2

Ivy

Ugh, dizzy. So dizzy. Why is the world spinning? My mind is fuzzy, what happened? I can't see anything, did I... go blind?

Panic had brewed in my stomach as I asked all those questions since regaining consciousness. Now they were bubbling over and were about to spill out of my mouth in a series of screams.

Too late, the screams poured out of my mouth, all rational thoughts irrelevant.

I have a phobia of going blind. My father was a hunter and when he brought me to the woods one time, we were attacked by a brown bear for no apparent reason.

My father shot it dead, but he had sustained a serious injury to his right eye that left it blind. Since then, I avoided bears, and sharp objects pointed at my face.

Ironic for a person who lives in an evergreen forest, right?

"A-A-Ahhhhh! Aaaaahhh!" I'm blind! Am I blind? The screams of my terror filled my head and spewed out, rolling off my tongue in incomprehensible bursts of high-pitch sound waves.

A shrill scream other than my own filled the air as the bats hanging curiously onto the cave's ceiling fell precariously from their perches and flitted towards my direction, their fuzzy silhouettes darker than the blackest night.

I can see... I can see... It's okay Salem, you can see. Calm down. Breath.

"Hahh... haah..." I blow out shaky puffs of breath as I calm my nerves. "Okay, enough of caves. I'm sick of this." I say, scowling.

Planting my hand on the slick rock beneath me, I weakly push myself up from a sitting position and stagger to my feet, each tiny effort sending a bolt of pain up my spine that spreads through my brain, making my head pound and throb.

"Ugghh…" I get up from my resting place and slowly made my way through the cavernous fissure; stopping each time my sore muscles caused me pain.

I had passed out because I had used too much magic and had stayed unconscious until I had recuperated at least half of my magic power. Guessing from the aches all over my body, I was out for around five hours at least.

I twisted and turned through the various passages, recalling every detail, every scene that happened, as I accurately passed through tunnel by tunnel; making my way back to the surface world.

Ahh, almost there, I can smell the fresh air. Ugh, when I get back home, I'm going to take an herbal bath and after that, drink some tea and read a book. That sounds nice, let's do that.

As I emerged into the light of day, the sun's warmth hit my face, and for a while, I basked in its glow; grateful I had survived another day.

Walking through the dense evergreen forest, I stalked in the shadows of the trees, careful to stay hidden in case there were more soldiers.

I climbed up a hill, it's slope soft and gentle; covered with rich, green grass, spotted with flowers of every color. It looked like the most beautiful landscape through my weary eyes.

At the other side of that very hill, was my house. A small brick cottage painted green, brown and purple; it was adorned with the colors of this forest I called home.

I walked up the placid incline towards my house, and paused when I saw a suspicious figure standing in front of the door.

The smile that had unwittingly pasted itself on my face fell away, and I ducked into the shadows, hoping the green and brown dress I was wearing would serve a little bit of camouflage. I waited then, holding my breath and watching the figure, already forming a plot to fell the small form.

Wait a minute, small? Could that be a child? Why would the royal guards send a child to capture a witch? This makes no sense. Calm down Salem Poag. Is the child a threat, even if he is a trained soldier? No. Good. Then you have nothing to worry about. You took down their commander for Christ's sake! You can take down a child if needed.

As I came to that conclusion, the figure wobbled, once, twice, staggered to the left, then to the right, then fell forward, flat on it's face.

"What the…?" I muttered under my breath, creeping closer to the small child passed out in front of my door.

I took a good look at the kid. He had golden hair, ragged, but torn high-quality clothes and when I poked his smooth, squishy cheeks, he moaned and cracked both eyelids open a slit, revealing emerald green eyes.

"Heh, I like your eyes, kid." I smirk.

Judging from the clothes he wore, he was a noble or... something. "Look, kid, I don't know where you came from, but you gotta go back."

Upon hearing that, his hand shot up, gripping my leg painfully in a powerful grasp not expected of a child. I tensed and took a staggering step backwards, ready to use the remaining three daggers I had hidden up my sleeve and to risk using magic once again if all else failed.

"N-No! I can't … go… back there…not that place…" He muttered the words feebly into the air and his grasp on my ankle loosened until his arm drooped, and fell limply to the grass at my feet.

I had almost missed what he said, but I managed to hear him, and took his plead into careful consideration.

Hmm. Well I guess I could take him in, he'll miss home sooner or later; that's how all rich kids are. While he stays, he could help cook, clean, shop, and all sorts of other things! Huh, not a bad idea. Okay, I'll house him for a while. But just to be sure, I should cast a spell on him, to keep him obedient for a while, until I can trust him.

A wistful smile came to my lips and painted my face with a sorrowful look. "Ha! What an absurd thought! I'm a witch. He'll never trust me. Forget it. I won't cast a spell. If he attacks me, I'll kill him instantly."

I mutter this under my breath and look down at the boy with sad and and almost nostalgic eyes.

Using what little strength I had in my sore body, I half dragged him, half carried him into the house. He was a light child, with a slight frame despite his heritage of being a noble and living with a well-fed family.

I laid him on the living room table and treated his wounds. There were scratches and cuts, bumps and bruises, but nothing incredibly damaging.

I lifted his mud-stained cotton garment, revealing several scars across his back. I flinch, recognizing the wounds all to clearly. Those were the unique marks left by whips. And not just any whips, high quality leather whips used by royalty when disciplining a witch, or torturing a criminal.

Pulling back my sleeve to gaze morosely at the similar flaw on our skins' surfaces, I compare my forearm to his scrawny back.

These are definitely the marks of a whip... but what could this child have done to deserve such harsh treatment? Mine are imprinted deeper than his, but why are they still so profound for a child of his age?

After all disinfection and bandaging were done, I pulled off his clothes, leaving his rather small body exposed to the room-temperature air of my house.

Gathering the ripped rags, I threw them in the trash and walked to my room, grabbing the smallest clothes I could find in my wood drawer, and made my way back to the living room.

Garbing him in the petite attire that was available in my crowded abode, I dress him quickly and position him comfortably on the pea green couch, tucking him in with a colorful wool blanket woven by the children at the outskirts of my territory.

Taking a last glance at the child I was leaving unattended, I grabbed a grey cloak hanging on a rack and the empty wicker basket by the door and set out to buy food for dinner, hoping that if, and once the kid woke up without me in the house, he wouldn't freak out and destroy the comfortable living space I was inhabiting.

Without distractions, and in the silence of my own domain, I was left to my own thoughts as I walked toward the markets at the edge of my region.

Hmm, what should I make? It has been so long since I have had a guest to accompany me in passing the lonely days. What would he like to eat? I should have asked him before I left. Damn. Wait, why am I treating him as a guest? he is to be a helper around the house. Do not think of him as anything more.

I shook my head vigorously to clear all the confusing thoughts swirling in my mind, and straightened my course to head for the town up the mountain near the border of the Pearl witch's territory in the East.

The food markets were plentiful in that region, for that was where the palace stood large and tall; it was where most of the population of Dyven lived and built civilization around.

"Should I risk it? being so close to the palace right after I killed their captain, would that be a good idea?" I think to myself out loud.

"Hmph!" A smirk stretches across my face and a morbid thought comes to mind. "Let the king and the queen come themselves. It makes it all the easier to kill them. And the sooner to obtain my freedom as well. I can never undo what has been done to me," I utter the words softly, and they drop like lead falling from the sky.

"But, I can change the future of what this body and it's powers do. Even if I die fighting their soldiers, they are weakened, and my soul leaving this cursed body is salvation enough." Disregarding any precautions, I make up my mind to just go with the flow.

Since I don't know what the mystery boy likes to eat, I will simply make my own favorite meals: Fruit salad and salmon teriyaki. Maybe I should give him a taste of my famous specialty, the berry smoothy? Hmm... it may take a while to prepare, but today, I will feast, for I have once again outwitted the monarchs and their stupid guard dogs! As an added bonus, I even got myself a helper.Ha!

The triumphant smile slips away, and I sullenly grimace as I walk into the market, walking briskly past the gawkers as people openly stare at my ivy colored hair; the locks of lush green flowing gently in the breeze behind me.

Ignoring their blatant looks, I swiftly sweep myself over to the vendors that hold in stock the many ingredients needed to make my favorite meals.

Ah, ingredients, ingredients... Let's see, for the fruit salad I need spinach, beansprouts, lettuce, assorted mints, tomatoes, cashews, carrots, walnuts, cucumbers, peanuts, avocados, peaches, nectarines, melons, mangoes, pineapples, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, papayas, and lemon to make the dressing. Geez, that's a lot of ingredients for just one dish. Imagine making three in oneday!

Keeping in mind the ingredients listed in my brain, I went from shop to extravagant shop, collecting the supplies for the fruit salad; all the while receiving looks of mystery, fascination, fear, hatred, envy, expectation, pity, and dismay. Sometimes spotting people who changed to all eight expressions if I stared at them long enough.

Hmph, ogle all you want, today I shall enjoy my victory and you shall say nothing! Haah, salmon teriyaki is next right? So, I'll need some different spices, salmon, rice, teriyaki sauce, and coriander, spearmint, basil and peppermint.

"The mints I can get from my garden, andto get fresh salmon, I need to pass the border of the Aqua witch's territory. " I murmur to myself.

I look up from my deep contemplation and set out for the largest fish market in Dyven; the market that lies in the Aqua witch's territory. I was determined to buy all my ingredients.

I don't have to walk incredibly far, for Dyven is a country with a slightly circular shape, and my residence is smack dab in the center of it all.

Meaning, I have the best access to all regions and territories. Convenient to live close to it all is it not? I think to myself.

I smile sadly as I remember that if there is ever a war within Dyven, soldiers, villagers and innocent children just old enough to serve in battle will waltz on a death march; trampling all over the rich green of the forest I call home.

They would leave my realm and salvation a bloody red, the lingering stench of the dead and dying hanging in the air like a post sign of misery, suffering and pain.

Shuddering in disgust, I pick up my pace to a brisk speed walk and set a goal to get my food and return home before sun down.

In less than five minutes, my keen eyes spot a line of palm trees signaling the end of my short journey, and announcing I am incredibly close to the beach in the Southern regions of my home country.

Feeling slightly giddy for crossing the same boundary twice in a day and coming close to another, my senses stay on edge as I weave my way through endlessly tall palm trees; eyes peeled for threats of any kind.

Having made my way cautiously over to the colorful displays advertising the biggest fish market in Dyven, I hide behind a poster decorated with paintings of fish - cod and trout, and maybe mackerel, I think - and rest on my haunches, pulling my cloak closer to my body as if it would help to cover my presence.

I lay the half-full basket on the sand next to my foot to free my hands, and twist my ivy green hair into a bun.

Pulling the grey hood over it to keep it in place, I let it cover both my hair and eyes, hoping I would not seem too suspicious.

Sometimes I wonder, why am I going through all this trouble just for a fish or two? Do I seriously have to work under cover just to buy myself some food? I wanted a feast and that is all. What's the problem with that?

Huffing to myself quietly, I pout my lips and steady myself behind the banner. A crowd approached the vibrant advertisement, and as they passed by the sign, I readied myself to dash quietly into their midst and blend into the oncoming group of tourists.

I lift my heel and loop my left arm through the handle of the wicker basket, my right hand's fingers digging in the sand so I can take off and sprint to the end of the steam of travelers.

I make it half way to the tumult of foreigners, when they were ceremoniously stopped by a fresh batch of palace soldiers I had never encountered before.

I suddenly swerve to the right and hide behind an abandoned stand with a large brown poster that says "Pisces A Mare" which literally meant, "Fish from the sea".

The poster was chipped around the edges, and had chunks of it missing. It looked worn out and old, a good camouflage, as it was decorated with dead colors of browned red and black.

Peeking over the side, I spot the red and silver uniforms the palace soldiers wear, shining in the evening sun as the light reflects off the white sand of the Aqua Witch's home blindingly, making me squint.

With a scrunched up face, I observe the soldiers with a despondent curiosity.

What are they trying to do now? Should I kill them? No, they haven't attacked, and I'm not fully healed... Just yet. Maybe if they come after me and I'm not around any pedestrians, I can kill them quietly without too much trouble...

Catching some hand gestures, I strained to read their lips to no avail. I closed my eyes instead, and turned my head to the side; monitoring their conversation.

Staying attentive for any details that they may drop, I listened for clues that hinted they were looking for me.

"Hello dear tourists!" A rich voice floats clearly with the wind, and I look over the counter of my hiding spot to see a young man probably in his twenties with sienna brown hair and a charmingly chiseled smooth face with electric blue- grey eyes that almost looked somewhat neon in the sun.

"I am the new captain of the Royal Palace Soldiers, Eddie Mondola!" Wrapping a well-toned arm around a stiff looking woman who had the same sienna brown hair pulled back in a bun, defined features, and electric green eyes hidden behind silver rimmed glasses that matched her uniform, he brought her over to his side and looked at her fondly.

"And this, good travelers, is my partner in justice, as well as my twin sister!" He said proudly.

The woman bowed shallowly and introduced herself. "It's a pleasure to service you. I am Saedie Brisk, lieutenant, and assistant captain."

A small hooded figure stepped out from the crowd of nomads and looked up at the tall and proper woman with curious eyes. "Miss Brisk? Why do you have a different last name than that of your brother?"

The lieutenant made a sharp glance at the young girl and pushed up her glasses, maintaining her unreadable poker face. "It is because I am married, that I have taken on the surname of my husband, is all."

With the accurate and brief explanation, the child backed off, albeit looking a bit hurt at the blunt reply to her innocent question, and once again melted into the colorful mob of the travelers; melded in completely, as if the nomads were just one existence.

"Why is there a new captain for the royal soldiers? I thought Charles Frank was the captain, what happened to him?" A male voice came from within the collection of flashy travelers, catching my attention.

"That is the very reason why I am now in that much respected position. Our late leader, Sir Charles Frank, has been declared missing in action after he was dispatched to capture and retrieve the Ivy Witch for breaking the laws. He has not returned since this morning and is considered dead."

A collective gasp waved throughout the group, and hushed messages were hastily whispered in heated exchanges.

"We have come here today, because the last report Sir Frank sent in described the Ivy Witch to have been tracked down and last sighted here in the Aqua Witch's territory."

Another gasp rippled amongst the bunch, and I scoffed. Not how I viewed it. Frank was after the retrieval of my dead body. He wasn't there to detain me for any good reasoning. It was either him or me. Obviously I picked the latter.

"If you see the witch, find a soldier immediately, so that we may arrest her for her heinous crimes!" The man named Eddie said with enthusiasm.

He sounded too cheery for the grim news he had just delivered. It was almost eerie how he could paste a warm and sunny expression on his face while saying such dark words.

As the squad of soldiers turned to leave, a small female voice cut through the murmurs of her fellow adventurers. "I thought the witches' purpose was to protect the people in their territories and the villagers of Dyven at large?"

The new captain turned on his heel and almost pranced towards the young adolescent with a somber demeanor. The young teen was suddenly outcasted by her peers, and a look of unexpected fear flashed across her features and wrinkles of worry quivered on her ignorant face.

Leaning in close to her freckled appearance, the captain spat out a whispered answer that I had to strain to hear.

"They may protect the villagers that live in their territory, but they could certainly care less about those not from their own domain. It means less pawns under their control, and therefore less pawns to use, and more so, less power. Do you understand? This is all a game of power to those wretched beings. Be careful..." He said with a sinister sneer.

Quickly switching back to his usual sunny air, he sauntered away before turning around and calling out, "I wish you all the best of luck and the utmost security! We will be patrolling around the territory, so we are just a call away!"

I shuddered and thought bitterly to myself as I contemplated the current situation that unexpectedly thrust itself upon me.

I was stuck in another artificial witch's territory surrounded by palace soldiers that had informed regular villagers of my 'dangerous' presence. I had a new and young captain on my tail, and I still had to get my ingredients and get back home before it got too dark. I also had to look after the injured child that was occupying my house at the moment...

Ugh... Too much to worry about right now. I'm starting to get a headache just thinking about all of this troublesome matters that piled up without me knowing of it...

Lifting two fingers to rub my sinus area to relieve some of the pain starting to form at the front of my head, I brought myself to think about the new captain and how to outsmart this new obstacle blocking my way from freedom.

Hah... They sure hurried to put a leash on me, huh? I grimaced, thinking of Charles, the previous captain of the royal palace soldiers. He is younger than him, so he should be harder to spar with. Meaning, he's also harder to kill with normal methods... Now, the problem is, how cunning can he get? I wondered.

Most likely if I killed him, I would have to use magic, so now was a bad time to encounter him. If I did manage to defeat him though, I would once again be free. If only for a while as they tried to find another suitable captian-leash for keeping me in control.

It never worked anyway, I wondered why they even tried! I just ended up killing all of them so they would leave me alone and stop bothering me.

I frowned and thought of all the various captains I had encountered in my short life time. The witches of Dyven aged differently from regular people, as they had extended lifespans due to the fact that magic played a large part in the tampering of the body's natural aging process.

If I had to count all of the several different captains I've put out of business, it would be somewhere close to eight...

First there was the fat man, the scheming weasel, the stick, the geezer, the child-man, The big-boobed lady, the monster, and Charles Frank, the idiotic bastard. I thought with an edged snarl.

Now I had one more I would soon add to the list: Eddie Mondola, the charming fraud with a split personality. Oh, how I looked forward to killing him...

A stern yet gentle face flashed across my vision, and my eyes widened at the strange memory hidden in the back of my awareness; his expression was clear as day.

I had suddenly remembered a quote I had heard my father say once before; when I had asked him what revenge was. His face was sad and knowing, as if he knew the fate that awaited me.

His solemn and caring voice rung in my head: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

Heeding the words of my teacher, I stopped my deadly intent from seeping out before my thoughts could readily become my action.

Switching subjects and focusing on the next objective I needed to accomplish, I made a small checklist to keep in mind as I tried to reach the main goal of getting home in one piece and to remain undetected by any of the palace soldiers.

One, Blend yourself in successfully. Two, find out the new double faced captain's movements and plans for him and his troops. Three, buy the remaining ingredients for my feast tonight. Four, Gather and tend to the plants in my garden. Five, cook and care for the boy. Six, rest and recuperate to full health. Seven, investigate in length... this ... Eddie Mondola man.

Repeating the list mentally until it was stuck in my memory, I pondered about the first step.

I cannot use magic. Normal methods may not hide the properties of a witch. How...?

Breathing out heavily, I sighed, baffled as to what I could do to change my appearance without looking suspicious in any way.

Frowning even more intensely my mouth screwed into an unsightly line, and my brows furrowed in a concentrated arc connected across my face.

"Miss, why are you frowning?"

I jumped, shocked to hear a voice by my ear.

Whipping around, I found myself face to face with the young child that was from the traveling troupe of colorful nomads.

"I... I was just thinking was all..." I responded carefully.

How did this child approached me without my senses alerting me to her presence? Things were getting all too suspicious.

Getting up from my crouched position, I stood slowly, allowing some feeling to return to my legs.

This child... How...? She is not normal, I know this much, but what is it that sets her apart from the rest of these performers...?

I studied the girl, trying to figure out what was so different about her.

She was wearing the same tricolor patterned cloaks as the rest of the group, the cloaks each having three separate colors, but all having the same design.

Hers was light forest green, flaming orange, and aqua-violet. The green portion was encasing the hood and top of the shoulders in a tiger's stripes, the aqua-violet filling the mid-waist of the cloak with alternating shapes of varying sizes, and the blazing orange color flaring on the end of the cloak; a whorl of flaming patterns, making it look as if she were walking on fire.

I've seen those cloaks before... But where...? Why was it that they disturbed me so much?

I stood there, ogling at the strange sense of déjà vu. The meaning of those tricolor patterned cloaks was buried somewhere at the back of my brain, but as much I stared, no memory of it would surface.

The girl narrowed her eyes, a sly expression coming to slither across her face like a poisonous reptile, snaking along the sand of an arid desert.

"I know, Salem. I can still help. I can, and you know."

A sharp intake of breath that filled my lungs with cold air was the only sound that came in the silence that followed.

That voice... Kiorep.

A rush of sights and sounds; memories of past encounters come at me from all fields of my vision.

The tricolor patterned cloaks had represented our defiance from our time on "Greyer".

The stripes on the top meant we were predators. Waiting. Planning. Always stalking our prey from afar; the king and queen of Dyven.

The various shapes in different sizes, but same color represented that no matter what form or build, we were the same: artificial magical beings. We were together through life's course.

Finally, the flaming pattering on the bottom represented our will. Our blistering will and blazing wish to burn the hierarchy of Dyven and anyone who wished to stop us to the grounds of Hell.

My shock subsided, and I raised my gaze to stare at her eyes.

Sure enough, they were glowing a sickly gold. A dirty, but undeniably lustrous shimmer that sent jolts of electricity through my nervous system.

"Kiorep." I breathed, adding a curtly and dazed nod at the end. "I thought you were dead, especially after all these years in a different division without any contact whatsoever."

"Always the one to jump conclusions, eh, Ivy?"

"Don't call me that," I bit out, a frown starting to form. "Besides, you aren't much better, rusted old hag."

"I am not rusted. Gold does not rust."

"Then why did you not send me anything? No signal? I thought you were gone. For good."

"I couldn't. That's why. They had me proofed."

Being proofed. That means she was stuck in a room that blocked out all kinds of magic; just sitting there for almost six months.

A question popped on my tongue. How had she gotten out?

"Hmph. Well, even with the proof, you made it out. What are you here for? I thought you were not qualified to be a Witch of Dyven. You came out the wrong color." I say with venom-coated scorn.

"They were going to kill us 'failures'. This was exactly why we used your brilliant distraction to escape. As a favor, I am willing to disguise you." She spat back with just as much poison.

"..."

Now I was starting to remember why I hated her so much.

She was dexterous.

I could not deny her offer. I was dangerously low on my supply of magic, and I was injured, left with no preferable resources to change my appearance.

There was only one beneficial way I could see this path going in. And it was to accept her offer.

"Fine, but know that I trust you with my life. I'll have you know, that if you draw attention to me, I will make it out alive and hunt you for my revenge." I seethe through gritted teeth.

"Scary~" Kiorep crooned evilly, raising her hands over her head and shaking them in a mock gesture of fear.

I glared silently, simmering slowly in my own frustration. I was lucky on one hand, though I would have rather eaten a toad as the legends say witches do, than have a conversation with this child-disguised woman.

"Get it over with and please just change my appearance already... And make sure it's a human. I still have errands to run."

"Alright, alright." She hissed out jeeringly, her face a twisted mask of obscene pleasure, fused with the innocence of a young child.

It was a weird combination, innocence and crudely twisted mischief. They did not mix quite right, making the face Kiorep wore an ugly display that was eerie and wrongly placed.

Her hands came up to hover above my face, and closing her eyes, her hands started to hum with an unearthly power.

"Persona..." Person, mask, persona, disguise, part, role.

Her hands leaked gold energy, the tendrils of smoke seeking out their intended victim, seeping slowly into my skin, which reacted steadily to the familiar magic with it's own ivy green light; the shimmer surrounding us begotten by our mingling presences.

It takes a lot of magic to change one's appearance. Good thing she is my rival. If she were weak, she wouldn't even stand a chance against me. Though I do wonder, if she changed her appearance herself, even she would have difficulty managing another person.

Glancing up, I found a disturbing scene above me. Kiorep's face was clammy and pale with the effort of using her limited magic.

So she did transform herself. Then for what reason is she helping me?

Although being cruel and defiant and often times displaying a twisted personality, Kiorep was loyal to her promises, no matter the subject; she would follow through. That was the only redeeming feature about her I found appealing in the least.

Sighing inwardly to myself, I bit my tongue and decided to help the struggling hag. I had always called Kiorep a hag, because she was two or three years older than me.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I drew on the magic that was forcibly melded with my atoms, the particles of my being. I called on them to do me favor, and to rise to my aid.

Our small glistening light blossomed softly before starting to extend it's hardening opaque luminescence; the gold and ivy green hues tinting the air with our respective magics' colors.

The waves of energy rolling off of us now were so strong, that I expected half of all the magic-owning organisms in Dyven, artificial or not, to start appearing.

The pulsing shock waves of force rolled off us, battering unsuspecting bystanders in a sudden buffeting gust that washed over them like an ominous wind.

The transformation was almost done. With two of Dyven's most powerful witches working on one's transformation, the change time was halved or quartered.

The strongest beings were not the king or queen of Dyven, it was the witches. We had the power to bend the laws of the world, yet we were trapped and chained like mutts to the royal family's will.

If us artificial beings decided to rise up against the hierarchy, then we would be free. But what is it that kept us obedient?

An unexpected flash of muddied light dazzled me, and I remembered to cut off the source of my magic.

It must have been an odd sight, should anyone have seen the transformation. The space around my image distorted, and swirled, then snaped back in place, leaving a whole new person in it's wake.

Collapsing against my hunched shoulder, Kiorep's breaths were heavy and labored, and her small form was shaking; the image she struggled to hold flickered, revealing glimpses of an older, more fierce bodice.

The energy I expended was taking a sharp stab at my strength as well, and I fell back against the abandoned browning stand, bracing our combined weight with one hand, while the other was wrapped around my old time adversary.

"Kiorep. Kiorep!" I whispered harshly into her ear, shaking my shoulder lightly to rouse her from her stupor.

Her image flickered again, but stilled back to the small nomad child disguise she chose; the vibrant colors that made up her charade concentrating and becoming an actual solid once again.

A shaky breath exits her, and she stood on wobbly legs, and I followed, righting myself but instantly regretting it as the sandy surface of the ground tilted dangerously forwards before firm hands grabbed my arms.

It was a mistake to use magic when both of us were exhausted from past and current efforts.

The several grasps on my noodle limbs yank backward, and I was once again looking at Kiorep in the face.

In her molten gold eyes, I saw my face mirror hers. We were both pale and clammy, small droplets of perspiration beading on our pasty skin.

The only difference was that I no longer had the pointy and uniquely glowing eyes of a witch. They had transformed into a warm chestnut brown, the irregular sharp ends smoothed to round and droopy shapes.

The grips on my arm were strong, and were starting to cut of the circulation of blood to my fingers.

I frowned and glared through my peripheral vision without turning my head. "Let go." I snarled quietly. I disliked the familiar touches of people I had not even seen the faces of.

Their hands one by one slowly went limp, and the warmth from their holds faded as they slid down my arm and back to their owner's side.

I stumbled a bit, the jerky and almost drunken movements sending brown and blond highlighted hair tumbling into my eyes, jabbing them with their spiraling curls.

"Thank you." I said, but it comes out as only a faint whisper.

Kiorep is standing again now, and I nodded to her my thanks, staggering away, down towards a cluster of fish vendors, bustling with buyers coming for the evening rush of dinner prices.

I zoned out, going around mechanically, buying the remaining ingredients for tonight's feast. I was not sure I had enough strength in me to actually cook it all in one night.

Maybe the boy could help me. He would be awake by now.

The thought of someone there to welcome me back home is a warming one, even if the child is going to be undoubtedly disorientated, probably enough to be of no help.

Spurred on by the hope that I had a person at home to get back to, I rushed to the border between the South territory, and my own, holding the straining wicker basket in the crook of my arm as I weaved in between the tightly packed spaces of the stands and their neighboring palm trees.

Closing in on the thin line of sand and grass that signifies the end of the Aqua Witch's territory and the Ivy Witch's territory, I was stopped with a male voice.

I froze and registered the feeling of my blood running cold.

It was a cheery voice. One that was strange in a morbid way, yet calm. It was coated with sugar, belying the corruption beneath.

I turned on my heel slowly and after rotating a semi-circle, I was met with Eddie Mondola's beaming face.

"Hello there miss! Why, may I ask you a few questions before you leave this fine territory belonging to that of our Aqua Witch?"

I swallowed inaudibly and asked, "An interrogation, sir?"

I made sure my expression was worried, but not terrified.

"No no no." He said, waving his right arm as if trying to ward off a pesky fly. "Nothing to that extremity."

"Alright," I said passively, "is there something I can help you with then?"

"Yes there is, miss..." Eddie's left eyebrow twitched upwards in a quizzical indication that I should state my name.

"Oh. Uh," I wracked my brain for any name that I could come up. "Mary is fine. Mary Conttonru."

I smiled pleasantly at the group of men, my eyes wide and warm, and mouth an elegant curve displaying the plump red lips I had obtained.

Putting a disguise to it's utmost test was a challenge I found endearing.

Being able to become another person for just a moment in time; forgetting my problems, and the lingering pains from my past, I saw the men swoon predictably in their metal armor.

I need to remember this name. Mary Conttonru. The title may come back to haunt me, and the name may prove to be a valuable, you never know.

"Miss Mary Conttonru! What a lovely name my dear! Now, would you be willing to tell me any information you have on the Ivy Witch?" Mondola chimed.

"The Ivy Witch? Why her?" I made sure that my voice had a slight slip of envy and abhorrence.

"The Ivy Witch is the one who has killed our late leader, Charles Frank. I have taken up his position as captain, and now lead the Royal Palace Soldiers."

"What's the difference between a soldier and the guards of the palace?" I asked innocently, tilting my head to the right.

A hearty laugh is started at one end of the group, and seared it's way down to the rest of the soldiers, collecting a rambunctious cacophony of noise as it gathered the booming voices of all the men and their rattling metal garments.

A chuckle was suppressed by Eddie Mondola, and he said, "My dear naive lady, the Royal Palace Soldiers are the men that are specially hand picked by the Pearl Witch herself to go out into Dyven and protect this country from dangers like the Ivy Witch."

"And the guards?"

"The Royal Palace Guards are the men hand picked by the king, as he must trust them enough in their skill to protect his wife, his three sons, and himself."

"Ah I see. How nice of you to be specially appointed by the Pearl Witch herself. It is nice to know that she makes an effort to keep Dyven safe."

"Yes," Eddie Mondola readily agreed. "however, the one that is trying to ruin that is the Ivy Witch."

Her presence unbeknownst to me, I jumped as a breath tickled the hair by my ear, and spoke up.

"You seem to have limited knowledge of the affairs of Dyven. Where are you from?"

It was Saedie Brisk. She was observing me with apprehensiveness, her electric green eyes staring at me intently from above her silver rimmed glasses. The sly woman was just as creatively foxy as her charming brother.

"Me? Oh, my. I did not originate in Dyven."

I have to think fast! Think Salem! What is the nearest country to Dyven?

"Oh?" Saedie queried.

"Yes, I came from Sioq. The small island country off the coast of Bariat, Dyven's sister land."

A small collection of awe filled croons came from the gathered soldiers.

Bariat was known as a wealthy country covered in rocks. While Dyven had five distinct environments, Bariat had only one: rock. Lots and lots of rock.

But beneath all that sediment and dirt were riches of precious metals. Mainly gold, silver, copper, and diamond.

Brisk backed off, but was still watchful. I could feel her scrutiny burning into the whole of my backside.

"I'm sorry if I do not know much about Dyven's economical or social affairs. It is quite hard to keep track of both my own country's and this ones. They are both so large!"

"Yes they are. I see. Thank you miss Mary Conttonru. Your company was a pleasure. Please be on the lookout for a woman- rather, a witch-"

I flinched when he said "witch"; the small reaction was almost unnoticeable.

"-that has ivy green anything. If you see her, please, call for the Royal Palace Soldiers."

"I will. Thank you Sir Mondola!"

He turned haughtily and walked off into the distance, the group of ratting soldiers following close behind like hoards of large tin puppies.

Saedie was left behind, still staring at me. She looked as if she noticed my flinch, when she huffs quietly under her breath about her brother's weakness for beautiful women.

Heehhh, so he has a weakness? Beautiful women. That may come as an advantage if I were to ever fight that one.

Lifting a pale right hand, I put it across my heart and felt the steadying beat that pulsed through my breast.

To any other, it may have looked like I was swooning after seeing Eddie Mondola's face.

In fact, I was measuring my heartbeat.

How afraid of him am I? Your instincts never lie.

My pulse was rapid, but had quickly resumed it's regular rhythmic pace as his lean frame receded over the beach's white-washed sand.

I guess that means I should avoid tangoing with that man. I thought to myself queasily. He's a strange one. It may be hard to get into his thoughts.

I turned away, my back now facing the bright aqua color of the sea. My façade dropped, the smile left my lips, and the playful light in my eyes no longer reflected the straggling rays of the lingering sunset.

Casting my eyes downward, I softened as I looked at the obscure line that suddenly turned from white sand to lush green forestry life.

I took a hesitant step over that single boundary, and power came washing over me, relief swamping my being, and I could feel my muscles, tense with the thought of getting home, loosen.

Closing my eyes, I breath deeply, catching the overbearing scent of pine, mixed with spruce and a thousand other trees that would take me weeks or even months to name all the prospering species in this small territory.

I sighed.

Green; I missed this color... My color. The color of my territory, the basis of my being. I was chosen because I was ivy green.

In a way, I should have came to hate the very thought of it, but somehow, the amiability of this single hue was enough to make me feel at ease.

It was the color that surrounded me as a child. Still, it surrounds me as a witch. A title that will never leave; one that will stay consistent as long as I live.

The Ivy Witch.

Ivy. Green. Home.

It was time I headed back to the heart of the forest where I truly belonged.