Natalya spun about the room, clutching a letter close to her chest. She twirled once more, skirt flailing out around her in a beautiful design, her lips parted and a breathless sigh escaping them, her face flushing pink and her eyes twinkling.
She had never met anyone like this man- this man who was so handsome, so kind, so clever. He saw things she could never see, looked into the stars and saw patterns she never could, came up with secret meanings, deciphering the code hidden within the constellations.
She had sung to him that night, that hidden, beautiful night. He had taken her away to a secret part of the home and pulled her onto the bed next to him, his fingers combing through her hair and planting forbidden kisses on her face and neck and collarbone, and had asked her to sing. She sang him something simple, something sweet, something not particularly wonderful but not particularly awful either. He closed his eyes, swaying to the beat, squeezing her hand tightly, fingers brushing over hers and tracing little stars on her smooth skin.
“I wish I could sing like you,” he had whispered when she was finished, pressing his lips to her forehead and mumbling against her skin. “But I don’t practice enough.”
Everything he did was a song, it its own way. It was beautiful and musical and sounded so very lovely against her ears. Natasha blushed and began to shiver at the very thought of the man coming up behind her, seizing her arms and pressing her flush against him, pressing his lips against the smooth, sensitive part of her neck, the way he had on that forgotten night so long ago.
“Come look at the stars, dear Pearl,” Anatole whispered, his voice so smooth and feminine and sweet and sincere- Pearl melted against her will, losing control of her limbs and letting him spin her into his arms, giggling as he began to sway, pulling her along in a simple waltz, her back pressed against his chest. “Come look at the stars, dear Pearl. Won’t you sing me a song, dear Pearl? Won’t you sing to me?”
“How could you sister?” a voice broke the silence from across the roof. A lone figure, a slender girl bundled up in a thin cloak, began to yell. “How could you?”
Pearl’s eyes widened. “He likes my singing, he likes my singing, that’s all-” she broke free from Anatole’s hold as he began to speak.
“Wait, Natalie, we were never-”
“I always knew you were shallow!” she screamed. Tears fell freely from her arms as she strode towards the pair, her face inches from Anatole’s. I always knew you didn’t know me. I always knew you didn’t believe in me.I always knew that I bored you.I always knew I wasn’t pretty enough to hold you! I always knew you’d go with someone smarter than me! I always knew your mind was elsewhere, I always knew you were a snob- I- I always knew you had your head in the stars!” she let out a quiet sob before turning to Pearl. “I always knew you and your books- you and your fucking books! I am not a puzzle- I am not some freaking logic puzzle for you to figure out! I am not a fucking game! You know what? Why don’t you just go and fuck all your books. Why don’t you go fuck all your fucking books, and we’ll see who’s smarter- we’ll see!”
Natalya let out a growl at her sister before turning on her heel and bursting into sobs, running back into the house and out again. She never bothered to turn back, going instead deep into the woods. She ran and ran, tripping over roots and falling, scraping her knees, picking herself back up with blood running down her hands freely.
An hour later, Natalya found herself in the darkest part of the forest, where the moon was covered by a thick blanket of trees and the clear, dark sky was hidden behind layers and layers of fluffy gray clouds. Without a candle or anything to light up the dark path, she fell to her knees and began to sob.
“Hello there, little girl,” a growling, hoarse voice began to speak from behind her. Natasha whipped her head around, only finding a dark shadow of a figure. “Why are you out here so late at night, so near the cave of a bear?”
“A bear?” Natasha finally spoke, her voice infused with fear. “What bear, good sir? I know only of one bear nearby, and surely I can’t be near his cave. I know of a grand animal indeed, good sir, one who knows spells and curses one human can only wish to learn.”
“A very good creature, indeed!” the figure replied. The shadow stepped into the light, revealing itself as a tall, looming, hairy creature. A bear. “You speak kindly of me, little girl, you have heard the tales, then. You still have not answered my question- why do you find yourself in this part of the woods so late at night?”
“My- my courter-” Natasha choked out, the naive girl having no qualms concerning telling her life story to a bear found in the forest. “I’ve- I’ve found him with my sister.”
The bear would have softened, perhaps, had he been able to have such complex emotions. He tilted his head into the shadows so that she would not see his expression and rolled his eyes. “Oh, my dear girl, how I pity you! What is it you wish, little girl? Any magic you wish to have done, my dear, and I shall do it. However, it will come at a cost, dear girl, a very large cost, indeed!”
Natalya thought for a moment, thought of the man who had enchanted her so dearly, but who had betrayed her. Her mind fell on Pearl, her sister who had hurt her so deeply. She shook her head. “Shall you kill someone for me, bear? Is that too much to ask?”
The bear faltered. “Murder, little girl? Why, I didn’t think someone as innocent as you had it in them!”
“Not just one person,” Natasha piped up. “Two, actually. Two people. My courter and my sister.”
“Little girl, I am not a murderer!” the bear thought for a moment. “Do you think I am so rabid as to kill two innocent-”
Natalya let out a sound he could not identify. “Innocent? I hardly find them innocent.” She pondered for a moment. “However- would you kill one, dear bear? Perhaps you could- kill my courter, perhaps, leave him in a cave, lock him there, and turn my sister into- into an animal of some kind, and leave her to starve so that she would be forced to peck out his eyes and eat them!”
The bear let out a growl. “You are an interesting little girl. I will do it, dear girl, but it will come at a high cost. Are you ready?”
“One pot of honey-” he began, and the girl scoffed. “That’s not all, little girl, pay attention. One pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost.”
Natasha bit her lip, furrowing her eyebrows. She tilted her head to the side, curls that had come loose from their intricate style falling in waves around her shoulders. “What does this mean, bear? How could I possibly find these things?”
“It will not be easy, little girl, you must ask yourself- is it worth it?” Natalie nodded eagerly. “If it is, then you will find a way to get these items. This is all that I ask of you.”
Natasha looked at him with wide, innocent eyes, her body shaking, taking in his claws and teeth and narrowed yellow eyes for the first time as he stepped further into the light. “O-okay- I- I will be back.” And she turned around and began to run, for if she were to get her revenge on Anatole Kuragin and the sister she had trusted with all of her heart, she would have to work quickly.
“One pot of honey,” she whispered to herself as she began to run home. “Easy enough.”