The Witching War (girlxgirl)

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Chapter 1: Antares

The walk to the royal healer’s study is taking far longer than Zoraida remembers. It’s possible that the reason for this is because of the angry blistering burn eating at her ribs; or maybe it’s because she knows the healer’s apprentice, Samara, will likely be there today. It’s seemingly obvious to everyone but Samara that Aida is attracted to her. Aida would never admit it, but she botched today’s training session with her younger sister, Juniper, so that she might get to see Samara.

Aida has always been rather popular with the ladies of the castle and of the noble families. She’s popular with the boys, too, but she pays them no mind. Aida has always preferred the company of a beautiful woman. Samara, on the other hand, has never been widely liked by their peers. Growing up, and especially now, Samara could only ever be found studying, reading, or practicing magic. If anyone were ever unfortunate enough to successfully get on her nerves, they often regretted it. Aida always vied for her attention regardless, but Samara refused to entertain her advances. This is what led to Aida allowing her sister to scorch her skin so that she might possibly be cared for by Samara.

As Aida nears the door of the healer’s study, she’s certain her heartbeat is echoing off the stone walls of the castle. When she pushes the door open and peeks her head inside, her heart flutters seeing Samara’s dark curls pooling on the desk as she leans over a journal. The large stone room is rather unkempt. The walls are lined with bookshelves filled to the brim with healing journals. More journals and books spill out onto the floor and are strewn haphazardly across the room. Aida always finds it unsettling to think such a chaotic, untidy environment is where Samara likes to spend most of her time.

The particularly intense burning of her flesh reminds Aida that she does actually need to be healed and isn’t only there to stare at the apprentice. Alright, I can do this. She’s just like any other girl, right? Aida clears her throat and slides through the door of the study, startling Samara. When Samara turns to face her, she gasps in shock at the large burn on Aida’s body. Aida sheepishly walks over to let her examine the injury. “Zoraida, what happened this time? You really need to stop getting injured like this,” Samara says with a disapproving look.

This was not the first time Aida had this idea.

Samara motions for Aida to have a seat and quickly gets to work. Samara is an exceptional healer, which is why she’s the royal healer’s apprentice. When it’s time, she will take over the position of healer for the royal family and those who reside in the castle. Samara has always been an intense girl, but Aida likes that about her. Something about the girl intrigues her to no end. Aida has never had to chase after a girl before, and that makes this all the more challenging. She loves a challenge.

As Samara places her cool fingertips lightly against the nasty burn on Aida’s ribs, magic begins to flow through her body. The burn slowly fades away leaving no scars in its wake. Aida wonders if Samara might be able to hear the thunderous beating of her heart, but the healer shows no sign of noticing and for that, Aida is thankful. She briefly imagines what would happen if she were to just reach out and intertwine her fingers with Samara’s but decides that it would probably anger the girl. Surely, I have more game than this. Utterly pathetic.

Samara stares at Aida for a long moment before speaking, “All better. Anything else I can heal for you, Zoraida?” Yes, please. But alas, her skin is as flawless now as the day she was born thanks to the talented healer, so she must decline. The two girls exchange awkwardly polite goodbyes before Aida turns to flee the study. Coward.

A blur of a girl rounds the corner and whizzes down the hallway nearly bowling over a self-loathing Aida. The aforementioned blur is none other than Aida’s very best friend, Elspeth, Elsie for short. Elsie is an energetic ball of a girl, the only one who ever dare try and keep up with Aida when they were children. She has long golden hair and eyes so brown and big they could swallow you whole. Aida has always particularly loved the smattering of freckles across her upturned nose and permanently rosy cheeks.

Elsie’s eyes light up at the sight of her best friend and she envelops Aida in a much too tight hug, “Aida! I was looking for you. Juni told me that she burned you pretty badly during your training. That’s been happening a lot lately, are you sure you’re well?” One of Elsie’s favorite past-times, Aida thinks, is probably fussing over her; she’s done it since they were young. Aida’s used to it by now; besides, there are worse things than being fussed over by pretty girls. “Hey, Els. I’m all good, already healed, see?” she replies while gesturing to the healed skin beneath her scorched top. The blonde lets out a sigh of relief.

Elsie is a decent sorceress, but her emotions tend to get the best of her. Her lack of emotional control paired with her propensity for weather magic is often a tricky combination. Aida knows from experience that if Elsie loses control of her emotions, her magic will soon follow; this usually means she’s in danger of being struck by lightning or stuck in an impromptu downpour.

The two friends float through the halls of the castle, talking aimlessly as they go to meet Juni. Aida loves spending time with Elsie and Juni more than she loves anything. Aside from her mother. Mother. She often wonders what her life would be like if her mother and Aunt Celeste had never found her in the woods that day after her birth family was killed by wolves. She never gets to think about it for long, though, before her brain feels fuzzy and her head starts to ache.

Before Aida can delve any further down that rabbit hole, she and Elsie arrive at the palace gardens where Juni is waiting for them by the fountain. The gardens are their favorite place to congregate during the day when they don’t have other responsibilities to tend to. Aida watches on as Juni squeals and wraps her best friend in a lingering welcome hug. Is it just me, or is Juni way happier to see Elsie than she is to see the sister she scalded is alive and well? Thanks, sis. “Hey Juni, I’m fine, in case you were wondering,” Aida snarls at her younger sister. Juni’s forest green eyes widen in realization and a wine-red flush crawls up her neck as she releases Elsie. “Oh, Aida, I didn’t even see you there! I’m glad you’re okay, but I knew Mara would take very good care of you, so I wasn’t too worried,” Juni replies with a knowing smile. Well played, dear sister. Well played.

Aida smiles a sardonic grin in return and ruffles the girl’s sandy brown hair. She conjures just enough static electricity and transfers it to Juni’s head, so her hair now floats above her. Aida knows it’s a childish trick, but she can’t help but act like a child around her sister. “Come on, you two. Enough of that. Aida, what are you planning to wear for your introduction as Crown Princess? I was thinking that, maybe... we could coordinate? You know, so everyone knows that we’re together, as best friends, I mean,” Elsie muses. What AM I going to wear? I’m not sure what this situation calls for. Wait, together? Aida’s eyes snap up to study Elsie’s face. The blonde looks so unfazed by her comment that Aida wonders if Elsie even said it to begin with. She’s always had a sneaking suspicion that Elsie might have romantic feelings for her, but she always denies it, vehemently. It makes Aida’s head spin. “I’m not sure what I’m wearing, I haven’t been presented any options yet. I’ll let you know, of course. So, we can coordinate, as best friends,” Aida replies, cautiously, after a moment of contemplation. “Perfect. I’ll be waiting,” Elsie states and graces the sisters with a charming smile before abruptly leaving. Ugh, that made my palms sweat. Why is everyone acting so strange today? Aida hastily wipes her palms dry and looks up to see her sister staring after Elsie with a frown on her face.

Aida’s own brow furrows as she watches her sister staring after her best friend. She wonders if she should ask Juni why she looks so upset, but she isn’t sure she really wants to know. The clacking of heels down the stone pathway derails her train of thought. The Queen strolls into the garden and trains her hazel eyes on Aida. Sidera, Aida’s adoptive mother, is a tall, toned woman with a regality only a born Princess could possess. Her dark black hair is pulled into a tight, sleek bun and her long, black gown flows around her as she strolls towards her daughters. “Juniper, darling. Do you mind if I speak with your sister alone, for a moment?” Sidera asks. Juni rises and bows briefly to her mother before leaving them. Aida and Juni know better than anyone that Sidera never truly asks, she only demands. Aida straightens and greets her mother politely and attempts to read the Queen’s body language to gauge whether she might be in trouble.

Before Aida can speak, her mother begins, “Zoraida, what’s this I hear about you being injured in training 5 times in the last two weeks? By Juniper, no less. Are you distracted? You know you cannot afford to be distracted, Zoraida. As soon as you’re introduced to the people as the Crown Princess your life is going to be in danger.” Oh, curse me. How am I supposed to explain to my mother that I intentionally let Juni get a few good hits in so I could gawk at the healer’s apprentice? I think I might die of embarrassment if I have to voice that out loud. Aida toys with a few different excuses before finally settling on one she knows will tug her mother’s heart strings a bit, “I’m sorry, mother. I’ve just been distracted lately. I keep thinking about how different my life would be if you and Aunt Celeste hadn’t found me. I mean, you probably saved my life and I want to make you proud,” Aida murmurs with a few sniffles here and there for added affect. I am so ashamed of myself for this. Not as ashamed as I would be if she knew I was playing weak to seduce the apprentice, though.

Sidera studies Aida’s face with a frown, “I’m always proud of you, Zoraida. I just want you to be safe, which is why you can’t be fooling around during training. Your sister needs you to try your best to help her improve, too, for her own safety. Please, save your daydreaming for outside of training.” I guess I’m not the only one working the guilt trip angle today.

After parting ways with her mother, Aida begins the trek back to her room. It’s been a strange day for her and she’s more than ready for it to be over. The sound of footsteps around the corner from her catches Aida’s attention. When she rounds the corner, she sees Samara now stopped in the middle of the wide hallway looking down at a book in her hands with a concentrated brow. The sight stops Aida in her track. Aida’s eyes roam over Samara’s face, taking in the angles of her elevated cheek bones and the plump, rosiness of her lips. Samara’s indigo eyes suddenly dart up to peer at Aida through a curtain of dark curls. The surprise on her face disappears almost as quickly as it came. “Ah, Zoraida. What have I done to deserve seeing you twice in one day?” the girl says with an exasperated sigh. Ouch. Aida cringes at her words, she can feel a suffocating weight settle in her chest that makes her want to cry out.

This is uncharted territory for the princess.

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