The Witching War (girlxgirl)

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Chapter 4: Pollux

You?!

Zelina giggles uncontrollably and removes her hand from my mouth.

“What is wrong with you?! I almost zapped you into oblivion!” Aida hisses angrily. This sends Zelina into an even more intense bout of giggles. She leans over, clutching her stomach and wipes a tear from her eye. Aida stomps her foot and pouts in a child-like display of frustration. “Okay, honey, you totally almost had me,” Zelina pants, out of breath from laughter. “Why would you grab me like that? I’m supposed to be here as Princess Zoraida, not Aida the heathen,” Aida scolds. Zelina’s lip quivers, threatening to release another giggle-fit, but she refrains, seeing the irritation on Aida’s face, “Sorry, Princess Zoraida, didn’t realize the stuck-up alter ego was coming tonight.” Harsh. Maybe I did overreact.

“Fine, I’m sorry, Zel, you’re right. I’m just nervous being that it’s my first time meeting the public of Sidus. Not to mention, everyone has been talking all day about our scandalous rendezvous last night, apparently,” Aida huffs. “If only they knew how much of a princess you really are in the bedroom,” Zelina teases with a wink. She did not just go there. Aida swats Zelina’s arm in annoyance, “That is so not fair, Zelina. In fact, I’m going to be leaving, now. I have people to see.” Like Elsie. “Wait, you look absolutely stunning, Aida, that’s what I was going to tell you, but the opportunity to snatch you just came up and I thought it would be fun to mess with you a bit,” Zelina says in apology. Aida smiles at her comment and leans over to plant a soft kiss on Zelina’s cheek, “Thank you, you look stunning, too, heathen. I’ll find you later.”

Aida parts ways with Zelina and hurries to find her best friend. Although she knows she should be mingling with guests other than the women in her life, she just has to find Elsie first and tell her how beautiful she looks. Aida walks, a little too eagerly, through the courtyard sending polite smiles to those she passes on her way. When she reaches Elsie, she’s turned away from her, talking with Juniper. Aida taps her friend on the shoulder and is instantly met with Elsie’s curious brown eyes. Elsie squeals, drawing mostly unwanted attention towards the pair, and wraps Aida in an excited hug. “My gods, Aida, you look otherworldly! I nearly fainted when you entered the courtyard!” Elsie swoons. Funny, I thought the same thing. “Thanks, Els. I was actually coming over here to say the same thing to you. You look beautiful. Almost makes me forget all the insanely embarrassing things I know about you,” Aida replies with a cheeky grin. Her smile is soon replaced with a confused furrow of her brow and a frown as she and Elsie watch Juni stalk off with a sour look on her face. What’s with her? Sisters are so dramatic.

A vaguely familiar face captures Aida’s attention. A tall, dark-haired man with speckles of gray intruding his otherwise dark beard hovers at the edge of the courtyard. He’s neatly groomed and fits in well among the nobles socializing around him. Aida knows better, however, she’s been made to memorize the face of every noble of her kingdom. When he turns his head to the side, the memory of her eavesdropping earlier in the day flashes in her mind. That’s the man Samara was talking with in the garden! I need to speak with him. Aida turns her attention back to Elsie briefly to excuse herself in favor of socializing before her mother scolds her.

She breezes across the courtyard, hoping to look casual as she makes her way over to the man, stopping to chat with a few notable faces on the way. Aida settles near the man and flashes him a disarming smile. “Hello... well, I’m afraid I don’t know your name. I don’t believe I’ve seen you around before; my name is Zoraida,” she says with an outstretched hand. The mystery man studies her face briefly before taking her hand and kissing it in a polite greeting, “Princess, it’s an honor to make your acquaintance. I am Caelum of Convallis; I am a scholar at the university there. I’ve been to Meliora several times, but I’ve not attended the Festival Nix in many years. I must say, you will make a radiant queen.” How the hells does he know about that already? Aida’s discomfort shows plainly on her face long enough for Caelum to see and respond, “My apologies, I know that is not common knowledge. Your mother and I spoke this morning. I often send word to her about the state of affairs in Convallis and any suspicious activity involving the Zodiaci. I didn’t mean to startle you. She mentioned this morning that she would be announcing it soon. She intended to introduce us.” Aida visibly relaxes at his reassurance and nods curtly in response, “It was nice meeting you, then, Caelum. I look forward to corresponding with you in the future. I suppose I should be continuing my rounds, Enjoy the rest of your evening.” Aida leaves him and roams across the courtyard to ponder over what he said.

Caelum of Convallis. I’m sure he wouldn’t lie about something I could so easily check. It still doesn’t explain why he and Samara were whispering about me in the gardens or how they know each other. He seems genuine... maybe if I had showed up on time for the war council meeting then I would’ve met him already.

Aida lurks around the edge of the courtyard in a fairly uninhabited area, needing a break from socialization. She can feel the hair on the back of her neck rise as the feeling of being watched returns for the third time today. She visually locates her guards to ensure it isn’t them before walking towards the covered walkway where she’d entered from earlier. As she rounds the corner to her right, she smacks into a body and knocks them off balance. The body falls backwards onto the walk and Aida falls right on top of them. Stunned, she looks into the face of the person she plowed over to see none other than the apprentice. Samara... great. This is not how I imagined my first time on top of her going. Aida stares into Samara’s face, seemingly hypnotized by her deep blue eyes. “Can you please get off me?” Samara snarls. Oops. Aida scrambles off Samara in the most lady-like manner she can manage and offers her a hand to help her up. “I’m so sorry, Samara. I wasn’t looking where I was going,” Aida apologizes as she attempts to wipe dirt from the backside of Samara’s dress. “Seriously, Zoraida, you do not have to do that. Please, stop,” Samara huffs. Aida’s face flushes from embarrassment and she quickly retreats, “Sorry, I’ll, uh, I’m just going to go, now. I have to be somewhere.” Smooth.

Aida scurries away from Samara, face burning in shame. How can I possibly make such a fool of myself in front of one person day in and day out? She’s ALWAYS there around every corner just waiting for me to do something stupid, I swear! Lost in thought, she nearly bumps right into Elsie. “Aida, there you are! Didn’t you hear them announce the contest? It starts in 5 minutes; we need to go to our station; it’s time to kick some ass!” Elsie exclaims, dragging Aida behind her. Aida locks eyes with her mother across the courtyard, who looks mortified at the exchange. No doubt she’s going to get an ear full later about the proper way for a princess to behave in public. She’s led to a large area covered in fresh, powdery snow sparkling in the firelight that illuminates the yard. There are far more participants than usual since there are members of the public here this year. Aida and Elsie meet up with Juni at their designated position and await the call to start.

A horn sounds signaling the beginning of the snow-crafting competition. Aida, Juni, and Elsie swiftly begin working the snow into their interpretation of an earthly form of Nevia, the goddess of snow. Magic and snow whirl around the field as competitors mold it into their own imaginative creations. The competitors have one hour to complete their creations before they must stop and allow the judges to see their sculptures.

Approximately 30 minutes in, Aida accidentally tosses a mound of snow straight into Elsie’s face. Oh, man. The devious glint in Elsie’s eyes is enough to chill Aida more than the snow she’s knees deep in. With a flick of her hands, Elsie flings a pile of snow at Aida, knocking her onto her back in the snow. Game on. Aida growls at Elsie and shoots a gust of wind at her, effectively knocking her onto her bottom in the snow. Seconds later, the two are in a full-blown magic duel. Their joyous laughter echoes through the competition grounds drawing other competitors’ attention towards them. The girls have all but abandoned their creation when they hear a frustrated screech tear through the night behind them. They both turn sheepishly to face the source to find Juni red-faced and seething. She shoots, mostly harmless, warning flames from her fingertips at the two, “CAN YOU TWO QUIT FLIRTING LONG ENOUGH TO HELP ME FINISH OUR STUPID SCULPTURE?!” Hot flames burst unintentionally from her hands, one hitting the sculpture and melting a supporting element. The sculpture crumples to the ground, agonizingly slowly, destroying any chances they had at winning.

So much for the prize... I was really looking forward to winning the nectar this year.

Aida and Elsie make feeble attempts to apologize, but Juni has already disappeared towards the castle. Elsie and Aida exchange guilty looks, but within seconds, they’re doubled over in fits of laughter. They abandon their ruined sculpture and the competition to return to the courtyard. Elsie blows a few gentle gusts of wind over Aida to brush the snow off her dress. She takes a step forward and brushes the snow from Aida’s hair with her fingers. Aida studies her best friends face and takes note of her rosy cheeks. She wonders if they’re red from the snow and laughter or something else entirely.

“Hey losers! Come on, I knew there was no way you were winning and I’m here to save the day,” Zelina shouts peeking her head outside from a window looking over the courtyard and waving to the girls. Elsie tenses and takes a step back from Aida. Aida smiles widely and waves back to Zelina, “Hang on, we’re on our way! I want to change first.” Aida glances around for sign of her mother but doesn’t find her. She figures it’s probably safe to stop playing the dutiful princess role for tonight. With a salute to her hovering personal guards, she grabs Elsie’s hand and pulls her with her to her bed chambers. She tosses Elsie an outfit more suitable for their impending shenanigans and they both change out of their snow-soaked gowns.

The two girls find Zelina in her room sitting on a chair with 4 chalices in front of her on the small table. “You ladies fancy a drink?” Zelina questions with an impish smile. Aida and Elsie stare at her with wide eyes. “How did you get this... Zelina? Tell me there’s not a trail of bodies, please,” Aida begs. Zelina rolls her eyes and waves her off, “Don’t be silly, Aida. It’s simple. I’m a desirable woman and men are weak.” Aida chuckles and nods in agreement. “Why are there 4?” Elsie asks. Zelina looks between Elsie and Aida before replying, “Well, I assumed Juniper would be with you two, but I saw her storm towards her room, and she didn’t look like she wanted to be bothered. More for us, I suppose.”

Zelina divides the fourth chalices’ contents equally amongst the others and raises hers into the air between them. Aida and Elsie raise their own chalices and they clink them together before raising the potent nectar to their lips.

“To being heathens!” the girls toast.

Time for purification, gods know we need it.

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