The Witching War (girlxgirl)

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Chapter 6: Eta Piscium

Once the girls are dismissed from their serving and socializing duties, Aida is determined to visit Juniper. She hadn’t had the chance to really apologize to her sister after she and Elsie ruined their chances of winning the snow-crafting competition. If she was going to beg any girl for forgiveness tonight, it was going to be her sister. Especially since she had still gotten to drink the unearned prize and... well, maybe it’s better she doesn’t mention the rest. Aida heads straight from the dining hall into the corridor leading deeper into the castle. Almost all of the guests had been ushered from the dining hall towards the gates by the time Aida had left.

She swiftly walks through the corridor in the direction of Juni’s room, preparing her apology speech ahead of time. When she rounds the corner, a sudden icy gust of wind nips at her exposed skin. She approaches the open window to close it, but something stops her. From her peripheral, she sees a head bob past a window from the outside a few feet down. A nagging feeling in her gut tells her she needs to follow that person. She gathers her dress in her hands and swings one leg after the other out of the first-floor window. Her feet land in a pile of snow and a glacial chill envelops her body. Biting wind batters her face relentlessly, chapping her cheeks and lips as she hurriedly follows the footsteps in the snow leading towards where she saw the figure last.

She cautiously rounds the corner, calling her magic to the surface in case she needs to protect herself. A gloved hand covers her mouth, muffling the scream threatening to escape. She zaps the stranger with a bolt of electricity, causing them to let go of her and yelp in pain. Aida locks eyes with the stranger; the familiar deep brown skin and black eyes send shivers down her spine. The mystery woman from the dining hall stares back at Aida through a few locks of black hair; she looks like she’s seen a ghost. Just looking at the woman intensifies the hammering headache pounding Aida’s skull.

“Who are you?!” Aida demands. She tries desperately to ignore the fuzzy feeling in her brain. The woman blinks at her. Aida can feel her irritation growing by the second. “Tell me what you are doing sneaking around the grounds of the castle. You have no business here. Are you with the enemy? A spy? Who or what are you looking for? I suggest you answer, now, or I’ll see to it that you don’t leave alive!” Aida snarls, scorching silver flames flowing freely from her fingertips. The silver flames reflecting in the black of the mystery woman’s eyes make the curling smile on her face even more eerie.

Aida grows more uncomfortable by the second as the silence continues. Finally, the woman breaks the silence with a menacing chuckle. Aida’s brows knit together; she readies her flames, quickly losing patience. “I knew it was you the second I saw you, Nova. I would remember that face anywhere. You look exactly like you used to... but you’re a woman now. Even more so, you’re a princess. Your sisters believe you’re dead, you know. Your mother and father, too,” she says, finally.

The fuzzy feeling in Aida’s brain is in full force now; her head feels like it might explode any second.

Stop, stop, stop! Nova... no! My name is Zoraida, why is she calling me Nova? My family is dead! They don’t think anything of me, because they’re dead and I am alive. My name is not Nova.

“Stop lying! I will have you killed for your insolence! My name is Zoraida! Princess Zoraida of Sidus! I am not Nova, nor do I know any Nova; you have me mistaken with someone else,” Aida seethes. The mystery woman only looks at her with pity, now. Aida, enraged by her lack of response, raises her flaming hand in attack. Before she can go any further, the incessant throbbing in her head begins to take over, her vision blurs and blackens. She can hear a muffled voice, but it soon fades away. Aida collapses in the snowbank, unconscious.

***

“Zoraida! Zoraida, wake up! Come on, you’ve got to wake up,” a voice sounds; it seems as if it’s coming from miles away. Aida’s consciousness lingers just out of reach, she can hear the sounds and feel the numbing cold, but she can’t grasp hold of reality. She can feel it slipping away as sleep threatens to take her; she’s tempted to let it. A violent shaking keeps her from going too far into the abyss. She’s suddenly lifted from her lying position. The numbness has spread throughout her whole body, now. Slowly, she slips away again to the soothing murmurs of someone’s voice.

“She’s coming to, it looks like she’s stirring,” the same voice says. Aida can feel warmth now enveloping her body where the cold once was. She tries to remember how she got here or what happened to begin with, but the only thing she can remember is a debilitating headache. Aida’s eyes flutter weakly; a deep voice calls out to her, “Very good, Zoraida, you’re almost there now, come on. Don’t go to sleep, girl.” Malchidiel, I must be in the healer’s study. She tries again and successfully opens her eyes.

Aida’s surprised to see that she’s in her own bed chambers and not the healer’s study. Her silver eyes sweep the room; the healer, Malchidiel, and Samara are on her right side, and Sidera and Celeste on her left. She blinks away a haze and scrunches her nose. Something feels strange. Why can’t I remember what happened? Her mother’s voice shakes her from her thoughts, “Zoraida, darling, what happened to you? You were lying outside the castle in the snow for gods only know how long!” Aida looks at the concerned faces surrounding her and hot tears well in her eyes. She cries out in frustration, “I don’t know what happened! All I can remember is that I was going to Juni’s room to apologize for yesterday and then I remember a blinding headache... it just kept getting worse, and now I’m here. I don’t know why I was in the snow or even outside, at all.”

“Now, now, it’s alright, Zoraida. Sometimes hypothermia causes memory loss, no need to get all worked up. I am concerned why you had such a terrible headache and curious about how you ended up outside, but for now I think it’s time you rest and warm up. It’s for the best, I believe, if we all leave her to recover. I’ll have Samara here stay with her and monitor her overnight while I go study the site for traces of magic or poisons that we may have missed,” Malchidiel says. Sidera and Celeste nod solemnly and come to Aida’s side to say goodnight.

Celeste gives her a peck on the head and a warm smile; Aida can’t help but think such a genuine smile looks strange on the woman’s face. “You get well, my star. I love you so much,” the Queen says, with tears shining in her eyes. She kisses Aida softly and they turn to leave. Malchidiel follows soon after them once he finishes speaking quietly with Samara. Star... star... something about a star? Nova. Aida clenches her teeth as her headache returns with a vengeance.

Her thoughts are interrupted when she realizes she’s now left alone with Samara. If she hadn’t been so focused on trying to remember how she ended up like this, she certainly would have paid more attention to the fact that Samara would be staying in her room with her all night. The apprentice scribbles something in a notebook with her back turned to Aida. Aida’s palms begin to sweat and suddenly she’s very aware that she’s naked beneath the blankets.

Why am I NAKED?! Curse me, Samara must have seen me naked. I’m so embarrassed; I can’t do anything but make a fool of myself in front of her, even when I’m unconscious.

Samara’s voice beside her startles Aida, “Are you alright? You look like you’re in pain; I can give you something for it if you’re hurti-” Aida shakes her head firmly, cutting Samara off. “No. I mean, yes, my head is hurting, but I’m just really tired and also, I hadn’t realized I was naked... which caught me a little bit off guard,” Aida admits which elicits a giggle from the apprentice. Aida’s stomach flutters when she hears the girl’s melodic laughter; she can’t remember a time when she ever made Samara laugh and all she knows is she needs to hear it again.

“I would have thought that you’d be used to being naked. Seems all I hear about you is how you’ve been naked with some girl or another, no offense,” she remarks, teasingly. Aida’s jaw drops at the apprentice’s dig. “Good to know that’s what you think of me. Nevertheless, you’re now on the list of women who I’ve been naked with, err, well, in front of,” Aida replies attempting to hide the sting of hurt Samara’s comment left. Samara rolls her eyes, “Don’t worry, Zoraida, it was strictly professional. This hardly counts as one of your other more explicit nighttime adventures. You should rest. I’ll be sitting here by the bed while you sleep. Mind your covers, I’d rather not be flashed.”

Aida flushes at her comment but decides not to give her the satisfaction of a reply and turns over to try and sleep. Her eyes droop heavily and the dull aching of her head eases as she drifts off to sleep.

***

Aida wakes a few hours later; she can’t shake the feeling that someone’s watching her. Her eyes flit open and she’s met with Samara’s deep blue eyes staring back at her. Aida smiles slightly and notices the obvious exhaustion present on Samara’s face. “Come, you need to sleep, Samara. You can just sleep with me. There’s no reason for you to sit up and watch me sleep all night. Before you say no, it’s fine. You can grab yourself and me some clothes to sleep in over there from the wardrobe,” Aida pleads. She watches the apprentice struggle with the offer. Finally, she nods and strides over to the wardrobe, no doubt looking to shut Aida up.

She fishes out clothes for the both of them and tosses Aida hers before retreating to the bath to change her own. When she returns, Samara hesitantly slides into bed beside Aida. As she settles over the blankets, Aida shoots her an ‘are you serious’ look. “Get under the cursed covers, Samara, and go to sleep. Don’t make it weird, we’re just sleeping,” Aida sighs exasperatedly. Samara complies with a huff and turns on her side facing away from Aida at the edge of the bed. Aida rolls her eyes and turns off the light, sending the room into total darkness aside from the moonlight pouring in the large bay window. She turns on her side facing the opposite way from Samara and allows sleep to take her, again.

Light snoring and the feeling of warm breath tickling her neck stirs Aida awake. The warmth of Samara’s body is a heavenly contrast to the winter morning chill creeping under the covers in search of exposed skin. She snuggles deeper into Samara’s embrace and slips in and out of a light slumber. She can feel Samara stir and murmur incoherent words before pulling Aida tighter against her body.

Having drifted back asleep, Aida and Samara miss the knock on the door. When the door opens, Malchidiel, Sidera, Celeste, Juniper and Elsie stand in the doorway waiting impatiently to check how Aida is this morning. The group stands in awkward silence for a moment upon seeing the two spooning each other. Celeste clears her throat and shuffles into the room, taking the lead,

“Well... she did a very thorough job keeping her warm, it seems. Nicely done.”

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