?” The older woman asked, smokey and sluggish. After all, it wasn’t like the human to come to her in the middle of the night. 

 

Well, almost

 

The girl made a non-committal noise. She moved her face away from between Lilith’s shoulders, inched up toward her neck, and reburied herself in the crook between her shoulder and neck, a little hum slipping past her lips as she settled down in her new spot. Utterly content to sniffle her little heart out right there it seemed. 

 

Lilith, on the other hand, was lost. Still.

 

Unaccustomed to affection, at least not with anyone who isn’t her sister, Lilith had little notion as to what the right move would be with the human. Luz isn’t Edalyn, and her interactions with the human were still awkward, even two years after the incident which resulted in Lilith living in the same house as the girl. 

 

She’s tried. Still trying. 

 

She’d argue they’re better at communication when the others aren’t around. Like late night conversations when sleep eludes them both. Like the occasional help with homework (Bump assured Edalyn that Luz would be safe at Hexside, not that fear and guilt didn’t still gnaw away in Lilith’s chest every time the girl leaves the house). Like trying to understand a certain stare Luz levels her way when she thinks the older woman doesn’t notice.  

 

But this. Lilith isn’t prepared for this. 

 

The trembling of her hands breaks her train of thought and reminds her she’s still halfway holding herself up. She lowered back down to rest on her elbows, her hands slipping back under her pillow. She kept her head held up as she plotted her next move. 

 

Luz was a dead weight on her back, murmuring incomprehensible words right  into the woman’s ear. Completely oblivious to the current panic Lilith was experiencing because of her. Breathe. Use your words, Lilith. If the human is broken, it shouldn’t be impossible to fix her. Because she knew something was wrong. She just didn’t know what.

 

“Luz,” she cooed softly, rolling the shoulder the human was resting on to get her attention, “you need to wake up for me.”

 

No helpful response. Just a soft mewl. Cute. But not cute enough.

 

A deadpanned, “I will roll you onto the floor if you do not get off of me,” drew some movement out of the girl. Finally . Although, to Lilith’s utter horror, it resulted in Luz shifting closer instead of away, her lithe frame twisting to rest her front on Lilith’s back and shove both her arms under the woman’s arms to settle them underneath her pillow, sweat slicked fingertips encircling Lilith’s wrists. 

 

She settled into her new position like she belonged there. 

 

Sniff.  “No lo harás ,” came the soft response in her ear. If she hadn’t been so focused on the scratchy cadence of Luz’s usually smooth timbre, she might have picked up on the smugness dripping from the girl’s words. She knew damn well Lilith wouldn’t let any harm come to her, lest she wanted to be on the receiving end of her sister’s wrath. Which she didn’t, mind you.

 

Lilith closed her eyes briefly, trying again. “It’s fairly clear you are unwell,” she coaxed, gently. “And I can’t help you if you don’t let me up.”

 

No quiero .”

 

For a long moment, Lilith just sat there and blinked, contemplating if it was even worth the effort to forcefully remove the girl from her. Luz seemed content to lie there, and Lilith was exhausted. And with that, Lilith pronounced, “You’re not moving, are you?”

 

No. Eres tan blando.”

 

Lilith scoffed. “I am not soft.”

 

She wasn’t. Not even when she resigned herself as the human’s body pillow, sleep already drawing her back in like a siren’s song. She wasn’t soft when Luz clasped their hands under the pillow, a happy sigh slipping past her sleeping lips as she nuzzles her new favorite spot in the crook of Lilith’s shoulder and neck. 

 

She wasn’t soft. Just accommodating

 

The heat radiating off of Luz’s skin was still concerning to Lilith. Before sleep claimed her, she made a mental note to check on the girl when she awakes again. But, for now, she’d leave Luz be. 

Chapter Text

“How do you bottle daydreams?”

“You don’t.”

“Oh.” A pause, the sound of teeth gnawing on the end of plastic breaking the silence before an inquiry followed. “Then how come the text says ‘add four drops of bottled daydreams to your mixture’?”

“Ah, it’s referring to the Dayem plant. Known to cause wicked hallucinations to anyone who ingests it raw. It’s mostly used as a stabilizer for memory remedies than anything else these days.”

“Wowzers, that sounds super cool. But why do they call it daydreams if it’s a plant? How do you bottle it? Oh, what does it do if you cook it then eat it?”

“Ask Edalyn. I’m sure she’d be thrilled to tell you all about it.”

Amity is speechless. Her golden eyes are wide; head cocked to the side at the spectacle in front of her.

Luz is seated on the floor in the space between the low table and the couch. Her legs are splayed out under the table, feet in constant motion to some tune only the teen can hear; occasionally bumping into Amity’s knee from where she’s seated, cross-legged, on the other side. A pen situates itself between her lips when she’s in thought and jotting down odd scribbles in her notebook. Little cartoon drawings appear at the edges of her notes. Adorable.

The girl has three textbooks open on the table, the ‘Advanced Potions’ her main fixation at the second. Herbology II and Abomination Theoretics, one of the reasons Amity’s there in the first place, are awaiting her attention. Amity tapped her own book in thought with her pen. Her carefully detailed notes tucked away under her other assignments; awaiting for Luz’s curiosity to be drawn back to their shared class assignment.

Amity doesn’t find it odd -well, not anymore- how curious Luz is of their world, even now, of how she can craft a whole conversation on a topic so mundane to the residents of the Boiling Isles but so fascinating to her. The young witchling finds it endearing and it brightens her whole day to see Luz’s smile light up a room. To hear her laugh. Well, she just likes everything about Luz.

It’s Lilith she finds odd. Wrong.

Her hand clenched tighter around her pen at the thought of the monster.

The older woman is seated on the couch behind Luz with her legs tucked under her, an unidentifiable book Luz handed to her when Amity walked in flipped open on the armrest. Amity’s certain her heterochromatic eyes haven’t lifted from the book she was paging through since the study session began, even when Luz started to use her black legging-clad knees as a pillow to gawk up at her in her endeavor to ask a million questions in one breath. To the monster. Instead of her friend.

It’s strange.

Amity was once Lilith’s apprentice. Cold and unyielding. That’s the Lilith she knew. Never physically affectionate. Or even emotionally. A word of praise was rare from the distant woman, and Amity really thought that was all Lilith was capable of. But.

But here’s Luz, being Luz, her smile bright enough to rival the sun, drawing out a side of Lilith she’s uncertain the older woman herself knew she was capable of. Uncomfortable, yes. That was clear to see in the furrow of her brow. But unmistakably enjoying the girl’s attention in the subtle lift at the edges of her lips. I mean, who wouldn’t? Luz has her own gravitational pull, for Titan’s sakes. She’s always drawing in those around her.

Pen set aside, Amity scratched the inside of her wrist with her nails. She couldn’t wrap her head around the way Luz functions. Lilith cursed her own sister, almost killed Luz to capture Eda, and for what? Her position? Atonement? Yes, it’s been two years, but Amity can’t understand how she could forgive someone so easily. Sometimes, very rarely, she can see something in Eda’s eyes when she looks at her older sister, like rage and loneliness meshing into one. Lilith sees it, too. Does Luz?

The young witchling really misses when Luz and Lilith’s interactions were stilted and awkward. That she could work with. Preferred it even.

She couldn’t put it into words when that changed. Like, overnight they suddenly understood each other. Could breathe comfortably in the same room. Luz was smiling up at Lilith like she didn’t toss her off a bridge to her untimely death. Trust so clear in her mahogany eyes. Why does Lilith think she deserves to be in Luz’s presence? Why does Luz bother with trusting a monster?

She’s asked. A hundred times. Trying to wrap her head around it.

(It was late, the only sound for a long time was the chirping of the crickets in the forest. Amity sat stiff on a fallen log beside the very person she thought she was going to lose forever. Luz was eerily quiet, most likely mulling over how to explain why she’s fine with a monster living under the same roof as her.

Then Luz spoke, and Amity hated the words being breathed to life.

People do bad things, Amity.” Luz whispers, her eyes conveying a secret she’ll never tell. “And what Lilith did was pretty terrible, I know. But she’s trying, and if you don’t give someone the chance to prove themselves, how will they ever learn to be better?”

Amity practically felt the venom dripping from her words. It frightened her how much she sounded like her mother. “What has she even done to earn this chance? You’re too trusting, Luz. She’ll take advantage of that!” She quiets, reins herself in; her voice softening to convey her point. “You have to see that.” She just wants to protect Luz from harm. Because she couldn’t before.

Luz’s smile is heart wrenching to Amity. “I trust her, Amity.” She glances back at the house through the trees. When Amity follows her gaze, she can see Eda standing in the opened doorway; waiting for her apprentice to return, she assumes. A movement beside her draws her attention back. Luz is holding her hand out, palm facing up; her eyes locked on Amity’s. “Do you trust me?”

Gold eyes affix on the offer before looking away. A sigh. A decision to be made.

Amity clasps her hand. “I trust you.” She stands up, still holding onto Luz’s hand. She figures if they remain any longer Eda will come drag her apprentice back into the house herself. “I don’t trust your judgement, though.”

The girl laughs. “Good enough for me.”

Nothing Luz ever says will change her mind about Lilith. She was all too familiar with what those closest to you are capable of.)

She still thinks Luz is too forgiving. But it’s Luz; she wouldn’t change her for the world. She won’t bring it up anymore. However, that doesn’t mean she won’t watch Lilith like a hawk. She’ll be there to protect Luz this time when Lilith reveals her true colors. You won’t hurt her again. I won’t let you.

Luz barks a laugh; that soft, melodic laughter that never failed to ignite a blush on the young witchling’s cheeks - that eases the burden of the Blight family name off her shoulders just long enough for her to breathe as Amity. It draws her attention away from her thoughts. Except, this time, instead of warm cheeks and freedom, a tightness in her chest steals her breath as she watches Luz turn her upper body around to drape herself across Lilith’s lap. She’s rambling about potions and why do they need to be so endlessly complicated.

All Amity hears is a ringing in her ears. Why?

There’s something else bothering Amity about their relationship. An emotion so real it claws at Amity’s insecurities in the late hours of the night.

It’s all hypothetical, really. She can’t prove it. But she’s noticed a pattern with Luz and Lilith. Like, there are days when Lilith wears her glasses -it took Amity weeks to adjust to the sight of her former mentor in them- and lets her hair remain in its natural state of curls (“Ha, you kids should’ve seen it when we were your age. It was like a cloud. So puffy!”) On those same days, Luz’s optimistic and sunny disposition is muted, unmistakably there but weighed down by a burden she won’t address to anyone.

She’s closer to Lilith on those days, too.

Oh, and the look Luz levels Lilith’s way. Amity knows it well, because it’s how she looks at Luz. All warm adoration and unwavering devotion. It can’t mean what she thinks it means. And, unreadable as ever, Lilith doesn’t reveal if she’s caught on to Luz’s feelings, or if she even reciprocates them. All Amity catches is quiet admiration and endless exasperation toward Luz’s ability to find trouble anywhere she goes. (“If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear Edalyn raised you from infancy. You both have a penchant for trouble.”)

The only measure of relief- which, mind you, is very small- the young witchling has is Eda doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. The younger of the two Clawthorne sisters likes to paw at her elder sister’s hair on those horrifying days, commenting on how cute she finds Lilith with her natural curls. All the while Lilith grumbles at her sister and Luz stares. Something in her eyes that Amity physically feels, like a knife burrowing between her ribs.

A tap on her knee reels her out of her thoughts and onto the concerned expression on Luz’s face. She’s no longer draped over Lilith. Thankfully. “You okay, Amity?” She asks, gently. Another tap on her knee and it’s revealed to be Luz’s foot.

Amity didn’t know how to respond for a moment, her hands falling into her lap and clenching into fists. Then she said, stiltedly, “I’m fine, thank you. Have you finished your Potions assignment yet? It’s due this week, right?” Ever the diligent friend she would be. I hate it. I love it, but I hate it.

Ugh,” Luz groaned, her head falling back onto Lilith’s knees. Please, no. “Nooo. Why does potion making have to be tan jodidamente duro?”

“Language,” Admonishes Lilith. “And it’s ‘difficult’,” Of course there’s quotations on the word, because there’s no way a potions master thought the track was in any shape or form difficult. “Because potions require skill and concentration. You must be able to break apart the potions recipe to its most miniscule detail.” She closes her book and finally looks at the two teenagers. “Let me see your assignment. I hardly doubt it’s as complicated as you make it out to be.”

Luz, with a blossoming smile on her face (it almost seemed like she had been waiting for that exact moment), hands Lilith her worksheet and goes back to her other studies, scribbling her odd letters on her notebook without a care in the world. Like the enemy isn’t sitting right behind her. She keeps her head against Lilith’s knees, occasionally glancing up to see if the older woman was ready to explain how best to go about her assignment. Why couldn’t I have been assigned to the potions track?

Amity hated it.

Eda chose that exact moment to stroll into the living room, her roguish grin slipping from her lips as she grimaces at the textbooks on her low table. “I will not get used to seeing those in my house.” She shudders, leaning heavily on the arm of the couch and into her sister’s personal space, fingers already inching up to Lilith’s hair (to Amity, it just seemed Eda had an odd fascination with her sister’s hair, curly or not). “How’s the homework going, kid?”

Luz dramatically scrubs her face with her hands; her eyelids briefly pull downward. Amity winces at the sight of it. “Potions are hard.” She whines, her head bending further back to make eye contact with her mentor.

The gray haired witch snorted in amusement, her nails gently scraping her sister’s scalp at the back of her neck. “Eh, Lily will have you a master in no time. She was always better at that kind of stuff.” If Eda knew Lilith was slowly leaning into the touch, she made no comment on it. “You know, she once corrected our professor in front of the whole class? He was livid.” She cackled.

Lilith smiles, a bare twitch of the lips. “I also recall getting a week of detention because you couldn’t stop laughing. And then another week because of some deplorable prank you pulled on him.”

Hey,” the younger Clawthorne defended, nails briefly ceasing their motion -if Amity hadn’t been focused on them, she might have missed the near whine Lilith almost slipped out if she hadn’t clenched her jaw in the nick of time. “No one calls my sister a liar. It was my sworn duty to defend your honor. By obliterating his, obviously.”

Wait,” Luz interrupted, her already-wide eyes growing ever wider. She twisted back into the position Amity hated: her upper body draped over Lilith. “What did you do?”

Eda puffed up in pride. “Simple. I-”

“Don’t you dare, Edalyn Clawthorne.” The elder Clawthorne warned.

Spoilsport.”

Lilith sighs softly through her nose. Something Amity can’t decipher passes over her features, and with an ease one expects from a former coven leader, steers the conversation back to the matter at hand: Luz’s potion assignment. “Your problem is a simple one,” she explains, her fingers tracing over the words on the paper. “You don’t know the ingredients for the memory potion, and since you didn’t grow up in the Boiling Isles, many of our flora’s names you wouldn’t recognize, let alone know what their specialties are in potion making. I’d start there if I were you. Learn the flora, what they’re properties are, and then attempt the potion.”

Luz beams, flashing her teeth in a dazzling grin, seemingly undeterred by the extra work she would need to do to finish her assignment. The paper is returned to the Latina and she slips it back in her potions textbook; closing it with a soft thump.

Amity perks up in response. With potions now out of their way, they could finally move on to Abominations Theoretics. The young witchling hurried to pull her notes out; cheeks already warming at the thought of Luz’s attention solely on her. And off Lilith. She’s about to speak up when she notices Luz’s sudden stillness.

A weariness has fallen on Luz’s face on a scale Amity’s never seen before, but before she can address it, the expression is wiped clean from her features and replaced by determination. She squares her shoulders, clears her throat to draw three pairs of eyes on her, and with a confidence Amity can’t see reflected in her eyes, says: “Professor Krill mentioned an old tomb in the ribs today. He says no one’s ever been able to get in because of a barrier.” Amity already doesn’t like where this is going. “Do you think it’s like the one the Conformatorium had? You know, humans only?”

Amity, stiff as a statue and voice lodged in her throat, blinks. Blinks. That’s her only reaction.

“I know what you’re thinking, kid,” Eda is the first to respond, her back straightening from her seated position; arms crossing over her chest. “And you can forget about it. I’m not about to let you go trapezing through some labyrinth if I can’t follow you in.”

But Eda-”

“No buts.” Quick to interrupt her apprentice, Eda shakes her head. “I’m putting my foot down on this. It could be dangerous, Luz. And I can’t protect you.”

Luz snarls. It was a harsh, ugly sound. “I don’t need you to protect me, Eda. ¡Puedo protegerme!”

Language.” Lilith, tone carefully measured to be both scolding and calming, was the only one not reeling over the uncharacteristic display of anger Luz was projecting. 

The brief flicker of Luz’s mahogany eyes in her direction and the slight dip in her shoulders are the only indicators she heard the older woman; other than that, she ignores her. “We don’t even know if it isn’t just some creepy cave in-” She hesitates. “What exactly are the Ribs?”

Nowhere you need to be, kid.”

“Eda-”

“How do we know it isn’t some trap the Emperor has set up for you? Hm?” Eda sneers. She isn’t holding back her own anger, and Lilith doesn’t have the same effect on her as she does Luz. “A little too much of a coincidence to mention a tomb no one can enter except the one human in the class, if you ask me.”

“Professor Krill wouldn’t-”

How can you be certain of that?” Eda shouts, with a strangled quality Amity’s never heard in her voice before; it’s enough to make her flinch in response. All the anger has instantly fled her. Her eyes are pleading with Luz to understand where she’s coming from. “Tell me, Luz, how can you know?”

“I-” she can’t, and she’s unable to form anything tangible enough to appease Eda’s overprotectiveness. “-I just know, Eda. Please.”

Throughout the whole argument, being utterly useless when Luz is in need of aid (because she can’t support her here), Amity has clenched her fists so tightly her nails have dug deep enough into her palms to break the skin, but she does nothing to loosen her grip. The pain keeps her own anger in check. From raising her voice at Luz and saying something she’ll regret, all because of the foolish stupidity her friend is spewing right now. She won’t lash out at Luz. She can’t lose her trust. Lose her.

Luz averts her gaze from her mentor, unable to match those eyes with her own. She sets her sights on Lilith instead, her expression already softening into the look Amity hates with every fiber of her being. “Lilith? Don’t you think we should check it out?” There’s a rawness to Luz’s voice, like she needs Lilith to agree with her on this one. “It might help us.”

It takes a while before Lilith responds, her eyes flicking between Luz and her sister, whose features have twisted into an indecipherable expression, also in need of her sister siding with her. “I’m sorry, Luz.” Decision made, it seemed, and Luz crumbles from the weight of it, like Lilith’s words alone sapped the fight right out of her. “I’m with Edalyn on this one. The Ribs are no place for young witchlings.” A flicker of pain crosses her features, -it’s there and gone so fast Amity thinks she imagined it- and Amity notes Luz gently squeezing one of Lilith’s legging-clad thighs. She continues on with: “And with Eda’s magic gone and mine unreliable, we can’t be running off on a whim. It isn’t safe for any of us.”

“I just want to help you break the curse and get your magic back.”

Eda sighs, reclaiming her position pressed flush against her older sister. “I know you want to help,” She says, gently. “But we have to be smart about it this time.”

Lilith gently squeezes Luz’s shoulder. “My sister is right, again.” She’s briefly shocked by the words, and Eda gently nudges her in the ribs, a smug grin adorning her face. Swift to ignore her sister, she continues. “Your life isn’t worth breaking a curse I casted. It’s safer if Edalyn and I look more into it before deciding anything.”

“See, kid? We’ll let you know if it’s worth our time. Until then, let it be, alright?”

“Alright.” Luz concedes defeat. “I’ll let it go.”

Amity wonders if either of the women notice the gleam in her eyes. Luz, no.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, but Luz was still wide awake.

The teen gave a quiet sigh of frustration and rolled onto her back, her arms crossed behind her head. It was a common occurrence in the last month for sleep to elude her. Usually, she quietly shimmies out of her sleeping bag, not wanting to disturb a slumbering King, and tiptoes into the kitchen for a late night scavenger hunt in the fridge. Not tonight, though. Leaving the room meant running into Lilith, and Luz wasn’t feeling social enough to engage in awkward conversation with the older woman tonight.

It’ll be another day soon. You got this, Luz. Smile.

What started off as an occasional pick-me-up when the nights were long, has become a sort of chant -if she’s honest, it’s more of a reminder - for the teen in the early hours of the morning, her sleepy eyes locked on the first rays of dawn cresting the horizon. A chant to be the chipper human everyone knows and loves. Smile, Luz. Or they’ll worry. And, as always, her smiles are bright and cheery for them; simple enough to slip on her face in the daylight when her mind is preoccupied by school and friends. It was the afternoons she found to be a little more difficult to hold onto, the edges of her lips tugging downward. King and Eda are always there as unknowing lifelines, though. And Lilith-

Luz ignored that thought. Ignored the complicated mess she’s got herself into with the older woman and turned her thoughts back to her mentor. It never ceases to amaze her when Eda casts magic, even glyph magic has a certain charm when her mentor effortlessly wields it. Eda’s such a natural, too, performing like she’s been doing it her life. But it was such a battle in the beginning there -the older woman hated being taught. (“Ugh, kid, you sound like my professors.Think I’ll pass on the lessons.”) Luz learned she was best left to her own devices. She isn’t one to turn Eda down, however, when she does come seeking advice, and she savors every moment she has teaching Eda all about her tricks and tips. It’s the least I can do.

She’s so tired, though. 

Tired and bitter. Tired of pretending she’s fine; bitter no one has thought to look a little harder and see the real her. That’s a lie: someone has noticed. Again, she’d rather not focus on that. Subconsciously, she wonders if anyone else has noticed the change in her. Do they know she’s not happy here on the Isles anymore? She misses her home. She misses her mami

Luz frowned. Not for a second does she regret the sacrifice she made for Eda: her mentor is as much her family as her mami is, but she’s starting to wonder if there had been another choice . A different path she could have followed. If she had taken the portal with her to the human realm like she was told to, would Eda have gotten away with King and Lilith? Safe from Belos? But still magicless? Because of Luz?

Did I make the right choice, mami?

She eventually abandons her thoughts on remaining in her sleeping bag until the first light of dawn, the sudden urge to move itching under the surface layer of her skin. Luz is swift to roll out of her cocoon, stretching out the discomfort as she paces the confines of her room. She has no need to tiptoe around the space, as King has resigned himself to the couch tonight, claiming he needed to keep an eye on his secret stash of candy. (“There’s a thief on the premises, Luz, and I’m going to nab them. Nyeh!”) Luz didn’t have the heart to tell him it isn’t so secret or she’s the one stealing from him. She promises herself she’ll replace them when she goes to the market after school. Scout’s honor!

The motions do little to settle her. Her heart pounds ever harder behind her ribs, the discomfort now slinking down to nestle in the rhythmic pattern of her breathing. Breathe in. One. Two. Three. She scratches her collarbone in agitation. Her white tank top and black pajama shorts leave her skin bared to the chill of the room, but she hardly notices the temperature as a heat rises in her. Breathe out. One. Two. Three. Her carefully crafted foundation was cracking, and Luz was frantic to repair the damage. I’m okay. I’m fine. It’ll be another day soon.

She needed an adhesive to fill in the cracks. 

Mami. Since the portal was destroyed three months ago, Luz has kept her phone switched off. (“I’m sorry, kid. I know how much it means to you, but it’s for the best.”) It stays on her person at all times, though. Safe in her backpack as she ventures into the dangerous world known as the Boiling Isles, a gnawing fear of losing it and her only connection to her mami residing in her chest. Rarely does she turn it back on. Only when her world was unraveling around her and she needed to be grounded again. Like now.

She strides over to the end table near her sleepinging bag, her phone right where she left it earlier in the night. A simple press down on the power button with her finger will reboot her phone and she’ll hear her mother’s voice again. Before a wedge formed between them about Luz’s future and her odd behaviour, they used to be as thick as thieves, and Luz loved to film their outings. She can already envision one of her favorites; feel the warmth of a summer day on her skin, wind gently rustling her hair, as they find a good spot in the park to enjoy their lunch. She can hear her mami trying to make a joke, her words filling Luz’s ears in their native tongue, and Luz laughing at how terrible it is. Estoy bien. Estará bien pronto.

Except.

Instead of lighting up like usual, her phone’s screen remained dark. Quiet. Unresponsive. Dead.

A slow simmer mere minutes before, her last connection to her mami was the match her panic needed to erupt into flames. Luz chokes on her own breath, hysteria bubbling in the back of her throat. No, no, no. Luz’s entire body went rigid. She grasped the edges of the end table so tightly the knuckles on her hands turned white. Winding tighter and tighter, her molars creaked under the tension of a clenching jaw. Luz fought so desperately to douse the fire into smoldering embers. Esto no puede estar pasando.

It can’t be true. Her last trace of home can’t be gone. Lost.

Por favor, que no

The fear was settling in now, that sleeping terror she kept sealed tight in the back of her head is now stirring; spiralling so quickly out of her control she can’t rein it in fast enough. No, no, no. Her thoughts are chaotic and vengeful, unable to process the building tension, to comfort the mounting helplessness. No, mami. Por favor, habla conmigo! ¡No me dejes!

She struggled to breathe

There wasn’t enough air in the room to breathe, her ribs aching from the pressure. Black spots danced in her vision and no matter how hard her lungs heaved, not a single breath of air filled her. 

Everything inside her screamed at her to just look away, but her eyes could not tear themselves from the source of her panic. She wasn’t comprehending it. It couldn’t be real. Not so soon. She wasn’t ready. Mami?

“Are you alright, human?”

A sudden pressure on her right shoulder has Luz flinching away. A second of confusion as her thoughts are disoriented and the sound filtered in her ears isn’t yet properly processed. Her mahogany eyes are wild and wide open, bouncing around the room in search of the voice before locking in on the figure in front of her. It’s Lilith, she knows, and some sensible part of her scrambles to hold onto that knowledge. But it’s like grasping at straws; slipping straight out of her sweaty hands. Sinking her further back into the void of panic and fear. No.

The older woman’s heterochromatic eyes assess her with their keen stare from behind her glasses, so close she stands to her she can see the different flecks of grays and blues in her eyes. What a pathetic sight she must be. Shaking so hard it physically hurts. Drenched in a cold sweat from head to toe. The panic in her eyes. Dejar de mirarme

Luz chokingly gasps. Lavender and jasmine engulf her and suddenly air burns a path straight down her throat, her lungs frantically working to drown themselves in the aroma. It’s Lilith’s scent and Luz’s never noticed it before because Lilith doesn’t usually stand this close to her. To anyone

“Can you hear me,” Lilith’s voice was soft, so soft Luz had to strain to hear it. “Human?” 

No la oigo. No puede decirme si tomé la decisión correcta.”

Lilith’s hand hesitantly receded from her shoulder, a sudden realization coming over her features. Luz doesn’t bother to process the information, her attention drawn to the sweater’s sleeve tugging down to reveal a pale wrist and the shimmering gold brand of the older woman’s previous coven. The Emperor’s Coven. The reason she was still here.

She thinks Lilith opened her mouth to speak again. No puedes hablarme monstruo.

Luz snapped.

Her body went from panicked flight to twisting into a physical reaction. A dark and terrifying rage bubbled up from deep within her. It snuffed out every rational thought, clouded her better judgement, till all that was left was the primal urge to harm one of the few responsible for taking her mother away from her. 

With a wounded growl, she lunged at Lilith, taking the older woman by surprise as her tiny frame collided with hers and pushed her down onto the hardwood floor. One of Lilith’s shoulders slammed down first with a resounding smack, a squeak and a hissing groan of pain emitting from her. Luz savored it. , duele tanto como me lastimaste.

Todo es culpa tuya,” Luz snarled. Astride the older woman with her thighs, pinning her down to the floor, Luz’s palms are splayed on either side of Lilith’s head, her midnight blue locks brushing against her skin. “Ella se ha ido y todo es culpa tuya.”

“Wha-” Lilith was stiff beneath her, her wide eyes made all the wider by her glasses. “What are you doing?”

Devuélveme su espalda.” 

“I don’t-”

The blood in Luz’s veins was searing. “No la oigo. ¡Es tu culpa!” She gripped Lilith by the front of her sweater, jerking her towards her with a strength inconceivable by a girl of her stature. “¿Q ué tienes que decir por ti mismo?”

She seethed with uncontrollable fury. 

Lilith merely flinched, nothing more. A whisper of concern floated up from the depths of her mind, questioning why the older woman hasn’t yet attempted to defend herself against the teen. Meager as it may be, Lilith still possessed her magic. Removing the teen from her person should be as effortless as breathing for someone like her. Yet she doesn’t fight back. ¿Por qué?

It infuriated her.

Luz steadied herself and raised her freehand in the air, fingers curling into a fist, ready to satisfy what her rage demanded of her, only to pause. A sudden movement in her peripheral broke her concentration from Lilith. She caught her reflection in the floor length mirror leaning against the wall. Her entire body stilled in stund shock. The snarl etched into her features terrified her. The unbridled fury in her eyes stole her breath. 

Ese no soy yo

Bile burned at the back of her throat, and she fought the urge to retch as she jack-knifed to her feet, clumsily staggering backwards. Her back collided with a wall with a resounding smack, her knees giving out on her as she slid down to the cool comfort of the hardwood floor. She tucked her body inwards until her head pressed into the top of her thighs. Ese no soy no. Por favor, que no

Her mouth opened in a silent scream as her body tightened further. Her foundation was rubble beneath her feet. Her control was gone. Sweat rolled down her face and neck as body-wide tremors racked her frame. Her nails angled sharply to scrape into her scalp, a futile attempt to silence the voices screaming in her head.

Don’t,” The voice was frantic, but the pressure cinching around her wrists, ceasing her actions instantly, was soft and sure . Her hands were relocated to her ears, her palms pressed flat against them instead of abusing her scalp. “Ssh, it’s alright,” The scent of lavender and jasmine assaulted her nostrils and Luz inhaled lungfuls of it greedily. “Let it all out. I’ve got you.”

Luz breaks. A blood-curdling shriek tore from her throat so raw it was painful

 

//

 

It felt like hours before Luz could move again. 

Lilith had remained close enough to touch but far enough away Luz wouldn’t feel suffocated by her presence. She’s since moved further away from the teen, as the sobs have quieted to just wet hiccups and her tightened limbs have eased their hold. Giving her room to breathe. To find her bearing. 

“You with me now?” Lilith asked, tentative. Knowing

Luz nodded, swallowing hard. She shakily rests her chin atop her knees, her tear-stained cheeks sticky against her bare skin. “. Estoy aquí.” Her arms cross over her legs to subside the small tremors still racking her frame.

“Other than the strange language, I suppose so,” Lilith sighed. She has her left leg drawn up, mirroring Luz’s stance as she tucks her chin on the raised knee. Her eyes glance about the teen’s face from behind her glasses, a knowing in her eyes Luz can’t comprehend. “Have you experienced anything like this before?”

Luz didn’t say a word. Scared to spiral out of control again; it’s not like Lilith can understand her anyway. For the moment, she’s content to let her gaze wander over the older woman in her living space. She hasn’t changed into her sleepwear yet, and the teen is just now coming to the realization that she’s never seen Lilith in anything but oversized sweaters and leggings since her time in the Owl House. It appeared tonight was no different. Is there a reason for it, she briefly wonders. 

What is new is the way Lilith looks at her now. Disdain had been their normal for a while, shooting glares at the other across the table at breakfast when no one was paying attention -to be fair, everyone was glaring at one another in the beginning; though none compared to the heated looks Lilith and Eda tended to pierce the other with. They were always a stray glance away from snarling at each other. Then, one night, Lilith’s composure cracked in front of her and Luz remembered it wasn’t in her nature to hold onto so much hatred in her heart.

Stifled awkwardness followed them around after that. Luz was navigating a world of concerned understandment and Lilith was lost in hers. Single-mindedly obtaining her goals without a single soul knowing of the regret she harbors was Lilith’s life for a long time, so much so she’s forgotten how to reach out for help. Luz had been there once: alone. But unlike Lilith, she made friends and found a family who loved her. 

Lilith is still alone. Hated. Distrusted. It donned on Luz then: she was the only one who could see Lilith needed help. Be the only one capable to help her fix her mistakes and reconcile with her little sister. And that meant letting the hate go. (“ I, Luz Noceda, f rom this forward, will be your friend. Don’t scoff at me, Lilith Clawthorne. I’m a great friend. Just ask Amity!”)

Lilith didn’t glare at her, she didn’t avoid eye contact with her out of embarrassment, and she didn’t even harbor pity in her unwavering gaze. Her eyes shimmered with some impossibly great sadness, a quiet understanding lurking in their depths. “Has this happened before, Luz?” She repeats the question, more urgently than before.

It’s the first time she’s ever heard Lilith say her name. A sudden flutter in her chest takes her by surprise. ¿Por qué?

Estoy bien,” She murmurs quietly. “Está bien.”

Lilith’s brow furrowed and she was quiet for a moment. Without a clear communication hub between them, Luz truly thought this was the moment Lilith would grow bored of watching her and leave the teen to pick up the pieces of her crumbled foundation. She alone will repair the damage, as she has always done. It’s fine. She doesn’t need the older woman to stay and hold her hand and coo sweet nothings in her ear. 

Sólo está aquí por su hermana de todos modos. A bubble of shame formed in her heart at the thought. They were friends. Fragile in its beginning stage, yes, but friends nonetheless. Luz briefly wondered what she’d give to not be so broken. To be normal again. To not have her emotions turn on her at every corner. Tears were burning in her eyes and she slammed them close to stop them from spilling. She couldn’t be broken. Too many people depended on her. 

“If I told you,” And Luz’s head snapped up at the sudden sound, her face betraying her shock at the realization Lilith hadn’t moved an inch, merely kept her gaze low and away from the teen. “I know what’s going through your mind right now, would you believe me?”

Luz stared at her, more startled to hear her speak than comprehending the meaning behind her words. Mind still in the process of answering why she was even still here to give the older woman a response.

Lilith leveled her with a glassy stare, an unfettered anguish in her gaze. “You think you have to be so strong,” she said quietly, almost pensively. “You’re fine, right? Nothing’s wrong; you have it all under control. You don’t need anyone’s help.”

Luz felt her heart clench. Several seconds passed without a response. Not a word was forming on Luz’s tongue. She was paralyzed

Another bout of silence followed; then, “The attacks will come far and few in between each other, some lasting longer than others, and you’ll think that’s perfectly fine,” Lilith finally said, and Luz’s heart pounded in her ribcage at the direction this was going. “You’re still in control, right? You’re not broken.” 

All the while she talked, Luz felt her eyes widening bit by bit. An ill-at-ease filling manifesting in her chest, her hands unconsciously tightening around her legs to hide the quickening of her breaths.

Lilith’s hesitant by her reaction, a war brewing in her eyes. The decision she settles on isn’t an easy one, Luz notes, as fear and indecisiveness contort her features. She sighed and tugged up one sleeve of her sweater, pausing to shakily breathe in, and Luz was briefly reunited with the sight of the shimmering gold of her brand. 

Her blood runs cold in her veins at what she sees further up Lilith’s arm.

Parallel to each other, three jagged lines flawed the older woman’s otherwise unblemished skin. “Eventually,” Lilith continues, her fingers tracing the raised skin in remembrance. “You’ll lose what little control you thought you had and pain will become your new anchor. Because what else do you have when your body isn’t yours anymore? Pain.”

Luz couldn’t find her words, if there were any to say, and she stared, open mouthed, at Lilith’s arm. Her hand itches to reach out, to feel for herself how deep Lilith must have sank her nails into her own skin to cause such scars. Were there more? Is that what laid beneath? 

Lilith is quick to let her sweater fall back down when she catches the twitch from the teen. “They started when I was around your age,” A tight smile curls the edges of her lips; grieving and sympathetic “Joining the Emperor’s Coven had been my dream since I was a child, and when it was clear Edalyn’s magical potential would surpass mine, a fear rooted itself in me. What if she got in and I didn’t? So, I studied harder; trained harder than anyone. It was easy to ignore the prickling in my chest, the breathlessness, the night terrors- all of it was shoved so far down I fooled myself into thinking I was fine.”

“¿Qué sucedió después?”

“It was only after I cursed Edalyn they weren’t so easily shoved down anymore. I adjusted, though. Locked myself away when I felt them coming. I really thought I was still in control.” 

“¿Eda sabe algo de esto?” 

The older woman briefly glanced her way. “The worst of it manifested before I was made the leader of the coven. I was a captain and my team was given a simple mission up in The Ribs to locate and apprehend a group of covenless witches.” Lilith chuckled, humorlessly. “Turns out they were waiting for us and we were ambushed. Miraculously, no one was killed.” The tight smile fell flat. Her eyes darkened ominously. “One, though, was severely wounded, and I blamed myself. Once more, I had caused someone harm.”

Luz fought back a shiver. “No fue tu culpa. No podías haber sabido que era una trampa.”

“I have no recollection of the attack itself, but I vividly recall the pain . It centered me. The iron cage I was trapped in suddenly disintegrated. I latched onto that feeling and came back to my thigh a throbbing, mangled mess. But I was in control and that’s all that mattered.”

Luz exhaled. It made sense now why the older woman ceased her actions earlier. For that moment, she saw herself in Luz’s place, alone and clawing her way out of the iron cage her mind trapped her in. Her mouth opened, closed, and opened again. She couldn’t find the words to comfort Lilith; wasn’t sure she was capable of assuring the older woman she wouldn’t let it get to that point. Because could she?

Her thoughts must be written clear on her features, for Lilith studied her carefully and methodically. “I don’t want you to go through that, Luz,” There was genuine sorrow in Lilith’s voice. “I won’t let it come to that.” Her name did that fluttering in her chest phenomenon again.

There was a look of almost absolute desolation in the older woman’s eyes. Luz moved purely on instinct. She crawled the short distance separating the two of them, mindful to keep an inch of space between them -nonetheless Lilith flinched at Luz’s sudden nearness. Her knees dug into the wood as they supported her full weight. The teen reached a hand out and gently pinched the sleeve of her sweater. Words were still failing her, but she managed to convey what she wanted to say with a faint smile. Estoy aquí.

Lilith gently squeezed her shoulder in reply, and Luz felt a wave of calm sweep through her. “You think you have to pretend to be perfectly fine in front of everyone, but you don’t have to be with me. I’m broken, too.” And Luz felt the burn of tears again, but she didn’t fight it this time. She let them run down her cheeks. “I won’t stand by and watch you live the same nightmare I faced. You mean too much to Edalyn for me to just pretend you’ll figure it all out yourself. Let me help you get through this.”

Luz nodded. For the first time in a long time, Luz felt good. She felt like herself.  

 

//

 

Lilith waited. 

She was seated in her customary spot at the breakfast table, a cup of cooling tea before her. Her thoughts were centered around the human upstairs -how best to aid her; when to inform Edalyn of her apprentice’s deteriorating mental health, because Luz needed a support system and Lilith was hardly the best fit for the job. The Boiling Isles didn’t cater to one’s mental stability -it’s a harsh world, and if you’re not strong enough to fight your own battles, what good are you to The Isles? Lilith dug herself out of her own grave. For Edalyn. She’d be damned if she left Luz to suffer the same fate. 

The older woman remained long enough with the human to ensure her sleep was a peaceful one, aware enough to know it wasn’t wise to linger. She waited, with Luz tucked back into her cocoon, for the soft sounds of her breathing falling into the steady rhythm of slumber to rise from her seated position on the floor. A quick flick of the wrist and the silencing spell she casted earlier in the night was released. She was gone before anyone else in the house stirred. Like she was never there in the first place. 

Edalyn was the first to stumble down the stairs and into the kitchen when the morning’s rays flooded the house in a gentle light. She gave her characteristic yawn and scratch on the back before leveling her sister with a blank stare. For once, it hardly affected Lilith, more pressing matters on her mind than her need to reconcile with her sister. 

“Do you even know how to sleep?” Edalyn grumbled, ambling over to the fridge to route around for this morning’s breakfast. Lilith’s figured out it’s the quickest way to wake the sleeping occupants of the Owl House. 

Lilith closed her eyes and sighed deeply, praying for strength or patience -perhaps a combination of both, honestly. “Do you know the name of the language your human speaks?” 

Edalyn straightened instantly, her own heterochromatic eyes leering at Lilith from over her shoulder. “You want to run that by me again?” She growls, defensiveness radiating off of her frame. 

“I was wondering,” Lilith said, mindful of her words this time. “If you knew the name of the language Luz speaks?” It was s trange to say the name in front of someone who isn’t the girl.  

“English, sis,” Eda replies coolly, the door of the fridge closing behind her as she turned to face her sister. A snark was tugging her lips upwards. “And here I thought you were the smart one.”

“The other one.” Lilith snarled. 

“Uh, I know Luz likes to gush over cute things, but that’s still English, sister dear. Mm, then again, maybe you don’t understand that one. Ha.”

Edalyn.”

Lilith.”

Why are you always like this,” Lilith pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes tight. “All I’m asking for is a name. Why must you make this anymore tedious than it needs to be?”

Edalyn pursed her lips as if contemplating her words, though she never took her gaze off her older sister. “And pray tell,” Eda said, purposely withholding the information. “Would you need to know something like that?”

“Sometimes,” She exhaled, a thousand thoughts running rampant in her head before she silenced them; settling on a simple explanation to appease her sister. “She rambles in it, and I was curious about it. Do you know or not?”

A brief moment of silence passed between the two of them, as it appeared Edalyn had little notion to share with her older sister the information she’s seeking. Lilith was seconds away from conceding defeat and simply asking the human herself later tonight when Edalyn finally moved, her head nodding from a silent conversation she held with herself. 

“Luz calls it Spanish,” Edalyn answered, strangely regarding her sister. 

Spanish. Lilith nodded. It seems a bit of schooling is in order.

So inwardly focused she is, Lilith missed the soft smile Edalyn’s wearing when she turned back to her previous agenda of preparing breakfast. Content to know her older sister is growing as a person, but not so willing to let her know about it just yet. Look at you, Lily, learning how to love again. And Luz, of all people. Kid sure knows how to pick ‘em.

Chapter Text

The smell was nauseating.

Luz's nose crinkled in disgust. She was perched atop the breakfast table, legs crossed -Lilith's earlier glower did little to deter Luz from moving. Nor did the smell stop her from leaning forward to peer closer into the cauldron Lilith was brewing a sickly green liquid in. She was mindful of the conjured fire beneath the cauldron, the blue flames flicking up around the rounded surface. A ponder as to why the flames needed to be magical instead of man-made earned her a blank look. She sheepishly scrunched her shoulders upwards, duly noting to pay more attention in her potion classes from now on.

A book -more like a tome it was so huge- was flipped open and settled in Luz's lap, more there for the teen to study and learn from the experience today than for Lilith herself (Luz also believes it's because the older woman is a grump when she hasn't slept and if the dark circles under her eyes were of any indication, Lilith was in no mood to teach the teen things she should probably already know). Luz glanced back down at it. The script was written in spiraling cursive, the penmanship flowy and precise. Luz wondered if Lilith wrote all of the potions in the book. She definitely seemed the type to have neat handwriting. 

Luz traced the curves with her eyes, trying to absorb the information presented to her on the page. Like the plant track, potions was one of her weaker subjects. She found the lectures so boring and the class difficult. The only time Luz ever felt a spark of interest for it was when Lilith was the one teaching her. The older woman was a naturally gifted teacher, explaining the complexities around potions with an ease Luz always finds so fascinating; effortlessly hooking Luz onto her words. She made potions fascinating. Her potions professor, sadly, did not have the same effect. 

"I'm surprised you didn't join Edalyn on her trip to the market," Lilith said, her eyes unwavering from their stare into the cauldron. She sprinkled a dried herb in before stirring the wooden spoon held in her left hand counterclockwise. "You've hardly left the house all weekend." 

The tone wasn't in any form accusatory in its inquiry, but Luz shrunk inwards nonetheless. She was still in the process to break the habit of pretending everything's alright, even around Lilith. She fiddled with the edges of the opened book, careful not to rip the pages. "I guess I wasn't feeling very social today." She shrugged her shoulders, noncommittally. 

Lilith hummed, side-eyeing her briefly in acknowledgement of what she's doing but letting it go. For now. It's the best she can hope for, really. She's grateful for Lilith's help. Truly, she is. She hasn't felt like herself in months; so to have someone understand her was refreshing. She could breathe again. Be Luz. It was nice. Just, some days, she hates herself for still being broken. Today just so happened to be one of those days. 

Luz veered away from those thoughts and watched Lilith sort through an array of jars surrounding the cauldron, not a single label on any of them but somehow the woman's aware of what's hidden in their depths. She selects a pale yellow one, uncorks it, and another dried herb is sprinkled into the cauldron. The color changes from sickly green to navy blue.

Luz's voice is soft, careful. "What was it like?"

Lilith doesn't even spare her a glance. "Hm, sorry, I'm not a mind-reader. You'll need to be more specific." The tug at the right corner of her lip was the only indicator Luz had of Lilith's present amusement.

The teen cracks a smile at the joke, giggling softly. She's slow to sober. Aware she's treading dangerous territory. "To be the leader of the Emperor's Coven. What was it like?"

There's a subtle pause in the older woman's movements, and Luz wouldn't have noticed the slight tension in Lilith's jaw if she hadn't already been keenly observing the older woman for the last hour. Eda once told her Lilith was a master at wearing a mask but her eyes always gave her away. ("You just gotta know what to look for, kid. Lily's not as unreadable as you might think.") Even now, her face is neutral, nary a wrinkle present on her pale features. But her eyes are conflicted, weighing the pros and cons of answering the question. 

Suddenly, Lilith has a pinched look on her face, as if she's fighting down some emotion, and Luz inwardly squeals at how adorable it is. Not so adorable Lilith thought she needed to hide how she feels from Luz, mind you, but it's a step closer to completely abandoning her mask altogether for the teen. Because Lilith never has this expression on her face when around the others, and Luz has seen by her eyes the range of emotions she's felt with her blank stare set firmly in place. It's only Luz who gets this brief exterior conflict. Well, Eda does, but Luz isn't blood, so she considers herself much more special. (She also doesn't account for Lilith's anger. Eda's confirmed her sister is easily aggravated.)

Lilith's lips get thinner and thinner, pressing them together as her gaze wanders from the cauldron and on the teenaged human sheepishly staring at her and then back to the cauldron. She sighed. "Here," She says, shoving a root of a strange plant into Luz's hands. It's purple and smells like licorice. "Shred a few pieces of bark off of it and I'll tell you anything you want to know." She paused, eyeing Luz dubiously. "Anything I deem appropriate, that is."

Luz pouted. But she won't push her luck. This once. "Deal," She chirps instead, eager to be of assistance. "So, what was it like? How does someone even become head of a coven? Is there a lot of paperwork? Eda likes to say you've slowed down because you've spent too long behind a desk," It all rambles out of her as she unconsciously shreds the plant in her hands, the pieces of flora easily separating between her nimble fingers. The smell of licorice was stronger the deeper she penetrated into the plant. "When you and Eda fought," She intentionally ignored the flinch from the older woman. "You didn't look slow to me. Tired, maybe. I mean, Eda was pummeling you and I know now it was taking a lot of your focus to keep that bubble of yours around me to really duke it out with her."

"Orb," Lilith corrected. "It was a protection orb." She ceased Luz's shredding with a wave of her hand, flicking through the pieces for what she desired and adding them to the cauldron. "Now, to answer your questions. Becoming a coven leader isn't so simple in the nine main covens. The smaller ones, I believe, merely vote on who they see best represents their coven." 

"How come?" Luz pondered. She completely disregarded the orb comment. She liked calling it a bubble too much to give it up so easily. 

"You must excel at the type of magic associated with your chosen coven. You must be the strongest. The wisest. The most resourceful. You're representing one of the most powerful covens on the Boiling Isles. You must be able to rise to the occasion."

"Wow," Luz breathed. She propped her elbows on her thighs, cradling her head in her hands. "Can you be challenged?"

"Yes. So long as the challenger can provide for the coven."

"Were you ever?"

"Once," Lilith hummed, her focus primarily on what she's brewing in the cauldron. She's since switched to stirring clockwise. It still smells awful. "It was a member of the Blight family, actually. They weren't very pleased a nobody like me was the Emperor's left hand."

"Wowsers," Luz's eyes widened. She was surprised to hear a member of Amity's family went up against Lilith and lost. If Amity wasn't so angsty about Lilith, the two teens could get a laugh out of Luz's findings. But, unfortunately, Amity is still prickly and it only ever invites arguments between the friends. "It doesn't seem very efficient, though. How do you get anything done if, say, the leadership is being changed everyday?"

"It's fairly rare for leaders to be challenged, but I'll humor your curiosity." Lilith's lips curled in an amused grin. A warmth blossomed in Luz's chest at the sight. She liked Lilith's smiles. "All covens are governed by a specific law system based on their primary magical ability. Only Belos can change those laws. Coven leaders are there to adhere to those laws and to keep their covens in line. A change in power doesn't change this, merely who represents them; so, in theory, a coven could go through six leaders in a day and it would do little harm to them."

Luz snickered at the thought of a coven actually going through six leaders in a day (the amount of paperwork that must go into that). It stills seems inefficient to her that power was merit enough to be considered head of a coven. But Lilith was one, and if Luz has learned anything about the older woman, it's that she's ridiculously intelligent (just don't say that around Eda, for she'll enthusiastically remind everyone her sister is a dumb-dumb in every other aspect out of book smarts). Luz will just have to take her word for it on this one. Besides, the Boiling Isles was already playing by a whole different set of rules from her realm. Who was she to really judge?

"Now, paperwork," Lilith mused. Her nose crinkled in disgust, mirroring the same face Luz made at the cauldron earlier. Luz coughed to smother her laughter at the sight, though Lilith's side-eye at her informed she failed terribly. "It's one of the few things I don't miss about my position." Her eyes rolled in annoyance, a huff bypassing her lips as she removed the wooden spoon from the cauldron. "I thought my handwriting was atrocious; you should have seen some of the reports I was forced to read through. It was a miracle I understood any of it."

That piqued Luz's interest. "Wait," She lifted the book off her lap and turned it towards Lilith, holding it just under her chin. "You mean you didn't write any of this?"

Lilith glanced over. "No," She casually revealed, as if it wasn't a big deal. Which, by the way, it was. "Edalyn wrote it."

Luz's jaw dropped. "You're joking." She was so shocked

"I don't joke."

"Liar."

"I don't lie."

"Liar."

Lilith's smile is lop-sided; unknowingly, Luz mirrored it. "I'm not joking," She relieves Luz of the heavy tome and flips it to the first page before facing it back to the teen. There, in cursive swirls, was Eda's full name. Luz stares. She never expected her mentor to have such lovely penmanship. Her curiosity has now been further piqued: what does Lilith's handwriting look like? She glances up at the woman as she's handed the book back. 

"No," The older woman easily interpreted the stare leveled her way. "Not happening."

"Please?" Luz pouted.

"That doesn't work on me."

She continued to pout.

"I'm not Edalyn, Luz. Your face isn't going to get me to do what you want."

Big guns it is. Luz let her lower lip wobble just the slightest. The book dropped, forgotten, in her lap as she laces her fingers together and tucks them under her chin, the puppy-dog eyes in full effect. "Please, Lily, can I see your handwriting?"

Lilith remains firm for ten seconds. Luz watches the miniscule ticks of her face morph from unbreakable resolve to crumbling into undignified defeat. Her head cocks back and she huffs in irritation. "Fine," She growls with no real malice in her tone. "I will show you. Don't know why it's so important to you. But only after I'm finished with this."

"Fine by me!" The teen cheers. Her victorious smile dials down to a curious frown. "You said the paperwork was one thing you don't miss. What's another?"

"Oh," Lilith takes her time answering. "That would be dealing with the High Council."

"I'm sorry, the what?"

Lilith nodded. "The High Council," She inspects the cauldron one last time. A snap and the flame is instantly extinguished. She places a lid atop the cauldron and turns her whole attention onto Luz. "If leaders are considered the most powerful of their covens, the High Council is the most gifted of their members. In a way, they're the powerful who didn't want the responsibility of leadership but still wanted everyone to know what they're capable of."

"And by capable, you mean-" Luz was almost afraid to know the answer. 

Lilith surely didn't disappoint. "They want you to know how effortlessly they could kill you."

"Oh," Luz shivered, a shard of ice running down her spine. "I might regret asking, but how do you become a member of the High Council?"

"Only one of the main nine can be a member," Lilith gently explained. She cocked her hip against the side of the breakfast table, her arms folding over her chest. "And it's as simple as winning Belos' favor."

Luz let the information digest. Her eyes are wide, unblinking. Since the portal was destroyed and Eda was saved from petrification, it's always bugged Luz as to why Belos wasted his time allowing Lilith to hunt her sister in the manner she was. Especially considering it was only a month before the incident Lilith began actively pursing Eda. Why wait so long? And discovering he has an assortment of wickedly gifted witches at his beck and call only added to the bafflement of it all. Luz doesn't understand how Belos operates. Doesn't think she ever wants to. 

Luz chewed on her lip. "I take it," She responded, carefully. "It's not really that simple, is it?"

"It isn't." Lilith confirmed. "Very few ever do."

"And you had to deal with them?"

"Rarely, mind you. Belos likes to keep them spread throughout the Isles."

"Why?"

Lilith quirked a brow. "A show of force, I suppose."

"Oh." Luz winced. That ought to have been obvious, even to her. "What was it like to be in a room with them?" Oh, Dios, tell me they didn't threaten you. Gifted or not, I will-

"Aggravating." Lilith deadpanned. 

Luz choked on a surprised laugh, the blank stare on Lilith's face further spurring her coughing fit. She swallows it all down after a few rough pats on the back from the older woman, worry and amusement clear in her eyes. "You weren't afraid?" She asked, clearing her throat. 

Lilith is contemplative for a second before she responds. "None but one has ever held a candle to the same raw power like Edalyn. So, no, I can't say I was ever afraid." Well, that answers one of Luz's looming questions. 

Wait. Luz perked up at the sudden realization of what Lilith said. "Aw, Lily," She coos, her eyes softening and a blossoming smile stretching across her face. She slaps the palms of her hands against her cheeks as she squeaks. "Is that a compliment I hear?" 

It takes Lilith a second to comprehend before she visibly reacts. The tips of the older woman's pointed ears turn pink as she flushes, her head pointedly turning away from the teen as she growls lowly. "Enough. You're not cute."

"I'm freaking adorable," Luz countered. Her ribs ache from the amount of laughter she's withheld within the last hour. She's merciful and refocuses. "So, who is it?"

Lilith's frame is rigid, made even stiffer by the conversation at hand. "Mira Rime," Her voice is hard, as unyielding as a glacier. "She's an illusionist with extraordinary power, and she isn't afraid to use it." 

Luz frowned. "She's pretty powerful, huh?"

"Immensely so," Lilith works her jaw a few times, a growl emitting in her words. A warning. "If you ever come across a woman bearing the Emperor's glyph in blood red instead of gold, you run. Don't ever confront her. I don't even think at her best Edalyn could stand a chance against her." She only marginally relaxes at the mention of her sister. "Don't ever let her know I said that. Knowing my sister, she'll take it as a challenge." 

"That does sound like Eda." Luz nodded, face ashen. She breathed in heavily and a familiar scent hit her nose. "Hey, what's that smell?" She sniffed a few more times to confirm she isn't imaging it. 

"Hm?" Lilith straightens from her position, redirecting her attention to the cauldron. "Oh, the potion's complete." She removed the lid and the liquid inside was a shimmering red.

"Wow," Luz peers into the cauldron, her fingers wrapping around the cooled rim as she rises up an inch to get a better view. "It doesn't smell like rotting algae and sewer water anymore." 

Lilith tsked, but smirked at the response. "It is unpleasant in the beginning."

"That's an understatement. It smells so nice now. Like lavender and jasmine. Do you smell it?"

"I do, but it's not the same scent you're inferring to." 

"What do you mean?" Luz realized her mistake a second too late as she looked up at the older woman.

Lilith levels a hard stare straight at her. Knowing the answer already to the question she was asking. "You weren't paying a single attention to the book, were you?"

Luz offers a sheepish smile; eyes casted down to the cauldron. "Uh, maybe?" She honestly replied. There's no point in lying to a potions witch. Really, there's no point in lying to Lilith

"It's a calming elixir," Lilith informed, muttering under her breath about more rigorous tutoring sessions before continuing on. "The scent is different for everyone and it can easily change for one person. Whatever comforts you the most will be the most recurring scent." 

"What comforts you the most." Luz repeated, her brows furrowing in thought. Lavender and jasmine was Lilith's scent. Her heart pounded in equal measures wonderment and a wrongness that terrifies her. She expected to catch whiffs of her mami, but the scent wasn't changing in the slightest as she continued to breathe it in. What if she's forgotten what she smells like? The calming elixir kept the panic at bay. And no matter the guilt gnawing a hole in her gut, Luz eagerly let the scent wash over her. 

"It helped me through some particularly rough patches in my years," Lilith mused, temporarily disrupting the teen's inner turmoil. "Suppose it doesn't help I've never liked how sleep remedies made feel in the morning, so this turned out to be a decent substitute." 

Luz kept her eyes on the cauldron. "What scent comforts you the most?" She asked, her voice whisper soft. 

Lilith was silent for a long time, so much so Luz thought she crossed a line with the older woman. Then she softly chuckled. "I thought it was obvious."

Tilting her head up, Luz couldn't keep the bafflement from twisting her features. "How so?"

"I'll give you a hint. She's the very source of my every annoyance, but she's what I fight so desperately for."

Lilith's eyes are shimmering with affection when they meet hers, all the love she kept sealed up for Eda shining through for Luz to see. It stirred an ache in her. "Eda, huh?" She pushed the hurt down, uncomprehending why it was so painful in the first place. 

The older woman frowned, the love only meant for Eda vanishing behind her concernment for Luz. "Luz, you're pale," Her hand is hesitantly held out, as if she wants to touch Luz's cheek, before she drops it. "Are you feeling alright?"

Luz shakily smiled. "I'm okay," She reassured. She swallows down some emotion she can't decipher. "Can I have some of this?"

Lilith smiled, so soft Luz felt her shoulders drooping of their own accord. A welcomed anesthetic to the pain in her chest. "Of course you can. It was made for you." Luz's heart leapt in joy. Lilith made it for her. And it quickly plummeted when Lilith continued. "I've noticed you've been having trouble sleeping again."

Ah. There it is. The conversation Lilith was hinting towards earlier. 

The teen's eyes trained down to the assortment of jars and away from Lilith's all knowing gaze. "And so what if I have?" Luz fidgeted, picking non-existent lint from her purple hoodie before balling her hands into fists in her lap. "You haven't been sleeping." 

Lilith wasn't fazed. "The curse keeps me awake most nights," She said; the tone of her voice brooked no room for argument. "You, on the other hand, are a different story."

Luz kept quiet. Not today. Today she wasn't going to cry. She was fine. She needed to be fine. Just one normal day. Please

Lilith knew. She always knew. "I'm never going to force you to talk to me, Luz," Lilith lowered her head to catch the downcast eyes of the teen, effortlessly capturing Luz's full attention, her gaze instinctively locking on those heterochromatic eyes. "Just know I'm here whenever you're ready to talk; whenever you need me, okay? You're not alone, remember?"

Luz opened her mouth to respond but a slam was heard behind them. The teen jumped in alarm, while Lilith's soft smile swiftly fell from her lips and Luz was reintroduced to the blank stare that she likes to refer to as Lilith's default expression. Luz frowned at the sight of it. She's grown so accustomed to the subtle shifts in her face the teen can't say she's a real fan of the nothingness she sees now. 

Eda strolls into the kitchen, the edges of her mouth drawn down into a sneer. Her movements are jerky, anger radiating off her in waves. "Here, kid," She unceremoniously drops a slumbering King into Luz's unsuspecting arms, the teen scrambling to get a grip around the demon before he drops to the floor. "Take him and go to your room. Lils and I need to have a little chat."

"Eda," Luz warned, a threat clear in the shift of her stance. Her eyes narrowed ominously. "I'm not leaving if you two are going to destroy the kitchen. Again."

"Don't worry," Eda teased, a roll of her eyes following as she easily hoists the teen off the breakfast table with King still gripped in her arms. She carefully sets Luz down. "I'm not going to break your new favorite toy."

"Lilith's not a toy, Eda." Luz argued. She still didn't make any move to leave the kitchen.

"It's fine, Luz." Lilith said, her voice dissonantly calm. "I'll get these bottled for you. Run along now."

Mahogany eyes briefly glanced at the aggravated tension still clinging to her mentor; then to the eerily calm of the elder Clawthorne. She chewed her lip in indecisiveness. Leaving them alone didn't settle well in her stomach, but Lilith's barely noticeable tilt of the head commanded her feet to head out of the kitchen. She only glanced back over her shoulder when she passed the threshold, the sisters now locked in a stare down. She prayed to whoever was listening that the house would still be in one piece later and headed up the stairs. 

 

//

 

Head tilted, Eda waited until the sound of her apprentice's footsteps faded up the stairs before addressing her sister with the full force of her ire. "It was a waste of my time," She spat, yanking a chair out from under the breakfast table with a horrible screech as it dragged on the floor. "A complete fucking waste of my time." She ungracefully fell into the chair, tilting it back on its hindlegs. 

"Language, Edalyn," Lilith scolded, the words rolling so effortlessly off her tongue it might as well be second nature to her. The lines of annoyance marring her neutral features satisfied the child-like part of Eda (Lily was just too easy to rile up). She leveled her sister with a stare Eda was all too familiar with, a healthy dose of exasperation and hopelessness at her sister's antics. "And I gathered as much. What happened?" 

Eda craned her neck at an angle, breaking their connection to stare at the ceiling like it was the source of her irritation. "A whole lot of nothing, that's what happened." She drummed her fingers on the table, unaware of the pair of eyes watching the movement. "Not a single soul, it seems, on the Isles knows anything of another portal to the human realm."  

"Someone must know something." Lilith argued.

"Well, no one knows anything," Eda countered. The chair slammed down hard on the ground as Eda righted it back into position. She pointed an accusatory finger at her sister, who snapped her eyes up to the offending appendage with a widened gaze. "I even went to the library, Lily. The library. Me." She threw her arms out in exaggeration, catching her sister's eyes following one of her hands. It seemed she was still not quite over the occasional detachment of her little sister's body parts. Eda considered messing with her before disregarding it. Later

"Oh, the horrors." Lilith flatly stated, tearing her eyes off Eda's hand.

"It was."

"Is the library still standing?"

"Regrettably."

Lilith pinched the bridge of her nose, a surefire sign of her creeping annoyance, and breathed heavily. She leant most of her weight against the side of the breakfast table and folded her arms over her chest. "How should we proceed from here then?" She inquired, more to the room than to her sister. 

Eda's amused grin fell from her face. "I don't know what else to do, Lily." She said, sighing. "I don't know how to get her home."

Lilith hummed. "I could try speaking to a few of my acquaintances in the Emperor's Coven," She supplied, unfolding her arms as she pushed off the table. "Someone is bound to know something. Or at least heard of another portal." 

Eda gritted her teeth. "No," She snarled. "I'm not letting you endanger yourself for this." 

"Edalyn-"

"No, Lily. They can't be trusted. You should know this by now."

Lilith looked down at her with an eerie sense of calm. As crafty as her elder sister likes to think she is, Lilith can't hide from her little sister, the hurt and guilt so palpable in her eyes Eda felt it in her own chest; knocking the breath right out of her. Harming Lilith was the last thing Eda ever wanted to do, she's not a monster, but her sister was deceptively naïve when it came to the coven she cherishes so much, even now. After everything they've been through with Belos, Lilith still held some notion he was doing it for the betterment of the Isles. Eda couldn't fault her for it, either. Not really. Someone can't change the way they think overnight. It'll take time and a lot of setbacks to reset the way Lilith sees the Emperor and his shamble of a coven system.

She can't change her sister's views, she's accepted that, but she'll be damned if she's going to just let her sister walk straight into the arms of the enemy. Lilith might be the eldest, but Eda has always been the protector. That hasn't changed. 

Eda turned to look out the window, a swell of fierce protectiveness pushed against her breastbone; the cursed form answering in tandem with a roar in the back of her conscience. Her shoulders dropped with an unspoken I'm sorry. Her gaze swept the land surrounding her home as she listened to the sound of Lilith moving away and rummaging around the kitchen for spare jars, the I understand in her sigh. 

The movement stalled momentarily, a creak of the cabinet opening the only source of sound before: "How did you come across the one Luz destroyed? Maybe we can start there." Lilith inquired as an olive branch, a huff in her breath. Most likely from the weight of the box of jars she found, if the scraping sound was any indicator, Eda mused. Or annoyance. Eda wasn't curious enough to bother finding out. 

Eda hummed. "Don't know."

"I'm sorry, what?"

Eda couldn't contain the cackle. She couldn't help it even if she tried. She slapped the table with the palm of her hand as she bent over and clutched her side with her other arm. "Ah, Lily," She breathed out between chuckles, immensely enjoying the growl emitting from her sister. "The kid's really rubbing off on you." 

"She what? What does that even mean?"

Eda cackled all the harder. She couldn't breathe. "It's an expression, Lily," Her ribs ached as she struggled to catch her breath. "What do you think it means? No, really, I wanna know. Ha."

"No, and your deflections are as immeasurably trying as I remember."

"Aw, sorry to say, sister dear, but flattery will get you nowhere." 

"Quit deflecting, Edalyn."

Wiping away the tears gathered in her eyes, Eda leaned up and looked over at her incensed sister. Lilith was flushed to the tips of her pointed ears, a glower firmly etched into her features. Unlike Luz, Eda wasn't so merciful. "You know," She drawled, her lips curving further up in amusement when Lilith's eyes narrow in suspicion. "I think you like Luz more than you want me to believe. Why else would you be so adamant about getting her home?" 

Lilith spluttered. She accidentally slammed the box of jars down harder than she intended on the table. It made her flush all the worst. "We're not doing this," She demanded, her jaw lined with an obvious tension. "How do you not know where you came across the portal? Answer."

"Like I said," Eda murmured, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms over her chest. "Don't know how I came across it. One second I'm the owl beast; the next  I've got a key to another realm hanging out of my mouth. And the worst case of morning breath of my life. Yeesh."

"You're joking."

"Never with you, Lils." 

Lilith pinched the bridge of her nose. Again. "So, we're right back to where we started then."

"You betcha."

Lilith visibly deflated. It tugged at Eda's heartstrings. Revealing a weakness was not a trait Eda associated her sister with. She was up and moving before she even registered it, her arms encircling her elder sister's waist from behind. She propped her chin on her shoulder; felt the the stiffness at the unexpected contact in her sister's whole frame. Lilith's hands shot up and cinched around her forearms. "Hey," Eda soothed, her voice a soft purr. Aware her sister was awfully awkward with affection. "I'm not giving up on this. You're right; someone out there knows something. We just need to find them." 

"This is all my fault," Lilith choked, clutching desperately to Eda's forearms. Her sharp nails pricked her skin, but Eda remained still, her heart constricting painfully in her chest at the sheer agony in Lilith's voice. How many nights has she lied awake blaming herself? How many had Lilith? "If I had just listened to you none of this would have happened."

Eda shook her head, her chin brushing against the cotton material of her sister's sweater, and blew out an uneven breath. "None of that now," She muttered, snuggling closer to Lilith to offer all the reassurance physically possible of her. "If we're going to play the blame game, I'm winning by a landslide. I let Luz stay. I knew the risks. I knew Belos wanted the portal. All me, Lily."

If I never threatened her life," Lilith vehemently swore, still gripped so tightly by her guilt she couldn't comprehend a word her little sister said. Couldn't fathom how it could ever be Eda's fault. "You'd still have the portal and your magic, Edalyn. She would have been able to go home." 

"You don't know that," Eda argued as fiercely as her sister. "I would have slipped at some point. Got caught. The only saving grace I had last time was you and Luz." 

"As if I'd let anyone harm you." The snarl in Lilith's voice was far more welcomed to the broken one she heard seconds ago. More reminiscent of the Lilith she knew. "Not like I did."

Eda's lips twisted into a sly smile. "That's cute, Lily." She patted her sister's stomach, ignoring the squawk of protest it earned her. "Alright, no more of this blaming ourselves game. We're in this together now. We'll figure it out and get Luz home."  

Lilith loosened her grip but didn't completely release her hold on Eda's forearms. "And you say Luz, what was it, rubbed off on me?" She attempted to joke, the scratchy quality of her voice betraying the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. "She's made you far more cuddlier than I remember you being."

Eda hummed, noncommittally, a gentle chuckle softening the rigidness in Lilith's shoulders. She peered down at the cauldron, a sudden recall of Lilith mentioning to Luz she'd bottle the shimmering red liquid for her. She took a whiff and caught traces of vanilla and cinnamon. "Is that a calming elixir? What's Luz need it for?"

The rigidness returned, though Lilith attempted to hide it by rolling her shoulders. "It's for her class. She was struggling on her own, so I lent my assistance."

Ah, there it is. The lie. Eda pursed her lips together in silent deliberation, the protectiveness further swelling; the beast in its cage roaring and thrashing. She unconsciously tightened her hold on her sister, the soft gasp falling on deaf ears. Whatever was going on between Luz and Lilith, it appeared they were under the assumption Eda was oblivious to it. How could they expect her not to see the dark circles under their eyes, the loss of light in Luz's smiles, the secretive glances the two share? Her reconciliation with her sister is still fresh and it's opened her eyes to a sight she didn't particularly like. Was something wrong? Did they think Eda couldn't help? Were they ever going to tell her?  

Eda closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, her sister's achingly familiar scent engulfing her senses. Titans, what she would give to return to their younger years, when the only thing that ever mattered to her was invading her sister's personal space and launching into a spiel about her latest prank. To turn back the clock and fix what was broken in her elder sister before it ever happened. She internally struggled with the concept of keeping her mouth shut about this latest situation. Cornering Lilith in the past had only ever given Eda harsh glares and spiteful words; Luz couldn't be any different if her dear, emotionally stunted Lily was her source of comfort right now. Waiting was all Eda could do at the moment; no matter how much the thought of it scared her. That she could lose Luz; lose Lilith again. Eventually, something will have to give. Eda refused to be alone again. 

A soft nuzzle against her midnight blue hair and Eda finally, reluctantly, removes herself from Lilith, the elder's fingertips dragging against the skin of her arms; briefly tightening, as if she didn't want Eda to leave just let, before letting her go. She moves to stand at her sister's side, carefully lifting a jar. "I'm sure the kid won't mind if I steal one these, yeah?" She murmured, humming to herself as she filled the jar. I'll play ignorant for now, Lily. But only for so long. I won't let this destroy my family. 

Lilith watched her, clearly trying to sort through her emotions. "I'm sure she wouldn't." She confirmed. She focused back on filling the jars.

"You know," Eda started, drawing away from her sorrowed thoughts. Her jar was set off to the side as she ran her hands behind her neck with a long, drawn out breath. "This means the cure for the curse won't take precedence anymore."

Lilith paused. "I'm fully aware." And then resumed her task. 

"Is she worth it to you?"

"She's more than worth it to me."

 

//

 

It's later in the evening Lilith finds herself the center of everyone's amusement. Again

She's pressed against the back of the couch, her legs tucked under her and a flush on her cheeks. She's dispelled the magic on her eyes, her rounded glasses perched on her nose. Edalyn's head is currently occupying her lap as she cackles and snorts, her face burying itself into Lilith's stomach. A part of Lilith dares her to push her sister off the couch, while another basks in the physical comfort Edalyn unknowingly provides her. Obviously, the other half of her wins her over; selfishly enjoying what's being offered. 

King, the wretched demon, is spewing out insults left and right, amping up the awful cackling of her little sister. He's standing atop the low table, his paw pointed at Lilith. The older woman might have contemplated firing a spell his way if Luz's soft laughter wasn't also mixed into the situation. Her ears are attuned to the sound, a warmth settling in her chest. Even if it's at her expense, she's pleased to hear the sound. It's not everyday the human has the will to laugh so freely. 

Luz scoops up King and deposits him into her lap, silencing the insults in an instant. "Wow," She's still giggling as she speaks, hugging King close to her chest. "You weren't joking about your handwriting being atrocious." 

"I told you I don't joke." Lilith mused, her fingers briefly scratching her sister's scalp as she settled down. The flush on her cheeks was, thankfully, cooling off. 

"You're lucky the Emperor's Coven doesn't check for penmanship," King remarked and Lilith frowned at the annoyance. "Or you would have been canned a long time ago."

Edalyn snorted. "Ha. That's a good one," She lowered her voice as she spoke again. "We love your enthusiasm, cursing your sister is a real crowd pleaser. But, oh darn, your handwriting is just not what we're looking for. Sorry." 

Luz lit up, joining in. "Try again next year, champ! Maybe hire someone to help with...um, well, good luck with that."

"You might as well be part demon," King enthused. "That's how awful it is."

Edalyn snorted again and rolled over to face the other two occupants. "It's not that bad," She defended, and Lilith smiled before her sister continued with: "Kid Lily, on the other hand, was definitely part demon." Her smile faded into a frown in an instant.

Lilith flicked her sister's ear, earning a squawked ouch and a glare leveled her way. Another scratch to her scalp and Edalyn was instantly placated, her hand curling around Lilith's thigh. "I really don't see the humor in criticizing my handwriting." Lilith frowned. Pouted, more like. But she'd never admit it. 

Luz giggled. “Eres tan perfecto que es difícil creer que tu letra sea horrible.

"What does being perfect have anything to do with penmanship?" Lilith questioned. 

A silence fell over the room. Edalyn and King gawked at each other, blinking owlishly. And Luz was briefly surprised before a bright smile lit up her face, pride and pleased warmth in her mahogany eyes.

"The fuck?!"

"Edalyn!"

Chapter Text

To Luz, Knetwell was painted in various shades of gray. 

In other words, it was dreary.

Knetwell is, as Eda once described it in her best imitation of a posh tone, the snooty side of the Boiling Isles, located just off the northeastern side of Bonesborough; it was here the mass majority of the Isles’ most prestigious witches and demons resided. The town itself was styled in a monochromatic scheme of hard metallic steel shops and smoothly paved roads -a stark contrast to Bonesborough’s more dense, medieval-style. 

Compared to Bonesborough, where life was breathed into its very foundation and the people residing there, Knetwell is, for lack of a better word, dead. It's only source of life is found in the weak sunlight shimmering across the windows of every building; Luz surmised it wouldn’t be long before even that is gone -if the dark clouds rolling in were of any judgement. 

Even its people were listless. In Bonesborough, merchants were always shouting over one another to draw customers to their stands in the market (Eda having been one of them), but Knetwell’s merely observed the sea of passing bodies with a dullness in their eyes. Everyone moved with a set destination in mind in the town’s square; not a soul curiously peering into any of the small shops’ windows or the merchants’ stands to admire their wares. It was eerie.

Still, the artist in Luz catalogued everything in her sights for future references. It was clear to see Knetwell was crafted with a set purpose intended in its construction; Luz noted the certain sort of beauty beneath the functionality. It was an artificial one, of course, but if she squinted hard enough, she could almost make out its individual characteristics. 

Almost. She found the swankiness of it all ruined the effect, honestly. 

And speaking of swanky. In comparison to her jeans, black long-sleeved shirt, and black cloak, the hood drawn up to hide her ears from prying eyes, the sight of the well-dressed residents of the town bypassing her lent Luz a disagreeable sensation that she didn’t particularly care for. Their gazes seared her skin, as if they can tell by sight alone she doesn’t belong here. It added an unsettling feeling atop the uncertainty already swimming in her gut. It reminded her of the kids back home, who thought she was too weird to be around. 

Luz strolled closer to her only source of familiarity: Lilith. The older woman was by her side, a graceful sway in her long strides as they made their way through the throng of the mid-day commute. Luz traced the outline of the elder Clawthrorne’s profile with her eyes. Lilith looked... well, she looked like she belonged here amongst the influential. Gone was the oversized sweater and legging combo Luz had grown accustomed to - preferred even; replaced by a pristine white button down shirt tucked into a pair of black trousers that disappeared under a pair of equally pristine leather boots. A similar cloak to Luz’s was draped over her shoulders and held together by a silver raven brooch, though she kept the hood drawn down. It cut her figure nicely, Luz admitted; easily blending her in with the high society. Luz wondered if Lilith was previously living here before the Owl House. 

She might’ve asked if her thoughts didn’t trail off in a puff of air; her head snapping away from Lilith and in the direction of glittering bronze standing out amongst the shades of gray. There, perched on a cafe’s empty table across the street, was a bronze metal cobra; Luz got the creepy sensation it was following her with its beady eyes. She didn’t even realize she’d stopped walking until she noticed from her peripheral Lilith quickly turning left and heading up a street. 

Wait. In typical Luz Noceda fashion, Luz tripped over her own feet in her haste to keep from losing the older woman in the crowd, and she nearly careened straight into an older man’s path in the process. His snarled comment on her clumsiness was of little concern to the teen, too ensnared by the fear of being separated from Lilith to apologize in her usual manner.

She rounded the corner, the sight of an empty alleyway greeting her stirring the panic in the back of her head. Luckily, she caught the tail end of Lilith’s cloak disappearing around another corner up ahead. She raced after her, chest heaving as she cut the corner a little too harshly, before her brain short circuited at the influx of colors assaulting her senses. 

Her feet stalled in an instant.

The drab grays of Knetwell’s town square gave way to redbrick houses lined down the narrow street on either side; each one of them holding their own little charm that Luz had been seeking out back in the square. Not-a-one had a front yard to really speak of, but the potted plants housed on windowsills created the illusion of living out of the central part of town. And the clinking of windchimes in the wind drowned out the monotone voices of the bustling crowd that floated down from the alleyway at her back. It was such a stark difference Luz had to wonder if she was even still in Knetwell anymore. 

She spotted Lilith further up the street, her feet moving on instinct to rejoin her side. Except she barely made it one step before a pained cry was wrenched from her throat. 

Someone had grabbed her wrist.

Alarmed, Luz turned and her hood threatened to fall back at the sudden movement. Coming face to face with her assailant, Luz's eyes widened at the golden pair meeting her own with an anger burning in them. It was the older man she nearly ran into. Her mouth moved to speak, but his grip tightened around her wrist and she whimpered instead. 

He yanked her further back into the alley. Luz’s mind went racing in panic and fear. It clouded her thoughts to the point she couldn't even find it in her to reach for one of the glyphs stowed in her back pocket. She choked on a scream; Lilith’s name searing a path down her throat. 

Her back was shoved roughly into a wall. “I’ve never seen you around here before, child. What's your name? Who are your parents?" He snarled with suspicion rumbling in his deep baritone; his grip growing tighter with every word. "They did a poor job raising you, that’s for certain. Did they not teach you to respect your elders?" 

Luz didn’t hear a word he spat at her, her eyes frantically searching around her for any sign of Lilith. Her mouth opened, her tongue fumbling to voice her words, but she couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat. She was petrified, her entire frame trembling in fear. Tears burned her eyes. Have I always been this weak? Where’s Lilith? Did she leave me? Please, don’t leave me. She squeezed her eyes shut-

"I'd release her if I were you." 

-and abruptly snapped them open at the sound of the sweet, melodic voice. She whirled her head to face the source of it at the same time as the older man. 

A woman the same height as Luz stood at the entrance to the alleyway, clad in a burgundy dress that was cinched at the waist, accentuating her hourglass figure. Her abundance of green curls were tucked away by a wide brimmed hat the same color as her dress, and her eyes were the same shade of gold as the older man’s own pair, - seriously, what is with witches and gold eyes?- but they were so much warmer, like molten gold. A calm smile never once left her in the face of the brute sneering down at her. 

The man’s whole demeanor shifted at the sight of her. His lips curled into a sneer disguised as a smile. "This isn’t of any concern to you, Rime.” So poised was his tone Luz questioned if a snarl had really been present when he spoke to her seconds ago. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

The woman -Rime, Luz corrected- only smiled wider as she calmly replied. “Well, you’re right, it’s certainly no real concern of mine,” smooth like honey was the best description Luz had of Rime’s voice; the pitch higher and more feminime than the Clawthorne sisters’ more smokish drawls. Her chin tilted up as she went on, “but if I were you, I’d be concerned about her.”

Luz looked over the woman’s shoulder. Her heart leapt into her throat in sudden relief. It was Lilith. And either the older man recognized her face or was scared senseless by the livid expression she wore, by the cold fury in her heterochromatic eyes, by the violent intent bleeding out of her hurried pace, but his hand was wrenched from her wrist and was storming back down the alley before Lilith even made it halfway to them. 

The teen kept her eyes on him until he disappeared around the corner leading back to the town’s square. Might have let her gaze linger a little longer if her head wasn’t suddenly turned back around, a pair of cold fingers against her chin directing her to face Lilith’s concerned eyes. Luz almost leapt completely off the ground out of fright; a heat bloomed in her cheeks in embarrassment at her reaction. 

Not my fault Lilith is so damn fast, she groaned inwardly. 

“Are you alright?” Lilith breathed, a raw edge of panic in her voice. She was none the wiser to the flush creeping over Luz’s cheeks as her eyes and hands roamed over the teen’s body for any signs of injuries. “Did he hurt you?” Her panicking flat-lined into anger as she growled. “If he so much as-”

Luz intervened before Lilith could finish her threat. “Yes, I’m fine, everything’s fine,” she replied, regaining her composure, despite the throbbing in her wrist. She decided in a split second it was best to keep that quiet, because a promise of murder was in Lilith’s eyes. 

Anything Lilith might have said was stopped by a soft laughter. Like bells in the wind.

“Ah,” Luz could hear the smile in Rime’s melodic tone, her mahogany eyes gravitating to the woman like a moth to a flame. “I figured she must have been yours, Lily dear.” Her smile turned wry. “She has your flush.”

Unsurprisingly, it was impossible to miss the blush that crept onto the older woman’s cheeks. She let her gaze sweep over Luz one last time, seemingly appeased she found no harm to her charge, and took a step back from her personal space. Her sharp gaze cut to the other woman. “You could have lent her some assistance instead of just standing there.” The growl rumbled in her throat. That same threat was in her tone. 

Rime feigned hurt. “She was hardly in any danger,” a smile was in her reply, so much so Luz wondered if there ever wasn’t. “You were already on your way when I located her, and if something were to happen before you arrived, obviously I would’ve aided her.” Her smile turned coy. “Has motherhood turned you so distrustful of me, Lily dear?”

Lilith gaped at her. “You know she isn’t my child,” she spluttered. “She doesn’t even look like me.”

Rime’s coy smile turned gleeful, ever so slightly widening; ignoring Lilith as if she’s done it her whole life. “Then she takes after her father,” she exclaimed excitedly, clearly reveling in Lilith’s displeased anguish. “Or her other mother. I do recall men were never of your fancy.” 

Lilith flushed again. “She’s not mine, Elara.” 

“You keep telling yourself that, love,” Rime -or Elara - quipped. “But I must say, she is quite the cutie. Kudos to you, dear.” 

What, Luz’s eyes darted from Lilith to Rime, and back. Is happening here?

It took her by surprise, the jolt of envy she found herself feeling as she watched their interaction, that is; so unaccustomed to Lilith at ease around another soul that wasn’t her sister, that wasn’t her. She frowned, unconsciously shifting closer to Lilith’s side, her eyes narrowing at the other woman she so suddenly didn’t want to like. It was hard not to, too. Rime -or Elara - just radiated a warmth Luz wanted to bask in. Was that why Lilith was so at ease around her?

“Oh, how rude of me,” lips still curled into a smile, Rime set her sights onto Luz, the warm amber of her eyes effortlessly drawing the teen in. She really, really hated that. “My name is Elara Rime,” she held her hand out toward Luz. “And you must be Luz.”

Luz ignored her hand. “How do you know my name?” She asked her slowly, voice edged in hostility, with an undertone of suspicion. 

“That would be me,” Lilith answered, her eyes widening at the sharp look Luz threw her way. “I sent a message letting her know we were headed here, remember?” 

Luz looked at her curiously; then it clicked. “Wait, you mean she’s...” Her words trailed off as she locked gazes with Elara. The woman was still smiling. Still warm. It had to be the work of magic. There’s no way it was possible for someone to be so cheery all the time. 

“The very one,” Lilith confirmed. “Meet Elara Rime, renowned healer of the Boiling Isles.”

Elara mocked curtsy. “It’s my utmost pleasure to be at your service.” She shot up, quickly heading back out onto the street. She called out to them over her shoulder. “Shall we?” 

Luz was lost for a moment -sincerely and utterly confused. "That’s who’s going to help me?” She let herself stare blankly at the other woman before gazing up at Lilith. “You sure you got the right healer? She seems very...”

“Eccentric?” Lilith supplied.

...bubbly.” Luz finished. 

Lilith stifled a laugh. “Well, yes, I suppose bubbly works, too.” She turned on her heel and started walking, and Luz scrambled to keep up with her. She was not losing her again. “Actually,” Lilith added, slowing her pace for the teen to rejoin her side. “She reminds me of you.”

Luz stopped in her tracks. Really, how was she supposed to respond to that?

 

//

 

Stepping into Elara’s house was like stepping into a different world. 

Elara Rime’s home was very much like the woman herself: warm and inviting. They were met with a floral-like scent and aged wood, mixed with the warm aroma of something that resembled a steaming cup of earl grey tea. The floral scent, Luz realized, came from the house plants meticulously scattered around the living space, from hanging down the ceiling to covering any flat surface available to them, like the wall-to-wall bookshelves and the end tables on either side of a couch; even the coffee table wasn’t safe from their mass invasion. One wall, the wall that faced the outside of the redbrick houses street, was entirely made from glass, and the view it granted was ethereal; the everblooming garden in the backyard something straight out of a fairytale. 

The dark furniture and mahogany hardwood floors gave the space a richly warm feeling instead of dark and depressing -even as the dark clouds blocked the sun and kept any natural light from filling the living room. Unlike the Owl House, Elara’s home was more like an open-floor concept, the dark granite island with its dark wood cabinets separating the small kitchen from the rest of the main area, and a staircase at the end of a small hallway that wasn’t far from the front door led to what Luz assumed were Elara’s bedrooms. Breathing in the smells of various flora and tea leaves, Luz felt like a warm blanket was draped over her and all her worries were smothered down and silenced. 

Luz shuffled awkwardly into the house and looked around with wide eyes, while Lilith strolled further into the space like she’s been here a thousand times. “There’s something else I failed to mention in my message about Luz.” She explained as her jaw clenched, her lips thinning into a frown. 

“Unless you’re going to tell me she’s actually your illegitimate child with a lover, which I’d be hurt you didn’t tell me about,” Elara quipped over her shoulder as she strolled around her granite island to enter her small kitchen. “I already know she’s human.” She grabbed a kettle and set it over the stove, a flame flickering to life with a wave of her finger. “Anyone care for a cup of tea?”

She said it so casually Luz felt her mouth drop open in shock. Lilith, meanwhile, pinched the bridge of her nose -most likely in exasperation of the illegitimate child comment-, but showed no other sign of being surprised. “How did you know?” Luz asked, a fearful expression on her face. Did my hood fall? Were my ears showing? She flicked her gaze to Lilith, hoping beyond hope the older woman wouldn’t be mad at her for the blunder. 

Elara waved her hand. “It’s quite simple, sweetie,” she chortled. “What other reason would there need to be of a message sent, briefly explaining to me Lily dear has a child in need of a healer’s services, refrain from going into too much detail, and risk being arrested by bringing her here to Knetwell just to see me?” She met Luz’s gaze before flicking to Lilith. “Lilith is a skilled potionist; so, logically, the only reason there could be she’s unsure if our healing brews won’t kill you because your system is different from ours.” 

Luz gaped at her. Just gaped. Mouth still wide open.

“Am I wrong?” Asked Elara, coyly. 

Lilith responded for Luz. “You’re not,” she mused, her lips curling into a warm smile Luz is floored by. It’s wiped away just as quickly as she added, “Luz’s human biology concerns me. I don’t know how the remedies will affect her, and you’re the only healer I know who’s studied human medicine.” 

“It is a delightful past-time of mine.”

How I will never know.”

“Well, you’re caring for a human child now. I’d start learning, if I were you.”

“Right,” Lilith muttered. She faced Luz, her soft smile effortlessly surfacing. “Elara’s the best for a reason, Luz,” she promised, stepping closer to the teen to squeeze her shoulder in reassurance. “You have nothing to fear with her.” 

Luz nodded. “I’m not afraid,” liar. “I’m more worried about how Eda’s going to take this.” That was at least the truth. 

Lilith said nothing for a moment, her features a blank mask, but Luz saw the grief flare in her eyes. “You let me worry about Edalyn,” she said, squeezing her shoulder one last time before letting her go. “Now, I have some business I need to take care of,” she turned on her heel to head back to the door; to leave Luz alone with the always smiling healer. “I’ll return shortly to collect you, Luz.”

Leave? She’s leaving? Why do you keep leaving me? In one swift motion, Luz was by her side, her fingers instinctively cinching themselves around the sleeve of Lilith’s shirt in some childish need of comfort. “Do you have to leave?” It was meant to be a question, but Luz heard the begging in her tone. Please don’t leave me alone with the psychiatrist. That’s what she is, right? She briefly wondered if the Boiling Isles even had psychiatrists.

Lilith blinked in surprise and looked down at her, staring at her as if she sprouted an antenna at the top of her head. She might as well have with how needy she’s being. “I can stay,” she deliberated after a moment of considered thought. A disappointment briefly flashed in her eyes; something stung Luz in the chest by the idea Lilith was disappointed in her. “If you need me here, I can stay.” 

She wanted Lilith to stay. Dios, did she ever want Lilith to stay. But she didn’t want Lilith to think of her as weak; unable to fight her own battles. She wanted to be strong for her; prove she was capable of functioning alone. And with that, she released the older woman’s shirt and took a forced step back. She shook her head, tilting her chin down.  “No, I got this.” I don’t, I don’t. Stay.

Lilith’s brow furrowed in concern and her gaze flitted around the room before settling back on Luz. A thumb and finger hooked under her chin, coaxing her head upward, until her eyes met Lilith’s heterochromatic pair. Her expression softened. “If you do find yourself in need of me,” she murmured softly, releasing Luz’s chin to grab ahold of her uninjured hand. “I’m only a call away.”

Luz slowly looked down at her hand, and her eyes widened as Lilith’s fingertips left her skin to reveal the sight of a little white raven resting in the palm of her hand. She carefully cradled it like her life depended on it. “Merely squeeze it and say my name, and I’ll be by your side in a flash.” She instructed, leveling one last affectionate smile her way before her features sharpened. “And you,” she growled, the threat rolling off her tongue as she looked at the other woman over Luz’s shoulder. “If anything happens to her, trust me, you will not like the consequences.”

“She’ll be fine, Lily dear,” unaffected, Elara waved her off. “She’s safe with me.”

“You better pray she is.”

With the click of the door, Lilith was gone. Luz was left alone to stare down the person responsible for fixing her. 

 

//

 

“So,” Elara cheerily announced after a long silence; brushing off Luz’s scowl like she’s seen it all before, which is entirely possible if she knew Lilith, who was the queen of scowls. “What’s your secret?”

Luz stared at her, utterly baffled. “Uh, my what?” 

“Your secret to Lilith, sweetie,” Elara elaborated, rounding her island with two mugs of steaming tea in her hands. “It’s not an easy feat worming one’s way into her heart.” She set them down on the freed space of her coffee table before glancing back at Luz. “As I’m sure you know.”

Luz nodded. “She doesn’t make it easy,” she said, eyeing the other woman with a curious expression on her face. Lilith’s warm smile had awoken a barrage of questions the teen wanted answers for. She’s never seen it before. “She likes to be difficult about it.”

“Emotions and Lilith have never seen eye-to-eye, I’m afraid. To most, she’s too much of a challenge. Why bother to love someone they believe doesn’t have the capability to love them back?”

Luz wasn’t sure what she should say, so she just kept her mouth shut. A shrug was her only response. How does one even answer that? Luz wasn’t even certain herself. To Luz, loving Lilith was as natural as breathing -once she got past her defensive barriers, that is; saw the mirrored image of herself in the depths of Lilith’s soul. She saw someone who wanted to be loved. And love her Luz could do. How couldn’t anyone else see that?

Elara’s smile was unfazed by the noncommittal answer as she stepped closer. At Luz’s flinch, she paused before lifting a hand, palm up. “I’m sorry, may I see your wrist? Targon’s grip looked pretty tight back there in the alley. I just want to make sure it isn’t sprained.” 

She cringed. She had hoped everyone forgot about the incident in the alley. “You’re not going to tell Lilith, are you?” 

“I will only promise if you let me take a peek.”

Luz sighed dejectedly. “But it doesn’t hurt.” Lie, was hissed in her ear; nonetheless, she acquiesced to the healer’s soft command and lifted her arm for inspection. “He didn’t grab me that hard.” Lie, lie, lie.  

“Be that as it may,” Elara said, that ever present smile in her voice unwavering in the face of the teen’s disgruntlement. “I’d rather not have Lilith storming into my home in the middle of the night because her child was, in fact, hurt here in Knetwell and I did nothing.”

Luz watched as her hand gently coiled around her wrist; her touch ever so careful as she examined the finger shaped bruises on her wrist, which revealed themselves when her sleeve slipped down. She paused, her feather light touch stilling, and a coy smile shaped her lips. “Or maybe I do. She’s adorable when she’s angry, isn’t she?”

Luz dragged oxygen into her lungs; then burst into laughter. She wheezed, so surprised by the comment she nearly choked on her bubbling laugh. This she wasn’t expecting. She expected her wrist to ache when Elara twisted it in a different direction -it didn’t. She expected Elara to jump straight into discussing Luz’s problems -she wasn’t

“Yeah,” she replied, continuing to laugh. “I don’t know what’s cuter: her angry face or King’s squeak of rage.”

Elara released her wrist, the loss of her warmth leaving behind a numbed sort of tingling sensation. “So Eda still has King living with her?” She grinned and drew away. “Well, good news is your wrist isn’t sprained. But it is bruised; so I’d take it easy if I were you.”

Laughter halted, Luz gaped at her. “You know Eda?”

“Of course,” she replied. A  dark leather wingback chair was set adjacent to the couch; Elara gracefully settled into it, her tiny figure dwarfed by the massive chair. She indicated the couch with her eyes to Luz before continuing, “our parents were close friends and neighbors, so naturally we were friends.” 

“You were friends?” Perched at the edge of the couch, Luz’s posture was hunched, hands in her lap, shoulders slanting in an unsettled manner. Her eyes darted around the room as she kept the door in her sights in case the conversation shifted in a direction she wasn’t yet prepared for. “But Lilith called you an acquaintance of hers.” 

She winced when she realized how callous it sounded. Way to be rude, Noceda

“Did she now,” Elara replied lightheartedly. “Leave it to Lilith to call over twenty years of companionship an acquaintanceship.” A slight look of amusement crossed her face. “Then again, I considered them a field study for the longest time. The Clawthorne sisters are a very interesting duo.”

“Sure, if you call destroying a room anytime they argue interesting,” Luz said dryly. She can already see the Owl House in shambles when they return home. 

“They still do that? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“You mean this is normal!?!” 

Elara laughed, the sound still like bells in the wind. “I’m afraid so, sweetie. I’d say they’ve hardly changed.” She briefly paused to set her mug on the armrest of her chair. “Well, if you disregard the curse, the lies, the years of isolation from each other. Then, yes, they’re the same.”

Luz blinked, unsure. “They told you what happened?”

Elara’s smile was sympathetic. “No, sweetie, they didn’t,” she answered. She tapped her chin with her finger; her gaze shifted skyward. “I had my suspicions, though.”

“What, uh,” Luz ventured, cautiously. “What confirmed them?”

“It was, hm, Lilith’s eighth year in the coven, I believe, when she showed up on my doorstep at three in the morning,” Elara leveled her with a conspiratorial look. “She wanted everything I had on curses and their cures. If that had been the only thing, I could’ve played it off as simply her sisterly obligation to help Eda. But she was also suddenly so curious about human mental illnesses. It didn’t take me long to realize cursing her sister was all Lilith’s severe anxiety needed to spiral out of control.” 

Luz stared at her openly, not saying a word. A repeat of she knew, she knew, she knew blaring in her head. 

As if she were psychic, Elara stated, “I’m a healer. I was naturally gifted, even as a child, and I hated it then, to be honest. I could see Lilith was weighed down by her expectations to be perfect; by her fears of being left behind,” she exhaled softly, “but I couldn’t help her.” 

What?!” Luz sprung forward from her spot on the couch, the momentum pushing her too far and smacked her knees against the edge of the coffee table. Her untouched mug of tea rattled against the wood. “I don’t understand,” she shook her head. “If you were so gifted, why couldn’t you help her?” Could this have all been avoided? Did they really have to suffer?

There’s a long pause from the other woman, her demeanor cool in the midst of Luz’s turbulence. “She wouldn’t let me. To Lilith, her fears and anxieties were a weakness.”

“That’s not an excuse not to help her!” Luz looked at her, a defensive rage creeping into her mahogany eyes as she snarled, “you’re one of them, aren’t you?!”

Elara’s expression didn’t waver, but her eyes sharpened ever so slightly. “I’d tread carefully if I were you, dear.”

She went ignored. “How dare you call yourself her friend!” A warning rang in her head as she growled. Her hands balled at her sides as fury exploded within her. “When you’re one of those who thought she was too much of a burden to love!”

The warmth in gold eyes was snuffed in an instant. Luz was stopped cold by what replaced it.

Devastation. Helplessness. Yearning. Devastated by the vacant gnawing of a feeling to see someone she thought would never come back to her, because there was no replacement, no substitute to block the emptiness in her. Helpless because, with all her knowledge and power, it was useless if someone didn’t want it; if they’d rather suffer alone. A hollow soul yearned to be occupied again by another; to fill the hole left in the wake of a desire for someone to stay with her; to not leave her alone.

Lilith. With a sudden clarity, Luz understood

Luz opened her mouth, either to rebuke her words or apologize, but Elara merely held a hand up, halting her words in an instant. Taking a sip of her cooling tea, she eyed Luz over the rim of her mug. The disarray of emotions Luz caught sight of locked themselves away once more behind the slowly resurfacing warmth in her eyes. She set her mug down. “If I had chased her, pushed her too far, do you think she would’ve still sought me out at her worst?” She leveled Luz with a blank stare. “Would you?”

No. The panic and pain engraved in jagged lines on pale flesh flashed in Luz’s mind. She squeezed her eyes shut to block it out. “I guess not,” she relented. Her shoulders sagged in defeat as she settled back down at the edge of the couch. Guilt gnawed away at her insides. “Why was it so important to her to be better than Eda?” 

Elara hummed in thought. “Did either of them ever tell you what an Old Blood is?”

Luz blinked her eyes open, a look of bewilderment twisting her features. “A what?”

“An Old Blood. It basically means blood of an old witching family. There are nine families-”

“Like the nine main covens?” Luz interrupted. She winced the second she realized it.

Elara was amused, her smile full of mirth; all traces of her earlier anguish gone , like it had never been there. “Very clever, sweetie,” she praised. “It’s how Emperor Belos first enacted his coven system when he came into power. He appointed the heads of the families as coven leaders in his new order, because not only were the families old as time itself, they were the most powerful witches and masters of specific forms of magic.”

Woah,” Luz gasped. 

Elara nodded. “I don’t know what was offered for them to so blindly follow the emperor, but I know it was one they couldn’t refuse. Perhaps the word of the Titan was enough to sway them?”

Luz frowned. “But if Belos only came into power fifty years ago…”

“The families are still heads of the main nine covens, yes.” Elara affirmed, rolling her eyes. “A rigged system, if you think about it.” 

Luz blinked. “But what does that have to do with Lilith?” She murmured, brow furrowing. 

“The Clawthornes are one of those families,” she informed, chuckling at the shocked expression Luz could feel sprouting on her face. “Unfortunately, in the last two centuries, the Clawthorne’s bloodline had been dwindling; their future generations nothing more than average witches compared to their ancestors. They were ostracized by the other families;therefore, they were not appointed as head of a coven.”

“Then who took their place?”

“A fraction of the Blight family, I believe.” Another sip of tea. “I’m sure you can imagine the betrayal and the embarrassment the Clawthornes must have felt to be left in the dust.” Elara hummed. “They’ve held onto that resentment for fifty years; so when it was known how gifted Lilith and Eda were with their magic, they were pushed beyond reason to be better.”

Luz was reminded of Amity and the weight she carries to be perfect. She impulsively clenched her fists.

Elara continued, “Lilith and Eda are the first in over two centuries to be born with so much power running through their veins.” Her smile was still affixed to her face, as sharp as knives. “Two girls with adoring parents were suddenly nothing more than property to establish themselves as one of the elite once more.”

“What happened?” Luz whispered.

“Naturally,” sighed Elara, shaking her head. “Eda rebelled. Their parents knew she couldn’t be swayed from her path.”

The teen slouched into the couch. “Lilith wasn't, though.”

“Correct. She was malleable. All she wanted was her parents love and respect again; so she pushed herself to be perfect for them. The perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect witch. Which meant joining the Emperor’s Coven, the best of the best. It meant Eda couldn’t beat her.”

“That wasn’t fair to her,” Luz seethed. “Lilith is powerful. Did she really have to be better than Eda to earn their approval?”

“Fraid so, sweetie.”

Why?”

“She was the eldest,” Elara explained, as if that was reason enough. “It was seen as an embarrassment to be weaker than her younger sibling. No matter how much she may wish it, Lilith won’t ever be in the same league as Eda. It’s a fact, and it’s one she can’t face. It was her downfall in the end.” 

“The curse.” Luz stated evenly. 

“Yes,” Elara replied, as calm as the grave. “She let her insecurities get the best of her. She lost sight of the love she held for her sister; forgot her sister only ever wanted to follow in her path. Cursing Eda damaged a crucial part of Lilith to such an extent I don’t even think I can heal it.”

“She didn’t deserve this,” Luz swore vehemently. “Eda didn’t deserve this.”

“No, they didn’t.”

The melodic voice fraught with acidity stole the breath right out of Luz’s lungs. The warmth in her eyes was suddenly a wordless fury. A danger lurked in their depths so profound Luz felt it in her very bones. Elara’s ever present smile abruptly fell. Even only knowing her for a short time, Luz still got the impression the look was wrong. Terrifying.

Then, as if it never left in the first place, the warmth resurfaced again in her eyes. A sympathetic smile tugged at her lips as she intently held Luz’s gaze for a while. “I now see how you won Lilith over,” she mentioned after a moment of silence. “Now, any other questions before we begin?”

“Actually,” Luz said, sitting up a bit straighter. “I do have a question. About the families?”

Elara studied her with a thoughtful expression; then waved a hand for her to continue. “Sure, sweetie,” she hummed, a curiosity brimming in her eyes. “What is it?”

Luz’s gaze fell to her lap, a frown tugging her lips down. “When Lilith was telling me about how the coven system worked, she never mentioned the nine families. Why?”

Elara hummed in thought. “Perhaps she thought you knew?” Rolling her eyes, she balanced her mug on her lap; fingers carefully wrapped around it. “Then again, the conversation could’ve led to her connection to them, and denying the existence of the families is a specialty of the Clawthorne sisters.”

Luz propped her elbows on her thighs, her head held by the palms of her hands. “I guess that makes sense,” she mumbled, a forlorn note in her voice. “Do the families only specialize in one form of magic like the coven system entails?” 

“As if,” Elara scoffed. “They’re always one-upping each other with the next generation of witches. I don’t even know what coven a Blight isn’t established in.”  

“Oh,” Luz nodded. That, at least, made sense to her. "And the High Council? They're members of the families?"

Elara snorted in contempt. "Unfortunately, yes."

"Doesn’t it basically mean no one outside of the families can ever hope to be head of one of the nine main covens?”

“Like I said, truly a rigged system,” Elara said with a smirk; then shrugged her shoulders. “I wouldn’t say it’s an impossibility, though it’s unheard of anyone outside of the bloodline being born gifted in magic as powerful as the families.” 

Luz pondered over her words for a minute before a thought struck her. “What about you?” She asked.

Elara tilted her head to the side, her golden eyes full to the brim with amusement. “What about me?”

Luz’s smile twitched at the corner. “Lilith said you’re the best, right? Wouldn’t that imply you’re pretty powerful? Are you a member of one of the families?”

“Well,” Elara said, drumming her fingers against her mug in thought. “Yes and no. The name Rime isn’t associated with any of the nine families' bloodlines, but a Blight’s blood does run through my veins from my mother’s side.” 

Luz straightens from her hunched position. “So, what you’re saying is,” Luz grinned, her teeth white against her darker skin. “A forbidden love story is afoot?”

“I wouldn’t really call it a story,” Elara chuckles. “My mother simply fell in love with someone beneath her station,” she explained. “She was casted out of the family and the Blight name was removed from her when she married my father.”

“I bet they’re regretting that now,” Luz snickered. “What, did they think you wouldn’t have potential if your mom didn’t marry who they wanted her to?”

“I can’t say for certain,” Elara mused before her expression evened out. “Not to be boastful, but my sister and I are truly the most gifted to be born in our respective fields.”

Luz’s eyes widened. “You have a sister?” She asked in shock. 

Elara huffed out an amused breath. “I do. I have four sisters, actually, but they’re not in the same bracket of power as the two of us.”

Woah. Is she a healer like you?”

Elara made a face. “Titan’s, no. Breaking things has always been more her specialty. "Now, speaking of healing,” she rounded on Luz with a comforting smile. “I believe we’ve dawdled long enough. Shall we begin?”

Luz gasped and straightened at the vocalization of her nightmare come to life: facing herself. There was a long pause. Luz’s terrified silence was enough of an answer. I’m not ready. I can’t. Please don’t make me.

But it was now or never.

Luz kept her eyes focused on the ground, tracing faint rings of age on the floorboards, before she nodded her assent. 

“When did it first start?”

Abruptly, panic flared -partly because Luz wasn’t yet ready for this discussion and mostly because she knew if she started she couldn’t pretend anymore -and, just like that, all the warmth in the room was swallowed up by the blackhole known as Luz’s anxiety. No matter how much she resented how weak her broken mind has made her, how much she regretted wedging a distance between her and Eda, some part of her was still holding on tightly to the idea that one day she’ll wake up whole again; that she won’t ever have to face the truth because she’ll be fine, like it was all just a bad dream. 

Her mind raced. One of her options was to lie, lie, lie like she’s been doing with everyone important in her life since she made the choice to destroy the portal. It’s not like Elara would know the truth, right? Luz was a stranger to her. She couldn’t possibly see through her. Except she aided Lilith in the past. Every circuit in Luz’s head screeched to a halt at the reminder. Elara aided Lilith. Without the elder Clawthorne even knowing. Elara knew without verbal confirmation the guilt that ate away at Lilith when she cursed her sister, saw with her own eyes the fractured pieces of her soul, and she stayed. And if Luz’s hunch is right, which she’s confident it is, is still in love with her.

Lilith trusted Elara. Trusted her enough to sacrifice the possibility of another fallout with her sister in the hopes she can heal Luz. A wave of guilt gripped her in its hold, because she knew with certainty Lilith had already broken Eda’s fragile trust in her by bringing Luz here without her knowledge. All because she made her promise not to say anything. To keep this a secret from her. Luz stupidly, stupidly thought Eda was better off not knowing all the jumbled mess scrambling around in her head. She never wanted Eda to feel responsible for her problems, but what if all it’s done is hurt her? Hurt them?

Deep breath. “It was the week after we saved Eda from petrification that I think I really started noticing. Usually, I bounce back when the going gets tough, but when it started getting harder to care about anything, when being happy suddenly felt like a betrayal to my mami, I was slowly realizing I wasn’t bouncing back anymore. That was okay, though. Time heals all wounds, right? Except it wasn’t. I was getting worse. It was like a weight was pressing down on me and I was breaking under the pressure.” She was a little shocked at how easily the words tumbled out of her -with how much she fought with herself, she thought the words would remain lodged in her throat. But then again, Elara effortlessly dispelled the iron cage. Must be a healer thing, Luz mused. 

Inhaling again, she continued. 

 

//

 

It had been well over an hour before she realized Elara hadn’t uttered a single word. Luz wasn’t sure that she’d even moved; however, the emptied contents of her mug suggested otherwise. Elara merely listened, not a speck of judgement in her eyes, as Luz stumbled over her words to find the right ones. She never interrupted Luz, even when the teen knew she was running on quite a few tangents; she merely patiently waited for Luz to find her way back on track. She never pushed and allowed Luz to steer the conversation into dangerous waters all on her own. It was easy. Simple. Freeing

Luz wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she agreed to come here. If she were expecting anything at all, really. Of all the possibilities she thought of, this was probably the least plausible of them. Talked. That’s all she did, and yet she felt lighter. The weight bearing down on her was lifted and tossed overboard. She felt like herself. She was aware enough to know, though, it wouldn’t last. But for the moment, this single moment in time, she could finally, with certainty, say she’s fine

“So,” Luz said, a bit awkwardly. “Can you fix me?”

Elara stared at her with a peculiar, unreadable expression. “To fix implies something is broken.”

Luz blinked at her. “Aren’t I?” She asked in a small, timid voice. 

“The real question here is,” said Elara, and then more gently, “do you think you’re broken?”

Baffled, Luz frowned at her. “I…”

Elara patiently waited for her to finish her thought, but Luz wasn’t sure what she should say. A part of her wondered if this was a test. On what, she didn’t know; all she did know was she couldn’t fail it. She was broken, right? She didn’t function the way she was meant to, and when something doesn’t work as it should, you take it somewhere to fix it, right? That’s why Luz was here: to be fixed because she’s a defective product. Then why was Elara looking at her like that?

Not with pity. But sympathy. Understanding. Like she’s seen this a thousand times.

“I see,” Elara offered evenly, her eyes searching Luz’s intensely. Whatever she was looking for didn’t seem to particularly agree with her, her lips pursing in contemplation. “I have a few ideas,” she started as she leant further back in her chair. “The first matter we should discuss…” she trailed off at the sound of the front door clicking open. 

Luz whirled her head in the direction of the sound, her eyes lighting up at the sight of Lilith. She sat up immediately in her seat, practically vibrating on the couch as the older woman drew near. “That was fast,” she remarked once Lilith settled down next to her; then frowned when she noticed the slightest wince as she did so. “Did something happen? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Lilith murmured. Some of the tension fled from her frame as she sunk further into the back of the couch. “How has it gone with Elara? She hasn’t bored you with her stories, has she?” A tiny grin touched her lips. “She likes to talk. A lot.”

“You wound me,” Elara sighed, feigning hurt. Past the humorous vibe she effortlessly gave off, Luz noted the laser-like focus she had on Lilith’s side, as if she can see through Lilith’s clothes what is ailing the older woman. “Besides, I know you just mean ‘have I told her any embarrassing stories about you’,” a coy grin crossed her face. “Not yet, love. And I might not have if you hadn’t so generously commented on my communication skills.”

Luz felt her own grin tugging on her lips, despite the concern she felt for Lilith. “There’s embarrassing stories?”

Plenty.”

Lilith ignored them both, raking a hand through her hair. “Spare me, please.” She pursed her lips together into a thin line and studied Elara carefully before asking, “I need to know, will you be able to help Luz?” 

Elara held her gaze briefly before landing on Luz. “I can,” she confessed; Luz felt like a weight was suddenly lifted from her shoulders -even when Elara continued with, “It’s not going to be easy, let me instill that now, but we can manage this better with the proper steps.”

Luz nodded resolutely. “What do I need to do?”

She was finally prepared to face herself. 

Chapter Text

Elara isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill healer. 

At merely five years of age it was widely acknowledged that Elara Rime was not only incredibly gifted in the healing arts, but also an adaptive learner and a master spell crafter -to this very day, her most powerful spell has yet to be replicated by another. In what felt like an instant, the Healing Coven wanted to pull her from school and ascend her through their ranks to begin her training under a mentor of their choosing. However, her mother firmly denied their insistence on the matter; adamant that her daughter would live a relatively normal life and choose for herself when she’s older. As per tradition intended.

Her mother’s reasonings not only baffled but infuriated many. Once a member of the Blights, one of the nine prominent families, she’d ought to desire only the best for her child, no? If asked, Primrose Rime would beg to differ. (“Gifted as she may be, Elara is still but a child. And though my children may have voices of their own, this isn’t a choice she is ready to make, nor will I or anyone else make it for her. Her gift might lie in healing now, but who’s to really say she won’t master another down the road? She’ll know what she wants when she graduates.”)

Her sister was no exception, either; if anything she was peculiarly venomous in her decline when the Illusions Coven came for Mira, who was just as exceptionally gifted as Elara. When asked, her mother said she was all too familiar with the on goings of the Blight families and their expectations placed on a young witchling’s shoulders and she swore her girls would not suffer the same tragedy. They would know what it meant to be loved and cherished for not only their talents, but their faults and misgivings as well. (“Happiness doesn’t come from being superior to everyone else. It comes from the love of your family and friends. Never forget that, my girls.”)

Her mother may have only ever had the best intentions for her, but nonetheless, Elara always felt a little cheated, for St. Epiderm was an institute built for the gifted, and unfortunately, Elara was as smart as she was powerful. She was well beyond their criteria; it was quickly foreseen her school years would merely be a routine to follow instead of a space of learning as it was intended for. Like everything else in life, it was just another hapless circumstance to overcome; one that let her focus drift away from her professors and affix onto her fellow student body. Specifically, her curiosity with their dynamics amongst each other and the herd like mentality they naturally fell into within their groups. 

As a gregarious person herself, she made friends and settled within their plethora of varying group dynamics easily enough; all so very different and so very captivating. On the other hand, her sister -mind you, Elara knew very well her sister was capable of being just as sociable- kept herself apart from the others, never venturing close enough to form the tentative ties of friendship; so Elara, more often than not, chose to stick close to her sister. Note that it was never out of pity or sympathy, -her sister would have her head if so- but because Mira understood her the best and some days you need someone who gets it. (“They’re dunce, my dear; they’ll smile, nod their heads, and go along with whatever we’re telling them. We both know they don’t understand a word of it; it’s why they’re the sheep and we’re the wolves.”)

Mira also found school to be a waste of their time, a mediocre display of normality, but her sister also thought everyone was beneath her; so Elara always took her opinions with a grain of salt. (“You shouldn’t waste your time with them, my dear. One day we’re going to show them all how useless they really are to us. The families will know how much better we are when the name Rime is as well known as theirs.”) And Mira aside, none of her classmates ever really clicked for her in that special way. A best friend outside of her sister seemed out of her reach; as much as she cherished her friends, not-a-one sparked enough of a promise. A promise of forever. Of ties beyond simple companionship. 

For someone like Elara, who had so many thoughts running through her mind at all hours of the day, all vying for center stage and shouting over each other to be heard, perhaps it was beyond her realm of possibility, a quest she couldn’t ever hope to achieve. And the idea that it could ever happen to her slowly quieted until it was barely a whisper in the back of her mind, her determination to help others surfacing and consuming her entirely. It’s how her most powerful spell came to be, the All-Knowing Sight, at the tender age of seven, but it wouldn’t really work in her favor until much later in her life.  

Wash, rinse, repeat. The same old story day by day...

...until she met the Clawthorne sisters. 

Edalyn Clawthorne, Elara mused, not for the first time, was the very embodiment of the sun: her smiles too bright, her eyes too warm, her abundance of hair a waterfall of solar fire. But unlike the sun, Elara didn’t burn when she got too close to the self proclaimed Lord Calamity of Hexside; if asked, she’d more compare her to a fireplace: warm, reassuring, comforting. Everything about Eda was a fascination to observe, from her chaotic magic use, to her warm soul, to her fierce protectiveness of her elder sister. And it was quite exhilarating to witness Eda’s boisterous personality in person, as Elara was far more acquainted with the reserved demeanors of her family and friends at St. Epiderm. 

Even then, Eda was breaking the mold. 

Lilith Clawthorne, for her part, was the total opposite of her sister, but Elara wouldn’t quite call her the moon, either. Instead of the fully bloomed smiles her sister so freely tossed around, Lilith’s smiles were meeker in nature, the shy curl of her lips always rendering Elara’s heart a fluttering mess. As if she’d given all the warmth in her to encompass Eda, Lilith’s eyes were shrouded in ice, her piercing stare freezing the very blood in the veins of anyone brave enough to initiate eye contact. Elara was far more likely to burn from the cold if she got too close -not that it stopped her; for Lilith she’ll face the dangers of frostbite. And unlike Eda, she was a source of befuddlement to observe, from her carefully controlled magic use, to the fractured cracks in her soul, to her fierce jealousy of her younger sister’s natural talent. And, like everyone else, she was reserved and placid, but unlike them, heated embers laid dormant beneath her placidity, waiting to be ignited into a blazing fire. 

Over time, the fractures in her soul warranted further concern for Elara. The fractures wouldn’t heal as Elara thought they ought to -in fact, they became more pronounced, like whatever held her in such a vice-like grip was slowly cutting her deeper open by the day. It was frustrating, because Elara had no name for it, no remedy on the tip of her tongue to aid her, no knowledge of the disease eating away at her friend. For the first time in her life, the prodigy healer was thwarted. She was powerless; incapable of healing the one person that mattered. It was vexing. Maddening. Heart-rendering. 

The same fractures, the same hurt, was now manifested in the young girl before her, her soulful brown eyes glazed over by a fear of the unknown - so much like the turquoise ones showing up at her door in the middle of the night all those years ago. Inexperienced in their younger years, Elara hadn’t been able to help Lilith then -a regret she’ll harbor for the rest of her life- but now Elara was far more knowledgeable about what she’s dealing with. Her need to master every medicinal practice, even if it meant learning the practices of other realms, was finally bearing her the fruits of her labor. She had answers. She could help. And so many on the Isles needed it. 

Elara silently hummed to herself and leaned her head back against the wingback chair, her wide brim hat carelessly tossed to the back of her chair sometime ago; the focus of her attention drifted away from the occupants in her home and onto the wall length glass as she processed her thoughts. It was starting to rain, fat, heavy drops splattering on the glass and chasing after one another down the smooth surface. She looked past them at the small, lively thriving garden she’s maintained for years now in her backyard, the plants resilient to the boiling rain’s effects and soaking in the nutrients the water provided them. If only people were as easy to understand as plants were, she mused. 

“I’m assuming you and Luz have already discussed what’s been happening with her?” 

She could feel their gaze like it was a palpable thing, searing across her skin like the first seconds a witchling’s branded with their coven’s glyph. Turning her head, Elara naturally gravitated to Lilith, unsurprised to find the other woman watching her with a neutral stare, like the healer can’t see past the façade. Even while expressionless, Lilith may as well have been an open-book, her eyes conveying an anguish so profound Elara felt like she was drowning in it. Lines of exhaustion and physical pain were breaking through Lilith’s masterfully crafted mask, which left a frown threatening to tug Elara’s characteristic smile down at the sight of. “We haven’t got into the nitty-gritty of it, but I do have a better idea of what you were implying to in your letter, yes.” 

“Wait, you mean there’s more to talk about?”

Elara tilted her head, slightly amused by the note of surprise she detected in Luz’s question. If she thought a few hours of treading through choppy waters was enough substantial information for Elara to work with -well, to be fair, it was enough, in a sense. The All-Knowing Sight tended to pick apart what words couldn’t garner, but the healer liked to be thorough before she began a treatment plan- then the poor thing was in for a rough time. “Afraid so, sweetie. Although, I must say, you’ve done wonderfully so far; this isn’t my usual method with my patients on their first visit.” 

Luz blinked, again surprised. “How do you usually do it?”

“Well,” she replied, nodding minutely as she tapped her fingers on her mug in thought. “For one, I like my patients to feel comfortable with my presence the first time I see them; more often than not, home is where they feel their safest, where they can be in control should the need arise to dismiss me if they feel my presence is more harmful than helpful. It’s important that the bond I form with them in the early stages is as smooth a transition as we can possibly make it; my services are worthless without it.” A pause, her head canting further. “I admit, I’m curious as to why you’d risk coming here instead of having me come to you, hm?” 

Soulful brown eyes darted away. The teen didn’t dare look back at her, thumbs fiddling, an expression of guilt written on her features, but Elara wasn’t directing the question at Luz, so much as she was Lilith, whose own expression went stone cold, her eyes hardening into glaciers. Neither voiced a word, nor did they attempt to deny the underlining accusation in Elara’s inquiry. Not that she needed them to; it was clear to see from the start Eda was left in the dark about the situation. Most likely case, Elara concluded, is that she isn’t even aware her family is currently here instead of safe at home. 

Ah, Elara thought. I see. 

It was unsurprising, really; Lilith was a creature of habit and she kept secrets in spades. That in itself was a destructive path to lead, and as much as she desires to cease it, it’s not the main priority at the moment. For Luz, this was doing her more harm than good -from what little she could interpret with their interactions, Luz was heavily relying on Lilith as her only support through this trying time. Lilith was her anchor, and as comforting as she finds it to know her friend has someone who trusts her so unconditionally, there’s a concern that far outweighs the sentiment that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. If left alone, Luz could develop a dependency on Lilith that’ll be difficult to break down the road. It isn’t a healthy state of being for the teen; certainly not for Lilith, who is still facing her own demons. 

She’d need to address that as soon as possible, it seemed. Just another bullet point on a list of to-dos.  

But firstly, there is a priority that needed to be tended to before Luz could have her undivided attention, and that so happened to be Lilith. As much it pains her to admit it -she’s a selfless person by nature- when it comes to Lilith, Elara will always tend to her first. Always. It's the only time the healer has ever warranted herself a selfish desire. If only Lilith could see it for herself, but that was a thought for another day.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Elara set her mug aside. Rising from her chair, the healer rounded the coffee table to stand in front of her longtime friend, resting her fingers on the armrest’s edge to appease the ache in her to just reach out and touch Lilith. She briefly let her gaze linger on the woman before glancing at the teen. “We’ll continue in a moment, sweetie,” Elara said softly, all the warmth she could summon laced in her words; pleased when Luz’s shoulders slumped as she nodded. “You,” her eyes landed back on Lilith. “I’m going to need you to be a good girl and let Asa take a look at you. Upstairs, please.”

Lilith’s head jerked up, a brief flicker of dread in her eyes that’s snuffed out in such a haste it was bound to be thought as a mere trick of the eye -that is, if Elara weren’t always meticulously studying people. Her eyes hardened into steel, a fortress Elara couldn’t hope to penetrate without further assistance from the All-Knowing Sight enclosed her. Her hackles rose in defense against her and Elara felt the air leave her lungs as surely as if she’d taken a kick to the stomach. “That isn’t necessary,” she said in a voice that didn’t quite sound like hers. It was harsh and commanding, like the coven leader she once was. “I’m fine.”

The healer closed her eyes again; breathed in deep enough to stir an ache in her ribs. No matter how much progress she makes with Lilith, it’s washed away like footprints in the sand the second Lilith’s mistrust rears its ugly head at her. She wasn’t joking, Elara surmised in something akin to scorn, when she said she wasn’t interested in friends the day they met all those years ago. Pity for her, Elara hasn’t gone anywhere; isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and at some point Lilith needed to get with the program, because Elara’s at her breaking point with the whole lone wolf attitude -mind you, this is all coming from someone whose entire living relies on patience. Not that she’ll ever dream of abandoning Lilith; the thought hasn’t and never will cross her mind.

Lilith was just really trying.

Eyes opening, Elara’s jaw tensed. “Maybe you misheard me,” she refuted, an edge of steel hardening her melodic tone. Her fingers twitched where they rested on the armrest. Anger was an emotion she found to be too distasteful for her; it led nowhere and solved nothing, but the Clawthorne sisters were particularly talented at wearing her patience thin. Of drawing out the desire to harm another in their defense. “I wasn’t asking. Upstairs, please.

“Elara,” Lilith said dangerously lowly. The ice in her eyes voiced a promise of unending pain, but the healer would not be deterred by Lilith’s silent threat. “Asa’s assistance isn’t needed. It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with.”

“It’s cute you think you can lie to a healer, ” she replied in a similarly low tone, her head tilting with a promise of her own as her smile turned sharp. “Trust me, Lily dear, you’ll feel much better once Asa has seen you.”

“No,” Lilith said instantly.

“I’m still not seeing how you’re mishearing me.”

“The only one mishearing around here is you.  Loss of hearing catching up with you in your old age, dear?

I’m not the one with the gray streak in her hair.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with my age.”

“Whatever you say, dear.”

Clearly frustrated, Lilith changed tactics. “I’m not letting that sniveling, little miscreant anywhere near me.” Her breath came in a rough, audible hiss. “I’m fine.

Something flashed through Elara. She wasn’t sure if it was irritation or amusement. Perhaps a bit of both. “Are you really not over what happened?” A pause; an eyebrow cocked. “He apologized.”

Lilith sniffed. “I’d hardly call it an apology.”

“The words I’m and sorry were uttered. How’s that not an apology?”

“I stand by what I said. I don’t need its assistance.”

Elara raised an eyebrow. “The pattern of your breathing and the way you’re favoring your right side tells me otherwise.” A mischievous smile curled her lips. “Shall I perform a physical examination myself?” 

“Uh,” Luz voiced from her place next to Lilith, worry and amusement swirled in the depths of her eyes as they flicked between the two women. “Question?” Elara’s megawatt smile far outshone Lilith’s glower and seemed to give the girl the confidence to continue, “Who’s Asa?” A pause. “And are you saying you’re going to poke Lilith?” 

“Asa’s my palisman,” Elara supplied. It was done so swiftly that Lilith didn’t stand a chance at spouting her own opinions about her companion, the other woman’s mouth clamping shut with an audible click. Then Elara’s smile turned cat-like. “And you’re precisely correct, sweetie. I am going to poke her.”

“Touch me and you’ll regret it,” growled Lilith, eyeing her testily. 

As natural as breathing, Elara ignored her. “A good poke would do you some good.”

“You wouldn’t dare. ” Lilith glared daggers at her, plastering herself to the back of the couch as if it’ll create a far enough distance from the healer. Luz’s giggle only seemed to sharpen her glare, although she kept it trained on Elara and off Luz. 

Try me, love.” A coy smile curled her lips upwards as her fingers left the armrest and stretched out toward Lilith, wiggling in anticipation. “If you’re so insistent I look...”

Lilith held her gaze for a heartbeat, uncertainty written in every line of her body, before it dropped to the digits ever veering closer to her person. “I really don’t need…”

“Let her help,” was the soft response from Luz. “Please, Lilith?”

A war was waged behind Lilith’s eyes as she met the concerned pair of the girl. It was snuffed after a silent conversation passed between the two. Then Lilith relented, shoulders slumping as she jerked to her feet, the tip of her nose briefly brushing Elara’s own, and the healer reeled from the sudden contact, knocking her back several paces until she managed to regain her footing. Her eyes widened at the easy surrender; she was half expecting Lilith to put up more of a fight.

Lilith briefly managed to level a smirk her way before it evened out. She let her eyes land on the teen still seated on the couch, quietly watching the two friends. “Remember what I said about needing me,” at Luz’s nod, she turned back to Elara. “I’ll go. But if it does that tongue thing again…” instead of finishing, she merely shuddered. 

Elara recovered her wits quick enough. "I'm sure he'll be pleasantly behaved for you,” she quipped, her smile playful. 

An eye roll was thrown over Lilith’s shoulder. “You’ll be in need of a new palisman if it isn’t,” she growled before she begrudgingly left the two other people in the room to face her fate. 

 

//

 

Luz waited until Lilith’s footsteps faded before she risked glancing at the other woman in the room with her. Elara’s eyes were still focused in the direction Lilith disappeared, her smile wistful, and so she didn’t yet notice the teen keenly studying her. She waited a breath before daring to say, “You really care about her, don’t you?” She wanted to say love,  but the word felt like treading into dangerous territory; so she refrained for the time being. 

Gold eyes met mahogany. Elara blinked repeatedly. Surprise replaced the smile, then her lips curved again. Her head dropped and her shoulders started to shake and then she was laughing. That same bell like sound spilling past her lips. 

It was Luz’s turn to blink. Again. She was doing quite a bit of it today. She experienced the same surprise that’d been on Elara’s face, and then it gave way to momentary confusion. Then it was replaced by a brief bout of anger before she tempered it down with a rough swallow. She tucked her hands under her thighs as she struggled to regain her equilibrium. 

Luz can’t say for certain when it started, but it’s occurred to her that she’s particularly defensive in the matters regarding Lilith; protective of the older woman in a way that she once lashed out at Amity, her friend, when the witchling kept spewing words of hate about the ex-coven leader. She reasoned it’s because she promised Lilith she’d be her friend -well, friends have each other’s back, and if it has to be Luz, so be it, she’ll fight tooth and nail for Lilith. But she knows Elara is in the same corner as her; it’s just a little difficult to remind herself of it. 

Again, as if she were psychic, Elara interpreted her thoughts, her laugh fading away as a simple hum replaced it. Her smile softened, as if it were possible for someone whose smile rarely left her face. “I do,” she answered just as softly. “I care quite a bit, which is why I’m going to do everything in my power to help you get through this.”

“Thank you,” came Luz’s tentative voice. “I know it’s not something you have to do.” She swallowed back the sudden rock in her throat after a small nod. “So, how can you help me?” Fix almost slipped off her tongue; only the recollection of Elara’s earlier question stalled the word before it was uttered. 

Elara took a moment to reply, choosing her words carefully, as always it seemed. “I suppose you’re right. I don’t have to help you,” she said, heading back to reoccupy her vacant chair. “No one ever has to do anything, but I made a vow that I’ll spend my entire life helping others, whether their pain is physical or mental, whether they’re rich or poor. I’ll never be so callous as to turn someone away when they seek out my assistance.” She leveled Luz with an intense stare, as if she could see straight past Luz and into the depths of her soul as she continued. “Understand that I want to help you, Luz. And it remains to be seen as to how we’ll go about it.” 

Luz considered her words for a moment. “How so?” She pondered, following the other woman with her eyes as she resettled in her chair. It was almost comical how tiny it made her already petite frame appear. “Will I be different from your other patients?”

“In a way,” Elara acknowledged, briefly glancing at her emptied mug with a frown before she shrugged it off. “Like I said earlier, I like to form a bond with my patients. The more I know about you, the better I can help you develop more control; the better I can work with you to healthily process your thoughts and feelings.”

Control. Luz’s eyes closed momentarily, her shoulders slumping. There’s no cure. Of course, it’s never that easy. 

“In case a warning is necessary,” Elara continued with more warmth in her tone, making Luz’s shoulders droop for an entirely different reason. “I must remind you I’m not a trained professional in this field of medicine, at least, not in the same sense a human has been taught to be, that is.” She shrugged her shoulders, her smile still so beatific on her face. “However, what I am is vastly knowledgeable from years of research; pair it with my natural talent in my field of healing, along with what I like to call my cheat, I’m confident in my ability to help you manage this.” 

Luz canted her head. “Your cheat?”

“Yes,” Elara confirmed. “All experienced witches can only be referred to as a master of their field of magic if they’ve created a spell uniquely their own.”

“Woah,” Luz’s eyes widened. “Can someone copy it?” A pause, her brow furrowing. “Or, uh, learn it?”

“All spells are meant to be passed down, so yes, it can be,” the healer said as she tapped her chin thoughtfully, her eyes briefly flicking skyward. “Although, none have succeeded in learning my spell quite yet. It’s passive and in no need of a spell circle to be conjured, which really seems to boggle many.”

Luz nodded wordlessly, her mind rewinding back to the night Lilith used a spell when she split the curse between her and Eda. A spell circle hadn’t been casted then either. Was that Lilith’s spell? There’s a pause; then another tiny nod from Luz. “What’s your spell?”

“I like to call it the All-Knowing Sight. How it works is I can see into the very depths of your soul. I can see the cracks in your shell, the emotional scars left, and the still healing fractures,” she explained with a shrug. “Basically, what you can’t tell me in words, your soul reads loud and clear.” 

“So, does anyone even really need to hash out their problems if you can already see them?” 

“Well no, I suppose not.”

No?

Elara shrugged helplessly, a sheepish smile gracing her lips. “I can see what ails you easily, yes; enough so words aren’t needed to treat you,” she said, a momentary pause following as she gathered her thoughts, considering the best way to approach her next words. “But just because I already know doesn’t mean I also know what you’re thinking. ” She expelled a shuddering breath. “A lot of our internal struggles come from how we mentally process our emotions. Unfortunately, the All-Knowing Sight doesn’t reveal that to me.”

Luz leaned forward in her seat, her hands slipping out from her under her thighs to grip her knees. “And in order to help me best, you need to know what I’m thinking?” She concluded on her own.

“Precisely,” Elara retorted with a smirk, eyes ablaze with mischief as she looked at her. Her smirk cut off with the shake of her head, replaced by the smile Luz was quickly growing accustomed to. “As I was saying before,” she reproached the subject at hand. “The All-Knowing Sight allows me to see the damage done to your soul. You weren’t wrong when you mentioned wounds heal with time. They certainly do, even emotional ones. And most of them will heal on their own, minor scrapes that won’t even leave a scar, but not all wounds have that luxury, I’m afraid.” 

“Is that why am I not getting better?” Luz swallowed hard, her heart knocking on her ribs so rapidly she could barely breathe. She stared at Elara, her eyes wide, confusion and fear making her look even younger than she was. “It’s been months since I destroyed the portal,” she refuted. “Shouldn’t I already be over this?”

“Think of it like this,” the healer spoke soothingly, keeping her voice low and even. “The more traumatic the impact of emotional pain is, the deeper the laceration will be. Losing your way home wasn’t a mere scratch that’ll heal over in a few days,” she paused, waiting for either silent consent or voiced disapproval before continuing, “this is a deep gouge in your soul. It can’t close on its own.”

Luz shook her head, her eyes averted, looking anywhere but at the healer as she processed her thoughts. “Are you saying my soul needs stitches?”

“Metaphorically speaking, yes.”

“But it’ll eventually close, won’t it? The body wouldn’t let a wound stay exposed forever. It has to heal eventually.”

“Sadly, that’s where you’re wrong.” Elara’s tone remained light enough, but a quick glance at the healer revealed her sharpened eyes when she spoke next, as if she couldn’t stress the significance behind her meaning with words alone. “It’s not that the body wants to let the wound fester, it’s that it can’t heal it, for one reason or another.” That sharpened gaze met and held Luz’s wounded one. “If you continue to ignore it, hoping it’ll heal on its own, you’re running the risk of permanent damage. By then, a scar would be the least of your worries.”

A chill slithered down Luz’s spine. “Have I done that?” She choked, looking down at her hands as they balled into fists in her lap. “Am I too late?”

“It’s never too late, sweetie.” Elara softened her voice again, her spell most likely showcasing that she’d shocked her way past the initial layers of Luz’s resistance. “Don’t ever think it is. It may take longer, ugly scars may be left, but there is no wound that can’t be healed with the right care, okay? And I must admit, the fractures in your soul are fairly deep. Luckily for you, I’m confident your soul will be shining as bright as a star in no time. Repairing the damage doesn’t concern me so much as what’s causing it.” Elara waited for Luz to meet her gaze again. “I have a few theories in mind, although I’d like to keep them to myself for the time being. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to delve a little deeper into a few issues that I’m the most curious about.”

Luz shrank further back into the couch, keeping her eyes lowered on her hands. “Like what?”

“How about we start with something simple, hm?” Elara ventured carefully. “In her letter, Lilith mentioned to me about your sleeping issues; that they’ve been steadily getting worse. Can you tell me about that?”

Luz stilled a moment, swallowing. “Do I have to talk about it?” If this is what Elara thought simple meant, Luz was terrified for what’s to come.

“I won’t force it out of you, if that’s what you mean.” Luz could feel her eyes boring into her, but she couldn’t bring herself to meet her gaze. “I will warn you of this now: anything you don’t wish to discuss will be pinned for later, which means I will continuously circle back to it each session it’s shelved until you believe yourself ready.”

“So I do have to talk about it.” She almost spat the words. The healer’s piercing stare was burning a hole in the middle of her forehead. She clenched her jaw, a tick of irritation simmering under her skin. It seemed skimming the surface of her problems was easier done than diving in headfirst. She was an idiot to think she could ever be ready for this. 

“Yes, eventually you will need to talk about it, but not now if you don’t wish to.” Elara was unfazed by the escalating intensity oozing off Luz in waves, or at the very least, that’s how she came off to Luz. “Now, will you tell me about your sleep issues?

“There’s nothing to tell.” Luz said flatly, bordering on defiant. “My sleep is fine.” She shifted in her seat, an almost defensive straightness in her back. “Why is it so important we talk about it?”

“Humans describe it as recharging,” Elara informed, keeping her tone soft in the face of the teen’s defensive mannerism. “I quite like the phrase, actually. When you sleep, your body has a chance to repair, regenerate, and recover. And that includes your mind.”

Luz’s expression twisted, unknowing. “I’m still not following. How does my sleep have anything to do with what’s causing the fractures in my soul?”

“It has everything to do with it, or at least a fraction of it,” Elara countered gently. “A lack of sleep can cause a number of medical conditions.” She sighed, shifting to cross one leg over the other. “Answer me this: have you noticed a shift in your mood, as in you find yourself angry one minute and confused the next? Have you found yourself struggling in school recently, unable to retain what you've learned? Has your attention lapsed from a simple task more often than normal?”

“No,” Luz replied, lying through her teeth. “I haven’t. To any of it.” Lie, lie, lie. What a liar.

“Very well then.”

Luz whipped her head up. “What?” Her expression cinched, having not expected the healer to just let it go so easily. Don’t psychiatrists push you to talk about your problems? 

Elara’s smile was patient; oh so crafted to be charming. “I don’t need the All-Knowing Sight to see this isn’t something you’re ready to discuss with me. We can come back to it another time.”

Unnerved by this statement, Luz felt the scowl on her face deepen. “You’d let me off just like that?”

The healer nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“No tricks? No ‘ah-ha, got you’ somewhere down the line?” Luz narrowed her eyes slightly. “I just say no and you’ll let it go. Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Elara parroted. She remains unchanged, her smile still patient and her eyes calm. “You’re not here so that we can waste our time on me pushing you on something you can’t be moved by,” she explained with an air of aloofness. “Shall we move on to something else then?”

“I..” Luz faltered. The healer was giving her an out, a giant neon sign on full blast. A part of the teen screamed for her to run to it, the part of her that is so scared about her issues she’d rather live in denial for the rest of her life than ever face them. While the other side of her, the part of her that’s headstrong and unshakable, cautioned her to think this through before she walks out the door. 

 After a moment her scowl eased, a look of trepidation replacing the defiance. She wrung her hands together, knuckles almost white. “It’s not that I don’t want to sleep,” she admitted, albeit reluctantly. “I just can’t.” Her jaw clenched. “I try so hard to fall asleep, but my thoughts won’t shut up.” Luz put her elbows on her thighs and her head in her hands, fingers angled sharply into her scalp. “They won’t let me rest for a single moment. I’m so tired all the time.”

Elara nodded, her smile sympathetic, although Luz couldn’t see any of it. “Any specific thoughts keep you from sleep? Anything recurring?” 

Everything,” she straightened as her hands slid to drape the back of her neck. She looked at Elara, seeming a mixture of angry, frightened, and lost. “Mostly, there’s nothing at all. Just static.” She lowered her eyes. “I can handle it most nights -I’ll just lie in bed and wait for the chance to get at least some pretense of rest.”

“But not always?”

“Not always,” Luz exhaled, the motion rippling down her frame. “Lilith doesn’t sleep, either. I don’t even think she ever sleeps. She keeps me company on the nights I can’t be left alone in my head.”

“She’s really living up to the whole ‘night owl’ aspect of the curse, isn’t she?” The joke was meant to be lighthearted, but Luz caught the underlying concern in her tone; felt it settle in her bones. Luz noted that she seemed to pin the thought for later study. “Has she given you anything to help you sleep?”

Luz nodded slowly. “She called it a calming elixir.”

Elara elevated an eyebrow. “Pretty potent stuff,” she hummed thoughtfully. “Does it help you any?”

“Sometimes,” Luz tilted her head, briefly squeezing the back of her neck to ease some of the tension building in her spine. Although they quieted her thoughts and allowed sleep to come, Lilith’s comforting scent didn’t follow her into her dreams, where she had to face her mami alone, her eyes pleading for Luz to tell her why she abandoned her. And that’s not even the worst of it; so Luz only resorts to the calming elixirs when her anxiety starts prickling under her skin. When the need for sleep greatly outweighs the fears of her dreams. 

“But not always,” Elara parroted her earlier words. At Luz’s hesitant nod, she continued, “I have a few elixirs we can try to regulate your sleep cycle, a dreamless sleep,” the emphasis on the word wasn’t lost on Luz. It seemed, without words, Elara caught onto another underlying problem of Luz’s lack of sleep. “They’re experimental and the dosage will be fairly low for even witch standards, but they shouldn’t be too harmful to you, albeit with a few side effects I’m sure we can overcome with adjustments down the line. If you’re willing to try, of course.”

“I’m willing to try just about anything.” Not that she would admit it, but Luz was shyly pleased by the possibility of a normal night’s rest. She was also highly skeptical, as a part of her couldn’t fathom ever finding sleep to come easily again to her. Of a dreamless sleep. 

“Wonderful,” Elara nodded, a pleased and easy smile on her face. She steepled her hands together and rested them on her raised knee, her expression sobering only the slightest in the face of her next words. “How are you feeling? Still feel comfortable enough to continue on?”

Luz made a noncommittal noise, hoping it wouldn’t betray her anxiety. “I think so.” 

Elara waited a breath, a hint of concern in her eyes as she observed her carefully. “Your panic attacks,” she started. “I’d like to focus on them if you’re up for it.” 

No, no, no. Luz shrank backwards slightly, away from the healer’s kind concern. “Why exactly do we need to focus on them?” I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. 

“I must say, I like that you’re asking questions,” Elara said affectionately before her tone evened out. “Say we go about as if they aren’t there, and I treat you for the underlying causes of your anxiety,” she canted her head, studied Luz for long moments. “What do you think will come of it?” 

“Something not good, I guess.” Luz answered vaguely. 

Elara hummed in agreement. “Something not good, indeed,” she confirmed. “Besides the irregular sleep, the panic attacks are one of the main instigators carving those fractures in your soul, and pretending they aren’t there won’t do you any favors, sweetie. Healing you will be pointless if we don’t face them head on.”

Luz’s brow furrowed. “Can those be cured?” 

“I’m sorry to say there’s no definite cure, but they can be managed with the proper care.” She trailed off, an uncertainty flitting across her features. “You just have to put your trust in me.”

Luz gripped the back of her neck in a tighter hold, released it, and slid them down to rest in her lap. She wrung them nervously, her thoughts rounding back to their earlier conversation on pinning a topic for later. As scared as she was of coming face to face with her other issues, it was the thought of acknowledging her panic attacks that had her stomach in knots. The exit was calling out to her, and her hand was on the door, fingers itching to turn the knob. One word and she’d be set free for another day. 

Lilith didn’t take a risk on you for you to just give up now.

The stark truth in the thought startled her. She sighed heavily, resigning herself to the fact she was going to have to dive headfirst into the cold depths of her fears. “Okay,” said Luz, running a shaky hand through her hair. “Okay. How do you want to go about it?”

“We can stop at any point you feel it’s too much,” Elara attempted to reassure her before delving in. “I’d like to know how often you’re having your attacks and what is triggering them, if it’s anything at all.”

“Oh.” That didn’t make it anymore reassuring, Luz thought. If anything, it spiked her anxiety levels through the roof. 

“Your first attack,” the healer continued, aware of Luz’s inner turmoil but pushing onward anyway. “What triggered it?”

Luz was back to not looking at Elara. Thunder rumbled in the distance; Luz closed her eyes, listening to the sound of it plinking on the roof. The sound stirred memories, memories where Lilith was always so fatigued after casting the force field over the Owl House, her magic depleted and her strength zapped. The sound of rain was always meant to be peaceful; at one time it was for Luz, and as desperately as the teen craved for peace to come, the sound alone now was almost painful. Stirring the memories that plagued her late into the night. Of the images that followed her into her dreams.

She let the memory fade, replacing it with another she’d rather not face.

She hated revisiting the first time the panic overpowered her, but the memory had a knack for creeping into her thoughts even on a good day; if she could wipe it clean from her mind, she’d willingly scrub her brain raw to rid herself of it. To forget the amount of agony her body was in as it spasmed out of her control, of the chaotic thoughts screaming behind her ears, to the over cloyingly fear consuming her entirely. Only the reminder it’d also erase Lilith, too, stopped her from ever actively seeking out a mind-erasing potion. The older woman has been her beacon of light, a lone lighthouse guiding Luz’s damaged ship through a storm of her own making. Luz didn’t want to lose a single second of her time with her, even if most of her memories with her are intertwined by terrible frights. 

“My phone,” Luz admitted quietly after a protracted silence. At the little hum Elara murmured, Luz clarified, “it was my only connection to my mami; in the beginning, hearing her voice always grounded me. I guess you could say it was my safety net.” Luz paused there, then dug around to pull her phone out of her back pocket, the little raven trinket Lilith handed her falling out as well. She rested them in her lap, her phone’s dark screen staring back at her. “When I couldn’t hear her anymore…”

“Your anxiety capsized you and you drowned in your panic?” 

“I lost it,” Luz agreed with a subtle nod of her head. “My stability was snatched right out from under me.” 

Elara hummed, eyeing the teen’s phone carefully. “I presume it doesn’t trigger you now?”

“No,” the teen confirmed. She toyed with her phone, wondering why she even bothered to carry it around with her anymore. It was useless. Like herself. “It hasn’t affected me since that night.” It was the most honest she could hope to be. She lifted her head. “I feel like it should, you know? It’s all I have of her, but I just feel numb.” Numb for a number of reasons, but she locks them in a box so far in the back of her mind she hopes to never reach them. 

Elara’s eyes were compassionate but sad. “I believe you may be compartmentalizing the loss,” she supplied, her melodic voice warm and soft, despite the worry underlying her words. “It’s a natural defense mechanism of the mind when there’s too much -hm, let’s say- static around a certain event or emotion.” She canted her head, a curious light in her eyes. “Did you shut down that night?”

Did I? Must have, as a chunk of the night was just gone; the feel of Lilith’s fingers against her skin the last clear memory she had before she came back to her body aching all over. “I...I think so?” Luz answered in uncertainty, her eyes flitting between the warm gold ones for an answer she wasn’t sure Elara could supply her with. “I don’t remember anything after Lilith told me to let it out. I think I screamed? My throat was aching, I remember that.” 

“It sounds as though you did, but I can’t, in confidence, confirm it.”

“Right,” Luz grouched, eyes looking away from Elara again. “I’d have to talk about it.”

“Clever girl.” Elara grinned. “We’ll come back to it in time, I promise. Tell me, what triggers them now?”

“Mentions of home, I think.” Luz’s hands shook with the tight grip she had on her phone. Just the thought of it made her want to retch, her stomach churning uncomfortably. Her voice was raw and hollow. “The possibility I could be faced with the same decision terrifies me. I don’t want to be forced to make that choice again.” Her eyes closed briefly, reopening to blink back the tears. “I love it here. I love Eda, King, and Lilith. I love my friends,” she faltered, a shaky breath rattling her lungs. “Amity. I don’t want to lose them...but then I remember how selfish that is of me, because I left my mami all alone; she must be so worried about me right now.” She made a strangled noise in the back of her throat before she released a harsh, choking gasp that turned into a sob. “Why didn’t I just choose her? She’s my mom!” She cried. 

Vision obscured by her tears, Luz didn’t see, nor did she even hear, Elara move until the healer was suddenly in her personal space, bent on her knees to wrap Luz up in her arms, drawing the teen into the other woman’s warmth as Luz’s body trembled violently under the strain of too much emotion. “She’s my mom,” she repeated, her words muffled into the shoulder she’s buried her nose into. Her hands abandoned her phone for a white-knuckled grip on the little white raven instead, Lilith’s name seconds away from being uttered.

The words were stuck. Luz was stuck. Elara was holding onto her as if she were the only thing saving the teen from oblivion. Not that Luz cared to move anytime soon, the hold comforting and safe. She spoke quietly into Luz’s ear. “I know. Ssh, shh,” she whispered, her voice steady and low for the teen’s sake. “It’s alright. I’ve got you.” All Luz could do was close her eyes and listen to the murmur of nonsense words, Elara saying nothing that mattered as she pulled Luz more securely against her, a set of fingers combing gently through her hair. 

“She’s my mom. I abandoned her. It’s not…” 

The rest got lost on a sob. Releasing her hold on the raven, Luz clung to Elara with so much ferocity, the scent of herbs and roses filling her lungs, that Luz couldn’t hold it back anymore. She felt like she was breaking all over again. And Elara was there, her hushed words assuring she’d catch her when she fell. To trust her. 

It was her cheat, Luz knew it; the knowledge of the teen’s internal struggle gave the healer an edge over her, but the evident concern in her voice and the encompassing warmth of her hold belied the thought that this wasn’t genuine care for her. Luz grasped onto it as she poured out her grief, a sense of relief in the knowledge that someone can see the real her easing the weight she carried with her. 

Later, she’ll realize Elara never said she’d be fine, that everything would be fine. She couldn’t, in good conscience, promise the teen would be fine, that it’s okay, but she could repeatedly tell her she’s there. Over and over. ( "I’ve got you. I’m here.” ) She kept saying it, again and again. Elara muttered the words she wanted to hear. That she needed to hear. And for the moment, it didn’t matter if she believed them.

 

//

 

After an uncertain amount of time, the sobs subsided into helpless hiccups and the grief retreated for another day. Luz rested there for a few moments, her eyes closed, as she breathed in the scents of the other woman, familiarizing herself with their unique blend. Even as she calmed down, Elara’s fingers never ceased their gentle combing through her hair. She was practically purring at the touch. 

“I know,” Elara repeated, her voice a soft hum in her ear. “We don’t always get to choose who we love. And when we’re faced with a situation, where it’s life or death, we don’t always make the choice we believe we might’ve if we were more clear-headed. It’s what makes us uniquely our own person.” She carefully withdrew from the teen, the palms of her hands cradling Luz’s cheeks, thumbs brushing away her tears. “It doesn’t make your decision any more wrong now than when you made it then, does it?”

Luz gently shook her head, wishing the contact to last a little longer. “I don’t regret choosing Eda. She needed me.” She grasped firmly onto one of Elara’s wrists, keeping her palm pressed against her skin as the other withdrew to help the other woman ease up from her kneeled position on the floor. 

“That’s encouraging to hear,” Elara perched herself at the very edge of the coffee table in front of Luz, their knees knocking together. She brushed another stray tear away, tracing her palm down Luz’s cheek and neck before stopping to interlace her fingers with the teen’s, resting their interlocked hands on her knees. Without words, she picked up on the fact Luz still needed the physical contact. “I want you to hold onto that thought. Anytime you feel like second guessing yourself, I want you to remind yourself why you chose Eda, why you couldn’t step through that portal and return home. Because your choice wasn’t the wrong one.” She tried to convey her feelings in the look they shared. “Just as it wouldn’t have been if you chose to go home instead. Understand?” 

Luz closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Briefly, she thought about lying or simply not responding, but Elara’s spell has already reviewed over her soul, analyzed her faults and misgivings, catalogued her fears. She knew everything there was to know about Luz’s anxieties and what they stemmed from. “Is it, though?” She asked, her eyes opening to stare at their conjoined hands. She owed it to herself to know the answer. She harbored no regrets, knew that with certainty; just a what-if she could never bring herself to face on her own. 

A finger under her chin forced renewed eye contact. “You were faced with two harrowing choices,” Elara calmly stated, not a speck of judgement in her molten gold irises. “Either returning home with no assurance Eda and the others would get out alive, or staying to help with no assurance you could ever return home to your mother,” the woman smiled as she said it, negating any sting the words may have otherwise had. “Both carried their own consequences. You made a choice. Do you think it was the wrong one?”

Luz gave herself a moment to think it over. She found the answer to be a simple one.

No. Her mami was safe on the other side of the portal; Luz assured it when she destroyed the portal on this side. And there’s always the possibility of returning home if she stayed on the Isles -what she wasn’t guaranteed was a way back to the Isles from the human realm. She could rest easier knowing her choice kept her mami from the dangers of Belos and his plans. She had to believe she made the right choice, if not for herself than for her mami, even if it felt like a hole was expanding in her chest the longer they’re separated. 

Luz closed her eyes, gave herself a few seconds, then reopened them. “My choice wasn’t the wrong one,” she declared resolutely. For once, she’ll try to believe it. 

"That's my girl,” Elara praised, drawing a small smile from the teen. “Acceptance is the biggest factor in recovery. Letting ourselves remain in the past, second guessing our every decision over and over, will only lead to dead ends. How can we ever move forward if we spend our lives backtracking?” She pressed on, squeezing Luz’s hand gently. “We can't right our wrongdoings while simmering in our regrets. Remember that."

Luz nodded, shelving the thought for later as she thought of another. "I think Lilith could stand to hear that,” she murmured, her eyes on the fingers laced with hers. She shifted their hold around, comparing the difference in skin tone. “Her and Eda are doing so much better, but I can see the curse still haunts Lilith. She can’t forgive herself." 

"Lilith doesn't like to listen to reason,” was Elara’s hummed response. “I believe it's one of the reasons she's kept her distance from me.” She chuckled without any real humor in it. It jarred Luz, the sound of it off to her ears. “She thinks she can hide from me, even with the knowledge of my capabilities." 

"Why not just tell her you're the reason she's managing better?” Luz asked, forehead creasing in confusion. “She thinks she did it all alone, and that isn't fair to either of you."

Elara took that in for long, silent moments. "Lilith is a slippery slope, so to speak,” she began, a frown affixing itself on her face. “How I'm treating her isn't my ideal method, and it's by no means how I want to do it,” that lack of emotion was in her laugh again. “I'd give anything for Lilith to just open her eyes and see I can be trusted with her problems, but when Lilith is single-mindedly focused on a task, nothing else matters to her. What she’s going through doesn’t matter in the face of her sister’s curse; she only ever inquired about it because it was halting her progress in finding a cure.” Elara withdrew her hand from Luz’s, the teen fighting back the urge to reach out and reclaim the contact. She felt raw and exposed without the comfort. “I can't force her to see reason without the risk of losing her again."

"Why not just give up then?” It was said without thought. “Anyone else would have."

"Would you?"

Luz’s breath hitched. "What?"

"Would you give up if it were one of your friends?” For a second, Elara turned to steel. “Could you break ties with them so easily? Discard them as if they were a broken toy."

"No!” The idea turned Luz’s stomach. “Never. They're my friends." Her teeth clenched of their own accord, resulting in a harsh jolt of pain in her lower jaw at the motion.

"And Lilith is mine,” Elara replied evenly. “Vexing as she may be, I will not bend to the pressures. She can fight me and break me, but I will still be standing here, waiting for her. If I let her go, could I even still call myself a healer?" 

"Doesn't it hurt, though?” Luz refuted. There was an unending ringing in her ears, a warning on full blast resounding in her skull. “To try so hard and be met with nothing in return." 

"Someone once said ‘the only way to not feel pain is to not feel love, and that’s not a life worth living,’” Elara explained, her stare analytical. “So yes, every day it hurts, but she’s well worth it."

"But why?” Luz countered. Those same warnings were louder now, clawing at the back of her mind, demanding she silence herself before Elara figures them out. “Half your life has already passed and what do you have to show for it, but a fancy title as the best healer on the Isles?” The teen couldn’t stop herself even if she wanted to; couldn’t understand why she needed to hurt the other woman so badly in the first place. “You're alone. Lilith isn't with you; it doesn't look like she ever will be. You said we have to move forward, but you're still stuck in the past. Why?"

Elara pursed her lips together as if contemplating her words, though she never took her gaze off of Luz. The teen was acutely conscious of how bright the healer’s eyes had become. She slightly tilted her head, letting a dreadful amount of silence pass between them. Luz wanted to say something else; thought she might’ve, too. Instead, they continued to face off against one another, one pair of eyes riddled with guilt, while the other settled a heavy pang of anguish in Luz’s gut at the sight of. They were frighteningly empty, painfully disparate from the habitual humor and cheer Luz had taken for granted. The hollowness there, the bowed head and defensive posture, it scared Luz, hurt her, made her wish she could hurt herself more. 

Then Elara blinked. A nod, preceded by a longer pause, as if a piece of a puzzle has fallen into its rightful place. “Do you do this often?” She implored in her smooth, honeyed voice. The words came easily enough, but Elara’s face had gone too blank, too careful. “Lash out when you can’t process your emotions?”

It was her cheat again; Luz practically an open-book to her. The knowledge of it was as unnerving as it was comforting -to know she can’t hide behind her tower of lies anymore. (“Oh, I’m fine. It’s just been a long day. A good night’s sleep and I’ll be right as rain, you’ll see!”) However, the urge to lie was still sounding the alarm in her skull; might’ve not even been there if Luz hadn’t fucked up and chased away the gentle warmth in the other woman, leaving her with a soulless render of the Elara she was quickly feeling the loss of as if it were a physical thing. 

Luz opened her mouth to argue before deciding it was a waste of time. Her mouth clamped shut, her only response a simple shrug of the shoulders. She took a deep breath, steeling herself because no part of her actually wanted  an answer to the question. Not from herself and certainly not from the healer.

Elara waited; stared for longer moments. She caught Luz’s left hand, squeezing lightly until mahogany eyes were on hers again. “Tell me about your mom,” she shifted gears, taking the teen by surprise. “What’s she like?” Her eyes were bright again, an unnatural glow about them; Luz thought if she looked closely enough she’d be able to make out the glyph inscribed on the gold irises. She didn’t dare to. 

The teen blinked several times, surprise showing on her face. “Uh,” Luz swallowed once, hard, toughening her voice as well so the quiver wouldn’t be audible. “She’s a nurse, so she works a lot. It’s just the two of us, you know?” She was talking more to herself than Elara, but the woman hummed in reply nonetheless. “My dad died when I was little; I don’t remember him all that well, but mami tells me I’m just like him.” She sounded resigned to her own ears. “Every saturday we make ensaimadas and magdalenas; no one can make them like she does. She always makes me laugh at her terrible jokes. Sometimes I think she does it on purpose, because no one can possibly be that bad at it.” She kept talking even though she felt like she shouldn’t, feeling irrationally angry for reasons she can’t bring herself to zero in on. “She loves me, even when she doesn’t understand me.”

The healer faltered, her eyes casted off to the side. It took her a moment to answer, to even meet Luz’s gaze again. “You said it’s just the two of you,” squeezing the teen’s hand in reassurance, Elara’s smile was understanding. “Do you have anyone else back home? Friends?”

Luz shook her head. “I was alone back home,” Luz’s unoccupied hand went to her leg, alternating between tapping her fingers against her kneecap and clenching them until they were white. “I was the weird kid no one wanted to bother with.”

“But here you do.”

“Yeah,” Luz nodded in confirmation. “I have my friends, Gus and Willow. They’ve been by my side since the beginning,” Luz smiled a bit in spite of herself. “And Amity. I don’t know what I’d do without any of them.”

"Tell me about this Amity,” Elara said delicately. “Are they something more than a friend to you?" 

"What, Amity ?” Luz jerked her head up, her brow furrowing. “She's my friend. Why?"

"In a manner of speaking,” Elara clarified, “she’s outside of the box when you talk about your friends. I presumed there was something more between you."

"What? No.” Luz shook her head in denial and something that looked like exasperation flickered in the golden depths of the healer’s eyes. “Amity's just my best friend. She's actually my rival, well, not so much anymore now that we're friends, but she's the kind of witch I inspire to be. She’s loyal and dependable, fiercely compassionate, and strong in her own way.” She fiddled with the raven trinket as she admitted, “we, uh, we didn't exactly have the best start."

"Oh?” Elara canted her head, an eyebrow arching. “Can't be anywhere worse than when I met Lilith."

"Did you pretend to be one of her classmate's abominations in order to get back at her for calling said classmate half-a-witch?” Luz said sheepishly, shoulders scrunching up in shame. “And then unintentionally embarrass her at a witch's convention in front of everyone? And then maybe, accidentally, find the diary her siblings wanted to use to teach her a lesson before traumatizing her by turning her childhood book into a rampaging monster?" 

Elara blinked. It was clear she hadn’t expected that. "I stand corrected. There are worse ways.” A few seconds later, she said softly, “after all that, how did you two manage to create an everlasting bond?"

"Circumstance, maybe?” Luz responded, holding the healer’s gaze. “After the library incident, I realized Amity was just trying to prove she was strong; joining the Emperor's Coven is her dream and here I was mucking that up by being a klutz.” Her eyes lowered, an unconscious, fond smile curling her lips. “She realized I wasn’t actually out to hurt her or the reputation of her fellow witches, and I gained a new friend.” 

“And would you say you trust her?”

“With my life.”

There it was. The opening. The opportunity to discuss someone outside of Lilith’s involvement in her illness, and Luz didn’t even see it coming until it was too late. She fell hook, line, and sinker. Elara was cautious as she broached the topic, mindful of Luz’s seemingly irrational defenses. “Does she know what’s going on with you? Do your other friends?”

“No, they don’t. It’s nothing,” Luz swiftly denied, even though it was. It might be everything, one piece of the core of her issues. She didn’t think she was lying; didn’t think she was being totally truthful, either. “I need to be strong for them; don’t ever want them to feel the least bit guilty about what happened. I can’t let them know about this,” she admitted, the barest hint of a crack in her voice. “I have to stay happy-go-lucky Luz for them.” 

“Why?” Elara prodded carefully. “They’re your friends. They’ll understand, Luz. It’s important your support system is filled with people you can depend on,” she attempted to reason, but Luz wasn’t in the right mindset to hear any of it. “And they sound quite dependable to me. They’re the ones who tried to help you cure Eda, correct?”

“They are,” Luz agreed, her voice was sharp and wounded at the same time. She turned her head away as though she were recovering from a blow. For long moments, all Luz did was breathe. The exhales were harsh and shuddering. “I just can’t,” she declared, her hands clenching tight, the one captured by Elara careful of its grip on her. “Please don’t make me tell them.”

The healer lent forward, rubbing her thumb across the knuckles of the hand she still held. Luz’s other was still clenched tight over her knee; Elara covered it with her own and when Luz didn’t fight the contact, she drew both of Luz’s hands into her lap, squeezing them gently. “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to, sweetie,” she murmured gently, that extinguished warmth in her eyes reignited. Feeling undeserving of it, Luz’s eyes slipped closed as she listened. “But I can’t stress how important it is you tell someone else. Lilith can’t be your only support,” she sounded pained by the admission, but her tone was relatively steady. “It isn’t a stable enough system to help you through what’s to come.”

Luz didn’t answer; she was afraid to, and Elara sensed it, filling in the gap. “You said your phone was your safety net before, correct?” And Luz nodded, signaling her understanding. “And when it stopped being your safety, you fell apart. What do you think will happen if Lilith isn’t there when you have another attack? Because she isn’t always going to be there to catch you, Luz.”

“I’ll fall apart again.” The admission, the raw honesty of it, broke through the walls Luz had surrounded herself in. Defenseless, now all Luz had was the promise of Elara to protect her. The teen fought off more tears. She was so tired of crying. “I don’t want to keep breaking,” her eyes opened, finding the healer patiently waiting for her. “Can you do that for me? Can you stop me from breaking?”

Elara smiled, soft and sure. “I can. We will overcome this together,” she promised. “Management will be our ultimate goal, but you have to promise me you’ll tell someone as soon as you can. I won’t push you, but know you can’t wait forever, or everything we’re doing here will be a wasted effort.”

“I promise I will.” She meant it, even as the thought terrified her beyond reason. 

“That’s what I like to hear,” the healer praised. She gave one last squeeze to Luz’s hands and then released her, gracefully standing as she smoothed out any wrinkles in her dress. “I believe this is a good stopping point for our first session. Though we are far from done,” she warned her in a light tone. “Which probably means I need to go check on my other patient before we can discuss my treatment plan any further with you.”

“Lilith?” Luz’s eyes flicked skyward. “Is she alright?”

“Well,” Elara drawled, her eyes briefly skyward as well before lowering. “She hasn’t stormed down here swearing vengeance yet.” She shrugged her shoulders, vaguely gesturing with a wave of her hand. “I can only assume she’s either accepted her fate, or has mercilessly murdered my palisman and now lies in wait for me.”

“Oh, right, the tongue thing.” Luz made a face. “What did she mean by that?”

“Asa likes to flick his tongue in people’s ears when they least expect it.” Elara smirked at Luz, a twinkle in her eyes. “It’s his way of showing affection.”

“Aw,” cooed Luz. “That’s so cute.”

“I think so, too,” Elara clapped her hands together. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she pivoted on her heel, speaking over her shoulder as she headed for the stairs, her hand waving in the direction of her massive bookshelves. “Feel free to browse anything in my collection. I know most teens these days aren’t into reading anymore, but I’m sure you’ll find something to occupy yourself with.” 

Luz nodded, her eyes moving to the shelves as the other woman’s steps faded away, a thoughtful expression on her face.

 

//

 

Lilith sighed as something warm and soft pressed against her lower back. The scent of roses filled her nose, and she bit back a moan as a gentle, insistent hand worked its way under her shirt, fingers splaying out against the left side of her ribs, caressing the skin with careful examination. A whisper of a touch rustled past her ear, the pieces of hair obstructing her face drawn back behind it. 

“Lily dear,” a voice at once familiar but different tempted her back to consciousness, though the siren’s call to sleep still clung tightly to her. “Love...as cute you are, it’s time to wake up.” Ignoring the soft voice, Lilith buried herself further into whatever soft object her head was currently resting on, the scent of roses much stronger here as she breathed it in. “Hm, I thought I told you to heal her, Asa, not lull her to sleep. You know she hates it when you do that.”

Lilith’s ears twitched at the sound of a hiss. Wait. Disoriented, she took a moment to place her surroundings, her first deep breath reminding her of her injuries as a sliver of pain wormed its way through her sleep-induced haze. It hurt too much. Everything hurt, but some part of her was reminding her it wasn’t nearly as bad as before. Why that was she didn’t know and the panic made her gulp in air, and that hurt too. She hated the choked noise of pain that fell from her lips but there was nothing she could do to hold it back.

The sound of rain tapping against the window panes drew even further confusion. Why hadn’t Edalyn called for her to protect the house from the boiling rain? Then there’s that soft voice murmuring again and another hiss like sound.

Wait.

This wasn’t right. 

Wait

Only ever in her nightmares has Lilith dreamt of snakes, and the warmth against her was far from the unpleasant horrors she’s tormented by in her dreams. Which meant… This wasn’t a dream. 

Her eyes snapped open, and she had a split-second to register the fact that she was lying in Elara’s bed, her palisman -curled into a ball with the world’s smuggest look about it- not far off from her right in her peripheral, before Lilith’s mind rebooted and realized it was Elara herself pressed against her back. Her hand splayed out against her ribs. Her injured ribs. 

Despite herself, Lilith stiffened, but the other woman didn’t budge from her clinical exploration, the stilling of her hand the only indication she was aware Lilith was now awake. Something close to panic settled in as Lilith wedged one arm between them, fingers firmly grasping the healer’s wrist, to cease all movements. She sat up too fast, the world a dizzying blur for a second, and Elara’s hands were on her, her eyes too bright, trying to ease her down. “Where’s Luz? Where is she? Is she okay?”

Pain laced Lilith’s voice and Elara lowered hers in response. “She’s perfectly safe,” she assured, still trying to lay her back against the mattress but Lilith fought her. “She’s downstairs processing it all. But safe. She might even be a little bored by now.” 

She was talking quietly, Lilith knew that. Her voice always so soft , but it still seemed loud in her ears. She couldn’t quite focus on her, and when she tried, the thudding in her head turned into a roar. It mattered little to her as something occurred to her, that Elara’s words were slowly beginning to ring clear in her ears. She repeated it several times until Lilith’s breathing evened out.

Luz is safe. Luz is safe. Luz is safe.

Lilith nodded, even though it made her head hurt, some of the tension leaching out of her frame. She didn’t know why she suddenly flashed on Luz, trembling and crying out into the night as her body betrayed her. Lilith couldn’t explain any of it, but knowing the girl is safe was enough to quell the panic hanging over her. For now

Elara still held her carefully and Lilith finally gave into the healer’s gentle pushing and fell back against the mattress, her back landing with a soft thud. She shot an icy glare at the cobra, who still regarded her with that superior look, a tongue flicking at her. “I thought the agreement was if I let that miscreant look at me,” she grumbled, sending her icy glare to linger on Elara instead. “You wouldn’t go feeling me up.”

The healer feigned innocence. “Is that we agreed upon?” Innocence may have coated her tone, but her eyes sparkled with mischief, the brightness dimming down until all Lilith was faced with was the molten gold hue she hasn’t found in anyone else on the Isles. “I’m sorry, love, I must’ve misheard you. Do you want to tell me what happened, or shall I take a guess?”

“I’m not your patient.” Lilith asserted with a quiet firmness. “Luz is.” Her words contradicted her actions, though, as she allotted herself to give in to Elara, letting the other woman assess her injuries without putting up so much of a fight. It’s not like she wouldn’t eventually wear Lilith down anyway. 

Elara actually smiled at that. “You’re always my patient,” she drawled, her hand maneuvering back under the shirt and sliding over Lilith’s ribs, increasing pressure in tender areas. “I still haven’t cured that stubbornness yet, after all,” she huffed slightly. “Asa’s done a wonderful job healing the fractures in your ribs, by the way. I’d say in a few days you shouldn’t feel any soreness. How does your head feel?”

“It’s fine,” at Elara’s dubious look, Lilith relented with, “It aches, is that what you want to hear?”

“It is, thank you,” Elara chirped, unaffected in the face of Lilith’s agitation. “You went to the Underground, didn’t you?” She kept her eyes on Lilith’s face. At any signs of a wince, a jolt of warmth pulsed under her skin. Lilith didn’t need to look to know the other woman was seeping her magic into her. She also didn’t need to look to know the soft caresses were by no means necessary in the slightest.

That’s all Elara

To say Elara Rime was a tactile person would be a gross understatement, if you had asked Lilith. This was one of the first things Lilith learned about the prodigy healer befriending her sister all those years ago. While Lilith had certainly never been mistreated by her family, at seven years of age she hadn’t grown up in a particularly affectionate environment anymore, except in the case of her sister. Lilith had acclimated to Edalyn’s need to invade her personal space early on, but where Edalyn pounced and held nothing back, Elara was crafty, sneaking her way past Lilith’s boundaries so effortlessly that by the time she’d even realize it, it was already too late to retreat from her warmth.

Essentially, Elara Rime was considered a danger to the elusive witch, the healer always armed with open arms and casual touches and kisses to spare. It was a bit of a shock, to say the least -and as a result, it became something Lilith did her best to avoid, if only for her own peace of mind. Because who really wants to be seen with Lilith when there’s Edalyn? Edalyn, who freely embraces others, interlocking arms and drawing in other’s heat. Edalyn, who makes friends as if it’s second nature to her, not an ounce of awkwardness in her entire frame. Edalyn, who’s so beautiful, even now, that Lilith couldn’t ever hope to compare. If anyone deserved each other, it was those two. 

Lilith pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to stall the pain ricocheting in her skull and halt that line of thought before a familiar pain blooms in her chest. She pursed her lips in obvious distaste. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” she admitted carefully. “I needed answers, and we weren’t finding them in the Night Market. The Underground seemed my best option at the moment.”

Elara’s eyes narrowed in clear disapproval. “Alone ? That wasn’t very wise of you, Lily dear,” she elevated an eyebrow that conveyed everything she wanted to say but didn’t. “Last I recall, the Underground doesn’t particularly favor those in the Emperor's Coven,” her eyes briefly landed on her wrist that was concealed by her shirt’s sleeve. “Especially a certain coven leader responsible for many of them landing in the Conformatorium in the first place.”

“They wouldn’t have winded up in the Conformatorium if they’d followed the law,” Lilith spat and Elara didn’t look the least bit convinced by the weak exclamation. 

“I should’ve known you had ulterior motives for coming here. Why didn’t you tell me?”

She sighed, raking a hand through her hair. “Even if I did tell you, what use would you have been to me? You’re a healer, Elara. Not exactly a fighter.”

“I can’t throw fireballs, no,” Elara agreed readily enough, finding no faults in the knowledge in her lack of prowess. “It’s better than walking in there alone, that’s for sure.” She leveled her with her best glower, which wasn’t all that impressive. “You could’ve been left for dead in some alley, and I wouldn’t have known until it was too late.”

Lilith rolled her eyes. “Say I let you go, what would you have done?”

“Distract them with my strikingly good looks?” Elara asked with a playful put upon air. She sobered as she withdrew her hand from under Lilith’s shirt, resting it on her thigh instead. “You know I would’ve helped if you had just asked me, right?”

Lilith managed a smile, if a bit forced. “Yes, because you turning heads in a seedy area is going to give me the information I need.” 

Elara beamed. “Can’t be helped I’m so enchanting.”

She’s certainly something. Lilith would imagine Elara in the Underground; something in her stomach rolled at the image it flashed behind her eyes, her heart plummeting at the sight of ill-intentioned hands mere inches in reach from the healer. The knowledge Elara lived a few measly blocks from the entrance to the Underground was bad enough, but the idea of her actually stepping - willingly, at that- into their territory froze the very blood in Lilith’s veins. The Underground catered to criminals, from measly pickpocketers to sadistic murders, and a healer of Elara’s caliber in their midst could tempt them in quite a few ways. 

Not only is Elara beautiful, anyone with a pair of eyes could see that, but her sister’s also a member of the High Council, a seat of power witches would kill someone for -tackle on the fact Mira is a monster with a number of enemies eager to fish out revenge on the illusionist, you might as well call Elara a walking target. It wouldn’t take but a simple interaction between the Rime sisters for someone to realize that Mira’s one obvious weakness is her sister. That threatening Elara’s life was a surefire way of bending the powerful illusionist to their will. Not only would she hand over her seat on the High Council in a heartbeat, she’d give anything in exchange for her sister’s safe return. Nothing was of greater importance to Mira than Elara. 

“Enough of that, love.”

Lilith blinked, jerked from her spiraling thoughts by a pair of golden eyes suddenly engulfing nearly her entire field of vision. Elara was leaning down to meet Lilith’s gaze, a painfully concerned look written across her achingly beautiful features. She was so close now that her forest green hair brushed against Lilith’s cheeks. Her hand was still on Lilith’s thigh, careful not to bear too much of her weight on it, while the other was somewhere above Lilith’s shoulder, the mattress dipping in slightly. She was too close and not close enough.

“Um,” replied Lilith, belatedly. “I…you…” She swallowed, trying to gather her thoughts and failing. 

Elara raised one eyebrow, eyes sparking with amusement. “Yes?” She prodded, lips parting in the beginnings of a teasing grin. “It’s futile to hide from me, I know what you’re thinking.”

No, you don’t. Lilith actually laughed at that, a nervous release of energy. You can’t ever know what I’m thinking. Her eyes lifted toward the ceiling, trying to dispel how her heart felt like it might be consumed whole by the cloying ache that came with being in close proximity to the healer. It had to be a byproduct of Elara’s magic, Lilith reasoned. It just oozes off of her in waves, emitting warmth and drawing others in with its whispered promises. Lilith can’t count on her fingers how many times she’s watched potential suitors trip over themselves to get even the chance to simply speak with the healer. Let alone be the reason her smile’s radiance rivals the very sun. 

“Stop that,” Lilith finally said to her, her hand lifting to block the healer’s gaze with her palm. “Those eyes of yours are enough of a nuisance as it is.” Without those all-knowing eyes on her, Lilith let her eyes roam over Elara as she listened to the sounds of the rain beating on the roof. She wasn’t above admitting she missed the other woman's casual demeanor; some semblance of her basked in the ease of affection Elara was gifted at showering others with. “You start telling me you can read minds now, I will gouge your eyes out of your skull.” 

It was an empty threat, and the healer was aware of it, if the amused lift of her lips was of any indication. “Sorry, love,” She lifted her hand from Lilith’s thigh and lowered the other woman’s hand from her eyes, the unnatural light in them briefly brightening. “You know it’s not something I can just shut off whenever it pleases me.” The healer smiled as she said it in an effort to negate any sting the words may have otherwise had. 

She might as well haven't even bothered as Lilith shifted, stung by the soft words anyway and clamping down on the instinctive reaction to flinch as if she were physically struck. It was, after all, her fault Elara’s spell was now a permanent fixture in her eyes. She stopped the memory of screaming and a repeated I’m sorry before it could reach the light of day. The flare of shame still washed over her, just as fresh as the day it first bloomed in her chest. 

“I admit, I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking,” Elara hummed, interrupting her thoughts a second time in as many minutes. Her eyes followed the healer’s hand as she ran it over Lilith’s forehead, rubbing it none too gently as those golden eyes rolled skyward. “I just know when you get this crease in your brow, it means something’s troubling you, which usually leads you into getting into trouble.” 

Lilith swatted at her wrist, ceasing the action and drawing it away from her face. “You’re mistaking me for my sister. I don’t get into trouble.” No, I just make mistakes. Costly ones, at that.

Elara fixed Lilith with a deadpan look. “I’m sorry, are we saying entering a criminal underworld, -alone, at that- where you’re the single most despised person down there, isn’t getting into trouble? Because if it’s not, then it’s incredibly stupid of you.” 

Lilith’s lips pursed. “Why do I even bother having a conversation with you?”

“Because you love me,” was Elara’s quick reply, her smile charming. “And besides Eda, I’m the only one who doesn’t think it’s like pulling teeth to get a word out of you.” 

“That’s debatable,” Lilith stated flatly. 

Elara feigned hurt. “So you’re saying you don’t love me.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, either.”

“So you do love me.”

Lilith didn’t answer immediately. There wasn’t a rebuttal. “You’re right,” she admitted, changing tactics slightly. “It was stupid to go alone. Doesn’t change the fact I wouldn’t have allowed you to go with me.”

Elara stared intently at her. She was unnerved by the statement, but elected not to comment on it. Instead, she inquired, “What was so important that you’d risk your life for it?” 

“A portal.”

“A portal,” Elara parroted, her brow furrowed in confusion. “To the human realm, I presume?”

“I owe it to the human,” Lilith replied carefully. “My carelessness cost her way home; my desperation to right my wrongs through Belos’ promise to cure Edalyn nearly cost Luz her life.” She was staring at Elara intensely, willing the healer to believe her. Like it was important that Elara understand. “I can’t ever forgive myself for it, but at the very least, I can do everything in my power to get her home.”

“Oh, Lilith,” Elara said, voice soft, private and full of something that made Lilith’s heart ache. Lilith was struck momentarily dumb at the sheer intimacy of the moment as Elara pressed their foreheads together, carrying the scent of roses with her as her hair fell forward. “Do you not think you could be that girl’s home?”

“Mm,” Lilith blinked owlishly at Elara, who was watching her with that adoring expression that always made Lilith’s heart clench painfully behind her ribs. “Yes, because killing children is a surefire way to a happy family.” She deflected swiftly and thought she saw something that looked like disappointment flicker in the golden depths of the healer’s eyes before she dismissed it as a trick of the light. She remembered with regret why she couldn’t give in to Elara’s comfort. It wasn’t real. Not for her

Almost killing children, and as long as we’re admitting something, I suppose,” Elara muttered darkly. She withdrew from Lilith’s personal space, creating enough distance between the two for Lilith to physically feel the absence of their combined heat. “Speaking of admitting things, we should probably discuss Luz.”

Lilith was grateful for the change in conversation. In a quiet whisper, she asked, “You said she’s processing, so I take it you’ve landed on a diagnosis?” 

“Yes,” Elara replied, simply and instantly. Although, she didn’t elaborate on exactly what. “I have many thoughts concerning her, I’m afraid.”

“As in?”

Elara shrugged, despite the sharp edge of worry in Lilith’s tone. “For starters, she’s compartmentalizing certain events; very serious events that have altered her mind quite dramatically,” she stated calmly. “Usually I’m not one to discourage it; it’s not unhealthy to shelve an emotion for later review, but she’s locking them so far back in her mind she’s numb to the thought of them, love.” She sighed, running her hand through her hair. “Opening the boxes just a crack crumble what little stability she still has control over. I can’t say how long it’s going to take to tackle each and every one of them. It’s why I’m here, actually. I need a better understanding of her schedule, I’d like to be able to see, or at least speak with her, twice a week.” 

“That might be complicated,” Lilith shook her head, offering a denial that sounded weak to her own ears. “I’ve already risked too much bringing her here; I don’t think I can guarantee her safety by showing our faces around here twice a week. Someone will start to notice and not even your influence can keep the nobility from trying to get their greedy hands on her.”

“Fair,” Elara conceded. “Which leaves speaking with her. Does she even have any form of communications here?” She tapped her chin in thought. “She told me about her phone; that’s a human device, correct?” At Lilith’s nod, she waved a hand carelessly. “Suppose it wouldn’t do us much good anyway, even if it was still functional.”

“She has an orbuculum she uses to communicate with her friends,” Lilith confirmed. “Though Edalyn’s limited her usage since the whole incident. She’s paranoid that the Emperor might be listening in on her conversations, planning his next strike against her through Luz.” The like I did was left unsaid. 

“Belos does have access to the communication towers, so her paranoia isn't all that irrational.” She chuckled, and Lilith let herself relish the sound. “Mira and I have a secure line, I could set up a scroll for her to use. That way, she can contact me anytime she feels she needs my guidance without the pressures of alerting Eda’s presence.”

“As if.” Lilith made a face. “I wouldn’t put it past Mira to use it to her advantage. Anything with her hands in it isn’t going anywhere near Luz.”

“I will never understand your animosity towards each other,” Elara groused. “Would it really kill the two of you to get along?”

“Your sister is a narcissistic psychopath with sociopathic tendencies,” Lilith back-handed simply and instantly. “What is there to possibly like about her?” A question that will go unanswered as they’ve had this argument before. On multiple occasions. 

“Then what would you propose, oh wise one?” Elara scoffed in a tone as close to annoyance as she’ll ever get. “I’d make the trip myself, but something tells me Eda isn’t going to be made aware of what’s happening with Luz anytime soon, now is she?”

Lilith had to look away from the accusation in the healer’s eyes. She wasn’t in the mood for that discussion. “No. Only when Luz is ready,” she replied, a finality in her tone. “Your presence at the house will only garner more questions.”

“Then what even is the point of any of this?” It came out under her breath, laced with bitterness and something else Lilith was too in shock to identify. Elara stared at her, hostility bleeding into her weary, half-lidded eyes. “I can send her home with a list of experimental potions closely resembling the medications her world provides, but they’re only temporary fixes, Lilith.” She was on the verge of snapping under the thin restraint of her patience; Lilith could see it. “She needs to talk through her emotions. It’s time for her to face her fears and doubts before she is crushed under their weight. I can’t do that without a secure connection to her.”

I don’t know.” And she didn’t. She didn’t have an answer. She sat up, raking a hand roughly through her hair. “I won’t lie when I tell you I thought this would be a quick in and out. Your talent isn’t like anything the Isles has ever seen before, performing downright miracles like it’s second nature to you. I thought if anyone could fix her, it’d be you.”

“Luz doesn’t need to be fixed; she isn’t broken,” Elara countered in the girl’s defense. “And you and I both know this isn’t some quick repair job that I can just slap a band-aid on and call it a day. I can help her, but I can’t do it in one sitting. So tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”

Lilith considered her words. After a moment, she gave a suggestion. “How about Hexside?”

“Hexside?” Elara repeated, her eyebrow raising curiously. “What about it?”

“Luz attends Hexside,” Lilith explained. “I could ask Headmaster Bump if he’s willing to let us use a classroom after school for your sessions. For Edalyn’s sake, we can say Luz has joined an after school club.” 

“Suppose it’s better than nothing.” Elara gripped Lilith’s hand warmly in her own. A strange tingle shot up her arm at her touch. “Just know that I’m not going to stay quiet on the matter of secrecy forever.” Elara squeezed and let go. “Eda has a right to know what’s going on.”

“I know.” Lilith curled that same hand into a fist in a meaningless effort to sustain Elara’s warmth for a moment longer. “I don’t want to keep it from her anymore than you do.”

Her reward was a smile brighter than the sun. Lilith locked it away as if it were hers. And only hers.

 

//

 

Luz didn’t know how long she sat, in silence, before the boredom crept in and the urge to move surfaced, pocketing her phone and the raven trinket as she stood. Confident Lilith was in good hands upstairs, she let her thoughts wander through everything they discussed as she strolled over to Elara’s plethora of bookshelves. She knew about the anxiety she was experiencing -you don’t live in her realm and not hear about the pressures of the world tearing people down until they can’t function properly. Luz just always thought it wouldn’t happen to her. Not a whole lot really bothers her. She can brush off a world of hurt, but the Boiling Isles and the dangers of it were proving to be her downfall. At least she had a hand to hold.

Luz’s thoughts immediately turned to Lilith. Of how traumatic it must’ve been to go at this alone; never knowing the name of what was happening to her; the fear in the lack of control. The unwillingness to speak up about it out of some misguided notion it’s a sign of weakness. Curious, Luz pondered how Elara managed to help Lilith in the end without her knowledge of it, because Luz was pretty certain Lilith was managing it better. Especially in her guidance with Luz at her worst. 

Her eyes skimmed the titles on the spines of the books. Luz was realizing Lilith wasn’t exaggerating when she said Elara was adverse in all forms of medicinal knowledge. One bookshelf alone was catered to a variety of human medicinal books, ranging from anatomy study, cardiovascular research, psychology, journals on a variety of studies of the human body, and even several on herbal medicine. 

One shelf was dedicated specifically to mental health, Luz noted, as she ran her fingers across the spines of the books. She wondered how Elara came to own all these books; if Eda was the one to supply them to her since her mentor was one of the few actively seeking out human items. She also wondered if the sheer amount of one subject in particular was in response to her inability to help Lilith in the past, aside from the fact the older woman never wanted it in the first place.

Luz moved further down, her fingers still skimming the spines, until she stopped on one that had no title on it. She carefully pulled it out of its spot and flipped it open, finding not pages worth of words but an assortment of pictures. It was a photo album, she realized. A moment of panic surfaced at the thought of evading the other woman’s privacy, but she reminded herself that Elara said she was free to browse anything on the shelves. Well, this one was on a shelf; therefore, it meant it wasn’t off limits. 

With that, Luz let her curiosity unfold, and her eyes eagerly absorbed a younger version of the healer; surprised to find she wore a school uniform much different than the Clawthorne sisters. One that was distinctively more posh, consisting of a blue pleated skirt, white blouse, and a black vest -there was even a tie the same blue as her skirt primly tucked into place around her neck. Luz was surprised, to say the least, to learn she attended a different academy, but Elara never really did say they went to the same school; just that they grew up together. 

Luz didn’t recognize anyone else in the pictures, assuming they were Elara’s friends during her school years; dressed in the same posh uniforms might’ve clued her in on that little detail. Luz couldn’t say she was all that surprised to learn the other woman was surrounded by people, as Elara’s warm personality drew one in like a moth to a flame. With that in mind, Luz let herself disregard the unknown faces and merely focus on the same smile she’s come to familiarize herself with, flipping a few more pages before her hand suddenly stills, a shock rippling down her spine. 

In the picture, there are two of Elara in it, in the same picture, sitting next to one another. A realization settled over Luz: Elara has a twin. And while Elara is as radiant as the sun, smiling so wide for the camera her eyes are squinting, the other is...well, the other one is a still framed version of the Elara she witnessed not that long ago when she made the mistake of lashing out at her. The other didn’t attempt any effort to smile into the camera, merely regarded it with a blank stare. It was frightening to think there’s a copy of  Elara out there lacking any of the habitual warmth Luz has grown familiar with in the Elara she knows. 

Luz flipped to another page; it was a misguided effort to escape the emptiness in those eyes, as the proceeding pictures showcased the other Elara. Although, Luz noted, in the few where the two sisters were alone, Luz caught a glimmer of warmth in the other’s eyes as she looked at Elara. It seemed that, like Lilith, revealing emotions around others wasn’t favored, and not for the first time, Luz wondered why. If it was a sign of weakness, wouldn’t Elara be considered weak to them? Instead, Lilith praised her as a powerful healer, and if the curious smile on the other Elara’s face was any real indication, she thought her sister was powerful too. Then why? Why hide?

Luz carried the album back to the couch, reclaiming her perch at the edge of it as she settled the album in her lap. She continued flipping, lost in her thoughts until...

“Find something of interest?”

...not expecting the voice, she nearly leapt out of her skin because she didn’t even hear the healer come up behind her, a screech of fright slipping past her lips. Luz had a mere second to clutch the photo album to her chest before she nearly dropped it in her haste to reel around, her widened gaze landing on the woman in question behind her, a scowling Lilith present at her side. The sight of the height difference between the two women would almost have been comical were Luz’s heart not currently threatening to combust beneath her ribcage. Seriously, the top of Elara’s head barely came to the same level as Lilith’s shoulder blades.  

That startled a throaty chuckle out of the healer. “I’m sorry, sweetie. We didn’t mean to scare you.” Luz didn’t believe her for a second, as her voice may have sounded sincere, her eyes told a whole different story, an abundance of mirth so overflowing in them Luz pondered choking the woman. 

Luz opened her mouth, hesitated, and closed it again. Another attempt to speak was thwarted by something flicking in her ear, the unexpected touch resulting in another startled screech. This time, to her abject horror, Luz dropped the photo album; at least it landed on the cushions instead of the hardwood floor. She wrenched whatever was slithering off from her shoulder and brought it forward, coming face to face with a dark wooden engraved cobra, the palisman flicking its tongue at her like it did nothing wrong in the slightest. She was in too much of a shock to scream again.

“Oops,” came Elara’s apologetic voice as it filtered through the chaos that was Luz’s thoughts. “I am so sorry about him, sweetie. Asa gets a little carried when he meets new people.” The other woman gently scooped him from the frozen teen’s surprisingly light grip, the palisman slithering up to curl around the back of her neck. “He didn’t mean any harm.”

“Speak for yourself,” was Lilith’s heated response, carefully stepping an inch further away from Elara, her eyes laser focused on the cobra. She reached over the couch and grabbed the dropped photo album, holding it out for Luz to reclaim. “Are you alright? Do you need a minute?”

The shock evaporated in the face of Lilith’s concern. “Fine, I’m fine,” she said, whirling on the healer as she snatched the album back. “There’s two of you. I didn’t know there were two of you.” She didn’t catch the grimace on Lilith’s face at the words. “Did you know there are two of you?”

Elara looked at her questioningly; then a sudden epiphany and the healer nods. “I have a twin sister, yes. Kind of hard to miss that little detail.” She said wryly. Her eyes landed on the photo album Luz went back to clutching to her chest, a realization coming over her features. “Oh. I see you found one of my albums.”

One of?” The teen whipped around to the bookshelves, her eyes laser focused on their intent to find the other albums. “As in there’s more?” Are Lilith and Eda in any of them

“Oh, yes,” a wicked smile crossed the healer’s face as her hand reached out and hovered over the one Luz held. “This one in particular has a very interesting photo in it.” Her fingers tapped on it lightly. “But I’m afraid strolling down memory lane will have to wait.”

Luz looked over at her. “Right,” she muttered, exhaling heavily. “My treatment plan.” With a reluctance in her posture, Luz’s shoulders slumped and she set the album next to her on the couch. Nervously, she watched as Elara rounded the couch and gracefully reclaimed her dark leathered wingback chair, one leg crossing over the other as she steepled her hands together atop her raised knee. And instead of joining Luz on the couch, Lilith stood behind Elara’s chair, her arms folding over the back of it, a soft smile in reassurance thrown over the healer’s head at Luz. 

The teen tried to remain still, but with two pairs of eyes on her, it was near impossible. Her hands were clammy and to keep them from tapping her thighs in clear agitation, she gripped her knees instead. It was settling in for her how real this was. She couldn’t keep living this way anymore, and she couldn’t just go back to pretending now that she knows someone can help her. 

“So, what’s the plan?” Luz asked after a brief silence. 

Elara immediately launched into the idea of integrating herself into Luz’s school schedule, and with Bump’s permission, she’ll meet with Luz at the end of the school day for three hour sessions twice a week under the guise as an after school club if Eda starts asking any questions Luz isn’t ready for. The healer warned her that at each session she will direct them to more pressing topics, and anything Luz shelves will be brought up in the next. At some point, if Luz pins a certain topic one too many times, Elara will attempt to push the matter, as avoidance in their limited time together warranted more damage to Luz’s psyche. 

Admittedly, Luz was only half listening to the other woman, trusting she knew what was best, and let her eyes flick between the two women in interest. As imposing and cold-natured as Lilith portrayed herself, Luz noted the way she unconsciously gravitated to the healer, her eyes softening to a degree as the other woman rambled, her melodic voice effortlessly warding off any negativity in the room. Guess I can’t blame her, Luz mused with a grin. She felt the magnetic pull to the healer herself, an all consuming need to be surrounded by her warmth. Are all healers like that, or is just Elara?

“As I discussed earlier with Luz,” the cautious quality in the healer’s voice drew Luz back into the conversation, her eyes meeting the healer’s warm gaze. “I have a few experimental elixirs I’d like to test out on her.” The molten gold irises broke from Luz’s to lift her head and tilt it back at Lilith. “The dosage is low, as her human biology is less resilient than ours. But they shouldn’t cause any great concern over the possibility of severely hurting her.”

Lilith seemed to take a moment to ponder the words. “I trust your judgement, but it’s really up to Luz.” She finally offered, a shrug lifting her shoulders. “What are they meant to treat her for?”

Elara softly hummed, her eyes returning to Luz as she spoke. “As you know, one will help with your sleep disturbances.” A dreamless sleep, she promised. “Another will be what your world calls an antidepressant; it’s highly experimental, and if you agree to take it, I want you to be honest with me about any side effects you experience while on it.”

“What kind of side effects?” Luz had to ask.

“The most common you’re already familiar with: drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea,” she paused, the healer fixing her with a look she couldn’t quite decipher. “The worst that could happen is you could experience hallucinations, greater bouts of mood shifts, seizures…” She trailed off, unlacing her hands to wave one carelessly. “If you think it’s too much, or if the side effects aren’t worth what improvements you get, we can either alter the components in the elixir or start from scratch until one works for you.”

Luz gnawed on her bottom lip. “Okay,” she nodded. “I’m willing to try them.” She was looking forward to it despite the anxiety swimming in her gut. Despite the risks. If only to regain a sense of normality. 

Her agreement was rewarded by a blinding smile from the healer. “Perfect. I already have a three days worth batch made up for you, and I trust Lilith’s potion making abilities, so I’ve written out a copy for her to follow when you run out,” she said, leaning further back in her chair. “As long as no concerning side effects pop up, I’d like for you to stay on the elixirs for a few weeks to give them a chance to get into your system before deciding if they’re helping you or not.”

Sounds easy enough. Luz nodded. “I can do that.” She pulled the photo album into her lap. “So, we’ve covered medications, my therapy sessions, and my need for a broader support system. Anything else needs to be said, or can we…” she trailed off, waving the album up slightly. 

Amused, a mischievous glint came into the healer’s eyes. Leaning back a little further in the seat, she tilted her head up to Lilith and asked, “Yes, Lily dear, anything else you can think of before I embarrass you in front of your cutie?” 

Lilith sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “There’s nothing I can do to talk you out of it, is there?”

“Nothing you’re up for, my love,” the healer chirped, drawing one of Lilith’s hands into hers and briefly squeezing it. She swiftly rose from her chair to join Luz on the couch, her palisman slithering off and disappearing out of sight. She eased the album out of the teen’s hands, and then as she began flipping through it, her darkly-bemused expression was replaced by one sly in nature. “Let me tell you about this particular picture,” she said, rotating the album to face Luz, who wasn’t the least bit disappointed by what her eyes landed on. 

It was Lilith with a very Eda -like smirk on her face. 

Of course, Luz immediately yanked the album from the healer’s hands, which made Elara laugh despite the rudeness in the exchange. “Wowsers.” Her fingertips traced very lightly over the photograph, trying to commit the image to memory. “Is this you, Lilith?” Shaking her head, Luz attempted again, “I mean, obviously it’s you. It’s just you don’t smile like that. Ever.” Eda wasn’t kidding about Lilith’s hair being as puffy as a cloud.

Lilith glares, pointedly, at the photograph in the album the teen rotates for her to look at. “Because it’s not me,” she groused, her glare shifting over to Elara. “It’s Edalyn and her despicable body swap spell.”

“You’re just upset she made you her first guinea pig,” Elara teased, trying not to grin too broadly. “It was Eda’s first attempt at the body swap spell,” she clarified to Luz. “She chose Lily here and they were swapped for two whole days.”

Luz felt her expression shift into a skeptical one. “Wha-” Glancing down at the photo again, she then looked up at the healer. “Two days? Why?”

“Because Edalyn doesn’t think things through.” Lilith deadpanned, her glower further creasing her features.

Elara was holding a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing, but Lilith’s pout being tossed at her in response threatened to be her undoing, her shoulders gently shaking from the strain. “Eda didn’t quite know how to swap them back yet,” she said after settling, clearing her throat. “She was also having too much fun annoying Lilith.”

Eyes round, Luz whispered, “What did she do?”

“Well,” Smiling a little too wide, golden irises too bright with sly intent, Elara began. “What didn’t she do? Let’s see, she dyed Lilith’s hair fluorescent pink,” with that she reached over and flipped a few pages, and Luz giggled, staring at the bright pink cloud atop a glowering teenaged Lilith’s head. “She racked up Lilith’s permanent record to be as long as hers with the amount of pranks she squeezed in those two days, their grudgby practices were done inside the school, and she decided to shamelessly flirt with every girl in their school, joking that if she didn’t lend a helping hand Lilith would never get her first kiss.” Elara smirked over at Lilith. “Including my sisters, who were all oh so eager to claim Lilith for themselves.”

Wait.” Luz choked on a snort. “All of your sisters had a crush on Lilith?”

“Oh yes,” confirmed Elara, her smile never faltering at the acknowledgement. “Except Mira, of course.” She waved a hand carelessly. “The two of them despise each other, which made flirting with Mira all the more entertaining for Eda. I believe it’s the only time I’ve ever seen my sister genuinely scared for her life.”

Mira. The name sounded familiar to Luz, but she brushed it off with a moment’s hesitation. “She didn’t actually steal your first kiss from you, did she?” She asked in a lower voice, her eyes on Lilith, who kept her gaze averted. “Eda wouldn’t do that, right?”

Lilith blinked, still keeping her gaze elsewhere. “What?” But then the question caught up with her. “Oh, no. She didn’t.” A flush bloomed on her cheeks as she cleared her throat, her eyes briefly flicking over at them. “I, uh, I already had my first kiss before Edalyn swapped us.” A frown affixed itself on her face. “I never told her, but somehow she managed to find out about it.”

What?! ” Luz yelped. Recovering herself at the shock in Lilith’s eyes, she went to say with slightly more decorum, “Who did you kiss? What did Eda do when she found it?”

“Her flirting turned into an interrogation,” Lilith said flatly. “If I had any interest in dating, it was surely ruined after that whole fiasco.” 

“Okay, but who did you kiss?”

“That isn’t important.”

“Oh, come on,” Luz whined in exasperation, rolling her head back on the back of the couch. “It wasn’t someone from your school, or else you would’ve mentioned Eda pulling her form of threatening disembowelment on them, which means it was someone outside of the school.” Luz jerked up at a thought. “Was it one of Elara’s sisters?”

“Don’t you dare start,” Lilith growled warningly. It took Luz a second to realize she wasn’t directing the words at her but to the healer, who was suddenly too quiet

“I haven’t said a thing!” Elara protested robustly, hands raised in defense. “But if I were to say something, it would merely be-”

Don’t.” When Elara pursed her lips and did the little lock-and-key motion in front of them, Lilith rolled her eyes. “You’re impossible, and it’s about time we wrapped this up. I need to get Luz back before Edalyn returns from her human junk of a stand. The elixirs, where are they?”

“They’re in my study, along with the instructions,” Elara sighed, waiting for Lilith to nod and disappear back up the stairs to retrieve them before she leveled an uncertain stare at Luz. “Let me start with this,” she hurriedly murmured. “I don’t like secrets, especially from Lilith, but your health is more important to me than Lilith’s trust in me right now.” For some reason, Luz felt like this was a first for the other woman.

Luz waited a moment for Elara to elaborate. She didn’t. “Are we keeping a secret from Lilith?” She hedged the other woman.

“Yes, but not too terrible of one,” Elara hurriedly assured her. She swiftly rose from the couch and dashed over to her kitchen island, opening a drawer and scooping something Luz couldn’t see out of it. She returned and held it out to Luz. “The idea of sending you off with those experimental elixirs without a proper means for you to contact me just doesn’t settle well with me.” 

Luz carefully took what she was offering into her hands, her eyes widening in surprise to discover it was a scroll. “I…” She frowned, her brow furrowing. “I don’t understand. Why do I need to keep a scroll a secret from Lilith?”

“It’s modified, so it’s not one you’ll find on the market,” Elara explained, glancing over her shoulder for any signs of Lilith’s return. “There’s only two of these made; my sister has the other one, which I suppose I’ll have to get from her later today.” She chuckled humorlessly. “That’s certainly something I’m not looking forward to.”

Luz simply gaped at the healer, bottom lip slightly hanging open as she tried to process this latest development. “I’m still not following,” she said. “Why are there only two of them?”

“Joining the High Council comes with a price,” Elara started. “Not even Lilith was privy to that information.” Her voice was pure steel, but her face was impassive. “As I’m sure you know, the High Council consists of the Isles most gifted witches. United, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could take down the Emperor himself, and he must be aware of that fact as well.” 

The implications behind the response knocked the breath straight out of Luz’s lungs. “You mean…” She couldn’t even finish.

Elara nodded. “A life for a life. When you become a member of the High Council, the most important thing in your life is branded with a glyph, one meant to snuff out a life if the Emperor so desires it. It's how he keeps them under his thumb, the awareness he could destroy their very reason for living with a snap of his fingers.” 

Luz’s hands shook from where they clasped the scroll on her lap. “Elara, are you branded?” 

Elara tried to smile, valiantly. It mostly worked. “Don’t worry about me, sweetie.” She meant to be reassuring, but Luz felt like taking the scroll from the other woman meant sending her to her death. The healer must have picked up on it, as she settled her hands over Luz’s, stilling their shaking. “Trust me, Luz, I’m perfectly safe.” She squeezed her hands. “Right now, you need this more than me, and it gives me a sense of peace knowing you have an easier way of contacting me. Which you can. For anything.”

“But…” When Elara looked up sharply, golden eyes wide with something Luz couldn’t decipher, Luz instantly averted her own eyes from the intensity there. She kept her gaze on their hands as she asked, “If it only takes a snap of his fingers, why have the modified scrolls?”

“Mira’s been searching for a way to deactivate the glyph. We don’t see each other as often anymore, so she had the scrolls modified in order to update me on any leads she comes across.”

Mira. High Council. It finally clicked with Luz why the name was so familiar, her mind flashing back to Lilith’s warning about the gifted illusionist. Elara’s twin. After several seconds of tense silence, Luz met Elara’s intensity with one of her own. There were a million questions on the tip of her tongue, but time wasn’t on their side, so she settled for a promise instead. “If you’re helping me, I want to help you, too.”

A quiet, weary laugh. “That’s very thoughtful of you, sweetie,” The healer gave one last squeeze before drawing her hands away. “But let’s focus on getting you better, okay?”

Luz opened her mouth to refute the healer, but Lilith suddenly materialized behind the couch, the clinking of the jars in her hand alerting them of her presence. The teen hurried to shove the scroll into her back pocket before she noticed it, while Elara stood and her face began to soften, slowly losing some of the tension it had been holding since their private conversation started.

“Well,” Elara said brightly, clapping her hands together, cheeks bunched with cheer that may have only been partly false. “It was lovely having you both here, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon, sweetie.” Her eyes were so warm when they met Luz’s. “Shall I show you two out?”

At those words, Luz nearly deflated. A quick peak at Lilith revealed she felt the same, but she found her voice before Luz could. “Right,” her smirk was subdued. “Let’s go, Luz, before the next bout of rain comes.”

Luz nodded, standing and brushing off any imaginary dirt from her clothes, following the two women with a drag in her steps. Her heart suddenly got snagged somewhere as they made it to the door, and she felt it plummeting away from her as Lilith’s fingers touched down on the handle. She didn’t want to leave. Funny that, seeing as earlier she didn’t even want to be here. 

She struggled to ignore it, mouth working to produce a word, any word, and finding that she had none. One of her hands raised to reach for Elara before falling uselessly away. Then she swallowed a cry and launched herself at the healer, taking the other woman by complete surprise, her arms cinching around her to squeeze as much comfort into the hug as she could possibly muster. 

Oh! ” Elara burst out, taken aback. She smoothed her hands over Luz’s back as lightly as she could, eventually moving one up to rest on the nape of her neck. “Hey, now, no need for the tears. You’ll see me again in no time, sweetie.” 

You know damn well this has nothing to do with missing you, Luz’s mind hissed. Shut up and take my comfort. After a moment, Luz drew back to gaze at the healer, bleary eyes searching. She realized she was actually an inch taller than Elara. She swallowed thickly, nodding her head. “I know. I just…” She didn’t finish, deciding to collect herself. She broke the hold and staggered over to Lilith and grabbed her by the forearm, teeth gritted. “I’ll be waiting outside.” She flung herself out the door before Lilith could even open her mouth.

She took several ragged breaths before glancing back at the opened doorway. She had stepped far enough away not to be able to hear their hushed conversation, but kept an inconspicuous eye on the two friends. Luz snorted as Lilith merely stood staring, looking like a deer in headlights, as Elara hooked her chin between her fingers, drawing her down to press a soft, quick kiss to her cheek. Elara gave a pat on the same cheek with her hand and Lilith’s eyes rolled skyward, finally stepping out as Elara threw a wink at her and closed the door. 

Lilith stepped up to her. “Are you alright?” She questioned softly, her hand raising as if to reach out for the teen.

Lower lip trembling, Luz told her, “You know she loves you, right?” She never meant to say it, but the thought of Elara left alone with the knowledge she was basically a ticking time bomb let the words blurt out on their own accord. "Like, the kind of love that's more romantic than friendly."

Lilith’s face twitched slightly, and she dropped her eyes away. “She doesn’t.” Milliseconds later, she leaned her head back, appearing more frightened than Luz has ever seen her before. “It’s not me she’s in love with. It’s Edalyn.”

The laugh that escaped Luz’s throat was so bleak it barely qualified as one. “You’re an idiot,” was her deadpanned assessment. She didn’t bother to look back over her shoulder as she headed to the alley that would lead them back to the town’s square. She didn’t need to see with her own eyes to know Lilith doubted her words, denying them in the face of what she believed to be the truth. 

Luz couldn't wrap her head around the fact the older witch couldn't see what is right in front of her.

 

//

 

Eda was waiting for them when they arrived home, a scowl on her features. She arched a brow. “You wanna tell me where the hell you’ve been?” 

Shame might’ve crept up on Luz any other day; she might’ve remained to be a buffer between the sisters for the fight she’s all too aware will break out from their absence from the house, but all she felt was exhaustion and a simmering frustration at the moment. “Lilith’s an idiot,” was all she said as she stomped up the stairs to her room. “Un gran idiota estúpido!

Eda’s confused “What?” went ignored by the teen, and Lilith was too oblivious to even be able to answer the question; Luz catching in her peripheral the shrug of her shoulders she offered her sister in return. 

Luz needed a nap. And a plan. To end the sisters' curse. To save Elara from possible demise. To end Belos' reign on the Isles. 

Chapter Text

It’s begun to rain. Again.

A storm front had moved in from the bay and was now pelting Bonesborough with fluctuating downpours, a gray haze hanging from one end of the town to the other. It started early that morning, the town’s people taking advantage of the occasional breaks in the weather to complete their tasks before hunkering down again. According to the demon on the news channel (at least, Luz’s assuming it’s a news channel; it’s nothing like back home, that’s for sure) it didn’t appear to be clearing up until late tomorrow. Despite the dreary weather, Luz’s friends still agreed to come over, assuring they can always return home when the chance is presented to them. 

It’s raining. I hate the rain. 

Luz leaned back, unconsciously sinking into the chair at the breakfast table as her head fell back. Her eyes slid shut, listening to her friends avidly chat about the day’s events. Listened even closer to the sound of the rain shifting from hitting the roof to the force field Lilith was recasting over the house, as the one she casted this morning had cracked under the weight of the rain moments ago. There was a time when Luz liked the rain, even if it boils, but she hasn’t since the elder Clawthorne came into their lives. Really, she didn’t like what casting the field does to Lilith. 

Since the curse was split between the two Clawthorne sisters, and through quite a bit of trial and error, they’ve learned Lilith doesn’t have to take the elixir so long as she doesn’t use up her magical reserves. However, a mass majority of spells leave her drained, like the force field to protect the house from the boiling rain. Luz feels her heart leap in her throat every time Lilith comes back down the stairs from the roof with Eda, her pale features ashen and drawn tight in exhaustion. 

Eda still needed to take the elixir, though not as frequently as she had in the past. A supplier of hers, Morton, heard rumors about a stronger concoction last month, and after a trip to the Night Market, Eda was better equipped to handle the curse than she’s ever been. Her magic’s still gone, but she’s confident with Lilith on their side the two of them will figure it out together. Two years in and Luz is wondering if they’re even still trying to break the curse. 

The tell-tale creak of the stairs alert Luz the occupants of her thoughts have returned. She slowly opened her eyes, head leant further back to lock on the threshold into the kitchen. Impatiently, she waits for the sisters, but only one of the Clawthornes enters her field of vision. It’s Eda. The knot in her stomach turns to lead. ¿Está bien?

Eda levels a look at her. Her smile is unreadable. “Well, looks like you kids might be stuck here for a while,” Eda informed the group, casually; not a hint of concern in her tone. “I’m sure if it comes down to it your parents won’t mind if you stay the night."

Luz bites her lip. “How’s Lilith? Is she okay?”

The older woman squeezes Luz’s shoulder. “She’s fine, kid,” she reassured, which isn’t very assuring if Lilith isn’t here to prove it. “Lily’s just got a headache, so try and keep the noise to a minimum, alright?” 

A chorus of confirmations, two cups of steaming tea, and a last-minute instruction not to touch the contents in the cabinet above the fridge later, Eda is headed out of the kitchen and up to Lilith’s room. Luz aches to follow her. Just to see with her own eyes the elder Clawthorne really is alright. Luz is about to follow through with it when...

 “My dad says the rain should only last till morning before dissipating.”

...she nearly leaps out of her own skin at the sudden vocal reminder her friends are still with her. In the kitchen. Working on their homework. Together. She winces. What kind of friend was she that she could so easily forget their existence? The familiar feel of her anxiety is quick to rear its head: that sudden itch under the surface layer of her skin. She scratches her collarbone absentmindedly. Not today

Luz shifted back in her original position and centered her focus on Gus. He was seated diagonally from her, a magazine from her world opened atop his schoolwork and a sleeping King situated in his lap under the table. He gave the occasional head scratch to the demon.

To this day, it still amazes Luz how much a person can change in two years -Gus wasn’t some short kid anymore, but a boy growing into a man. He was already the same height as Luz, who had her own growth spurt as well, his long limbs in that awkward stage of developing into smooth muscle. His voice, once upon a time riddled in cracks, was growing deeper and more masculine by the day; the breaks happening less. The baby fat in his cheeks was slimming down to well-defined cheekbones and a strong jaw. He was shaping up to be a real lady-killer. Or boy-killer. Or anything between. Luz Noceda does not judge preferences. 

“He works with a guy,” Gus went on, oblivious to Luz’s inner observation. “Who can, like, read the clouds. It’s insane! He’s right every time.”

“Ed likes to think he can read the clouds,” Amity commented without glancing up from her book. “Spoiler alert: he can’t. It’s an embarrassment the sheer number of times mother’s had to call in a healer because of him.” She was seated directly across from Luz. Her schoolwork is neatly organized around her, while Luz’s work nearly takes up the whole table; some of it even overlaps Amity’s. She doesn’t seem to mind it, brushing away whatever’s in her way when she needs to.

Amity's differences weren't as drastic as Gus’. Her face was slimmer, high cheekbones more defined. Her voice is still soft and smooth. She’s shorter than Luz now, but that’s more due to Luz’s growth spurt than anything else. Her hair, on the other hand, was her biggest change, as she'd begun growing her hair out, still its classic mint green shade, and it fell well past her collarbone. It softened her features and suited her doll-like face well. Luz liked the length. Really liked it. She felt like Eda anytime her fingers itched to touch it.

As of late, The Blights have been hosting a number of balls at their manor; Amity’s explained it’s an attempt at an expansion in their business tactic the Blights are scaredly good at. The balls themselves aren’t what’s important, so much as the rare glimpse of her friend’s hair curled into soft waves is; Amity prefers Eda to do her hair rather than the hairdressers her mother hires. (“It’s like they don’t think I can feel them trying to yank my hair out of my scalp. At least Eda is a little nicer about it.”) Luz can’t help but see a lot of Elara’s features in Amity when her hair is curled, and she wonders if the two are more closely related than she thought, or if the Blight genes are that dominant that you can’t even tell the families apart

“I just hope my dads moved my plants indoors.” Willow sighs, glancing out the window. Her chin rests on her hand as she twirls her pen with the other. She's seated beside Luz to be of better service with her plant track homework. They're learning Luz was better suited for creating plants with her glyphs than actually caring for them. (Luz once commented she loved Elara’s plants and the healer had gifted her one for their one month anniversary. Suffice to say, Luz never felt so much like a murderer in her life. The poor, wilted plant was practically shoved into the healer’s hands, and Luz only felt marginally better when the healer assured her it was tough and could be revived. She now receives pictures of her plant, which is as close as Luz will ever get to owning a plant again.) 

Like Gus, Willow's the same height as Luz. Her curvy figure was filling out more in the chest and hips, and if the eyes following her around were any indicators, others were starting to notice it too. Like Amity, she's grown her hair out, the wild blue curls kept tamed in a ponytail by a hair tie made from vines. She still has her round glasses that suit her round face perfectly.  

“I’m sure they did, Willow,” Luz is quick to chime in, refocusing on the conversation. “They wouldn’t leave them to the tortures of the boiling rain!”

“Thanks, Luz,” Willow beams. She glances over her shoulder to where Eda exited, then faced the group again, lowering her voice to a whisper. “What did Eda have to say about the tomb in The Ribs?”

Luz sighs. “Eda said they’d look into it, but it’s been a week already.” She flops back in her chair, limbs limply resting on either side. “How much longer do I have to wait?

“I’m sure they’re just being thorough.”

Gus nodded the same moment Luz groaned. “Yeah, it’s not like Eda can just magic her way in,” he says, flipping the page of his magazine before adding, “not like she used to, at least.”

“I know, I know.” Luz’s voice was shrill with indignation, and when her friends shushed her, she casted a glance behind her to see if Eda was headed their way -along with a quick peek from Gus at the still slumbering King. When it seemed they were in the clear, she turned back around and sighed. “You guys don’t think it’s a trap too, do you?”

“Do I believe Professor Krill intentionally set you up? No,” Willow affirmed. She closed her book, as it seemed homework was the last thing on any of their minds. “Do I think it’s a little suspicious? I’m afraid so.”

“I’m with Willow,” Gus gave her a weak smile, his shoulders shrugging in uncertainty. “It’s too much of a coincidence to be anything good.”

Luz’s eyes widened, then narrowed in the same instant. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” she slammed a hand down on the table, her friends wincing at the move and King sputtering awake, his head popping up over the table. Luz barely registered him. “Belos hasn’t tried anything in two years. I’ve been out in public on multiple occasions, have walked straight past the Emperor’s guards, and never has my life been threatened. Why should this be any different?”

“Wait, Luz, where are you going?” King asked, lifting himself to sit on the table instead of Gus’ lap. “Eda won’t be happy if she’s already told you no, you know.” Unsurprisingly, he went ignored.

“The deathly glare Eda levels their way might have something to do with it,” Amity countered. “And whether she’s their leader or a wanted criminal, the Emperor's guards are terrified of Lilith.” She waved her pen in a circle before rolling her eyes. “They’re also idiots.” 

“Amity’s got a point,” Gus snickered. “Lilith’s got the whole ‘I can kill you with a stare’ look down and Eda is pretty terrifying when she’s spewing promises of disembowelment.” 

Willow hid a giggle behind her hand. “And they’ve seen firsthand what they’re capable of.” She canted her head. “It’s unclear to me if they even know Eda no longer possesses her magic; she’s pretty crafty at hiding those glyphs.”

“Like the time she set one of the merchant’s tents on fire,” Gus shuddered. “All because he said Lilith would look good beneath him.”

“Oh yeah,” Willow winced. “I really thought for a moment she did it with her eyes alone. Eda looked so murderous that day.” 

Amity rested her cheek in the palm of her hand. “Didn’t he go missing shortly after that?”

Gus paled. “You don’t think she actually murdered him, do you?”

“Wouldn’t put it past her,” Amity replied. “She’s very overprotective of Lilith. Don’t know what for.” She muttered the last of it in the palm of her hand; her brows furrowed. 

Luz sighed. She pinched the bridge of her nose and breathed deeply. It was a Lilith habit, she knew. But it helped to center the irrational rage building in her chest. The itch under her skin was worsening. “You guys are missing the point here,” she attempted to redirect them back to the topic. “This could be our chance to learn something. Maybe there’s carvings on the walls of the old ways in there, or spell books on wild magic; maybe even undiscovered glyphs. The barrier was made to keep witches out, right? There has to be something. I can’t just sit around and do nothing.” 

Willow frowns a little. “Eda’s not asking you to do nothing. If she says she’ll look into it, you have trust she will.”

 “Yeah, she’s just keeping you safe, Luz,” reasoned Gus. “I’ve heard some wicked horror stories about The Ribs.”

Luz’s voice was grave when she asked, “How bad is The Ribs?”

“The Ribs?” King squawked. Again, ignored. 

Willow’s features turned thoughtful. “My dads tell me if you don’t properly cast protection spells on yourself the nights will freeze your blood solid in your veins.”

Gus nodded. “My dad said the midmorning sun is so blinding you’ll claw your own eyeballs out of your skull to escape it.”

“Not to mention the heat will drive you into insanity.”

 “Which is why you should leave such matters to Eda and Lilith,” Amity growled, her voice raising an octave higher than a whisper. “I admit, Lilith is right when she said The Ribs isn’t safe for inexperienced witches. Besides, you can’t cast protection spells on yourself. You wouldn’t survive a second out there.”

Luz’s eyes narrowed, and she folded her arms across her chest in defiance. “You don’t know that. Maybe my human biology is immune to whatever The Ribs could throw at me.”

The skepticism rolls off Amity in waves. “You caught some weird human cold just a month ago when you insisted on building snowmen during that short snowstorm we had.”

“If there’s snow you build snowmen,” Luz said matter-of-factly. “I don’t make the rules, Blight.”

Willow gives Amity a discerning look, and then she lands her gaze on Luz. “Sorry, Luz, but Amity’s right. Protection spells are important when traveling to The Ribs. Border control won’t even let you pass through unless you’re properly equipped.”

Luz rubs her chin in thought. “Viney’s in the healing track, right?” She asked. “She could cast them on me and I’ll be fine.”

Gus frowned. “As good as Viney is, she’s not an expert level caster. Her spells could wear off before you even reach The Ribs.” He scratches King behind the ear -the little demon was still pouting about being ignored by his favorite human. It seems to mollify him over, his fluffy tail wagging. Luz might have found it cute if she wasn’t so annoyed.

Expert level caster. Luz just so happened to know one. The best. Her hand gravitated to the scroll stashed in her back pocket and then she redirected it to rest on her thigh instead. She’s been in consistent contact with the healer since Elara handed it to her at the off-chance she ever needed her, which started off as simple updates on how she was handling the elixirs to reciting their entire days to each other. A part of Luz was scared if she didn’t hear from Elara the worst may have happened; Luz wouldn’t be surprised if the healer picked up on it; she’s never ignored a single text from the teen. Like three in the morning, make no lick of sense, kind of messages. All she needed was an assurance the other woman was alive.

Luz wanted to bat the thought away in an instant. Elara was already in deep water with the Emperor -her sister’s position on the High Council branding the healer as leverage to keep Mira in line. She didn’t need Luz’s penchant for trouble resulting in Belos setting his sights on her anymore than they already are. But if there was any chance something of value was in that tomb, maybe the rewards far outweighed the risks. In truth, Luz could only hope so.

“I know an expert level caster,” said Luz, unnecessarily pointing to herself. “I could ask her to cast them on me.”

Amity merely quirks a brow. “Why am I not surprised,” she snarked, a smirk curling her lips despite the annoyance showcased on her features. “You’re such a klutz; of course you’d be on familiar terms with a healer.”

Hey,” there’s a twitch developing at the corner of Luz’s eye, and she’s desperately fighting to suppress the urge to launch herself over the table and put Amity into a headlock. “That is so rude, Blight.”

“I understand,” Amity’s smirk is flawlessly devious as she says it, “ that the truth is hard to swallow, Noceda.”

“Take it back, Amity.”

“Case one-of-a-thousand: you tripped yesterday on a step. It was only one step. And you were looking right at it.”

“Oh, you are just asking for it now!”

Luz is leveraging herself up in preparation to leap over the table at Amity, before Willow puts up a hand to silence their bickering; Luz instantly stilling, her palms flat on the table and one knee raised at the edge. She clears her throat as both sets of eyes careen around at her, but she didn’t flinch under their intensity. “If you two are done flirting now,” she has to hide a smile behind her hand at the sight of Amity’s flush and Luz’s blink of obvious confusion. “How do you know a healer, Luz?” She inquired, lowering her hand back to the table. “Healers tend to keep their relationships strictly professional with their patients, but you almost sound like your friends with one.”

“Are they really like that?” Luz felt her features twist into confusion. She lowered back down to her chair, her face further pinching at the chorus of nods she was greeted with. “Oh,” she shrugged her shoulders with a remarkable lack of concern. “Elara’s not like the other healers then.” 

“Wait, Elara?” Amity sat up straighter, her hand lowered to rest on her opened notebook. “As in Elara Rime?”  

“Yesss?” Luz answered cautiously, unsure of the look Amity was sprouting on her face, a blend of astonishment and suspicion, but Luz catches a bit of hopefulness mixed in at the edges. Interesting.

“And you’re going to ask her to cast protection spells on you?”

“Yes?”

“And you fully believe she’ll keep it a secret from the Clawthorne sisters?”

“Yes.” It won’t be the first. 

“And you don’t see the flaws in this plan? Not a single one?”

“No?”

“You’re joking.” A pause. “You’re not joking.” Amity massages her temples, breathing in deeply. “Okay, who’s to say how long they’ll last on you? Do you even know how long you’d be in The Ribs? Even powerful witches, including the Elara Rime, have to reapply protection spells after a point.”

Luz moves to rebuke her, but Willow cuts her off. “Face it, Luz. This isn’t something you can do on your own,” Willow says it without even a hint of censure. “I’m sorry to say, but none of us are going to let you kill yourself by running headlong into the unknown. Maybe this once we should let the adults handle it.”

“Guys, I know. I know you mean well. But this is important.”

Amity had had enough. She abruptly stood, her chair sliding back with a harsh screech. Her face was twisted in rage; cheeks blooming a bright red. “Do you even hear yourself?” She snarled. “Nothing is worth getting yourself killed over.” 

Luz mirrored her. There’s a pricking feeling in her fingers and up her spine and her chest is constricting painfully. It’s a warning. A warning she knows is stupid to ignore, but she does it anyway. “They’re worth it!” A sound she’s never heard before leaves her throat; painful and twisted. “Two years. Two years and we finally have a piece of information to go off of, and we’re just going to sit on it? Does anyone even want to help me break the curse?”

Willow’s eyes are wide, and Gus is briefly slack-jawed; hurt palpable in their eyes that she’d even ask. “Of course we do, Luz!” They both chimed at once. 

Amity is silent. Then: “I don’t want you to get hurt, Luz.” She folds her arms across her stomach, guilt and fear etched into her features. “To me, this isn’t worth your life.”

The room is too quiet. Dead, absolute, can’t even hear a pin drop silence, and Gus and Willow watch on helplessly as Luz and Amity show no sign of relenting their glares at the other. Oh no, Luz’s jaw is clenched so tight her teeth ache. Her anxiety was spiking to a level veering close to a full-blown panic attack. A quick glance out of the corner of her eye tells her that Willow is slowly putting the pieces together, though she couldn’t really know what those pieces actually entailed, as Elara had explained to Luz once that the majority of the Isles didn’t believe mental health is a real thing and would rather spiral out of control than admit there’s something wrong. It was Luz’s saving grace, but she needed to redirect this before questions were asked. 

It seemed her other saving grace came in the form of Gus.

“Okay, okay,” Gus finally says, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “We’re all getting off on the wrong foot here,” and then he stops and takes a breath. Waits for Luz and Amity to settle back down into their seats, the scrape of the chair legs the only sound for a moment. “I think,” he starts a little hesitantly. “That what everyone wants to say is we’re not going to let you do this alone.” Willow and Amity are frowning at him, but Luz is listening, so Gus pushes forward. “We want to help you, Luz, but this might be too dangerous, even for you. We have to think this one through.”

Luz doesn’t say anything for a while; she just bites her lip and studies her own hands. She finally clenches them before letting one drop, disappearing under the table as she fishes into her back pocket. She briefly hesitates, her gaze sweeping over her friends. “You asked me if Elara would tell Eda and Lilith about this...well, I can tell you with certainty she won’t,” she pulls the scroll out and gently sets it on the table; one of her secrets was now exposed, and Luz couldn’t tell if it was a good thing or not. “Elara gave this to me sometime ago; it’s been one of the secrets we’ve kept from Eda and Lilith. She can be trusted,” she pleaded. “I promise you this.”

“I-” Amity starts, and then stops. Blinks. Stares. Her golden stare is fiercely defensive as she sets it on the scroll; frowning as if she could obliterate the device with her thoughts alone. “How does this make her trustworthy?” She finally refutes, her eyes flicking up to Luz. “Keeping a secret like this is dangerous, Luz. Keeping any secrets is dangerous.”

Luz ignores her words; they were hitting a little too close to home. “How is this dangerous?” She infers instead, and points down at the scroll. “Elara is an absolute angel,” there’s something dark in Amity’s eyes at the word; a brief flicker of confusion tugging the corner of her mouth down. “She’s a healer. Causing harm to someone is the last thing she’d ever want to do. You should know this, since you clearly already know about her.”

Everyone knows about her,” Amity scoffed. “Mother says she’s only so renowned because she’s a cheat. And you’re telling me I can trust someone like that?” However, the look in her eyes didn’t quite match her words, that hopeful emotion swimming to the surface of her eyes. She kept flicking her gaze between the scroll and Luz.

Does Amity want to meet Elara? For now, Luz shelves the thought for later inspection, as another stirs a defensive ache in her chest. Cheat. In a way, Luz had to hand it to Amity’s mother; she wasn’t quite in the wrong, even Elara’s called the All-Knowing Sight a cheat herself. It was by no means the only reason Elara was so good at her profession that Amity’s mother was implying to; the healer studied a form of medicine that no one prior to her on the Isles had ever bothered to approach; Elara learned it and mastered it in her own way. If Amity’s mother ever called the healer a hack to Luz’s face, the human could not be held responsible for the amount of hell the elder Blight would pay for her slander. No one messes with Luz Noceda’s friends.

“She’s not a cheat, Amity. Your mother is just salty,” that brief flicker of confusion earlier is now fully sprouted on Amity’s face, so Luz clarifies her statement. “It means she’s butthurt that for someone, who should be but isn’t technically a Blight because your family is stupid, is so powerful she’s the Isles most renowned healer. While your mother is…” Luz stutters for a second, waving a hand in the air as if grasping for words. “Well, I don’t know what she is, but she’s not well-known for her specialty, that’s for sure.” 

Wide, golden eyes, along with a flash of white teeth as Amity’s jaw practically unhinges. Speechless. Amity’s frozen expression is all the witchling is capable of in the face of her friend talking down about her mother, a Blight, and Luz felt her lips twitch into a victorious smirk. Luz somehow manages to calmly fold her hands atop the table, her shoulders set and back straight, instead of blurting out HA! with as much force as she can muster, because in your face, Blight! would be a little overkill. Not that Luz wasn’t tempted to. Oh man, Lilith’s right; Eda is a bad influence on me.

“Well,” Gus chimes in, and folds his hands behind his head as he peers thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “That’s one vote for no from Amity,” he pointedly ignores the dark glare he can feel burning a hole into the side of his face. “Mine is a yes. I trust your judgement, Luz. If you say she’s reliable, I’ll side with you.”

“Thanks, Gus,” Luz smiles crookedly. “What about you, Willow? Yay or nay?” 

Willow settles her chin in one hand as she regards her. “I don’t know, Luz; I’ve heard mixed opinions about Elara Rime,” her tone is neutral, but there’s something peculiar in her eyes. “You never did say how you came to know her. Elara is pretty high in demand; a scrape here and there can’t be the only reason you’re familiar with her.”

Luz hesitates. Willow’s onto her, she knows it. Luz just stares at her friends, with her eyes open far wider than normal and a distinct sensation of breathlessness so strong it’s as if someone just punched her in the stomach. She’s been unwilling to accept -though a small part of her anticipated this, really- that her condition would eventually be brought to light to her friends, because while Elara’s assistance has been a tremendous help in Luz’s ability to better handle her panic attacks, she had to admit she was bound to slip at some point. (“You can either have the cards slip from your fingers, with you struggling behind your defenses to explain to them that you’re still you, or you can have them securely in your hands, with your defenses lowered and your words steady. But no matter what, sweetie, they will one day know, and only you can decide if it’s by your own hand or fate’s.”) Luz chooses fate; it hasn’t failed her yet. Except in the case with Eda, but Luz wasn’t going there today.

“Well-” Luz starts, and then she has to clear her throat. “She’s a friend of Lilith’s. Oh, and Eda’s, of course.” Nice save, Noceda. Mental high five! “They grew up together. Eda’s nickname for her is actually kind of hilarious to me now because-”

“Wait, wait,” Amity cuts her off. There’s an uncomfortable tightness in her voice as she hisses. “Lilith’s friend? Cold-hearted, attempted murderer, ruiner of her sister’s life Lilith has a friend?” Amity turns up her nose. “Then that hack of a healer isn’t worth a grain of salt.”

Luz bristles, her eyes narrowing into slits as her features twist into a snarl. “Amity,” she said slowly, an oh so familiar growl rumbling in her throat. “If you think for a second you can just-” she never got to finish, her words lodging themselves back in her throat at the sight of a black blur rounding on her friend.

“Hey!” King snarls -actually snarls, the sound bone-rattling- and his fur is raised in a line down his back as he stands before Amity. “Lilith is a part of our family now and as a family, we protect our own.” One of his claws repeatedly jams Amity in the nose as he says it, the witchling too stunned to move even an inch. “Yeah, so she’s made some mistakes, big whoop; she’s doing her best to atone for it, and if that’s good enough for us, then you need to accept it as well. Or you’ll find yourself out of here, sister.”

“I-” Amity stutters; it was almost comical how wide her eyes are.

King prattles on over her. “And Elara is the sweetest, kindest, nicest witch you’ll ever meet. She’s like Luz, makes you all gooey on the inside. And she gives the best tummy scratches,” with every word he utters the hair on his back slowly starts to lower and the snarl in his voice simmers out until all that’s left is King’s usual flippant cadence. It wasn’t long before his tail started wagging. “Oh, and she’s got both of the Clawthornes wrapped around her finger.” He adds, almost as an afterthought. “Anyone who can make Eda bend to their will with just a look is A-Okay in my book. Like Luz!”

Amity’s throat bobs in a hard swallow, but she stiffly nods once; it appeases King enough to back away from her personal space, plopping himself back down in the middle of the table. There’s a look of such raw pain spreading over her face that Luz immediately feels her chest clench in sympathy. She forgets sometimes that Amity’s not like the rest of them. Trust has never come easily to the youngest Blight, her parents love out of obligation than real affection and her siblings torrent of embarrassing pranks teetering too close to emotional harm to the girl. She hasn’t had the chance to really sit down with Lilith and realize she has changed for the better. 

“I’m sorry,” Amity says, her voice painfully even. Her shoulders are visibly tense -almost pulled up to her ears- and neck bent demurely with her gaze firmly fixed on the scattering of school assignments in front of her. A perfect posture for perfect discomfort. “I know… I know what she means to you. I just…”

“It’s okay, Amity,” Luz promises, and finds a smile which seems to ease a fraction of the tension lining Amity’s shoulders. She reaches a hand out, her smile brightening a little more when Amity carefully sets one of her own in Luz’s. “You don’t know Lilith like I do,” she squeezes her friend’s hand gently. “And you don’t know Elara. What if you give her a fighting chance, huh? Meet her. See for yourself why she can be trusted with this. With me.”

A nod; just one, with those gold eyes never leaving hers. Briefly, Luz closes her eyes, sighing in relief. She squeezes Amity’s hand one last time, before she’s withdrawing it away from her friend’s warmth. 

“I’ll make a decision when I meet her as well,” came Willow’s careful response. “Though I’m sure she’s as lovely as King has made her out to be.”

“You guys are the best!” Luz beams, and then she frowns, as Gus’ features have suddenly shifted from nonchalant to pinched in concern. “Gus?”

Gus holds his breath. Releases. Chews his lip. Finally, hesitatingly, he voices a thought. “Are you sure this isn’t about the possibility of another portal?”

“What?” Luz sputters, her eyes sharpening to glare daggers at the boy. 

Gus winces at the intensity in her eyes. “It’s just,” he pauses, unsure. “With breaking the curse, I can understand the idea of jumping headlong without a plan from Eda. No witch wants to be magicless. But you, Luz, there has to be more to it.”

“Like what?” Luz hisses. All of her warning signs were flashing behind her eyes. A flare of pain in the palms of her hands confirm she’s clenched her fists tight enough for her nails to pierce the flesh of her skin. She eases her grip. There’s an anguish in her chest at the thought she’s cycling backwards again. She didn’t want Eda to worry again. She didn’t want to disappoint Lilith. She didn’t want to face Elara as a failure. She can’t. Lilith pulled herself from this hell once; so can Luz. 

Home.” Amity breathes. “A way home, Luz.”

Home. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to her. It wasn’t fair to them. If she was brave enough, if she was strong enough, to tell them what the word home does to her, even now. What it triggers. If she was only honest with the few people she can trust in this world. Tell them how heavy the weight the guilt she carries in every fiber of her being is from the simple yearning to go home; to leave this dangerous and scary world behind her. Of how much it terrifies her that someday she might have to choose between her family here and her mami. Again.

“I don’t -I wouldn’t- I…” And she needs to get out of here -as in right now - so she’s standing in a flash, rocking back on her heels, horrified. She feels her legs quake with the effort of holding her body up. “I have to-” A breath, a second, and she’s dimly aware she’s hyperventilating. The familiar panic was quickly trampling over her control. She needed to get away. She needed to get away now. “I...need to go.” Breathe!

Don’t let them see

Without any warning, she’s fleeing because she has to get away, and she’s kind of in disbelief that her shaking legs can support her at all. Her friends cry out for her; she doesn’t even turn, because she just doesn’t have the headspace to deal with anything or anyone else. And she’s halfway up the stairs when she’s grabbed by the back of her shirt, stilling her panic driven steps. A pair of arms twist her to face whoever held such a vice-like grip around her. A voice is calling out her name, but it’s the wrong register, the cadence higher than the smokey one she is aching to hear. And the eyes are all wrong, golden and gray instead of blue

“Kid? Kid, Luz, are you okay?” Luz blinks, eyes locking but unseeing onto Eda’s. Her mind screams it’s all wrong. “I need you to look at me, kid. Really look at me.”

She does. At least, she tries to. “Eda, please,” she begs. The words catch in her throat, sharp and jagged. She grasps the older woman wrists, her entire form starting to shake. As guilt-ridden as it makes her, Eda is only a minor balm to the gaping hole in her fragility in this moment. Lilith understood. Lilith could fix it. 

Eda’s stare is searing. Wrong. Her gaze briefly glances over the teen’s shoulder, shakes her head, and returns her attention back to Luz. “We heard some ruckus. Lily’s a little savage at the moment. Had to pin her down to the bed to keep her from murdering your friends. She nearly socked me in the nose, too. Ha.” She cackled. “Didn’t help that headache of hers in the slightest, let me tell you.”

Luz hiccups. She breathes in once, sharply, through her nose. Eda’s scent hits her -chamomile, warm spices, and comfort. It isn’t enough. She tries so hard to rebuild her foundation like Elara’s taught her. She doesn’t want to resort to the awful medicinal liquids the healer concocted for her. She wants Lilith

Eda must notice. “Is it completely gone, kid? Can you regain your ground?” She asks, gently, her eyes searching hers.

She grits her teeth. Breathes in. And exhales. Shakily, she shook her head and then nodded in answer. The older woman’s brows furrowed in confusion for a second before it registered. “That’s my girl,” she praises. A ball of warmth settles in Luz’s chest; she grasps it tightly and holds onto it. “Just breathe a little more for me.” She squeezes her shoulders as she sighs. “Lily will definitely fry your friends if you go up there looking like this.”

“I’m sorry, Eda.” Luz whispers, her hands falling away from their hold on her mentor’s wrist. I’m sorry I’m a failure. I’m sorry I’m not good enough. I’m sorry. 

“S’okay, kid. I got you. I’m not going anywhere.” 

Luz sank to the ground, perching herself on one of the steps. She tucked her body until the top of her head pressed against the tops of her thighs, her fists at her ears, chest heaving with panic. “I thought I was better at this,” she choked out. “Why am I still so broken?”

Eda knelt down beside her. “You’re not broken, kid,” she protested gently, throwing an arm across the teen’s shoulders and drawing her into her warmth. “You’re perfect.” She squeezed her gently. “To me you’re perfect. Hell, even Lily thinks you’re perfect.”

Drawing in another deep breath, Luz exhaled again. “Lilith says you shouldn’t swear,” she mumbles into her thighs, her head shifting to the side to peer out at her mentor. 

Eda casted her gaze around, her head twisting to look over both of her shoulders. “Coast is clear, kid,” she quips, a cat-like smile firmly affixed to her lips. “We can say whatever the fuck we want.”

Luz snorted. It was shaky, but there. 

Her mentor tugs her closer, with a light nuzzle of Eda’s nose against her temple accompanying it. “I love you, kid,” she promises, and she scratches at the hair at the back of her neck carefully with her nails, just like she always does with Lilith; Luz can understand why the elder Clawthorne likes it so much. “Nothing is ever going to change that, got it? You think you’re too broken for love? I’ll love you through it. You need Lily to get through this? I’ll be here, still loving you. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever stop me from loving you.” 

“Mm, I love you, too.” Luz is nodding -there’s even a smile tugging at her lips- but there’s a muted sadness in her eyes.

Eda must notice it, as she only shifts to press a soft kiss to her temple. “You, uh, want to tell me what’s got you all so heated today?” At the stiffening of Luz’s shoulders, she hushes her softly. “You don’t gotta answer, kid. I’m here either way.”

Mahogany eyes narrow as Luz frowns. “It’s not really all that important.”

“Huh,” is what Eda says, however, and somehow -really, both Clawthorne sisters are particularly talented in this field- manages to convey the level of skepticism she feels in the one word alone. “Want to run that by me again? Because ‘not really important’,” and then Luz is bodily flailing as Eda’s arm slips down to dig into the teen’s side and ribs, drawing out a startled laugh from Luz that has her practically crying. “Doesn’t quite match up with how you responded to it.”

“It’s stupid!” Luz howls, and then hiccups as the fingers relent at her answer. “I reacted stupidly to a simple question.”

“We might have a problem then,” Eda says gravely, and Luz flinches as she hastily withdraws from her mentor. Her thoughts spiral down a line of ‘this is it’ and ‘you fucked up now’, before they’re grinded to a halt by the fingers hooking under her chin, her eyes rearing up to lock onto Eda, who’s grinning from ear to ear. “You’re taking too much after Lily. Separation might be needed; I can’t have three idiots in my house.”

Eda,” Luz mutters breathlessly, whiplashing from the swarm of emotions, and then they both start laughing. And Luz is instantly reminded why Lilith fought so hard to reconcile with her sister; why, out of everyone on the Isles, Eda is her home

“Alright, kid,” Eda breathes, letting her lips twitch into a grin. “I know you’re dying to see Lily,” she hoists her body up with a grunt, briefly rubbing her back before holding her hands out. “Get going before you wear a hole in my stairs with your anxious vibrating.”

Luz accepts the offer, and with a thorough once over from her overprotective mentor, who’s headed downstairs to handle her friends, Luz is sent on her way up the rest of the stairs. She sharply turns the corner, heads down the hallway to the third door on the left, and freezes with her hand on the knob. A breath in and she opens the door.

The room is dark, a single candle lit to encompass the room in the warm glow of its light. There’s a single body occupying the bed, a pillow tossed over their face and an arm swung over on top of it. Luz’s guessing Eda threw it over Lilith earlier, as Lilith is the worst when her headaches rear themselves. She isn’t sure how she makes it over to the bed -she’s too emotionally wrung out to care at this point- she just does, and she doesn’t hesitate to throw herself onto the unsuspecting older woman.

Lilith’s oomph of surprise, along with her pillow tossed to the side to reveal her heated glare, does little to deter the teen as she nestles her head under her chin. “Lo siento,” she murmurs quietly. She closes her eyes and sinks further into Lilith, one arm carefully lodging itself beneath Lilith’s neck, the other curling around her waist and cinching the fabric of her sweater, and entwining her legs around Lilith’s in her need to be as close as physically possible to the older woman. Lilith is stiff in her hold for a moment; still adjusting to Luz’s newest form of physical contact with her. How does Eda and Elara do it?

It’s all sorts of frustrating for the teen, because it’s not the same with Eda. The sisters' reconciliation has ignited the fire of an inner child in Eda, who likes to pounce on her unsuspecting sister whenever it pleases her, who likes to casually lean against her; likes to thread her fingers through Lilith’s hair. And Lilith just grumbles and scolds her sister about how dangerous pouncing on her is, but never, never does she flinch at Eda’s touch. It’s... well, it's a tell-tale sign of old habits from long ago; their rekindled bond blossoming under childhood habits they haven’t had the pleasure to indulge in since a rift was created between them because of Lilith’s curse. 

And Luz shouldn’t be surprised that Elara's in the same boat as Eda. Luz has interacted with the two women enough to know they instinctively gravitated towards each other, one always seeking the other out. Elara’s touches are always soft and sure with Lilith; there’s nothing sneaky about her advances, just a self-assurance she knows how to skim her fingers over Lilith’s wrist, an unspoken command in the way she hooks Lilith’s chin for a hello kiss on the cheek, and the healer can clasp their hands with an ease born of years initiating the same gesture over and over again; Lilith just rolls her eyes at the smugness in Elara’s smile (and yet she keeps their hands linked, so really, Elara has every reason to be smug, if you ask Luz). 

Luz is observant by nature, and a thought has been creeping up lately at the back of her mind; a thought she can’t quite push down anymore. Because while their physical closeness is still relatively new and Lilith is still adjusting to the snuggler Luz is proud to admit she is, Lilith still minutely flinches at the mere intentions of Luz initiating physical contact with her to this degree. At first, Luz thought it was merely a fear of the teen discovering the other stash of scars Lilith conceals beneath her sweaters, but Luz has already been privy to quite a few of them; so it can’t be because of that and the thought is dismissed, which dredges up one that scares the living hell out of her. She doesn’t even want to think about it, let alone ask.

“Tell me what they did to you,” Lilith growled, the rumble of the threat in her tone reverberating around the heartbeat by Luz’s ear. “Tell me so I know how to hurt them.” And then there’s the pleasant feeling of cool fingers flitting through her hair.

Luz softly hums, a warm sensation in her chest despite the knowledge Lilith was essentially threatening to murder her friends. “Mi culpa,” she murmurs. “Fue mi culpa.” 

“Luz.”

Luz is thoroughly unable to come up with a single thing to say. So she just curls into Lilith a bit tighter, until she can hear the steady beat of the older woman’s heart under her ear, and the way her voice echoes subtly in her chest as she continues to mumble out vague threats in regards to her friends. Luz is content to sleepily listen to her, until she mutters that she’ll lock Willow in a room full of bugs. “She’s afraid of them, right? No surprise a plant lover would have a fear of bugs.”

And then Luz is laughing hard enough her ribs ache. “Lilith,” she wheezes. “Dios, you can’t do that to Willow. And isn’t Elara a plant lover? You saying you’d lock her in a room full of bugs?”

“Elara doesn’t fear bugs,” Lilith says matter-of-fact. “But she is afraid of the dark. So, yes, I would lock her in a dark room. Titan knows she deserves it sometimes.”

Luz snorted. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would,” Lilith responds dryly. She shifts minutely to better accommodate Luz’s weight atop her. “I think you’re a little too old for all this cuddling nonsense.”

Luz hums. “No one is too old for cuddles, Lily.”

“I beg to differ.”

And yet, there is no resistance. There’s just Lilith’s arms holding her, her hands stroking her back, until all Luz knows is safety and love. And Luz just hugs her as tightly as she can, and has to fight back tears at the feeling of Lilith’s fingers slowly, soothingly combing through her hair and a kiss touching against her hairline right above her temple. Because this is the real Lilith. The Lilith she could have always been if such high expectations hadn’t been placed on her shoulders as a child. If her insecurities hadn’t shredded her love for her sister and allowed her to curse her out of jealousy; out of fear of being left behind. 

Like this, Luz will drift in and out of sleep, lulled by the sounds of two sets of breathing and Lilith’s voice, so low that she’s almost whispering as she hums some childhood lullaby. She’ll only wake when another weight shifts against Lilith’s other side, her eyes slowly blinking open to catch Eda nuzzling her cheek against her sister’s, who grumpily swats her face away but lets her settle against her for an impromptu nap. Luz’s heart is further warmed when King and Owlbert scamper up the bed and curl up into a ball on Lilith’s stomach. My family.

“I’m rolling all of you onto the floor,” Lilith hisses without any real heat in her voice. “Do you even realize how heavy you all are?”

“If we’re so heavy,” Eda quips as she swings one leg over Lilith’s hip and winds up hooking over Luz’s in the process. “Then good luck rolling all of us off of you.”

Luz gurgles out something she thinks sounds like a laugh, but she’s too tired to put any real effort into it, and Lilith’s entire body just goes completely boneless at the sound. Her fingers resume their gentle combing, lulling Luz back to a dreamless slumber; Eda’s soft murmur of ‘you big softie’ and King’s gentle snoring follow her down. 

 

//

 

Amity slammed her door shut behind her. She sighed, her eyes briefly closing.

Amity slid down the wall until her backside hit the floor and then she tucked her legs to her chest, her bag squished between her, resting her chin on her raised knees as she let her mind process everything that happened. She was expecting the guilt over hurting Luz to linger, and while she’s right in that aspect, she’s apparently also vastly overestimated how much she actually knows about her friend. In her defense, the witchling’s always had an inkling there was something more going on with Luz; it was basically impossible to ignore it now, not after the sheer panic in Luz’s eyes floods her mind every time she closes her eyes. 

There’s a sudden buzz coming from inside her bag, nearly scaring the life out of her. With a gasp and a hard bodily jolt, Amity dug into her bag and fished out her scroll, presuming she received a message from her mother or the twins. But when she swipes her thumb across the screen, there’s no sign of any new notifications from the last time she checked her scroll before entering the Owl House. 

Amity frowns, and then her eyebrows spike skyward as she rifles further down into her bag. A second scroll appears in her hand, the case around it styled in various roses. The healer’s scroll. Elara Rime. Amity fights down a wince, recalling as to why she has it instead of Luz. 

(The sound of footsteps headed in their direction, paired with the knowledge Amity knows they don’t belong to Luz, was nothing compared to the blood roaring in her ears as Amity dove for the scroll still settled on Luz’s side of the table. Her hand fumbled as she grabbed the device, and for a second, she imagined it slipping through her fingers and crashing back down onto the table, alerting one of the Clawthornes about its existence when Luz, for some reason, didn’t yet want them to know about it. 

That would be the icing on the cake, as Luz likes to say about sticky situations.

But Amity secured it firmly and stowed it in the bag hanging at the back of her chair, silently promising herself she’ll return it to Luz before she leaves. She’s only just withdrawing her hand when the Owl Lady herself enters their field of vision. The gray-haired witch doesn’t appear to be too angry with them, but there’s a tightness around her eyes that doesn’t ease the tension in Amity’s shoulders. 

“I’m so sorry!” Gus blurts. The boy was practically squeezing the life out of King as he clutched him to his chest. “I didn’t mean to hurt Luz. I swear.”

Eda just grins; it’s not her usual one, but it’s close. “You didn’t do anything wrong, squirt,” she tells him. “Luz just gets a little overwhelmed sometimes and needs a minute to calm down. She’s with Lily now, and I highly doubt my sister plans on letting her out of her sights.”

Amity frowns. “Will she be okay?”

“Course,” Eda chuckles, and flicks the witchling in the forehead with gentle fingers. “Don’t want to wrinkle while you’re young, minty. Now, come on, I’ll get you kids home before the rain starts again.”

A quick glance out the window reveals the rain has indeed stopped for the time being. They take a few minutes to stash their belongings in their bags and follow Eda out the door, flicking one last look up the stairs in concern for their friend.)

The memory is batted away by a second buzz in her hand. Amity startles, holding the device away from her as if it’ll explode at any second. A weird combination of feelings churn in her stomach at the sight of two notifications flashing across the screen before it goes dark, because there’s a guilt for essentially stealing Luz’s property -albeit unintentionally, mind you- but also a burning curiosity and a need to know about the renowned healer. The Elara Rime. Because there isn’t a day that doesn’t go by where her mother isn’t backhanding the healer for one reason or another; the amount of hate her mother spews over a person she, presumably, is never in contact with confounds Amity. 

“It means she’s butthurt that for someone, who should be but isn’t technically a Blight because your family is stupid…” Amity isn’t blind; she’s seen photos of Elara Rime, the healer a common feature on the headlines of the newspapers her father likes to pretend he’s reading in the morning. It was a tactic to serve as both a buffer to avoid any interaction with his children, and if Amity isn’t mistaken, Alador Blight is acutely attuned to the knowledge as to what just seeing the healer does to the one and only Odalia Blight, and somehow finds enjoyment in getting a rise out of his wife so early in the morning. So, yes, Amity’s seen Elara. 

You can change a last name, but you can’t, for the life of you, deny the Blight genetics: that particular shade of green hair and golden eyes combo. It was all Blight. The only thing about her that Amity can infer as a Rime quirk was the soft smile shaping her lips. Never in her life has Amity ever seen it on a single one of her relatives’ faces, even by those outside of her immediate family (and Amity’s extended family is huge); not even on Edric, who Amity considered to be the nicest member of her family. So, introspect, Elara Rime is a Blight; a Blight her mother despised. Amity wanted to know why.

With that thought alone occupying the entire space of her mind, Amity drew the scroll closer to her again. She vehemently swore she wouldn’t invade Luz’s privacy any more than she already was, which meant she couldn’t merely message the healer, as that would lead to accidentally reading their most recent conversation. Amity’s not like her siblings, and she’s most certainly not her mother. A simple call was the safest bet. In and out. Easy. Taking a calming breath, she let the device come to life with a swipe of her thumb.

It immediately started buzzing in her hand.

In her shock, Amity flung the device across the room, a thunk resounding as it smacked into the wall. One hand clutches her chest, while the other flies over her mouth, her eyes widened in something akin to horror. Oh no, oh no. She wasn’t so much concerned with breaking the device, as scrolls were magically based and shattering takes quite a bit more effort than that, so much as she was by who was calling. What do I do? What do I do? What. Do. I. Do?! 

Thankfully, she was home alone for now, no one near enough to hear the scroll’s impact with the wall. As if sensing her thoughts, it started buzzing again -somehow louder than before, and Amity scrambled in her haste to stand up. From there she would hurry, though not too quickly, over to where she accidently threw the device, scooping it up in shaking fingers just as it buzzed one last time before stilling. 

For a second, she thought that was it, but it started buzzing again in her hand. Do I answer it? She was already in the process of calling the healer herself, right? But what if she hates me right off the bat? She’s going to think I intentionally took it from Luz. Oh no. 

Well, there’s really only one way to find out. A quick swipe, a second for regret to strike her, and Amity is officially greeted by a face she’s only ever seen on the front of her father’s newspaper. Pictures don’t do her any justice, Amity muses, and even through a screen, Amity notes her smile is still so radiant. 

“Hello, sweetie,” the smile gave way to a dubious raise of the other woman’s eyebrow, her eyes suspiciously assessing her for a moment. “Well, this is certainly an interesting surprise. Who might you be, dear?”

Amity just stares at her for a long moment, because she’s so… so unlike ...and it’s…

And Amity’s tearing up, because it’s so, so not fair for anyone to be capable of such a warm disposition, least of all a Blight. It’s not possible for them, but yet here one is. 

“You must be Amity,” Elara says softly, and when Amity meets her eyes through the screen she just… she can tell that she knows. “You have my attention, little one, how can I help you?”

And of course, that only makes her cry harder. She's only vaguely aware of the fact that she's crying as she stares the healer on the screen. She looks so much like her mother, and yet she looks nothing like her at the same time. ("Eh, all you Blights look the same, don't you? If you let your hair stay its natural color you'd stick out amongst them. Ha. I'm sure Odalia would just love that, huh?") Eda's words never rung as true as they do now to the witchling, because Elara was essentially her mother -if she was actually a decent witch instead of a conniving snake, that is. Except Elara's nose was more of a button than Odalia's pointed one, and her features were all around softer than her mother's. Cataloguing their differences helped to center Amity, a strange amount of tension suddenly leaving her.

Amity leans back against the wall before sliding down it and sinking to a graceless seat on the floor. "I just..." Amity bites down on her tongue and thumps the back of her head against the wall. "There's something I wanted to know, but now I'm seeing it's a childish inquiry, so I think I'm just going to hang up and find a way to get this back to Luz before she realizes it's missing."

"If that's what you want, little one."  Instead of anger to Amity's dismissal, Elara's reaction is a smile; one Amity can't remember seeing before. It's small and gentle, but puts this almost ethereal sort of light in her eyes, and Amity finally gets the angel comment Luz made, even if she isn't completely sure what an angel is. There's also this fluttering sensation in her chest caused by the nickname Elara keeps addressing her by. Little one. It's nothing like the twins and Eda's nicknames for her. This one's soft and personal and comforting.

Amity's thumb hesitates over the screen; a simple tap and the call would end and Amity could pretend this never happened. Instead of following through with it, Amity curls her hand further around the scroll, and her brow furrows as she peers out at her window across the room from her. It was easier to talk without looking directly at the healer. "Luz is being an idiot..." and here she stops, as the sudden soft laughter carrying over the line startles her. 

"I'm so sorry, little one," Elara's voice is saying; sounding softly. "I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go on." 

Amity blinks, but she keeps her gaze out the window. "Right," she clears her throat. "Luz has it in her head that she can ask you to cast protection spells on her without the Clawthorne sisters knowledge."

"And why, pray tell, does she need protection spells casted on her?"

Amity rolls her eyes. "She wants to go to some tomb in The Ribs," she scoffs. "One of our professors told her about it, and now she thinks it has all the answers she needs." 

"I see," Elara hums. There's something peculiar in her tone, and it's enough to draw Amity's attention to her, her gold eyes landing on a pair similar to hers. "I admit, if there's ever a place to hold answers, The Ribs is bound to be said place."

Amity frowns, a flare of overprotectiveness warming in her chest. "So you think she should go?"

"Of course not," Now Elara's frowning at her in an awfully familiar stern, serious way. She resembled her mother more in this moment. "And since you're so adamant against Luz traveling to The Ribs, I'm gathering you think I can change her mind about it?"  

Amity's frown remains in place. "It sounded like she valued your opinions," she says. "She didn't listen to Eda or Lilith, and Luz is all about Lilith these days." She can't keep the bitterness out of her tone. Even just knowing where Luz is right now digs the knife in her chest just a bit deeper. 

"Oh," Elara breathes. "Interesting." And before Amity can ask what she found to be so much of an interest to her, Elara carried on. "My word alone won't be enough to dissuade Luz from her goal, and I'm afraid even if Lilith and Eda are made aware of the situation it still won't deter Luz."

Amity glares down at her. "What is so important she needs to endanger herself like this? A curse?" Amity feels a snarl curl the corner of her lip upwards. "Aren't you the best healer on the Isles? Shouldn't it be a breeze for you to cure their curse?" Maybe mother's right; maybe you are a hack. Like all the rest of the Blights. 

Elara gives Amity her best unimpressed look. "Curses are tricky things," she cautions, tapping her chin as she took a second to gather her thoughts. "They're all different in terms of their ailments, which means their cure is also different, and without the original copy of the curse Lilith used to cast on her sister, a cure can't safely be crafted." A pause as she shrugs. "Believe me, little one, I'd heal them in a heartbeat if I were capable of it, but without the scroll it's useless to even attempt it."

Amity ponders over her words for a moment. "So it's not a cure we should be looking for, but the scroll?" She questions, lifting a brow skyward. "Doesn't Lilith still have it?"

"I'm afraid not," Elara shakes her head. "Lilith said it incinerated into ashes in her hands the second she uttered the last word."

"So it's just gone?" Of course.

"Maybe," Elara hums. "Or maybe it was called back to whoever Lilith bought the curse from."

Amity ran a hand down her face. "We're basically back to Luz arguing with us that The Ribs is the best option for us, and I really don't want to deal with that infuriatingly smug face of hers."

"That sounds familiar," Elara all but purrs, a smug smile of her own curling her lips. Gone was the image of her mother, and Amity felt a relief flood through her. "If Luz is serious about going, and won't be deterred by anyone, I know someone who can both cast protections spells on her and keep her safe. Lily dear won't be particularly happy about it, though."

Amity canted her head. "And who would that be?"

"My sister."

Chapter Text

Buzz. Buzz. Chirp!

Amity flickers awake; groaning as the light of the sun’s rays hit her in the face just so. And then another groan from her as she rolls over and grabs her scroll off her nightstand, her eyelids heavy as she blearily reads the message chittering away on her scroll. 

Hello, little one. I’m sending Asa on his way to you. 

The fog of sleep is abruptly lifted; replacing it a horror as she comes to realize she only has ten minutes to get ready. This, Amity decides, sets the tone of the day not running as smoothly as she might’ve thought. Tackle on the fact Amity fell asleep with her wet hair piled at the top of her head, one can imagine the frustration Amity Blight was experiencing this morning. Noon, actually. She jumps out of bed; something inside her, something very quiet, clicks unhappily, and she feels unsettled, on edge. 

The unintended curls of Amity’s hair flow down her shoulders like a waterfall; it’s a disastrous mess the witchling just didn’t have the time to straighten out. A quick run through with her brush helped a little to smooth out the flyaway, but the sight of the unruly waves still left Amity fretting. She momentarily stalled to consider the option to pull it all back into the hair tie. If said hair tie could be relocated. By Azura, I swear I just had it in my hand! I don’t have time for this today.

With her hair left to its fate, a toothbrush is shoved in her mouth, a pair of black leggings in hand, with one foot prepped to slide in, when she’s interrupted by the buzz of her scroll. Don’t tell me it’s already here?! I still have four minutes! With that thought, Amity abandons her leggings and leaps onto her bed, body bouncing off slightly, and snatched up her scroll; she swiped her thumb and opened the message. 

Okay, I lied. He might be a little longer. I’m running a bit behind with a few of my patients and am in need of his assistance. 

Amity let out an oof around her toothbrush, quickly typing out her response before setting her scroll down on the bed. Now faced with the knowledge she was granted a bit more time to get ready, Amity felt the familiar sense of foreboding gnawing at the pit of her stomach ease a fraction. She got her legs into the leggings, found some black ankle boots, and dug through her closet for a maroon sweater; then she left her room to finish brushing her teeth in the bathroom just down the hall from her bedroom. A glance in the mirror has her reconsidering leaving her hair as it is.

It was funny, in a bitter way. Because as Amity stares, really stares at the reflection gazing back at her, she’s not all that surprised to see the similarities in her features to that of Elara Rime: the same high cheekbones and button nose and hue of gold in their eyes. When Amity’s thoughts veer towards Luz, her smile is almost identical to the healer’s, except Elara’s soft smiles aren’t anchored down by the expectations the Blight name chains Amity with. All things considered, one could easily mistake them for mother and daughter; their most defining difference being the shade of green in their hairs, Elara’s the Blight’s classic forest green, while Amity’s the dyed mint shade. And, well.

Hatred reared its ugly head at the thought of it. 

Amity hadn’t always hated it, but she can’t remember what it felt like to ever not feel the doubts and disgust and dread that hit her like waves crashing on the shore when she looks in the mirror and sees that despicable shade of warm brown coming in. Her father’s hair; not a Blight’s. It made her stomach twist itself into knots; the sight of it alone always left Amity feeling off. The only reason she can meet the reflection in the mirror today is because her roots had been touched up a few days ago; there’s nary a brunette strand in sight amongst the softly shaded mind locks. 

“I think it’s time you’ve touched up your roots,” uninhibited, the thought filters in. “Don’t you, Amity dear?”

Oh. The way her mother phrased it could’ve been interpreted as a mere suggestion to anyone else, a mother’s nurturing nature. That is, anyone not a Blight. With Odalia Blight -with any Blight- it isn’t; never has been. A Blight shouldn’t be seen as anything less than perfect; something as simple as Amity’s roots -her natural hair color- showing is an imperfection Odalia will not tolerate for long. And though Amity doesn’t mind the color -it’s the one occasion her mother’s ever agreed to a compromise with her youngest child- she doesn’t care for the reason behind why she has to dye it. (“It’s nothing to fret over, Amity dear. It would just so please me if you’d match your siblings. Would you do that for me?”)

And like the foolish child she was -still is- Amity believed her then, too ensnared by the cunningly sweet tone her mother instilled to realize she was being manipulated. She was a child who just wanted her mother’s approval. Still wants it -even now- when she knows -oh, she knows- the real reason her mother wanted her to dye her hair green. How could she have been so blind as to not see it at the family gatherings, the Blights’ golden hued gazes flicking over her as if she isn’t even in the same room as them; never bothering to acknowledge her existence. An immense sense of loneliness setting in as she watches them fawn over Edric and Emira, wondering what she did so wrong to earn such complete disregard. 

Why do you hate me? How can I earn your approval? 

How do I prove I am a Blight to you?

For sixteen years, Amity has lived with the pressure of striving to be perfect: the perfect student, the perfect witch, the perfect daughter, the perfect Blight. Amity’s had to work so much harder than the twins to get where she is now, and in the eyes of her mother...it simply isn’t enough, because Amity isn’t gifted like Edric and Emira -the twins are so, so naturally talented at magic. But Amity. Amity had to fight to earn even a smidge of her mother’s praise. Just one little sign Amity’s doing something right for once. 

Because Amity has already failed her. With her hair. 

Because the Blights go as far back as the ages of the first witches, when magic was wild and free; a time when superstitions were so ingrained in the lives of the nine families they saw them as law. One such is the age old tale that if a mother’s first carriage isn’t to a set of twins ...well, the child is slaughtered and the family’s ties to the Blight name are severed in an instant. Because twins are always the firstborn children, whether the mother herself is a Blight, or her chosen spouse is; there were no exceptions to this. Another, a Blight isn’t to be born with their other parent’s coloring, and if they are, they’re seen as nothing more than a cheap knockoff among a room of originals; inheriting the distinct Blight coloring meant inheriting the power of one’s ancestors. To her family, Amity’s nothing more than a cheap knockoff. And maybe they’re right, because she certainly hasn’t proven them wrong yet. 

“I think it’s time you’ve touched up your roots. Don’t you, Amity dear?”

Amity abandoned any thoughts of touching her hair and darted out of the bathroom. She arrives back to her room to find several new notifications lighting up her scroll. One is from her mother, informing her she’s taken the twins to be fitted for their formal wear to next week's gala and won’t be back till later in the evening. Explains why they didn’t come storming into my room to wake me up. The other has her feeling an odd sort of way. 

I hope you’re a fan of chocolate; nothing quite settles the nerves like a sweet treat!

Amity just stares at the screen, considering her response for a minute. With a Blight, such common courtesy always came with a price, but was the renowned healer that sort of Blight? Amity chose to simply not respond, locking her scroll and placing it in the bag she swings over her shoulder. She strolls over to her bed and reaches under her pillow to grab the healer’s scroll, tossing that into the bag as well before giving the room a last minute sweep to be certain she has everything she needs; then Amity is out the door. 

Her hurried pace has her halfway down the grand hall when something catches her attention out of the corner of her eye. She stalls, her hands tightening around the strap of her bag. Don’t do it, Amity. Today’s the day you won’t look. But, like always, she’s powerless to stop herself.

She looks.

Amity met the golden hued eyes of her mother, mocking her in the way her lips curl in a smile fit for a snake, from the family portrait hung proudly on the wall in the grand hall of Blight Manor. She embodied everything Amity couldn’t be; what she wanted to be once upon a time. Proud, arrogant, dismissive, self-serving. A Blight. Beside her, her husband stood as impassive as a statue, and Amity felt a stirring of resentment and bitterness in her chest at the sight of him. Because why couldn’t he care about his children? Why did Amity have to inherit his coloring?

Why was everything Amity did wrong in her mother’s eyes?

Why was Amity wrong?

Amity kept her gaze solidly fixed on the portrait, years of pent-up indignation and hatred coursing hot, almost toxically, through her veins. Will I never be good enough for you? Do you even love me?

“I think it’s time you’ve touched up your roots. Don’t you, Amity dear?”

“Of course, mother.”

The vibrations at the bottom of her bag jolted her out of her head; Amity breathed in sharply, trying to reign in her emotions. Emotions are a weakness, Amity; a Blight isn’t weak. A creeping deadness in her chest blooms and infects the rest of her, pumping cold poison into her bloodstream in sync with the rhythm of her heartbeat. All the viscous searing of her emotions are frozen over and a neutral expression flits over Amity’s face. They’ll be back, Amity knows, so she scurries away before they can swallow her whole, the buzz of her scroll grounding her, reminding her what she has to do today. Who she has to face. 

There’s Luz, of course, and her idiotic need to play savior to everyone, even to those who don’t deserve her selfless kindness; then there’s the whole spiel with the healer. Amity doesn’t like that Luz doesn’t realize what Blights are capable of, and at first glance, Elara Rime seemingly appears to be as sincere as she depicts herself, but she’s still a Blight. And Blights are notoriously known for their painted smiles and false senses of securities. Snakes. All of them. Amity isn’t dumb enough to trust her yet. If ever. 

Amity knows firsthand how it feels to have one’s privacy invaded, and though it went against everything she stood for, the witchling let the side of her that is her mother surface, let the Blight in her research late into the night on anything she could find on the Rimes. Any dirt. (“Everyone has skeletons in their closets, Amity dear. Secrets to expose. Weaknesses to exploit. No one is infallible; one just needs to know where to look.”) All she needed was a piece of proof Elara Rime could not be trusted with Luz. 

And, well.

Amity can’t say if it’s frustration or bafflement she felt when she found nothing; either the Rimes are influential enough to cover up their transgressions, or -for once- those that carry Blight blood in them are actual, genuine people. Amity doesn’t know for certain, but what she does know is the Rimes are a family of seven, consisting of a mother, father, and their five daughters. The mother, once known as Primrose Blight, owns a bookshop with her husband, Joseph Rime, here in Bonesborough; surprisingly, Amity’s never been, though The Blooming Rose was fairly well known. Amity tried looking up to see what branch of family she hailed from; unsurprisingly, her existence has been erased from the family history.

Nothing showcased where Primrose lies magically, if she’s a gifted caster or average at best; Amity’s leaning towards average. No one owns a bookshop unless they’re weak. Her children, on the other hand... well, Amity’s curious nature is further piqued as to why her mother lies her hate squarely on Elara when Primrose is the one Amity would find fault with if she cared enough about the Blight reputation. 

Primrose Rime gave birth to two sets of twins. Two powerful sets of twins. Elara and her sister, Mira, are the eldest, and are by far the most powerful in the family. Elara is considered a prodigy healer on the Isles, her knowledge and prowess vastly superior to those in her profession. There are over a thousand clinics in her name, several hundred apprentice healers studying under her, and though all of her students have proven under her tutelage to be quite gifted in the field, they’re still nothing compared to Elara herself. An article even stated Elara’s magical reserves were so astronomical she could heal the Titan itself and still have magic to spare. Aside from her questionable healing practices, Amity found no trace of malpractice or fraud amongst the articles practically singing sonnets of Elara’s accomplishments. No one’s infallible, but she seems pretty faultless to me.

The same could not be said about Mira Rime, Elara’s opposite in every sense of the word. Elara’s chosen path led her to heal others, while Mira Rime’s led her to break others; if any of the Rime’s catered to the possibility of dirt on their person, it was bound to be Mira, but it was solely due to her position rather than actual choice. As a member of the High Council -okay, scratch that earlier thought, this is who Odalia should hate- Amity could already surmise the other Rime twin was exceedingly powerful, because one had to be in order to win Belos’ favor. Mira is an illusionist on a whole other level to any that has ever existed; no one’s ever seen her scribe a spell circle, and her most powerful spell is lethal enough to leave anyone within a ten kilometer radius of her brain dead.   

Amity’s not so confident that’s someone she’d want traveling with Luz in The Ribs or not. On the one hand, Luz would assuredly be safe from outside threats; on the other, she’d be dead in seconds to a threat she didn’t see coming. 

Though all of the High Council’s roles and missions are classified and its members files locked down tight enough not even Amity’s parents have access to them, it hasn’t completely hidden what the High Council deals in; what they’re capable of unleashing on Belos’ command. Mira has a scarily impressive body count on her. Funny how one twin saves lives, while the other destroys lives. 

Amity had to pause. Didn’t Eda once consider herself the most powerful witch on the Isles? With the full extent of her magic backing her, could Eda take on Mira and win?

Amity also found something of interest on the first set of Rime twins. A similar pattern is followed in various reports, stating one shouldn't look them in their eyes if you value your life. The healer’s a creepy knowing you from the inside out; Mira’s a surefire way to be dead where you stand

Is there something special about their eyes? Or is it just paranoia born out of fear of such powerful witches?

The other set of twins, born two years after Elara and Mira, are certainly gifted witches in their own rights, but they’re nowhere near the same league as their elder siblings. One followed Elara’s path as a healer, working alongside her sister at her clinics and teaching apprentice witches her sister’s way. If anyone comes a smidge close to Elara’s expertise in the field, it’s her little sister Poppy. I wonder if she feels like she’ll never compare to her sister? To think Poppy was confident enough to follow the same path as a sister she’ll never catch up to; brave enough to stand against the judgement she must face daily. Or she’s just stupid. Poppy has a wife and two daughters; Amity glosses over them. 

The other, Emilia, joined the Emperor’s Coven, and rose through the ranks as fast as lightning to become a commander at the southern border. Before Lilith’s rise to head of the coven, Emilia had been on a squadron with Amity’s ex-mentor, serving as her lieutenant. If Amity had been the Emperor she’d have chosen Emilia over Lilith as her left hand. I suppose cursing your sister earns you brownie points, huh. Emilia has a husband, two sons, and one daughter; again, Amity glosses over them.

Which leaves the youngest of the Rime children; not much is there on Serene Rime, as she’s the same age as Amity. Amity had to resort to penstagram to learn anything about her; she attends St. Epiderm, just as her sisters before her had. She’s bright, friendly, and apparently very popular amongst her peers. Amity had to click away before she torched her scroll. Aside from Mira, are all the Rimes seemingly friendly faces? 

To recap, Amity hadn’t found anything of suspicious nature with the Rime family, and she’s still confused as to why her mother has placed her ire solely on Elara, because Primrose gave birth to perfect Blights. All of her children inherited the Blight’s distinct coloring and power, even her children’s children are perfect. And next to Mira, Elara doesn’t compare in terms of raw magical ability. Realistically, if it was about who was the better witch her mother was having an issue with, Mira ought to be the one she despised. She’s on the High Council, for Titan’s sake. A position the Blights would kill for. 

Is it personal then? Amity wonders. Did something happen in their younger years that’s carried over into their adult one?

Amity’s still pondering it over as she takes the grand staircase two steps at a time, arriving at the last step just as the sound of careful taps echoes in the silence of the manor. She halts the servant she spies out the corner of her eye with a wave of her hand, making her way to the door and swiftly exiting before anyone can see what’s on the other side. The last thing Amity needed was her mother finding out that what she considered to be a pest was anywhere near the manor. 

The soft click of the door was the nail in the coffin, so to speak. A swell of dread threatens to drown Amity; there’s a sudden realization that she’s actually plotting behind Luz’s back. She’s essentially betraying the human she’s come to love more than anyone. What am I doing? Amity has half a second of reconsideration briefly flash through her mind. What if this is it? One false move and I’ll lose Luz for good. But shouldn’t it be worth it if it keeps her safe?  It all grinds to a stuttering halt when she turns around and comes face-to-face with Elara Rime’s palisman. 

Snakes. All of them. The thought was beyond unsettling so Amity refused to dwell on it. Why am I not surprised it’s a snake, she thought, her eyes as wide as saucers as she locks gazes with the cobra calmly peering back at her. Unlike her mother’s -a snake, of course- that lies dormant and quiet, Elara’s palisman remains animated -even now- its body coiled around the smooth, dark wood of her staff. (“Unfortunately, I can’t enter Bonesborough without my presence being detected by the Clawthornes, but if you don’t mind traveling by staff, Asa’s perfectly capable of bringing you to Knetwell around noon.”) Amity had agreed to this; she was regretting it now. 

The palisman flicked its tongue at her. Even without touching it, Amity can feel the thrum of the magic Elara has infused within it, and as it shifts and hisses at her, Amity notes how eager it is to return to its mistress. Besides Owlbert and Eda, Amity’s never caught such a bond between a palisman and their witch. She called it a he, didn’t she? And she gave it a name.

Amity’s hand reaches out. She hesitates. It’s not the staff itself; she’s traveled on her parents’ alone before, and she knows it will be in full control of their flight. So no, it’s not potentially falling to her death that’s halting her; it’s that she is indirectly placing her trust in a stranger, someone she doesn’t want to trust in the first place. Amity’s going to meet someone she’s only talked to for a few hours at her home in Knetwell. A Blight. A Blight with a sister on the High Council. And not a single person has been made aware of it. I could very well die today...and no one would know. How long until my parents start questioning my whereabouts? Would they even look for me?

Well, when you put it like that…

But it’s for Luz. 

 

//

 

“It’s here. It has to be here!”

It was with a depleting sort of patience that Eda lifted the couch cushions up and tossed them aside to spare a lackluster look within its depths. It’s the fifth time; she isn’t all that shocked to find nothing has changed since Luz asked her to check two minutes ago. Unsuccessful again, Eda huffed, replacing the cushions haphazardly. She was too worn down to bother straightening them, which was probably for the best, as Luz nosedived at the cushions the second they were reintroduced to the couch, half of her body disappearing under them. 

Eda spared herself a moment to snort at the sight of the kid wiggling around. Luz was surprisingly springy for someone ready to keel over into dreamland. Or dreamless land, whatever. Eda was much too grumpy for semantics this morning, saving those for Lilith, who was bound to be just as ill-tempered as Eda by now. 

“Kid,” Eda scrubs a hand over her face. “You gotta tell me what I’m looking for ‘cause I’m running on fumes here.” 

Her words fell on deaf ears as Luz pops out of the cushions like a weasel, twisting around so her upper-body drops to the floor to search underneath the couch. “It’s here. I know it’s here,” is repeatedly tumbling from her lips. Sometimes in English; sometimes in Spanish. 

So Eda grits her teeth and moves over to the kitchen to make herself something strong enough to keep her awake until Luz's lost item is found. A very loud part of her just wants to go to bed, but the vast majority of her won’t rest until she’s aided her kid, even if her patience is wearing thin on the whole matter. How does she expect me to find something if I don’t even know what I’m looking for?  The house was in shambles, every square inch torn apart, but there still hasn’t been any sign of it. What she wouldn’t give to return to her nap. From yesterday. 

“Edalyn?” asked Lilith, her voice smokier than usual beneath the layers of exhaustion. She was hunched over the breakfast table, arms pulled over her head like a shield. “Has she found it yet?” 

“No,” Eda whined, flouncing over to give her sister a couple firm slaps on the back. It was hard enough to make Lilith buckle in her seat, her hands shooting out to grip the table. Then Eda slung her arms over Lilith’s shoulders, resting her chin on the top of her sister’s head. “Please tell me you have an idea of what it is, Lily, ‘cause I’m dying here.”

Lilith snorted, ducking and moving her head to the side so Eda’s chin dropped onto her shoulder. “If I knew,” she drawled, hand reaching up to tug on the locks of her sister’s hair that spilled over her. “I’d have used a locator spell already.” She paused, sighing. “She needs to sleep, Edalyn. It’s harder for her to stay in control when she’s tired like this.”

Eda mulled it over. “I know,” she said. “But she won’t rest until she finds it.” She snorts. “Must be top secret if you don’t even know about it.”

Lilith froze, like a shameful secret had been exposed. Which was completely opposite of the truth, since all of her secrets have long been revealed. At least, Eda hopes there aren’t any more life altering secrets Lilith’s still carrying around with her. 

So Eda hums, waiting for an answer, even as shaky hands push her away. Too soon, Eda thought as a wounded Lilith shoves the chair back and rounds the table to create some distance between the sisters. Those same trembling hands rake through the tousled curls of her hair. “I know,” she mutters, more to herself than Eda. “What could she want to hide from us though? From me?”

Eda’s brows lift, realizing it’s not her who has hurt her sister. It’s Luz. Oh, how the tables have turned. “She’s a teenager, Lily,” she tries to console her sister, plopping down in Lilith’s previously occupied chair. “It’s practically ingrained in them to keep secrets. Remember when I wouldn’t tell you who I was crushing on for an entire year? This is perfectly normal.” 

“You’re joking,” Lilith rounds on her, an unimpressed look on her features. “You think Luz is on the warpath because of some crush? That is the most ridi-” She stops, her eyes widening. “You don’t think it’s…”

Eda leans back in the chair, amused. “Think it’s what?” Oh, this is got to be good.

Lilith opens her mouth. Closes it. A flush erupts on her cheeks; then she scowls. “You know,” she vaguely gestures with a hand, as if Eda could understand her. 

“No, Lily, I don’t know,” Eda says with a gleeful smile. “You’re going to have to spell it out for me.” 

“You are so-” Lilith cut herself off with a sigh, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose; Eda has to hide her smirk in the palm of her hand. Her sister was just too cute when she’s frustrated. “Something intimate,” she grits out, aware of her sister’s enjoyment of her mounting embarrassment. “You know.”

“Oh,” Eda snorts. “So, what are we thinking? A disgustingly sweet note? A poem singing sonnets of their love?” She raises an eyebrow. “Or do you think it’s something more adult? Maybe a raunchy picture? A gift?

At first, Lilith’s unimpressed look deepened to an annoyed glower with each utterance of her sister’s words; then her face scrunched up like she just licked something sour. “Edalyn. Must you? ” Her fingers twitched at her side. “This is not something I want to think about. She is still a child.”

“Hey, you’re the one who suggested it,” Eda retorts, a salacious smile on her face. 

“That’s not what I meant!” 

“Then what did you mean?”

“Please stop,” Lilith buries her face in her hands, her words muffled. “It’s much too early for you to be you.”

But Eda was only just getting started. “Ah, come on, Lily, you can handle a little chat about sex,” she basked in the deepening red on her sister’s cheeks. “Luz isn’t much older than I was when I lost my virginity. You couldn’t have been either. Unless.”

Lilith fidgeted, hands lowering. “Unless what?

A sly grin crossed red lips. “Don’t tell me you’re a virgin, sister dear,” at that, she tapped her chin with a forefinger and pretended to fall into deep thought. “It would explain a few things about you. Oh,” she snickered. “I could name a few people who’d be delighted to be the first to defile you. Ha.”

Lilith didn’t react the way Eda expected her to. She didn’t simmer in her embarrassment, flushed to the tips of her ears. Not one bit, and the reaction she did receive from her sister had Eda’s heart plummeting in her chest, because Lilith looked forlorn. Rejected. Like something -or someone- had broken a part of her sister.

Lilith struggled to find her words. “It’s compl-no, I’m- It’s just…” in the end, she settled for, “No, I’m not a virgin,” she tugs on a sleeve of her sweater, shoulders slumping with a weary sigh. “I just can’t-”

She doesn’t let her sister finish that sentence; the cursed form howls, and Eda is out of her chair in a flash, wrapping her sister up in a bone-crushing hug, squeezing as much love and reassurance as she can into it as she knocks their foreheads together. “You don’t gotta defend yourself here with me,” she breathes out. “I’m sorry, Lily. I didn’t mean to pry on your intimate life.”

“As if,” Lilith scoffs, fingers fidgeting with the sweater Eda favors to sleep in. “You’re always prying, Edalyn.”

“Okay, yes,” Eda agrees. “But not when it’s such a sore subject.”

Lilith’s quiet. “It’s fine,” She says after a beat, though it sounds rushed and forced. She slowly withdraws from Eda; her expression hardens, the ice in her eyes cold enough to burn. “If what Luz is looking for is in that nature, then whoever gave it to her is as good as dead.”

The rumble in her throat was all Eda needed to know her sister wasn’t joking, and she felt the cursed form respond to it, its claws scraping on the bars of its cage to defend its owlet from an outside threat. 

“Oh, sister,” She bared her teeth. “I couldn’t agree more.”

That’s when Luz came scampering into the kitchen, a sleeping King on top of her head and one of the couch’s cushions squished in her arms. “Guys,” she says, frantic. “I need to call Elara. I need to call her right now.” Then Luz frowns at the sisters.

The color has drained from Lilith’s face, her eyes wide, while Eda turns thoughtful, a look of I get it on her face as she nods her head.

“What?” Luz asks, blinking. “Did I say something wrong?” 

 

//

 

It’s for Luz, yes; yet Amity wants to turn around from the moment her feet land lightly on the pavement. I can’t do this. It’s making her antsy, just the mere thought of being alone with the healer on the other side of the door. What if it’s true what mother says about her? She clutches the staff close to her chest, Asa uncoiling from around it to slink down onto her shoulder, his tongue flicking at her cheek. His head swivels to and fro, restless on her shoulder as he peers behind her; whether it’s to the call of his mistress’ magic stirring him, or a different matter entirely, Amity can’t say. 

I can’t do this. This was stupid; Amity can’t go through with it. Her chest is throbbing now, a dull roaring pain that sits on her lungs and keeps her from breathing too deeply, keeps her from regulating it to calm her racing thoughts. She sets the staff next to the door; she tries -emphasis on tries- to lift the palisman from her shoulder. It’s as if he were psychic; he’s coiled the length of his body around the witchling’s neck, tightening just enough to make it exceedingly difficult for Amity to remove him. He’s hissing straight into her ear what sounds like a warning, but Amity isn’t listening.  

The hissing grows louder, no longer in her ear but-

An arm snakes around Amity’s waist from behind, pinning her arms at her side, as a firm body collides with her, the scent of roses and lavender clinging to them. Amity fought the hold, wiggling enough to loosen their grip so she could drive an elbow into their gut. They don’t even flinch, hefting her up like she weighed nothing. She was flipped over, her back slamming with a resounding thud against the wood of the door, and Amity’s distorted vision latched onto the visage of… I knew it.

Elara Rime.

Asa hisses and lunges at his mistress, but he’s thwarted by a blur of motion that Amity can’t decipher; whatever it is connects with him and all Amity can hear is the sound of scuffling on the pavement somewhere beneath her. Is he okay? She can’t see past the hand hooked around her neck, nails bearing down hard enough Amity has to tip her chin up to get air into her lungs. 

The healer wasn’t pinning her anymore, but Amity was paralyzed nonetheless. My arms. I can’t move my arms. They lied limp at her sides, unresponsive to her commands. Why can’t I move my arms? Was it a binding spell? No way. There’s no way she casted! 

Elara trilled. Gone was the warmth. Her eyes are chilly and hard, a deep and frigid cold that cuts across any icy wasteland of emotion. “What an impudent, little Blight,” her lips curl into a sneer; her voice almost toneless, dead. “Does anyone know you’re here?”

A searing pain flared at the back of Amity’s head, stars bursting behind her eyelids as a wounded sounding keen is blocked by the hand pressing down on her throat. No. The word was anguished in her mind, denial trying to shut out all her other emotions, and she was falling, spinning, crying, screaming inwardly, all at once. She’s vaguely aware of the healer’s voice trying to penetrate the cries of denial, and another sharp, searing pain shot through her skull. 

Amity’s agonized cry pleased the healer, her smile as sharp as knives. “It’s fine if so, little Blight,” she tilts her head. “I’ll return you as a warning to the others to not to mess with what’s mine.”

The scream never rose past her throat. The pain in her head bloomed white hot, reaching a level so intense -she can’t. A sudden lack of coherent thought; all she can do is slam her own head back against the door, repeatedly, because that seemed infinitely better than this. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth, some part of her registering that she’s bitten her tongue. Please, she begs. Please, make it stop. Someone help me!

She can’t pull in air. It hurts. It hurts. Mom! She’s gasping, trying to get her lungs to start working again. Please. But she can’t breathe past the sheer agony. HELP ME!

“Amity!” Someone howls. 

And at that moment, all faded to black, and Amity knew no more. 

 

//

 

“Depends, kid,” Eda nodded absently; she didn’t elaborate further though. Lilith looked ready to faint on her, and Eda took a subtle step closer to her sister to catch her if she succumbs to it. “Want to run by us why you need to call shortstack?”

Luz hugged the cushion closer to her. “It’s private,” she mutters, her eyes averted from them, constantly ping-ponging around the room. “Please, Eda? It’ll only take a second, I promise.”

Eda covered her sister’s sudden, uncharacteristic weakness in her knees by letting her hand splay out on Lilith’s lower back, anchoring her long enough for her sister to safely slump back into a chair. “And why do you need it to be private exactly?” She asserts, keeping her sights on Lilith out of the corner of her eye. She was still so pale, her eyes glued to the ground. Honestly, Lily. It can’t be. Elara’s too googly eyed over you. 

Luz tipped her head up to look her in the eyes, and she took on a grumpy expression that was so damn cute Eda wanted to laugh. Instead, she kept her face as neutral as possible. “It’s important, okay? Just, please, let me call her. I just need to make sure of something.” Luz said with a hint of pleading in her voice. 

“Does it have to do with what’s missing?” Asked Lilith casually. At least, she tried to come off as casual, but the creeping of ice in her voice in response to Luz’s pleading one singled her intention out. The does she know your secret went left unsaid. 

Pursing her lips, Luz chose to say nothing. 

Then they all remained in silence, the only sound their breathing and King’s soft snores from his perch on Luz’s head. Tension rose between them, Eda could feel it creeping into her muscles, tightening them almost painfully. Okay, enough of this. 

“Kid, I gotta ask, and I won’t be mad at your answer,” Eda finally said. She rested her hand on her sister’s back, under the fall of her soft, dark hair. She felt Lilith shudder at the contact and began kneading the muscles under her fingertips. “But, uh, does your lost item...maybe might have… something, I don’t know, intimate evolved around it?” 

“Intimate?” Luz repeated, mouthing the word several times as she’s momentarily confused. It clicks after a second; then she reeled on them, a look of horror twisting her features. “NO!” She screeched, snapping King awake from his nap at the shrill sound of her voice. “I-” she choked on air, shaking her head frantically. “It’s not like that! Why would you- no, I don’t want to know!”

"Well, what else are we supposed to think, kid?!"

"Not that!" Cried Luz, still so horrified. "I mean, don't get me wrong, Elara's pretty. Very pretty. But it's an appreciative kind of pretty for me, not an attractive one! Jeez, Eda."

“Oh, thank the Titan,” Lilith muttered low enough for only Eda to hear, and she rests her forehead in the palm of her hand, shoulders sagging; while Eda wanted to cackle at the absurdity of it all. Then Lilith spoke louder, “Then why can’t we know what you need to discuss with her? You know the Orbuculum isn’t a secure channel.”

“I know,” said Luz, eyeing Lilith strangely. She frowned. “I just need to see her face, okay?”

Eda tilted her head. “Kid, what aren’t you telling us?” Yeesh, what is with this family and secrets?

“I-” Luz opened her mouth only to snap it close. Her gaze dipped down, uncertainty flickered across her face. “Do you know abou- no.” She snapped her mouth close again. “Actually, forget I said anything. I’m going to go clean up my mess, bye!” The words were rushed, like the teenager herself as she made a mad dash out of the kitchen; King barely holding onto her.  

Eda watched her go, a frown on her lips. “Okay, she’s definitely hiding something from us.” She turned to face her sister. “On the bright side, it’s not a secret love affair with a woman older than her.” She chirped in good cheer. “Shame it couldn’t have been that kind of picture. Eh, Lily?”

“All you need to do is ask, Edalyn. I’m sure Elara would give you one,” Lilith muttered distractedly, her eyes locked on the doorway. “Something is telling me we shouldn’t let Luz out of our sights today.”

I meant for you, you idiot, but can’t say I wouldn’t turn one down. Eda put her hands on her hips and cocked her head in the direction of the doorway. “Think she’s up to something, huh?” We’ll discuss your love life later, Lily. Kid comes first. 

“You don’t find it a little suspicious she gave up so easily?” Lilith raised an eyebrow. “After keeping us up all night looking for whatever it is that clearly Elara knows about, just to stop when we start questioning her? Doesn’t add up when it comes to Luz.”

“Guess you’re right,” said Eda, shrugging. “What do you want to do?”

Lilith sighed, raking a hand through her hair. “Shifts?” She questioned, rising from the chair. “You’re exhausted, Edalyn. I’ll take the first one.”

“You sure, Lily? You look pretty dead on your feet to me,” Eda replied, her eyes raking over her sister’s profile. The deep set bags under her sister’s eyes were darker, and her face was drawn tight in exhaustion. Everything about Lilith screamed let me sleep. “I can take the first one if you want some shut-eye.”

“I’m fine, Edalyn,” Lilith said with a faint smile, though Eda wasn’t buying it in the slightest. “I’ll tackle Luz’s mess and get her into bed before she starts thinking that couch cushion is King again.” 

“Fine,” Eda relented. “But I better not hear you complaining about it in a few hours.”

Lilith smirked. “Duly noted.”

 

//

 

“Amity? Amity! Little one, please.

“It’s far too late. The spell-”

“Don’t.”

Everything was pitch black. There’s a wordless snarl in her ear that cuts off as the voices amplified and faded on the edges of Amity’s awareness. Familiarity nagged at her, but she struggled to place a name with the sounds. She thought she was dead until a burning, grating ringing in her ears told her she was still alive. It was white noise edged with an encroaching pain as she tipped in and out of consciousness. 

“Healing her will only harm you in the process, Elara.”

I don’t care. She’s just a child, Mira!”

Wha … Amity’s head rolled back on her neck as she’s lifted into a pair of arms, eyelids fluttering out of sync with the subtle shifting of her body. Whoever held her had one arm hooked under the bend of her knees; the other behind her shoulders, her head instinctively gravitating to a warm shoulder to rest on. They were nervous, she noted, their grip on her trembling as they tightened their hold on her. They were scared for some reason, but Amity’s thoughts were too scattered for her to determine said reason why

“A child has attempted to kill you before! A Blight at that. Let. Her. Die.

“No.”

The familiar, frantic voice pulled Amity back. Her eyes blinked open, then slammed close as a bright light stabbed through her retinas. “Mom?” The word was thick on her tongue, and Amity wasn’t sure she spoke it aloud, but there’s a misstep from the one holding her, a sharp inhale resounding in Amity’s skull. “Mom...it hurts... it hurts.

“... Amity? ” 

Mom. Help me...make it stop... I’m sorry.

The steps quickened, their voice a constant reassurance in her ear. Up until Amity felt a fresh jolt of pain as her head was jostled, a soft sorry uttered in her ear. As careful as they tried to be to deposit her on the soft surface, nevertheless, her eyes rolled back and a brief wave of vertigo washed over her. Stiffly, she rolled onto her side, struggling to get her bearings back. She pulsed with pain, a throbbing in the back of her head that radiated across her forehead and down her jaw, and her thoughts wouldn’t line up like they should. 

“Easy, little one,” was softly hummed. A careful hand is placed behind the back of her head; it’s warm and probing in a gentle, knowledgeable way. The pain, soothed by the gentle press of fingers against her scalp, distracts Amity as she shudders into the affections. “Just take deep, even breaths for me; I’ll handle the rest.” There is something tender in the voice; Amity wants to curl up in a ball within it and never leave. 

Elara, ” a static of cold, vicious magic surges in the air. It promises infinite pain, and Amity whimpers under its force. “Don’t be a fool, sister. You can’t heal her.” The voice is jarring; Amity’s instincts scream to flee. She grasps fistfuls of whatever soft material she’s lying on, her hot face pressing into something cold as she settles on her stomach, a groan escaping her. Get away. I need to get away. RUN. “You know the dangers of unraveling my spells; they’re not meant to be.”

“So be it, Mira. I’m a healer; this is what I do. Let this be a lesson to you the next time you decide it’s perfectly fine to harm an innocent child in my presence.” A flood of warmth banishes the cold in Amity’s veins, the whole space submersed in an aroma of roses and herbs. “I will not let another child’s life be cut so short. Not again. ” The fingers press down at the source of her pain, but instead of blooming white hot under the touch, it’s just gone. 

The pain yielded to a tingling, numbing sensation, and Amity’s mind continued to tread through the murky waters of wakefulness. “Mom?” She whispered as her eyes fluttered open, her vision blurry. 

“Quiet now, little one,” A set of soft, trembling hands encouraged her to roll on her back; one moved to cradle the side of her face, a thumb stroking under her eye. “You’re safe now. I’m here.” A breath shudders in a pause. “Asa? I’m in need of you, darling,” the hand shifted, a cold left in its absence, to prod at the back of her head. “Sleep now, Amity.”

When they tried to leave though, Amity made a quiet sound of protest, suddenly clutching an arm in a vice-like grip. 

“You..” Amity blinked blearily up at the face above her. Her heart sank in her chest; it wasn’t her mother. She knew every faucet and distinguishing feature of Odalia Blight’s eyes, and the pair gazing down at her shimmered with a love her mother has never graced her with. “You…you saved me. Why?

Elara looked like she’d been slugged in the gut. “Oh, Amity,” her voice is still so soft, her smile sympathetic and understanding. 

She was a vision, the very embodiment of a healing aura; so unlike before. When there was pain. The braided tresses of forest green hair swimming in her memories were gone; it now fell in soft waves. Amity realized even the lengths were different, because it'd been much longer before, but now the ends of the hair just brushed the collarbone. She was no longer shrouded in dark colors, the black sweater and dark pants and leather boots switched for a cream blouse layered atop a maroon, lace up suspender skirt. Wait, that’s...

...blood. Amity’s eyes looked at the blotches of crimson staining the healer’s cream blouse. Is that my blood? Amity reached out to touch, and the healer caught her wrist in a gentle grip, lowering it back down on the... bed, she realized. I’m on a bed.

Reality settled in. Her vision focused. Then she remembers. 

...one twin saves lives, while the other- Amity’s head swivels. 

Mira Rime. Standing stock-still and wordless in the doorway, watching her sister warily and appearing afraid to enter the room. No, not afraid. She can’t. A protection spell was casted over them, Amity realized, the mauve orb keeping the other Rime twin from interfering with the healer, but Amity still recoiled, or tried to, but Elara’s careful hold on her kept her firmly in place. Her eyes still lacked any warmth, though a play of despair and guilt and anguish flitted in the gold of her irises. 

The same face as the healer stood before her, but Amity couldn’t see a speck of similarities between the twins. 

Mira’s eyes bore a cold, empty stare; Elara’s a familiar liquid warmth and soft reassurance Amity didn’t know she needed until it was suddenly gone. If she smiled, Mira’s was as sharp as knives; Elara’s smile was far more potent in person, so soft and real Amity can’t possibly understand how the Blight in her doesn’t temper its radiance. Amity can’t feel Mira’s magical signature with the orb preventing its entry, but she remembers the cold of it; Elara’s weighed down on Amity like a heated blanket, her eyelids drooping under its lulling effect, but she can’t sleep yet. 

“Do you feel any more pain, little one?” Despite the subtle pinch in her features, the softness never left Elara’s tone. “Do you remember what happened?”

Yes. N-no-” Amity said, brow furrowing, her head tilting back slightly. Her thoughts were still scattered. “My head feels...are you okay?” You look sick is what she wanted to say, but the words get jumbled on her tongue. Her entire head still felt fuzzy; her emotions sedated under the effects of Elara’s magic. 

“Just breathe for me,” said Elara, running her fingers around Amity’s skull. “You’ve suffered from blunt force trauma, alongside an illusionist’s spell designed to make the brain feel a pain so intense... hm, I don’t think you want to know the gory details.” It was a clinical assessment, but Elara had a talent for delivering the news as if she were discussing something as simple as the weather. “My magic is still healing the last of it; sleep would be preferable, as any further stimuli could tamper with the healing.” 

Amity shuddered, her eyelids growing heavy. “That wasn’t real?” She slurred. 

“Sleep now, my love,” was the last thing Amity heard. Something slithered next to her cheek, a soft hum letting sleep claim her in its entirety. She welcomed the dark. 

 

//

 

Luz’s eyes traveled around her room.

Her skin was crawling, a cacophony of voices snarling in her head. She felt hyperaware and lethargic at the same time. She sighs and moves closer until she has her head pillowed on Lilith’s shoulder, with her heated forehead pressing against the cool, smooth skin of the older woman’s neck and a slender arm wrapping around her in response. She is aware of what Lilith’s up to, but she can’t say she’s complaining. Hidden agenda or not, Luz Noceda does not turn down cuddles from someone who’s as prickly as a cactus. Bonus points if said cactus-like witch reads her favorite book series to her. The Great Witch Azura!

“Azura was down on her knees, the fight in her burnt down to embers,” Lilith’s voice is saying; she sounds like she’s only half-awake. Which is true, and it’s only a few lines into the next page when Lilith slips into a dreamless sleep -Luz might have dosed her tea when she wasn’t looking with one of Elara’s sleep remedies- and her head drops back on the pillow; the book lies opened and facedown on her chest.

“Lilith?” Luz asks in a quiet whisper. No response comes, so Luz carefully extracts the book from Lilith’s hand and closes it, setting it on her nightstand. Next, she slowly moves Lilith’s hand from around her, inching out of the bed. With Luz, the sleep remedies knock her out cold, but the curse tends to overwhelm them for Lilith; no one ever knows when the elder Clawthorne will suddenly awaken. And Luz can’t chance her waking up just yet.

Luckily, Luz is able to leave the bed without waking Lilith. She quietly scoops up her shoes and her bag, tiptoeing out of her room. She’s easing her door closed when a quiet hoot nearly scares the life out of her. A glance down reveals it’s Owlbert; right beside him is Eda’s staff. 

Luz kneels down. “So you already knew, huh?” She keeps her voice hushed, mindful of other occupants sleeping in the house. Occupants that would stop her at all costs. “You know what I’m asking you to do, right?”

Owlbert nods, nudging the staff closer to her; Luz takes in a steady grip, scooping Owlbert up as she rises to her full height. “Let’s do this.”

I’m sorry, but you left me with no choice. 

 

//

 

“My dear?”

It’s a soft noise, a tone Mira has never permitted another outside of Elara to hear; most of the time, she melts at the sound of it, utterly blindsided by the sheer amount of love Mira has for her twin when she talks like that. Today, it fell on deaf ears. Or maybe she does hear it, just for a second; then disregards it as background noise. Her attention is solely focused on the witchling resting next to her, the mingling of their body heat a constant reassurance Amity is alive. Safe.

She places a careful hand on Amity’s neck, fingers tracing the bruises before a small burst of her magic erases them from existence. Even when she sleeps, Amity has a tiny frown on her face, almost cautious. Asa assures her the physical wound on the back of her head is completely healed, not even a scar left, and he tucks himself under Amity’s neck, the magic infused in him repairing the last of the damage of Mira’s spell. 

If I could save just one… Elara’s seen far worse in her lifetime; she has witnessed the ruthless slaughters and the torture and the pleas of help me -knows the maliciousness her sister has mastered in her spells from her own extensive research into the functions of the mind; all in the name of the Emperor. To remain in his good graces so Elara stays out of his clutches for one more day. Elara’s seen it, yes, but her sister has never attacked unprovoked like this; in a sense, she’s still reeling from the shock of her sister attempting to kill a child in cold blood. And with a spell meant to make one suffer.

It’s maddening, a searing heat that never ceases. It’s not real, though knowing that as fact doesn’t help matters much. Mira’s spell tricks the brain itself into believing the pain is real, and Elara’s never attempted to repair the damage done before, as Mira’s spells were designed with Elara’s healing in mind, and if they can’t be unwound by Elara’s hand, they can’t be by anyone. But, oh, the mere sight of Amity’s face contorting in that oh so familiar pain shattered something in Elara, and she could not let her become another victim of Mira’s senseless killing. So instead of wasting her time attempting to heal what she knows she can't, Elara simply shifted the spell upon herself. 

And what was it all for? Because she’s a Blight? If only she could see what Elara has of Amity’s soul. The witchling is so far removed from her Blight heritage, not a speck of the corruption in sight in the depths of her soul. If Elara didn’t know any better, she’d say Amity was a Rime.  

My fault, she closes her eyes. It’s all my fault this has happened. Again. 

“Are you okay, Elara?” 

I’m sorry is laced in the soft noise; Elara doesn’t want it there. I don’t want to forgive you. Because it’s not her forgiveness that’s needed here. It’s Amity’s. Though, in the end, she knows she’ll forgive her; she always has. Except -this time- there are repercussions for Mira’s actions, as it’s hitting a little too close to the one person that rivals the bond they share. Mira is her sister, her twin, and they’re intertwined to the other in a way that can’t be replicated with another, but Lilith comes so close that it’s enough.

Oh, Lilith. All it took was one look; suddenly everyone else was shades of gray, while Lilith’s a kaleidoscope of color. There’s an inherent warmth in being around someone you love in all the ways one can love another, Elara decides. It’s in her voice -in the look in her eyes- that just makes Elara feel so pleasantly warm from the inside out that it makes it easier to live this life of bloodshed and tears and secrets. Eleven-year-old Elara didn’t yet know that someday her life would be turned upside down -all she was certain of then was that Lilith was it; there could be no other for her- but the Elara of now couldn’t be more appreciative of the flood of dopamine that’s released by the mere thought of the other woman. 

For Lilith, Elara is selfish, which isn’t all that fair to Mira. It is, after all, her fault Mira’s in this life or death situation in the first place. 

(“When I give the command to your sister, Miss Rime, I want you to save them all. You’re the most powerful healer on the Isles, no? Succeed and you’re both free to walk out of here; fail and you wear my mark and cement your dear Mira’s fate as mine. So what will it be?”) She snips the memory in the bud before it can fully bloom behind her eyes, because it isn’t going to do her any favors here. She always says dwelling on the past halts any progress moving forward, and though she stands by it, even Elara has moments where she stumbles on her path, when she realizes it’s starting to wear her down; wondering how much longer she can keep taking it one day at a time. But there are so many on the Isles who need her; so many who are suffering in a way she can’t ever hope to fathom. She has failed many in her life, but she’ll atone their deaths by saving another in their place. Because Elara can’t save them all, but she won’t lose them all. 

“Don’t go silent on me, Elara. I don’t like it.”

Elara rubs her neck; it’s oddly stiff, her fingers brushing the raised skin there. “Mm,” she breathes out before swinging her legs over the side of the bed, wavering slightly. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Mira.” She replies, swaying. Her head was splitting open; Elara pinched the bridge of her nose to abate the pain a little. She almost doesn’t notice it when Mira twitches from her place in the doorway, the need to be closer to her sister not lost on Elara. She couldn’t not notice her sister if she tried; Mira was the silence in a room full of noise. And as much as she ached to be as close to her sister as Mira to her, Elara would not allow her anywhere near Amity. 

“My-” Mira stopped and shook her head. “Talk to me. How bad is the pain? How far have you pushed yourself already today before this little stunt? Let me-”

“No.” The word stung, not only for Mira, but herself. She releases her nose. “Touch her in any capacity again, and I swear, Mira, I will-” she made to get up, but wavers dangerously. That was a mistake. The room started spinning and a wave of nausea brought her close to losing what little she had in her stomach. Her knees buckle, and in the blink of an eye, Mira stands before her. 

In her lack of concentration, the orb had been dispelled. 

In one fluid motion, Mira slid her hands underneath and around Elara’s body, lifting her up into her arms as if she’ll break if she isn’t careful. “You did,” Mira hisses, and Elara unconsciously presses her face into her shoulder. “Why bother worrying over the Emperor, when you’re digging your own grave all on your own.”

“I’m fine.” Elara was not fine in the slightest. She was light headed and dizzy and every inch of her head was throbbing, but Amity had suffered far worse than her. Will still suffer for it. “Put me down. I can walk on my own.” 

“I’d like to see you try,” instead of following through with her words, Mira cradled her closer. She carried her twin out of the bedroom as quickly as she could manage, mindful of her steps down the stairs lest she wanted to lose her balance and slip the rest of the way down. She brought her into the living room where she carefully hovered her over the leather, wingback chair.

“Here,” Mira said, lowering her down onto the seat and quickly rushed over to the kitchen, the sound of running water grating in Elara’s ears. She pinches the bridge of her nose in another futile attempt to cease the pain hammering away in her head. Mira certainly does not play around with her spells. 

She doesn’t hear her sister’s return, her steps hushed on the floorboards, but her magic gently prods at Elara’s in the familiar way it always has. Mira’s scent clings to the air as she sweeps closer and brackets her arms on either side of Elara, lowering down to look directly at her face. Elara doesn’t need to look to know her sister’s attempting to pick her apart. 

Elara releases her nose and draws her palm under Mira’s jaw. She opens her mouth, but in the same way she knows her sister, Mira knows her. 

“Don’t.” In a flash, Mira reaches for the hand under her jaw, her fingers curling around her sister’s wrist, and shifts closer until she has her forehead pressed against Elara’s. “Don’t say what I think you’re going to say,” she breathes out sharply. “Do you even realize how scared I was? My spells aren’t to be trifled with, Elara. They could very well kill you. Why would you do that?

Elara sighs. “I did what I had to,” it’s a truth, though her sister still eyes her with skepticism. “I don’t know,” a sort of lie, because she can’t quite put into words what she felt from the moment her eyes caught sight of Amity Blight, but there was the maternal affection of my child blended in that Mira would not understand. “She’s just a little girl, Mira. A little girl in desperate need of love. Harmless.

Mira knocks her forehead sharply against her sister’s. “Have you taken one too many blows to the head, sister?” She questions, a snarled edge in her words. “Need I remind you it was a seemingly harmless child who fooled you into dropping your guard once before?”

“Mira,” Elara warns. Don’t go there. But her sister isn’t listening. 

No, Elara, you don’t get to keep doing this,” Mira clenches her jaw tight enough for Elara to feel the muscles twitch beneath her fingertips. “I almost lost you. Do you know what that did to me, to see you so close to death?” She shook her head, clearly trying to sort through her emotions. “To watch you mourn over the one responsible?” Elara’s frown didn’t stop the flow of words from her sister. “To look at me like I was the enemy when all I was doing was protecting you.” 

Elara blinked back the tears that were suddenly in her eyes as she tried to draw in a breath. “Protecting me? Is that what we’re calling it?” She manages to gasp out between clenched teeth. Stop, this isn’t me. I’m not this person. But wasn’t it? “You played judge, jury, and executioner before she could even defend herself.” Her body felt paralyzed, numb, cold. She didn’t notice the trembling in her hands until Mira clasped them both in hers. “You took her choice away; almost did the same to Amity, so if anyone doesn’t keep getting to do this it’s you.”

Mira’s gaze never wavered. “You’re too soft,” she said, looking angry and hurt. Scared. “The Isles’ secrets are written out for your eyes to see, but you’re so damn blind where it matters. Useless. Ignorant like the rest of them.” She squeezes Elara’s hands like they’re her lifeline. “I do this because you can’t. I keep you alive, because one of us has to.”

“I don’t want to keep living if it means a stack of bodies follow me for the rest of my life,” Elara smiles thinly. “Her life mattered; Amity’s life matters. Children are the future of the Isles, Mira; I’m soft for them because I’ve seen what this world has done to them; how it’s turned them into weapons for the Emperor by the very hands meant to cherish them, love them. No one should have the power to decide who lives and who dies, like one life is worth less than another. Because all lives matter. ”

“If all life matters,” Mira blinks, now lost entirely. “Then shouldn’t you want to live? Your life matters. You’ve single-handedly altered the course of the healing arts; uprooted its very foundation and planted a new growth into the soil. You. None of that would have come to fruition if others hadn’t died in your place.”

Oh,” a false laugh rang out. “I highly doubt that, my dear. There will always come someone better; there’s going to be a day a witchling comes along and suddenly I will be in their shadow. And I welcome the thought with open arms, because it means the Isles’ future is a bright one.” 

“You can’t mean that.”

“But I do.”

It’s not reassuring, Elara thinks, the way Mira’s lips thin; watches her, uncomprehending, but keeps Elara’s hands in hers. She came to a conclusion of her own; her only response: “Did you want to keep her? Keep this Blight?” Like their pets. She released a hand and brought it up to brush a lock of hair behind her ear, fingers lingering on her twin’s cheek. “If it’s children you want, my dear, I can find you one much better suited for you. Just give me the word.”

(“I’m numb inside; I don’t feel things like I know I should, and the only time I do feel something it’s because of you. I might be your silence, but you’re my noise.”) Right. Elara tilted her head back, dislodging Mira’s hand from her cheek. “That’s not what I want, Mira,” She knitted her brows together in frustration. She hated the anger pulsing under her skin; it wasn’t in her nature to succumb to it, but there was something about Amity that flipped a switch in her. A roaring in her that called to protect. 

Mira frowned, still so lost it physically hurt to see. “Oh.”

“Besides, my life isn’t exactly fit for children, now is it?” She felt a smirk nudge itself in place, unable to help it. “Well, unless Lilith decides she wants them. Then, by all means, I’d give her as many as she wants.” Because Lilith makes me want things I can’t have. Selfish in ways everyone else can freely be. 

Mira lowered back down, the palms of her hands resting on Elara’s knees. “Lilith makes a fool of you, Elara,” She huffs. “More than you already are.” One hand abandons its perch to reach for a wet cloth Elara failed to notice before. “A number of suitors were lined up for your hand; you could’ve been married by now, with kids of your own; happy,” she takes hold of Elara’s hand, the one caked in dried blood. Amity’s blood. “Instead you chase after someone I’d sooner bury in the ground than ever find suitable as a mate. Why even bother? She’s hurt you.”

You hurt me as well,” Over and over again. Elara’s voice was soft, almost gentle, as she asserted, “As I have hurt you, because sometimes we hurt the ones we love. It’s just in our nature, but we also forgive.”

Mira brushes the cloth against Elara’s skin, the sure, gentle administrations at odds with the confusion etched into her features. “Do I even deserve your forgiveness?” She questions; hesitates as she trains her eyes on the floor, steadfastly refusing to meet Elara’s gaze. “You form such attachments to the people in your life, and I know I’ve hurt you by taking so many from you. But the only attachment I have is you, and I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.” 

“Oh, Mira,” Elara breathes, her smile sad. I know. That’s what hurts me. 

Mira lifts her eyes, a hard glint reflecting in the golden hue. “If it came down to you or them, it’s you, without question, every single time. I’ll hurt you a thousand more times for it, I know it.” She pauses, deliberating. “I’m almost glad I can’t love anyone else; it’s just a weakness to be exploited, and I’m compromised by you as it is.” 

Weak. He’s done that to you. Elara stared at Mira intently, watching the flicker of emotions reflect in her sister’s eyes. She pursed her lips together in silent deliberation. You’d be free if it weren’t for me. “I love you,” Elara said, taking a hold of her sister’s hands, the cloth squeezed between their palms. “And loving someone isn’t a weakness, my love. It’s those who’d use it against us that are weak.”

Mira leveled her with a cold, glassy stare, studying her carefully. “You’re my equal, Elara,” she said quietly, almost clinically. “I’ll end all life on the Isles if I lost you.” She pauses, separating their hands, her eyes downcast. “And it may very well come to that.”

What? Elara blinks a few times. “I beg your pardon?”

Mira levels her with a look Elara can’t quite read before dropping her gaze again. “We’re on the brink of war, my dear.” 

Another blink. “Okay, I know the families have grown restless in recent years,” Elara murmurs, not quite sure where her sister is going with this. “Whatever had swayed them in the beginning has lost its power over time, but to say a war is brewing? What of the Emperor?” 

Mira is silent for a moment. “The Emperor has never been worried about it before,” she allots. “The High Council is powerful enough to annihilate all that lives on the Isles, and with the one witch actually powerful enough to stand against us crippled by a curse, one would think he’d continue to not worry about the families and their petty squabbles.” Her eyes lift to meet Elara’s. “Imagine my astonishment when I learned he’s nervous.”

Elara tilts her head. “Nervous? The Emperor? You’re joking.”

“Not joking,” Mira replies wryly, getting up. “He’s been working on something these last two years. The High Council has been stretched thin across the Isles in search of its pieces.” Elara follows her with her eyes as she strolls back into the kitchen. “I’m assuming it’s almost finished now, as he’s called us all back. We’re to have an audience with him in the morning.”

Elara winced as the water ran again. “Explains why you’re here,” she ran shaking fingers over her brow. Elara’s magic was still attempting to dilute her sister’s, but it was taking time. “I wasn’t meant to see you until tomorrow.”

No comment followed after her words. Mira walked back towards her, and when she moved to stand, her sister’s hand sunk on Elara’s shoulder to hold her in place; her nails dug into the material of her blouse. “There’s more,” The words were a quiet whisper, but rather than soothe her, they launched a slow simmer of panic in Elara, because Mira only used that tone when she knew what she says next will do to her sister. “I had to kill sixteen children yesterday.” A pause. “ All of them Blights.”

Elara stiffened. “Sixteen?” A worried sadness seeped into her tone, mirroring the expression in her eyes as she lifted her gaze to her sister. “Why, Mira?”

Mira seemed to understand what she was asking, as she was no longer capable of looking at her. She lowered her head in shameful guilt. Elara knew her sister well enough to know it wasn’t for the lives she took -they never meant anything to Mira, just flesh and bone made animated; all threats to Elara in her eyes. It’s the awareness of the anguish it causes for Elara to know Mira so ruthlessly takes lives for her benefit. To keep Elara alive. 

“They found out,” Mira snapped, the edge of her anger wavering in the face of her distraught twin. “I don’t know how they found out, but they did, and I couldn’t let them find you out.”

Elara reached up and touched Mira’s face, hooking her thumb and finger on Mira’s chin and forcing her down to be at eye level with her, because continuously tilting her head up was horrible for the pain drumming in her head. “What are you talking about? What did they find out? And why did they need to die for it?” She couldn’t get a read on her sister; Mira was one of the few who knew how to block the All-Knowing Sight. “Mira?”

In a deadpan, Mira answered. “The death glyphs.”

Elara felt the bottom drop out, and a wave of vertigo washed over her. It hurts. She clutches her head with both hands and leans forward, breathing heavily. She can feel Asa’s concern rippling in her magic, but she orders him to remain with Amity.

(“You’re the most powerful healer on the Isles, no?”) She squeezed her eyes shut. (“I want you to save them all.”) She could feel her body shaking, could hear Mira’s voice speaking to her but the words were distorted, as if she were speaking from a vast distance. Spots danced and sparkled before her eyes, the searing in her head amplifying at the sound of that voice ricocheting between her ears. Stop, she wants to beg, though she doesn’t know who it’s meant for. (“I’m sorry! I- this is all my fault. Please...I should’ve known.”)

“Elara!” A touch on her shoulder snapped her back to reality, and she jerked her shoulder away, a gasp escaping her as the muscles wrenched. Mira’s hands didn’t hesitate to clutch the sides of her face, her sharp, sharp gaze flitting between concern and righteous fury. “Don’t go silent on me, Elara,” she commands. Pleads. Talk to me. Do you need me to block it?”

Yes. “No,” She manages to gasp out between gritted teeth. She feels a soft touch and realizes that Mira’s combing her fingers through her hair. Gentle, trembling strokes. “My magic is still warring with yours,” she admits, reluctantly. “Why did you have to be so efficient with your spells, my love? You’re killing me.” Quite literally. She shakes her head. “Are the others compromised?” She breathes out through the pain. Tell me they’re safe. 

Mira’s face is twisted into concern and something else. “No,” the word was calm, in an obvious attempt to console Elara. “We made sure none made it out of there alive with the information, but they still hold the knowledge the glyphs exist and will attempt it again.” She paused, wordlessly pulling her sister close to rest her forehead against Elara’s temple, comforting her in the only way she’s ever known how to. “It’s most likely one of the reasons why the Emperor has called us back.”

“I don’t understand the Blights.” The fire in Elara’s chest roars, anger licking hot again. How many of the younger generation has she watched be withered down to nothing but their parents’ clones? All of their potential going down the drain in the families’ ever burning desire to prove their better than the other. “Why send children into a viper’s nest? They never stood a chance against any of you.” 

“They must have thought we’d hesitate,” Mira assumes, her voice is toneless, dead, unwavering. “They ought to have known we wouldn’t hesitate to protect the identities of our loved ones.”

Control the High Council and you control the fate of the Isles. The room is spinning and Elara has to sink her teeth into her lip as she fights a wave of nausea and pain. She knocks her forehead into Mira’s to dispel the pain for a second. “What would the Emperor do in that situation? Killing us himself would result in you willingly annihilating him, but letting you be controlled by another…” She trails off; she doesn’t want to dwell on the fact her fate lies in the hands of those seeking power.  

Mira closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “I don’t know,” her voice is hoarse, and even in her state, Elara can sense the panic and urgency in it. “It’s why, I must admit, I snapped on the Blight girl up there,” she continues in a whisper. “After yesterday...I would sooner give my life than let any harm come to you, Elara. That is an absolute truth. And if I lose you, the Isles will feel-”

“No,” Elara interrupted her with two fingers on her lips, and her sister continues to look at her with those sharp, sharp eyes. “I’m not in any real danger of dying yet, my love.” That is a bit of a lie, she’ll admit to herself. Elara is the Isles most powerful healer, yes, but when it comes to spell casting, Mira wins by a landslide; up against Mira’s magic, Elara is losing. But that’s a concern for later.

“You never take this seriously,” Mira says with an expression of disbelief. Something lurked in her eyes, but what Elara didn’t know. “The Emperor may very well execute an order tomorrow to hide you somewhere I will not even know the knowledge of. What if he decides protecting you isn’t worth it? What if he kills you and leads me to believe you’re still alive?”

Oh, I don’t doubt that’s his intention. Elara worried her sister’s bottom lip with her thumb, a futile attempt to dislodge the frown permanently affixed on her face. “We can waste our time on what-ifs if that’s what you want,” she drew back. “Or you can hear me out about a potential lead on the Clawthorne sisters’ curse.” Because however this plays out I don’t think I’m going to make it, but they can end Belos once and for all. End the cycle of death. 

Mira’s eyes narrow, a calculated look in her eyes, but Elara’s a master of concealing the truth -perks of a lifetime of studying others. Momentarily thwarted, Mira rests her chin on her palm, her elbow braced on the armrest of the chair. “And how do you figure? We’ve combed the Isles for answers and have found none.”

Elara closed her eyes, her head tipped back against the back of the chair. “Apparently,” She hums. “There’s a tomb in The Ribs only a human can access.”

“Human,” Mira parroted. “As in Edalyn Clawthorne’s little pet? The one you gave your scroll to?” The I’m still angry about that went unsaid. 

“The very one,” Elara quips, opening her eyes. “And Luz isn’t a pet.” She stares at her sister blankly; her voice shifting to chilly and hard. At this moment, you couldn’t tell the twins apart. “You’re on thin ice as it is, Mira. Under no circumstances are you allowed to harm that girl, and if you do, understand that I will do everything in my power to keep her safe.” Because Lilith loves her, and I will not let anyone take from her again.

Mira is silent for a moment, weighing her options before she replies. “So long as she doesn’t endanger you, I won’t harm her.” And it’s the most Elara can hope for, honestly, but it doesn’t settle the unease in the healer.

Suddenly, Mira’s head shoots up, swiveling to look in the direction of the front door, her lips pressing into a thin line. She’s hoisting herself to her feet not longer after, shifting in front of Elara, almost defensive. “Were you expecting anyone else today?” She questions, keeping her attention on the door. 

“Not that I can recall,” Elara answers, reaching a hand up to grasp her sister’s wrist in a warning, because what if it’s one of her patients on the other side? It certainly won’t be the first time they’ve shown up unannounced and in need of her. I won’t be able to protect them if Mira attacks.

“Then-”

Mira’s interrupted by a loud smack of Elara’s front door slamming into the wall as it's forcefully thrown open in whoever’s haste to get in, and Elara clutches her head at the sheer volume of it. The noise that comes out of her throat is half howl, half sob, and all parts wounded. Mira responds to it, shifting further in front of Elara to block her from what she’s perceived as a threat, her magic crackling in the air; poised to strike.

“Elara?!”

Luz. “Mira, no...” Her voice is rough, wet and thick, but Mira isn’t listening to her anymore. And because she is so useless right now, all she can do is sit here and watch her sister go on the offense; without even assessing the situation, Mira's staff materializes, the twin palisman to Elara's baring its fangs, and she lunges. 

NO!