Stone & Ivy

Stone & Ivy

"Come on! Wake up!" Alvaine violently shook Shuna awake, her voice a hiss so as not to wake anyone else. Her eyes were unusually large, and every once in a while she would look around and listen to the night's noises; she wasn't sure if she had been heard or not, and now was not the time to be caught for running about near midnight.

Her sister's eyes fluttered open for half a moment, only to droop back down and, to all appearances, went back to sleep. Alvaine made an impatient noise and pinched her nose. "Go 'way." The girl mumbled, rolling over. "Lemme 'lone."

"No, you twit! Not tonight! Shuna, the moons are full."

Flipping the covers and hopping out of the bed, she exclaimed, "Well, why didn't you say so! Let's pull on our jackets and go!"

Alvaine put a finger to her lips, her serious expression emphasized by the moonlight filtering through the window's cracks to her face. "Hush, sister. Do you want the mistress to hear?"

Shuna looked down. "Sorry," She mumbled, usually mischievous grin fading.

"I'm sorry I snapped," The twin said soothingly. "Just a bit nervous; you wouldn't believe how bright daughter moon is. It's a sign; I know it. We have to get to the forest, and quick."

Smirking widely, Shuna tossed off her nightgown, pulled on tomboy's breeches and tunic, and raced Alvaine down out of their cramped, stale-air room.

It was a relief to escape the musty odors and get a whiff of regular, midnight's air for the two. Dust had settled upon the floor, but there was enough of a draft that it didn't matter much, and Shuna and Alvaine had better things on their mind than easy breathing.

"Do you think it'll work?" Shuna asked excitedly as they took to the staircase. "I mean, do you think we could do it? The entire thing? Just us?"

"It has to work." Alvaine replied grimly as she lifted her patched skirts to leap the last flight of steps, eyes cold. "It just has to."

The twins raced down the cobble-stoned path through the garden and turned back to look upon their- their mistress's- house.

The moonlight above made it look serene, almost inviting. Those who lived about the place knew better; it was well known by most everyone that Mistress Sarra was quite horrible to her servants, and just about anyone else she happened to come by. Rather Victorian and painted lovely shades of forest's green, the white trim and gray-tinged door made it look almost... normal. Almost.

"Shall we be off then?" Shuna grinned. The girl, all of fourteen, was always a bit reckless, and never stood for her twin's reminiscing and deep thought when there was fun and adventure to be had. "I'll be old as the Goddess if we keep going at this rate."

Alvaine sighed, smirked, and raced down the hidden path to the hidden clearing not far off.

There was enough dim light about that they could make each other out well enough to see obvious expressions, and each other's basic facial features. Not like they needed to; exact, identical twins, Shuna and Alvaine had the same almond-shaped, startling vivid leaf-green eyes with specks of odd silver. Indeed, they also had the same red-brown, loose curled hair and smooth features and slightly long face. Their build, too, was the same: tall, thin, and supple as a reed. Their skin, rarely seen under all the dirt and grime of a day's work, was well tanned and, save many a freckle, flawless. No one could tell them apart.

That, of course, was used to their advantage. There was many a time when the pair used magic tricks and slight of hand for an extra copper pence or silver noble. Also, it was not uncommon for a guard to chase after a small peasant girl that had made off with a bag of apples and run into a crowd, only to see her run in two opposite directions. Shuna in particular loved the time when they teamed up to trick the man at the stables into paying both wages and a tip when they had both only done half the work of anyone else. The horse master swore after that to stop drinking entirely, not for the last, or first, time.

But even if the town folk could not tell one from the other, it was well known that both were shunned from most any public meeting. It was obvious they had a close bond with one another, and the fact that their mother had died giving birth was not a good sign. Everyone, including the twins, believed them to be etriels; magic in their blood, and, therefore, evil and demon-like. Of course, none of this could be proved, but that did not stop angry glances and turning heads at street corners. Still, Shuna and Alvaine were impervious to jibes and prejudices. Which, of course, made them still more hated. Their being unpenetrated by harsh words and deeds unsettled the people, and, as all humans will, they began to hate what they did not understand.

"Dodge that vine, Alvaine."

"Done."

They were nearly to the clearing, and the usual absentminded warnings of stone and root came up, a casual warning of what was coming up next. Every so once in a while, Shuna would mutter something like 'Thorn-bushes to the left,' while Alvaine would leap over a hidden boulder shaded by the overhanging branches. They had once, long ago, begun to notice such things. It was then they wondered if the often mutterings of 'etriel' behind their back were true.

"It's right around this bend, right?"

"What're you talking about? The clearing's beyond the second hill with the stream. You know that." Alvaine frowned.

"No, the spot where we found the Cave. We really should get to cleaning that up, you know." Shuna sighed ruefully.

Alvaine rolled her eyes. "We did, two sevendays ago, but then we had to tend to the Mistress's horses, remember?" She smirked. "I swear, it's like this whole forest is magic sometimes."

Indeed, the Cave of which they spoke of had been found almost a moon's phase ago. Hidden in a curtain of vine and ivy, the small haven had the echoing of the nearby waterfall and intruding sunlight from between the cracks of the strong, stone ceiling. Save some long-abandoned bird nests and weeds, neither of which were problems, the place didn't need much work at all. That was the only real place in particular where they could rush off and talk or explore.

That and the clearing.

Both twins grinned; they knew they were nearly there. Shuna's face turned to a wide grin and took a whiff of the night's scents, and Alvaine sighed a breath of relief at the feeling of security and safety from the rest of the world. Taking the creek at full pace and beating it, the pair looked lovingly around. This was their haven.

This was home.

The Mistress often beat and starved her two main servants for being late out where they couldn't hear her calling bell. They were busy caring for that small clearing at the top of the hill, safe from anyone approaching; you'd see them come. Safe from anyone listening; you'd hear them breathe. No sound was safe from the echoing copse filled with that strange light. By morn or lazy afternoon, it was daylight, and by evening and midnight it was star and moonlight that gave that eerie glow to everything. A strange tingling went through them, as it always did, and the hair on the back of their necks rose slightly.

At a quick glance it was just short grass, much moss, and a great amount of willows surrounding the clearing. Their branches leaned to the center to lend a spot to put a jacket or lie upon lazily. The stars could be seen that clear night, along with both moons, shining as beautifully as either child had ever seen them. Breath was taken and chests clenched at the clearing. The clearing full of magic.

Shuna looked around anxiously. "Now?" She asked tentatively.

Alvaine sighed and took a breath; the earth called to her. "Now."

The held each other's hands so tightly the blood's flow was cut off. They closed their eyes in unison and concentrated on the center of the clearing. They concentrated on the magic core that seemed to lie deep beneath the ground.

Two different things were happening in each of them. Alvaine's mind drifted to stone and rock, making it grow and alter how she pleased. To make it rise up and form what she wished. Shuna, on the other hand, thought wistfully of fern and tree, twisting roots and growing vines. How they'd bend to her will, swaying in the breeze and always bearing that lovely scent of green growing things.

The magic responded. Though they could not hear it with drumming ears nor see it with tightly shut eyes, a small stone hand wrapped in ivy sprouted out of the center of the clearing, as if a rock human seventeen feet tall were trying to escape from its dark prison. The fingers were wide and outspread as if trying to catch the moons so high above it. It grew and stretched to the stars, and stretching hours passed before both sisters tired and could no longer keep their minds focused.

Shuna was the first to gasp. The rock and vine-made tower stretched higher than thirty feet, and dwarfed the two by its size. As if alive, the hand closed its fingers, which melted together to make a lookout with what appeared to be clearstone windows.

A mage's tower.