"Tender handed stroke a nettle,And it stings you for your pains;Grasp it like a man of mettle,And it soft as silks remains"
- Aaron Hill, Verses Written on a Window
Their spell for charming bits of jewelry went well. Alice charmed both a necklace and a bracelet, while Isabella charmed a bracelet and a pair of earrings. They also made sure to charm a bracelet for Rachel. They made sure to test them. The easiest way to do it was for them to wear the jewelry, and then do something potentially dangerous. Alice elected the easiest way to test her necklace, by turning on the stove and reaching towards the flame. The closer her hand got towards the flame, the hotter her necklace became.
Once they made sure all the charms worked, Isabella returned to her room to do actual studying, while Alice stayed in her attic reading about familiars.
She read about different ways to acquire one, and about their shape shifting abilities, and how familiars can both channel magic and use their own.
After about an hour of reading though, the Witchscript started to blur before her eyes, which meant she was getting tired. As a result, she stopped her reading, ending at the end of paragraph about taming familiars. It said that while a witch and familiar can eventually bond and become very close, when a witch first meets a familiar, they must prove their strength and courage, and prove that they deserve to have the familiar's loyalty.
With a sigh she returned the book to its place in her sock drawer, buried underneath numerous pairs of knee-high argyle socks. Then she flopped back down onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. And slowly she drifted into a light slumber.
When she woke up two hours later, her mind was in that semi-awake state where if you're having a dream, you can sort of remember it, and see it in your mind's eye. Of course for her, that semi-awake state had much more depth. It was in that state that she saw strange flashes, the sorts of dreams that people go online and consult dream dictionaries for.
Isabella said it was the start of foresight or something similar, but Alice wasn't sure. And to be extremely honest, it didn't matter overmuch to her what exactly it was. It was just another part of being herself, and she was moderately content with it.
After sitting up, she spent a grand total of fourteen minutes contemplating her dream, which had been of a calico tortoiseshell cat sitting on top of her magic book. And she did not have a cat. Some dreams, she decided eventually, were just dreams.
She went down from the attic and to her cousin's room.
"Bellie?" she called.
"Yeah, just a second." Alice could hear Isabella pushing her chair back. The door opened and her cousin peeked out. "Yes?"
"I'm starving. Let's have dinner."
They ate in the dining room, which in Alice's opinion felt even emptier than usual with Aunt Rachel still at work. After dinner, Isabella went back to her room, while Alice sat down on the couch to watch the news.
Watching the news had become one of her obsessions since the witch-hunting had started. It allowed her to keep track of how serious the situation was in other places, which allowed her to gauge how far things might escalate here once people got more bold in their accusations.
" This is Janet Johnson reporting to you live from Grand Central Station, where the police have just apprehended Monica Roberts, a fugitive who escaped yesterday from the Bronx Detainment facility where those accused of witchcraft in New York are held."
Alice watched the screen unhappily. The news failed to mention that Monica was a single mother of four, and that the treatment the prisoners received in the Bronx facility violated a good number of previously highly-regarded laws. She watched as two members of SWAT escorted Janet Johnson to a heavily armored transport truck that had the Bronx facility logo on the side.
"This is the fifth breakout from the Bronx Witch Containment Facility this month, and with this rise in breakouts, many citizens fear that dastardly plans are in the works-" Alice muted the TV angrily. "Who the hell says 'dastardly' anymore?" she demanded.
She chucked the remote at the wall and sat fuming in silence as another news alert flashed across the screen, this one of a senator in Chicago inciting what looked suspiciously like a rioting mob. After ten minutes of angry silence she got up and retrieved the remote, and changed the channels until she happened upon a nature documentary. She clicked off the mute and spent the next half-hour learning about mountain goats.
Eventually though, she felt asleep on the couch.
In her dreams, she wandered.
At first she was walking through fog, and then she was walking on a cobblestone road through the fog. Eventually the road led her to a house, but it was a deserted house, and strange looking, as if it belonged to another world. But looking at it, she could feel a presence within. She walked closer, feeling oddly drawn to whatever was inside.
As she approached the what seemed to be the front door, it opened with a creak, allowing here to see inside the dimly lit house.
She cautiously entered, and peered around in the gloom.
'So you're finally here.' A voice said. 'I was worried you'd never come.'
Alice turned in the entryway, trying to see where the voice came from.
"Who's there?" she asked, feeling nervous.
'I've been waiting for you.' The voice said. 'And you've been looking for me, though you don't realize it.'
"Where are you?" she asked, now curious. The voice definitely feminine.
'I'm here' the voice said. And Alice looked down.
And saw a tortoiseshell cat, though some might call it calico for the white.
"You're a cat." Alice said, staring.
'No,' the cat said, looking amused. 'I'm not.'
"You look like a cat."
'And you look like an ordinary human. You should know better than to judge based on appearances.'
Alice blinked, but didn't say anything, and instead looked around. "Where am I?" she asked eventually.
'Wraithworld.' the cat answered promptly. 'The world of the Familiars.'
Alice turned to stare at the cat again. "Familiars?"
The cat smiled.
"You're a familiar." Alice realized, looking at the cat. "I'm not really dreaming, am I?"
'You are asleep in your world.' The cat said. 'But while you are asleep there, you can be awake and aware in other worlds, like this one.' The cat frowned. 'You should have been here sooner. I was waiting.'
"Uh….sorry?" she offered.
The cat smiled again. 'It was no fault of yours. Something must have blocked my Calls to you.'
"Calls?" Alice repeated.
'Every true witch must have a Familiar. I am yours.' A sly smile now. 'If you can earn me.'
"Earn you?" Alice asked, now thoroughly confused.
'Some Familiars want to be coaxed, others simply wish for a test of strength.'
"And you?" Alice asked cautiously.
'This house is a labyrinth.' The cat informed her. 'And an abstract one at that. Find your way to its center, and I will be yours.'
And then the cat vanished.
Alice stood staring where the cat had been, and then looked around. It was only then that she noticed how the door had closed behind her.
"Wonderful," she muttered. "That's great."
Walking forward, she entered the next door, and instead of a hallway leading to other rooms, she saw simply one large room, the size of a football field. And it seemed like some form of abstract art. It was a bizarre combination of a maze and twisting Penrose stairs, seemingly endless.
"Impossible objects." she realized. She'd read about impossible objects. In her world they were called such because they could not realistically exist. Apparently this world had no such limitations.
"I have to get to the center of this mess?" she demanded. Impossible, indeed.
But then she remembered. Her feelings, her knowings. If she could somehow use that to find the center of this maze…
She took a step forward. Her intuition told her to go left. She obeyed and when she reached a spiral staircase, she went up. Then she turned right, went down another stairs, through a corner of the maze. This went on for some time, her following her instincts, and navigating the twisting maze to the best of her ability.
She had no way to keep track of time, but it felt as if hours had passed. Eventually, though, she reached the center.
For a long moment she was too surprised to move. She hadn't expected her plan to work, not really. Once she recovered from the shock, she noticed that sitting on a pedestal was a small glowing pebble that appeared to be some sort of small gemstone.
'Take it.' a voice said, and Alice whirled around, to see the cat. 'It's yours. As is my loyalty.'
She looked back and forth between the cat and the pebble-sized crystal.
'Quickly.' the cat said with amusement. 'We haven't got all day.'
Alice ran up to the pedestal, and grabbed the small stone. It started glowing.
Eventually the glow became so powerful Alice had to shield her eyes. As the scene faded out, Alice heard the cat say one more thing.
'My name is Coral.'
Alice woke up with a start, and sat up in a cold sweat. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and could hear her fast breathing.
"You look like you've run a marathon."
Alice nearly leapt from, the couch in alarm. Sitting on the arm of the couch near her head…was the calico cat.
"You look surprised to see me." the cat said, sounding amused.
"I dreamt you." Alice managed to say.
"We met in Wraithworld." Coral corrected.
Alice managed to get her breathing back under control. "So that was real."
The cat smiled. "Of course."
"Can other people hear you talk?"
"Only if I want them too. Currently the only other people who can hear me are your cousin and your aunt. To everyone else I am simply meowing overmuch. "
Alice took a moment to assess her understanding of the situation. "You're my familiar." she concluded after a moment.
"Yes." the calico said. " You are my Alice, and I am your Coral. We are together now."
Alice smiled. "Cool."
"Very." Coral agreed.
After an introduction of Coral to Isabella and a quick call to Aunt Rachel to inform her of their sudden cat adoption, Alice settled down on the couch again, this time with Coral curled up in her lap. They sat together watching a program on violins until Coral got bored with it and swiftly batted the remote out of Alice's hand, declaring her unfit to decide what a good TV program was. So Alice watching in amusement as she carefully hit buttons with her clawns. Alice still couldn't believe she actually had her Familiar (Coral had insisted it was with spelled a capital letter, and Alice decided not to argue the point). It had happened more suddenly than she'd expected, though according to Coral they were supposed to have met and bonded before now.
"This is proper television." her Familiar declared, and Alice glanced at the screen to see BBC playing a mystery show.
So they spent the next hour and a half watching some sort of Sherlock Holmes show. And Alice discovered that her cat was very opinionated.
"Of course it's poisoned, is he an idiot?"
"It's just a show, Coral."
She huffed. "He's still an idiot."
Alice acknowledged that with a nod, and then turned as the phone rang. She slid Coral off her lap (the calico complained of course) and went to answer the phone.
"Hi, Alice. It's me."
"Hi, auntie. Is something wrong?"
Alice heard her aunt sigh over the phone. "Unfortunately, yes. I just got a call here at the clinic from the hospital, and apparently one of their doctors can't make his shift. They need me there to help with rounds. I won't be able to make it home tonight, sorry."
"Oh, no, it's alright. Do you want me to get Bellie for you?"
"No, it's alright, I'd better get going. But tell her sorry for me, alright?"
"Sure thing." Alice promised.
"Good girl. Bye."
The call disconnected, and Alice sighed. "Bye."
"Your aunt cares about you very much." Coral said, appearing at her feet unexpectedly.
"Ah!" Alice jumped back, and hit her elbow on the wall. "Ow!"
"Be more careful." Her Familiar chided.
Alice stuck her tongue out childishly, and the calico chuckled a bit.
"I'll run up and tell your cousin that Rachel won't be home tonight." Coral said suddenly, and then she bolted up the stairs.
Alice rolled her eyes. "Cats," she muttered.
Rubbing her elbow, she followed her Familiar upstairs, and then passed Isabella's room and went up to the attic.
"I like your room."
Alice jumped again, startled. Whirling around she saw Coral sitting on her bed, tail swishing.
"How did you even get up here?" she demanded.
"I used the ladder of course." her cat said innocently.
"The ladder," Alice repeated flatly.
"….Okay then." Alice gathered Coral in her arms and then sat down on the bed with the cat in her lap. She scratched the calico's head absently as she stared at her room.
"You really like my room?" she asked after a moment.
"I love it." Coral said, purring from the scratching.
"Good. Because you live in here with me."
"Of course I do." the cat said, as if Alice had declared something so obvious it didn't need mentioning. "Now," the cat continued, "when are you going to feed me?"