Nine times out of ten, Rose counts herself as one of the lucky ones. That is, most witches are greeted with mild-to-extreme caution, even living at the outskirts of town, and even serving the townships and villages to which they attach themselves. Rose is, as these things go, an exceptionally well-received witch. Heavens, she’s downright liked, and has not an infrequent stream of visitors, asking anything from herbal concoctions to a cup of tea and a soothing chat.
And so, as it happens, nine times out of ten, Rose counts herself very lucky, indeed.
It’s just… well, tonight, she’s woken up at the devil’s hour by a persistent knocking at her door, and cheerful and congenial a woman as she is, she still laments the interruption to her sleep.
It takes her only a few moments to take her dress where she had laid it at the foot of her bed, slip over her head, and touch her callous-rough feet to the ground. Another few moments and she opens the door to find the eldest Frye boy looking pale as a sheet on her doorstep.
“You need to come quick, Ms. Rose,” he stammers out, “there’s… there’s some kind of evil spirit in the library—”
Up late again with the occult scrolls, then. Still—for all his imagination, these things are not entirely unheard of. If there is any scrap of reality to Ronaldo’s late-night visions, it will be well worth her time to go. She grabs her scarf from its hook, and reaches for the lantern that hangs upon the wall by her door. Whispering the words to make it flare to life, she says simply, “Lead the way.”
Despite their haste, Ronaldo is shivering by the time they stand before the town’s library. Rose offers him her scarf, which he takes gratefully, and wraps himself tightly. Rose puts a hand to his shoulder, quietly instructs him, “Wait here,” and leaves her lantern with him as she steps up to the library door, and enters inside.
The first thing she notices is that there are books and scrolls tossed about everywhere—likely only a product of Ronaldo having departed in a hurry, but there is no reason to drop her guard just yet. She stays quiet, and hears no breathing, no shuffling. Then the intruder is quiet, a spirit, or no one at all. Inhaling slow and silent, she breathes a spell into her palm, and lets the spark of light spread out to her fingertips until the glow reaches the stacks.
She hears a hiss at her right—a soft, pained noise through the teeth, not an angry, defensive sound. Rose quickly lifts another hand to shield the flicker of light as she turns, an untidy mess of curls flying around her shoulders.
Rose pauses for a moment, taking in the sight of the slender figure hiding as best they’re able in the shadowed nooks of the shelves. Rose looks, and then closes her palm, extinguishing the light.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you quite all right?”
A long pause follows, broken at last by a slight, “Um.”
The pitch seems, to her, distinctly feminine—but that only means so much, really. Rose shakes her hand out, dissipating the remnants of the spell, and starts a cautious approach. Just one step, and then a second when the first provokes no ill reaction. “Are you all right?” Rose asks again.
Another silence arises, this one shorter before the person amongst the shelves answers, “I’m… a little trapped, actually. Once the door closed, I couldn’t…”
Rose, too, had closed the door behind her. She glances back now and sees the insignia of the cross adorning the double doors, split between the two. When opened, the symbol was broken, but when closed…
And, as she looks to the windows, she recalls quite suddenly that the elaborate panes had been framed in silver, and the panes done in ash wood.
“I see,” Rose says, and turns her gaze away from the windows. This time, with her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she can make out a few books clutched in pair of slender, pale hands. Unable to help herself, she cracks a smile. “A spot of light reading, then?”
“—I always bring them back,” they insist, with a faint tinge of distress raising their pitch another note or two.
“I don’t doubt it!” Rose laughs. “Though—oh… I’ve got Ronaldo waiting just outside.” She offers up a sheepish smile. “Do you mind leaving them for now? If you like, I can be back tomorrow night to open the doors for you, if you need. And I can make certain that no one closes the door behind you, either.”
Even in this dim light—or maybe especially—she can make out how pale those eyes are, as they cautiously regard her. “I thought…” Then, hesitating, before, “Were you not brought here to do away with me?”
Rose beams. “With an evil spirit, I was told,” she says. “I see no such thing, here. Do you?”
Another small silence goes on. “Thank you. Thank you. I—may I… why are you doing this…?”
The pause is the kind that trails off not in waiting an answer, but in the unsure, wavering tones of someone asking another question, entirely. It is the kind of tone that does not know to whom the question is addressed. Rose smiles. “The she-witch, Rose,” she supplies. “And you?”
The hesitation, this time, only lasts a moment. “The she-vampire. Pearl.”
“Pearl.” Rose holds out her hand to her—ah, yes, her pronouns, aren’t they—and says, “You… can shape-change, can’t you? I suspect you want to leave without being seen?”
Pearl nods, stepping out of her nook at last. There is a certain deliberate caution about her demeanor which reminds Rose a little of a dancer, or a songbird. After a moment's hesitation, Pearl moves briefly aside to a table, where she set her books carefully down—and Rose has to stifle a giggle at the care she takes, such a contrast after the apparent chaos Ronaldo left in his panic.
“Thank you,” Pearl says again. And then, turning her pale eyes back to Rose, she asks, “And… you will be back, tomorrow?”
“On my honor.” Rose starts for the door. “How long do you need to change—?”
“Just a few moments.”
Rose turns a smile over her shoulder, notes the way she is being watched, with a grateful, if still-cautious look. She turns back to the door, closes her eyes, counts to ten… and then opens it.
There is the faintest flutter over her head, of bat wings—there and gone again in a moment. Ronaldo startles, clutching the lantern close.
“Did you see it?” he asks.
“You can rest easy, Ronaldo,” she says, a knowing smile playing upon her lips. “There are no evil spirits here, tonight.”