3: The first deformity

As my life grew into routine, I decided that I was going to drown in work if I do not obtain a statuette – fast. They were a staple in marketplaces and stores, and I guess I was just nervous about wrecking it to not get one till now, a year or more after my first departure. I could have bought a cheap one in a rather secluded section of the market, but I thought a handmade one would serve me better.

Besides, it'll be fun.

I decided against asking Phlox for advice. Sure, he was my neighbor, but we weren't to the fond grandfather-granddaughter stage yet. Nor will we ever be. After some careful research in the town archives, I had an amateur's idea of how to form one. It sounded simple enough: enchant some clay (child's work) and mold it into a desired shape, cast a circle around and it and chant the instructions. Easily accomplished.

Clay could be found anywhere, from the banks of the Great River to a vendor in the street. I wanted my statuette to be unique so I decided to go mud-gathering in a nearby fork in the stream. Five hours later, covered from head to toe in filth, I got what I wanted. The mud felt cool and slimy to the touch, perfect to magic. I was so excited I felt like dancing on the way home: one more accomplishment to prove the cynics wrong.

On my doorstep I found a small box with no letter attached. Upon opening it (mind you, I had cleaned up first) I found a golden heart half of the size of my hand. I stopped and considered its values: it might become an added ingredient for my statuette. Placing it on the table, I set about modeling the statuette.

People used called these things 'golems', but times change and names never last more than one lifetime. It's just how things work. But the art form still survived, and is used this very day as guards and assistants. Very useful: they're sentient enough to understand, but not enough to rebel. The perfect combination.

Sadly, I was having trouble shaping my own. One side was drooping with two much water, the other thick and crusted already. And that was just the clay's state. The figure itself resembled half a monkey, half a bird, not even close to the raccoon I was going for. One eye was almost as large as my thumb, the other as small as a pinprick. The legs were a mismatched ugly mess. I was beginning to panic.

With this trial an utter and complete failure I opted for the only choice I saw before me, the instructions forgotten and damned. Grabbing the gold heart, I split it in half and gave one to my statuette. The jolt of life was so spontaneous and sudden that I jumped back as the clay breathed. It slowly turned its head towards me and croaked:

"Heberstleke? Memansstioem lasdiosne."

I gulped and backed away from its gibberish. It was obviously trying to tell me something, but I couldn't comprehend anything. This day was not getting any better, and I had no choice but to stuff it into the closet, slamming the door shut with a hysteric scream. I wanted to break down and cry at my utter failure. Too bad someone started knocking on the door serendipitously at that moment.

I quickly tried to make myself presentable and, failing at that, grabbed the clay bucket and opened the door. Two soldiers stiff and blank stared coldly at me from their hats.

"Uh, yes?" I said.

"Miss Lure?" One barked. It looked like every word was going to sound like that coming from those mouths.

"That's me."

"Come with us," said the other. "There's an emergency at the palace."

I was hyperventilating as I was lead into a carriage, to go to the palace. It was an issue concerning the queen's young son, they told me. Something about a near-death situation, or an unexplained illness. I was too busy admiring the view, and daydreaming about what the castle really looks like. It's a rare sight for commoners like me to behold, so used to tiny cottages and a town setting. The castle rose at the bottom of a tall mountain, appearing like another mountain in the range. My breath was duly stolen as I was lead towards the tall ornate front doors and into the bustling hallway.

I walked down hallways and byways, entranced by this miniature city. Servants bustled about their jobs, while refined ladies and gents walked through the throng with their noses high up in the air. In my cloak that I just barely grabbed and still lugging around a bucket of clay, I felt out of place and awkward. Thankfully my head was preoccupied with a nurse who came and informed me of the situation.

"The young princess's son, Arden, is almost delirious with an unexplained illness. It's possible that, if you do not intervene, he may not survive to morrow."

I bit my lip as we entered the nursery. In there lay a small boy of no more than four years, writhing in pain. I stepped into the room's cool air, silent. I could feel death somewhere deep inside my bones.

"Do what you can, miss. You are the first good witch we've had in a while, and the royal family's placed the highest trust onto you." With that, I was alone with a boy who was so close to becoming a corpse.

I didn't know how to start. I stroked his hair, and whispered healing words that worked for minor injuries like a scraped knee or a bad back. Nothing. After an hour of that I knew nothing was being done, and tried different tactics. No amount of chanting or singing, or any marks that I drew upon the curtains, floor, and boy did anything to improve the child's state. And that's when all hell broke loose.

I was holding his hand as he muttered words of madness, words reminding me of my own failed statuette. And then, when I took away my hand to wipe away the sweat gathering on my forehead, the most curious thing was on it. It felt like clay, but was warm and flesh-colored. I resisted screaming as I looked back at the boy. His entire frame, from his head to his feet, was slowly melting, like wax near a flame. Moments later and he would have been gone.

In panic I threw down the bucket of clay and quickly started trying to reshape everything using the clay I had gathered only this morning. Sadly, with emergencies my craftsmanship has not improved, and soon his face was as misshapen as my attempts this morning.

It seemed as if history was repeating itself twice in one day. My body felt disconnected with my consciousness: I was viewing the entire event outside of time and space. I watched as I searched my person for the half of a golden heart. The girl pressed it to the boy's chest, and I looked away as his body gave a heavy jerk. He was alive, but so deformed he could hardly be called human. Then I snapped back inside my body, just in time as the princess and the nurse rushed into the room.

"What have you done?!" the princess shrieked, and slapped me hard. Choking back tears, I quickly bade a needed farewell and fled the castle, covered in clay, flesh, and perhaps blood.

That night, the only sound heard was the failed statuette's gibberish sounding through the closet, about the house, and echoing inside my soul.