The Witching War (girlxgirl)

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Chapter 11: Beta Aquarii

Samara sits up and drapes Aida over her thighs. She blows out a breath and places her hand on Aida’s gushing wound, “Hold still, Zoraida, this is going to hurt, but I’m going to heal you, okay? Just give me a minute.” Samara’s healing magic flows into the wound, stopping the bleeding. As soon as she pulls her hands away, the blood pours from the wound all over again. Zoraida clings to her consciousness by a thread, “Mara... what’s going on? Am I healed yet?” Samara curses under her breath and snatches the dagger from the ground to inspect it after her second failed attempt at healing the princess, “Alright, Zoraida, here’s what we’re going to do. We need to get back to the camp, immediately. This dagger is enchanted and there’s no way for me to heal you alone. I don’t think this was a random attack. Let me help you up, and we are going straight back to find your mother.” Enchanted dagger? Oh hex, this hurts. Oh, my mother is never letting me out of her sight again. If I don’t die here, that is.

Samara helps Aida to her feet with one hand pressed firmly on her wound with just enough healing magic to stop her from bleeding out. Aida squints into the dark woods, disoriented from blood loss, and searches for the trail that leads back towards camp. She can hear the roar of the waterfall, but it seems to be coming from a different direction than she remembers. Samara seems to notice, too, but she doesn’t mention it. “Let’s go, quickly. If we follow the stream, we should be back at camp in just a few minutes,” Samara coaxes, noticing Aida’s discomfort. They follow the stream for a few minutes before Samara comes to a halt mid-stride. Aida tenses and hisses in pain at the sudden change in pace, “Samara, what’s wrong? Shouldn’t we be back by now?” Samara presses her finger to her lips and shushes Aida in response. Aida knits her brows and opens her mouth to retort, but is cut off by Samara, instead, “It’s an illusion. They echoed the waterfall and we’ve been following the wrong path. This isn’t even the stream, look.” Samara dips her foot into what should be the stream but kicked up dirt instead. The apprentice releases Aida long enough to rid the area of the illusion that the attackers undoubtedly cast in case they escaped.

“What are we going to do?” Aida asks; Samara blinks at her. “You know, honestly, I thought you’d be a little more eager to take charge,” Samara replies with an eye-roll. That certainly felt like an insult.... “Well, Samara, I thought you’d be more appreciative that I was stabbed for you, but I guess not,” she huffs in frustration. Samara cringes at the comment and sighs. Aida almost feels bad for throwing it in her face; it isn’t like Samara asked for this. Besides, she knows if they were after anyone, it was the princess and not a healer’s apprentice. “Apologies, Samara. I know that if it weren’t for me, none of this would have happened to begin with. It was rude of me to blame you for something you played no part in,” Aida says, feeling increasingly more guilty as the situation worsens. Samara clears her throat and nods, “I am also in the wrong. We need to be working together to find our way back to camp before you bleed out.” Brutal. Aida’s eyes snap to Samara’s, “You aren’t as sensitive as I expect a healer to be,” she snorts. Samara smiles wryly, “You aren’t as proper as I expect a princess to be, but here we are.” Aida isn’t sure whether she’s insulted or amused by the comment. She reasons that it’s fair, though. Aida has never been the proper princess everyone expects her to be.

The girls are silent for a long moment, Samara in contemplation and Aida in pain and longing for her own bed. Nothing about being lost and injured in the woods is sitting well with Aida. “We need to find somewhere to stay until morning. We can’t risk wandering any further in the wrong direction. Let’s see if we can make our way back to the waterfall now without the illusion. I think I can still hear it. I’ll have to use my magic sparingly, though. I need to be able to keep your wound from bleeding through the night,” Samara decides. Aida cringes at the reminder of the aching stab wound in her back and weighs their only two options: find shelter or roam the woods. “Fine... you’re right. We shouldn’t risk getting further lost than we already are,” Aida agrees with a resolute nod. The pair stumble their way back in what they hope is the direction of the waterfall using whatever light magic Samara can afford to spare.

As they near the base of the waterfall, the roaring nearly drowns out Aida’s own thoughts. All she wants, besides to be in her own bed, is to be with her mother and to be sure that they aren’t under attack. Samara helps lower Aida onto the flat rock they had lain on earlier that evening so she can look for shelter on her own, “Just give me a minute; I think there’s a cave behind that waterfall, but you need to try and be still and keep pressure on your wound if you can, okay? I won’t be long, I promise,” Samara says in comfort before disappearing into the darkness. Aida can’t see the concern on her face, but she doesn’t miss the slight waver in Samara’s voice. She lies her head against the freezing surface of the rock and winces at the sensation. The winter in Sidus can be cruel and unforgiving; Aida knows that firsthand. If they’re going to survive the night, they’ll need to figure something out, and fast. Ironically, Aida thinks, the unrelenting blood flow provides more warmth than anything else.

“Zoraida, I found a cave behind the waterfall. I thought I noticed it earlier. There’s a little place we can tuck away for the night and we can find our way back in the morning, okay? You’re going to be perfectly fine,” Samara says upon her return. Aida blinks into the night searching for Samara’s face, “I don’t feel so well, Samara.” Aida can’t see the apprentice, but she feels her arms wrap around her and lift her from the rock like a small child. Flashes of being carried by her mother and tucked into bed pop into Aida’s head. She never understood why so many think Sidera is a wicked queen. She’s always been the most caring mother Aida could ask for. She’s only misunderstood; much like Samara, Aida thinks. She’s briefly wonders if maybe that’s why she’s always been so drawn to the stoic apprentice ever since childhood. With those lingering thoughts, Aida allows herself to slip away in Samara’s arms.

“Zoraida, wake up, come on. You need to take off your clothes, now,” Samara demands, shaking Aida awake. Take off my clothes? I didn’t expect Samara to have much finesse, but still. That is a bit blunt. “W-what? Why?” Aida splutters with wide eyes. Samara rolls her eyes, “For one, I need direct access to your wound, immediately. Two, we are going to freeze to death. We can’t afford to drain our magic trying to heat ourselves all night. We need to use body heat and the best way to do that is skin to skin contact.” Even in her near delusional state, Aida manages a suggestive brow raise. Samara huffs and begins stripping herself, “Don’t flatter yourself, Princess. Now, strip.” I should not be feeling the things I’m feeling right now. Aida’s face flushes red and she quickly jerks her gaze from Samara’s naked body and tugs her own gown and cloak off with shaky fingers. She pulls her cloak back over her bare body, suddenly more nervous than she’s ever been to be seen naked by another woman.

The icy touch of Samara’s fingers against Aida’s warm, exposed skin startles her into jumping out of reach, “Sorry, um your hands are freezing.” Samara tugs at the cloak still wrapped around Aida’s shoulders, “Apologies, I should have warmed them. I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable being undressed in front of me. I can try and heat us, as well. I just need to be careful not to drain my magic.” Aida cringes: although she is incredibly uncomfortable, she doesn’t want Samara to feel badly. It isn’t her fault, really. She isn’t even sure why she’s so uncomfortable. She’s been naked in front of more women than she can count. Why would Samara be any different? Besides, this is survival. “No, Samara. It’s... no, it’s fine. You need to conserve your magic. Just tell me what we need to do; I can try and keep us warm for as long as I can while you keep me from bleeding out, deal?” Aida suggests. Samara nods curtly and lifts Aida’s cloak to examine the wound more carefully. She presses her fingers to the ugly cut, sending shivers up Aida’s spine that have very little to do with the cold. Aida hisses in pain and clamps down on her bottom lip to keep from crying out.

She draws blood from her palms as she digs her nails in to distract her from the pain in her back, “Curse that bloody knife.” Samara chuckles lightly in response, “It was certainly bloody.” Too soon, Samara. Even for an unbelievably beautiful naked woman. Wow, I never thought I’d say that. The cold seeps into Aida’s bones before long making her teeth chatter uncontrollably. “Lie down; you should rest. I’ll stay up so I can keep an eye on you,” Samara insists after the third time Aida nearly dozed off while sitting. Aida concedes and lies atop Samara’s cloak on the cold ground. Samara hesitantly lies down behind here and wraps herself around Aida to share warmth. She pulls the other clothing articles over them both as Aida drifts off under the careful watch of the apprentice.

Aida wakes with the dawn, confused by the stark contrast between warm body and frigid air. She was so exhausted the night before that she didn’t notice Samara’s naked body pressed against her, but now she’s fully aware of every inch of skin touching hers. Interesting. Am I still alive? This certainly feels like a dream. Aida lies without moving in fear that Samara will know she’s awake and pull away. “Zoraida, wake up. I can hear the guard; they must be searching for us,” Samara shakes Aida from behind. When she turns to face Samara, Aida feels a pang of guilt in her chest. The apprentice looks utterly exhausted and pale. Aida isn’t sure exactly what happened after she fell asleep, but it clearly drained Samara. Although she’s very thankful that Samara didn’t abandon her to die, Aida isn’t sure there’s not more to what happened the previous night. All of it.

Aida follows Samara’s lead and peels herself from her body. She pulls on her ruined gown and cloak as best she can and helps Samara with hers. The shouting of palace guards grow louder as they near their location behind the waterfall. “I was able to stop the bleeding for the most part overnight. I’ll need a second healer to be able to completely heal your wound, but you should be alright for the next few minutes. Let’s go meet them,” Samara says in a raspy voice. Aida nods in agreement and follows Samara out of the cave, “How did you stop the bleeding, exactly? I thought you couldn’t do it alone without knowing the enchantment on the dagger. Samara stops abruptly and reaches for the dagger in her cloak pocket, “I... I just did a little work with enchantments and such when I was studying. It took me a while, but I was able to work around it.” Aida shudders and reaches out to run a finger over the blade’ Samara jerks it away with a strange look in her deep blue eyes, “Don’t!”

Aida jerks her hand away with her brows scrunched in confusion, “Over here,” a voice calls out as several guards come trudging through the woods towards the pair. Aida takes one more look at Samara in question before they’re separated by guards and healers fussing with them in search of injuries. When Aida lays eyes on her mother, tears pool in her eyes as emotions overwhelm her. Sidera wraps her arms around Aida with little regard for all the eyes on them. It’s rare for her to show emotion so openly around the ones she’s supposed to lead, but nothing will keep Sidera from her daughter, “Zoraida, my brightest star, I’m so happy you’re safe. I was worried sick! You were supposed to stay in camp; you could’ve died out here.” Aida feels suddenly compelled to lie and deny responsibility like she always used to as a child, but she knows better now. Though, sometimes she wishes she didn’t. Ignorance truly is bliss: a lesson Aida learns, and will continue to learn, time and time again.

Silence spreads through the crowd as the dagger falls from Samara’s cloak with a dull thud. Samara’s face pales even more than Aida thought possible. Sidera’s eyes darken as her pupils dilate in rage, “How did you get that dagger? Tell me, now!” the Queen demands. Samara stutters an unintelligible response; this is the most shaken she’s ever seen both her mother and Samara, and she can’t help but wonder if she’s missing something. Sidera watches the apprentice squirm for a moment too long before clearing her throat, “I will need that blade. We will be speaking in private; both of you. Now, we need to get back to camp and leave for Meliora.” I feel like they’re keeping secrets from me. It seems as if everyone always knows more about me than I even know myself. I don’t think I like where this is headed. Samara doesn’t meet Aida’s probing gaze as they are led back to the caravan train; she sighs and pushes away the silliest of hopes that the apprentice would ever think of her as anything more than a nuisance.

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