From the top of the cliff, Amity could see a fair distance over the Palisman Woods. Close at hand was a sea of cypress and white pine, their spread needles obscuring most of the forest floor below. A short distance further lay a broad, verdant glade filled with aster flowers that glowed a vibrant purple in the late afternoon sun. Beyond that rose the city of Bonesborough, its steepled towers and hazy skies serving as a pointed reminder of why the young witch was so eager to finish school and leave this town behind.
Out here, Amity had the space to think - a rare commodity on a school day like this, when her anxiety prevented her from doing anything but lashing out. In the halls and in class, it felt like everyone had their eyes on her, wondering what the black sheep of the Blight family might do next.
Maybe she’ll threaten another teacher. Maybe she’ll slash all of the grudgby balls before the big game. Maybe she’ll light the entire horticulture lab on fire again just because someone looked at her funny.
Maybe she’d show them what she was really capable of. Maybe.
Home wasn’t much better, either. The Blights had a long family tradition of magical excellence, a tradition that Amity upheld from her very first day of training. Her social graces, however, never measured up to that of her older siblings, nor the rest of their elitist clan. As such, her parents directed only ire at her daily rebellions, insisting that if she could just be “normal,” she could be one of the Boiling Isles’ most capable witches.
Joke’s on them, Amity thought while chucking a fist-sized stone into the wide juniper waves beyond. I don’t need their manners. I have this and that’s enough.
To accent her point, Amity snapped her fingers, causing a small zippo of flame to ignite and flicker in her palm. For a moment, she allowed the fire to dance in her hand, its tongues jumping to and fro as an autumnal breeze blew by. Sure, it was only a small ember now. But soon, it could be the raging inferno that finally put her on the path toward... on the path toward...
Closing her grasp and looking out into the distance again, Amity wondered what her end goal in all this was. Fighting off her parents’ expectations and instigating trouble at school were only short-term solutions – Amity was far too keen to fool herself into thinking otherwise. After all this time in that rut, though, she hardly knew why she stayed the course, especially if it didn’t offer the freedom that she so desperately craved.
“Whatever,” Amity eventually concluded aloud, her tone curt and powdered with disdain. “I’ll just roll with the punches until something better comes along.”
As if Nature itself had heard her and wanted to prove a point, a loud crash from the forest below snapped Amity out of her self-reflective haze. The sound of crushing twigs and twisting roots echoed out against the cliff side, followed by a thunderous impact that shook the surrounding land for miles. Even Amity’s stone perch rattled in response to the crash, causing the witch to jump to her feet and look around for the disturbance’s source.
At first, there were no signs to follow, no proof that the commotion had been more than a tree falling in the forest when no one was around to see it. But after checking the middle distance, Amity noticed intermittent flashes erupting from a densely wooded grove no more than a kilometer away.
Just as Amity locked onto the illuminated oddity, a second tree crashed to the forest floor, this time fully within her view. Near where the first flash appeared, a hearty cypress collapsed out of sight, causing a sizable plume of dust and dead needles to rise into the air. Its saboteur remained out of sight, however, piquing Amity’s curiosity in an instant.
Without looking back, the green-haired witch snatched her satchel bag and started down a rough-cut trail leading back to ground level. Just as she rounded a switchback, now at a full jog, another crash signaled an ongoing struggle up ahead. Brighter flashes followed close behind, as if their spellcaster’s plight grew more and more severe with each passing minute.
Finally, after clambering up a small hill that occluded the latest series of flashes, Amity peered out and saw a battle already in motion. Before her, in the midst of a grassy clearing, stood a hulking stone golem, its carved granite arms readying for another sluggish assault. The construct’s beady red eyes told the tale of its menacing intent, especially as they locked onto a smaller being running a clockwise circle just beyond its reach.
The smaller being at first looked like a blur, their speed too great and their motions too sharp for Amity to get a clear read on their appearance. When the figure eventually stopped to stare down the golem, Amity could see that they were close to her age, such that they could easily be a classmate. But Amity didn’t recognize this person at all, despite their distinctive olive jacket and purple beanie.
What was clear, however, was that this person was in trouble. A golem of this size was a rare sight these days, but Amity’s attention in “History of Magical Constructs” had not been so neglected that she missed the lesson on challenging anthropomorphic beings. Doing so was often a death wish without proper preparation, and even then, you were in for a real fight if you didn’t have a plan to de-spell their seal.
Knowing now what needed to be done, Amity cast aside her bag and took off at a full sprint. Already, a spell came to mind that could do the trick in a single blow – in theory, at least. Amity knew full well that her favored spells would only have a minimal impact on a golem’s calcified exterior.
But now wasn’t the time to second-guess herself, not with a fearsome adversary in her midst. Now was the time to show this abomination what Amity Blight was capable of.
As she drew closer to the dueling pair, the green-haired witch snapped her right hand, bringing to life a familiar ember in her palm. The flame grew larger as she ran, its form accreting more and more ashy material with each step. Once she was in range, Amity halted her progression sharply and thrust her right arm skyward, catapulting the freshly-formed firebomb directly toward the golem’s blockish head.
The mass of ignited brimstone arched through the air, streaking behind it a comet-like tail that illuminated the canopy’s underside. With a crash, the glassy projectile found its mark and shattered, casting its incinerating contents down the golem’s stony body. In response, the construct threw up its hands and clawed at its emotionless face, trying with all of its might to clear away the incendiary debris.
While the golem tried to regain its composure, its original opponent turned and glared at Amity with a mix of surprise and confusion. As far as she knew, she hadn’t been followed when she left Bonesborough. But clearly, someone had tracked her down, and it wasn’t clear yet if they were friend or foe.
“Who the hell are you?” the stranger shouted, her breathing still heavy from her sprint.
Her attention still drawn to the behemoth before them, Amity started forming a second fireball in her hand. Once it was large enough to fill her palm, she pitched it at the golem’s core, scoring another direct hit. The beast let out a guttural howl in response, its blocky hands patting at its center to settle the onset heartburn.
Grinning at her success, Amity let the adrenaline of the moment offer its best swagger.
“Amity Blight – your goddamn hero.”
Noticing that the golem looked ready to attack again, Amity hurriedly added, “now, stay out of my way!”
With that, the green-haired witch spread apart her hands to shoulder width, like a conductor preparing her orchestra. But rather than gracefully commanding a symphony, Amity traced her hands through the air in parallel half-circles that met at her waist. In the motion’s wake, a glowing circle of energy floated in the air, its thin form flickering and dancing like a welcoming campfire.
Without another word, Amity slammed her hands into the circle, causing a pyric blaze to rage forth on command. The flaming column crossed the clearing in an instant and crashed into the golem at full force, knocking it off center and causing it to stumble. Even as the construct tripped and collapsed to the forest floor, taking with it another spruce tree, Amity kept the heat rolling, the scorching tongues gleefully reflecting in her golden eyes.
After finally cutting off her spell, Amity heaved in a large breath in, the effort of her enchantment exceeding her rushed expectations. The stranger, meanwhile, looked on in awe, her eyes struggling to register what they’d just beheld.
Who is this girl? she wondered in silence, where’d she learned to do that?
And more importantly, how the fuck do I stay on her good side?
Realizing at once that her gawking was doing little to finish the fight, the stranger snapped her attention back to behemoth at the other end of the clearing, its hulking form still struggling to recover. Deciding that this was her chance, she took off at another sprint and charted a swift course toward to golem.
As the stranger hit her stride and leapt over a downed tree, Amity noticed for the first time that she was wielding some kind of handheld weapon – a short sword stained red with blood from the looks of it. Once she’d summited the golem’s fallen form, however, Amity saw clearly that this girl was carrying a cherry red bat, not unlike those the school jocks walked around with during hexball season. The bat had clearly seen plenty of actions, too, with a few dents and paint chips apparent even at a distance.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Amity called after the girl, a shock of distress bubbling up in her system. “That thing’s not even going to leave a scratch. You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“Oh, it’ll leave more than just a scratch,” the mystery girl assured as she approached the golem’s center.
Leaping suddenly into the air, the girl swung her bat with a full measure of strength, leveling its midpoint on the golem’s spherical heart. Immediately upon contact, an enormous force erupted from the bat, resulting in a shock wave that shook the clearing and knocked Amity off-balance. A powerful *crack* followed shortly behind, filling the glade with a sharp report akin to a distant firework.
Much to Amity’s surprise, the hit was more than just for show. In the shock wave’s wake, it now appeared that the golem’s spherical heart had been dislodged such that the entire beast now appeared disheveled and faulty. This didn’t stop it from releasing a dreadful howl, signaling its intent to battle on.
Jumping free of the now-rising golem, the mystery girl charged back to a safe distance without delay. Once she arrived at Amity’s side, she gave her companion a wild grin and tried to catch a solid breath.
“Who’s the hero now, huh?”
Amity at first opened her mouth to offer a stinging retort. But before the devilish wit could reach her lips, she found herself taken aback by the mystery girl’s appearance up close.
Her hazel eyes stood out first, vibrant and lively against her medium complexion. Then came her keen smile, so rife with effervescent zeal that she hardly looked like a seasoned monster hunter. Her chestnut hair was hard to ignore, either, even as most of it – save for the two lengthy bangs framing her face – was tucked up tight into her floppy purple beanie.
Even on a quick appraisal, Amity knew with certainty that she’d never met this girl before – at school or anywhere else in Bonesborough. If she had, well…perhaps she would have tried to get to know her. Not for any reason in particular…just that she was pretty nice to look at, even when she was trying to bash in a giant stone monster’s brains with only a dented metal bat.
Feeling the tips of her ears growing warm, Amity broke eye contact and tried to refocus her thoughts on the battle ahead.
“Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet, hero,” the green-haired witch chastised while gesturing off toward the far tree line. There, the golem had risen to one knee, its spherical core still jaunty from the previous strike.
“Yeah, we’re not out of the woods yet,” the brown-haired girl confirmed while tapping her bat on the ground. “I bet one more hit from this guy would be enough to finish him off.”
At the suggestion, Amity noticed that her ally’s bat was not entirely bare. Across its chipped surface, an assortment of enchantment glyphs had been affixed, likely imbuing the weapon with a supernatural kick. If that were the case, Amity surmised, maybe this girl did have what it takes to finish the job.
After evaluating their options, Amity shot back, “That might actually work. I can try to draw its attention if you think you can land another one of those hits.”
“You better believe I can,” the mystery girl smiled, her grin a mix of rakish audacity and inadvertent charm. The courage in her voice warmed Amity’s cheeks, breaking her concentration again and causing her mind to wander. But the green-haired witch quickly recovered, shaking her head furiously for a moment before envisioning her next spell.
“Okay, let’s do this. But you’d better be quick because I’m not sure how many more of these I have in me.”
Lowering herself into a sprinter’s crouch, the brown-haired girl gave a reassuring thumbs-up. “One should be plenty.”
The golem was now back on its feet, its ruby red eyes again transfixed on its aggressors. Though its face lacked any expression, both girls felt certain that it was readying itself to go for broke.
Just as the construct started to lumber forward, the mystery girl took off in its direction, leaving Amity in her wake. Taking this as the signal to begin, Amity spread her legs to shoulder width and re-positioned her hands for the same pyroclastic blast. Now with some resistance, she traced out the same circle and inhaled deeply, hoping that her attack would slow the construct enough to re-expose its vulnerable heart.
Gritting her teeth slightly, Amity felt her pulse quicken with anticipation. Without breaking her resolve, she shouted, “I’m ready when you are!”
Without missing a step, the mystery girl raised her bat and raised her voice.
“Let it rip!”
On cue, Amity slammed her palms flat against the enchantment circle, causing a fresh torrent of flames to sunder forth. Like reigning in a wild stallion, Amity tried to direct this fresh column of flames at the golem’s head, with the hope of further obscuring its vision. Doing so was harder than she expected, though, not least because the spell’s scale was far greater than she’d ever practiced at school or on her own.
Even as she felt beads of sweat forming on her brow, Amity redoubled her efforts and guided the spell’s fury upward. Out of the corner her eye, she kept a lock on the mystery girl, her chestnut bangs and floppy beanie bouncing behind her as she approached the beast. Once she looked close enough to strike, Amity readied herself to cut loose.
With one final push, the green-haired witch punched out a magnificent fire ball that socked the golem clean in its blockish jaw. As before, the strike knocked the abomination off-center, causing its arms to swing about wildly. But despite listing from side to side, the effort wasn’t enough to knock the golem to the mat.
Looking on at her failed attempt and gasping for a clean breath, Amity felt a pit form in her stomach. By now, the mystery girl was far too close to just duck out and take another pass. She either had to make her move now, without the benefit of an immobilized enemy, or hope to hell that the golem’s aim was as sluggish as its movements. Either way, Amity knew, she had little control over this girl’s next move, for better or for worse.
Little did Amity know, the human girl had a trick or two still up her sleeve. As it became apparent that the golem would not fall again, she reached into her jacket pocket and withdrew a slip of inscribed parchment paper. With her free hand, she threw it to the ground and tapped it with her bat.
Immediately, the glyph’s lines began to glow a luscious green before disappearing from sight. In their place rose a series of a thorny vines, each as thick around as a witchling’s torso. Each vine shot up wild and unkempt, with one particularly hearty stem catching the mystery girl midstride and offering her a step up. Hoping on eagerly, the ascending foliage vaulted her clear into the air, perfectly in line with the towering golem’s core.
Inhaling sharply and tightening her grip, the mystery girl again swung her bat with all of her might. From a distance, Amity watched as the crimson club drilled the golem’s center, causing a fresh shock wave to radiate outward. This time, though, the hit was clean and concise, causing the golem’s core to finally spring free and fall to the forest floor like a tooth lost in a bar fight.
With its seal removed, the life force immediately began to drain from the golem’s body. Not more than a second later, the construct’s eyes went dark and its statue-like form began to collapse under its own weight, starting with its granite head and carrying on through its two-ton arms.
At first, Amity couldn’t believe that they’d pulled it off. A golem of this size would usually take an entire squad of Coven Guards to subdue, and they had done it all on their own. Despite herself, she felt ready to throw her arms around this total stranger, as if they’d just overcome the odds and won some obtuse sports championship. The earlier warmth even returned to her ears as her mind indulged the split-second fantasy of this stranger’s amorous gratitude.
But quickly, the warm glow of accomplishment faded as the fluid situation continued to unfold.
As Amity looked on, the mystery girl landed cleanly with a seemingly effortless level of flare, her back turned toward the dissolving mass of stone and mortar. Her excitement now overflowing, she raised her bat high in the air and waved it in Amity’s direction, an invitation to join her in this moment of triumph.
In her jubilation, however, the mystery girl failed to notice the shifting shadows around her. The roar of cascading limestone didn’t catch her attention as she remained attuned only to the ring of victory. These were omens that only Amity could see and hear, and all at once, that sinking feeling of an impending disaster rushed in, breathless and unavoidable.
In an instant, Amity felt her joints lock up with fear. She was well out of the line of fire, but that brown-haired girl wasn’t so lucky. If she didn’t get a move on, she’d be flattened as soon as the golem’s statuesque form succumbed to gravity.
And yet, the mystery girl didn’t move an inch. She would never know what hit her.
Deep in her bones and in every fresh heartbeat, Amity ached to do something, anything that might make a difference. But what was there left to do? Running in wasn’t an option at all, neither was a levitation spell with the strength to hold that much weight. There had to be another way to pull this off, some better option for saving this bewitching brawler that had improbably caught her eye.
Then, just as the window of opportunity started to close, the perfect spell manifested itself whole cloth in Amity’s mind. Yet again, it was a spell she’d never tried out before – one that could really hurt her if it wasn’t executed perfectly. But it could work – it would work. It had to work, or else…
Casting aside any thoughts of an alternative outcome, Amity drew her hands lightning-fast in a circle through the tense air. Clenching her fists at the circle’s edges, Amity envisioned a spot just meters away, in the collapsing golem’s shadow. A wind rushed up from the ground in response, causing Amity’s knee-length pink dress to flutter and cling to her legs.
As the winds reached their apex, Amity jolted forward and vanished into thin air. A blink of an eye later, she reappeared at her desired location, mere inches from the mystery girl’s unmoving form. Reaching out a desperate hand, Amity grabbed the girl’s coat collar and tugged her forward in the golem’s direction.
With another blink, the pair reappeared even further in the distance, just beyond a pile of felled trees. Their balance broken in the transition, both girls tumbled hard to the ground, the bed of pine needles and twigs on the forest floor doing little to break their fall. Back behind them, the sound of large stone blocks gritting and tumbling over one another echoed out, their hollow report signaling the golem’s final demise.
Fearful that she’d failed in her last-ditch effort, Amity kept her eyes shut tight, as if doing so could lock out the expectedly grim scene indefinitely. Her lungs couldn’t go another minute without fresh air, though, so she reluctantly released her held breath and tried to readjust to her surroundings.
She was on the ground now, that much was certain. There was a bristling pain in her palms, both of which had buried themselves in heaps of sappy pine needles on impact. A similar ache rose from Amity’s wrists as she tried to move, making it clear that they had taken the full force of her post-spell tumble.
But there was also something else there as well, another presence unrelated to her pain. There was something else beneath her.… or someone else beneath her.
Opening her eyes suddenly, Amity’s senses all rushed back in force. Before her, or rather below her, lay the mystery girl on her back, her head pitched into a small brush pile. Her eyes were shut and unmoving, and her arms lay motionless, with one hand still sunk into her coat pocket.
But if the mystery girl was there, then that meant…it worked! Amity felt a rush of accomplishment cascade over her once more, now that she knew her last-ditch rescue attempt had been a success. Somehow, her misty step had gone off without a hitch, and she’d been able to get them both to safety in the nick of time.
But after basking in the warm glow of victory for a beat, another glint of reality reached Amity’s senses. If she was looking down at this girl from above, one hand still on her collar and the other supporting her own weight, then she was presently perched mere inches above a total stranger – a particularly appealing stranger who managed to preserve her plucky charm while unconscious, yes, but a stranger, nonetheless.
The realization sent an embarrassed shock through Amity’s system, causing her to jump back and scoot away on her knees. The sudden movement sent a fresh jolt of pain through her wrists but bite her tongue to keep herself from crying out. The thought of this girl waking up and seeing her savior posed over her in such a compromising position felt like an equally dreadful prospect.
As if on cue, the mystery girl started to come to just as Amity adequately distanced herself. At first, her movements were lethargic while the aftereffects of involuntary teleportation wore off. But once she raised her head, she could see Amity just a few feet away, her uneasy gaze cast down at the ground.
Rubbing her neck as she started to sit up, the mystery girl asked, “Dios mío…what happened?”
As nonchalantly as she could muster, Amity tried to stand back up and dust herself. “Oh, um…we beat that golem. Or you beat the golem, I guess.”
“Yeah, I remember that,” the mystery girl shot back, her wit surprisingly sharp for having just been unconscious. “But you…you saved me.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t say that I ‘saved you’ or anything,” Amity countered, her words muddled by a rush of unforeseen nerves. “I just…did what felt right.”
“Well, whatever you did, it worked. I’d be a pancake under that thing right now if you hadn’t shown up.”
Sheepishness turned to pride in a snap, and Amity was now ready to take credit where credit was due.
“It was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I’ve never even used that spell before and look – it turned out perfectly. Neither of us even lost a finger.”
Sitting up fully now, the mystery girl swatted a few needles from her bangs. As she did so, Amity quickly noticed her opposite’s sudden lack of a head covering. Her full chestnut mane was now on full display, from her extended bangs all the way through her cropped crown. All in all, the look only made the girl look that much more fetching in Amity’s eyes, even if she did have spots of sap all across her cheeks and forehead.
While she tried her best to not stare, Amity noticed something unusual peak out from behind the mystery girl’s bangs while she loosened a particularly troublesome bunch of leaves. It could have just been an earring, in all likelihood, or some other piece of enchanted jewelry. But just for a second, Amity could have sworn that this girl was sporting a set of rounded ears.
Squinting for a better look, Amity involuntarily muttered her observation aloud.
“Hey, wait…are you…?”
But before she could get the last word out, the mystery girl’s eyes grew wide and her cheeks grew flushed. Her hands rushed down from her hair and covered her ears, as if she’d shamefully exposed herself. Her eyes, meanwhile, scanned the area frantically, in desperate hope of locating her lost hat.
“Am I the most talented and courageous fighter in all of the Boiling Isles?” she cut in breathlessly. “You’d better believe it.”
Having found her hat in the process, the mystery girl stumbled back to her feet and threw her cap back on in one unsteady motion. With her head covering back in place, she began to look more stable, even as she continued to peer around the clearing purposefully.
Amity knew she wasn’t just seeing things now and persisted.
“No, I could have sworn – your ears, they’re…”
“Only pierced once? I know, how embarrassing, right? I wanted to get a second set before I ended up here, but mami said I had to wait until the end of summer. Maybe I could get them done here…”
Amity was trying to her best to not be thrown off the scent, but this girl’s distractions were bringing up new questions altogether. Before she could object, though, the mystery girl started back in, an ounce of playful sarcasm now lilting in her voice.
“But that’s a story for another time, I guess. Thanks again for the help! I’d have really been in a bind if my hero hadn’t shown up out of the blue.”
With that, the brown-haired girl turned back and winked in Amity’s direction. Amity, still sputtering to confirm what she’d just seem, couldn’t even crack a flustered smile in response before the mystery girl turned tail and started running off in the direction of town.
Realizing at once that she wouldn’t get another chance to ask, Amity found her voice in a hurry and yelled after the stranger.
“Hey, wait! Just who the hell are you?”
Turning and running backwards for a couple paces, the mystery girl raised her bat in the air and grinned from ear to ear.
“Luz Noceda – and don’t you forget it!”