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    In the perfectly ideal world that Sophie thought she lived in, she reached her destination without any delays or any inconveniences and was back in the mansion in less than an hour.

    In the world Sophie actually lived in, she got absolutely lost.

    She walked and walked and walked, her map effortlessly floating before her, and the more she walked, the more lost she felt. The map—a worn-out thing Flint had fetched from inside an old desk—was doing little to help as well. Words were blurred, streets were crossed out, and many other inconveniences littered the aged document.

    Such was her trouble trying to decipher the map, she missed out on the many sights the grand city offered. The vagrant snoring away on the street, three giggling children poking him with a stick; the lonely musician leaning against a wall, the melody from her guitar failing to persuade Sophie to throw a few coins into her basket; the men and women filing in and out of buildings, attending to last-minute weekend affairs; and, finally, the soon-to-be-punished little girl who was far more interested in Sophie than in doing any of the errands she’d sworn to do.

    Upon reaching the corner of Frost Avenue and North Street, Sophie finally resigned herself to her situation. The young mage sat down on a nearby bench, feeling no small amount of irritation toward poor, darling Flint.

    “I should have bought my own map,” she muttered, grasping the offending artifact and glaring at it, as though hard stares might suddenly bring the faded words back to life.

    “Can you make it float again?”

    Sophie turned around and found a girl with raven hair leaning on the bench’s backrest, her curious eyes set on the map and a lollipop sticking out her mouth.


    “You were floating the map earlier. Can you make it float again? I’ll help you get to where you need to go if you show me,” the child offered, walking around the bench and sitting down next to my baffled beloved. At Sophie’s hesitance, she spoke again, offering a small, deviously innocent smile. “Please?”

    Her smile worked its charms, and it was hardly surprising that it did. She had learnt from the best of the best, after all, which was certainly an annoyance when she’d started using it to sweet-talk her way into a bigger allowance.

    With a small smile, Sophie let go of the map, her fingertips filling with magic just in time to catch it before it fell to the ground. A quick gesture, and it floated up into the air, displaying itself for the giggling girl to clap at.

    “I can do magic too! Look, look!”

    With careful delicacy, the child lifted her fingers and sparks of blue magic shot out. As they did, she opened her mouth rather awkwardly, and the lollipop slowly floated out in painfully shaky movements. The child grinned brightly, looking to Sophie with the expectation of glowing praise.

    “That’s, uh, very good!” Sophie replied, and though she tried her best, she was hardly a good liar.

    I suppose this would be the moment where I introduce this little girl, wouldn’t it? Where I unveil the name and story of this child whom I would die for if her capricious demands didn’t kill me first. However, it would be better to let her do it. She took great pride in declaring herself to the world, you see—a trait she, for better or worse, also learned from me.

    “I’m Isabelle,” said my precious little sister, putting the lollipop back in her mouth and extending her hand to Sophie.

    Sophie reached out to take it and faltered for a moment. My sister’s hand, she noticed, was bruised. Red around the knuckles, small scratches, and though she held it out proudly, it was clear she wasn’t quite able to open it up all the way.

    “What’s wrong with your hand?” Sophie asked, concern bubbling up inside her.

    Isabelle blushed, taking back her hand. “N-nothing! I fell,” she said before extending it out once again with determination. “I’m Isabelle!”

    Sophie said nothing. She simply took her hand and carefully shook it.

    “Are you a witch?” Isabelle asked when she took back her hand. “What’s your name?”

    “A mage. And yes, I am,” said Sophie, and held off from explaining that she was actually a mage’s apprentice. “And Sophie. My name, I mean. Sophie Clarke.”

    Isabelle nodded severely, licking on her lollipop much like a private investigator might smoke his pipe. “That’s what I thought it would be.”

    She was an odd child, but that is beside the point.

    She had also been spending a bit too much time with my dear friend Rose, the local eccentric baker and detective novel enthusiast. That too was beside the point.

    “Can you do other magic spells?” Isabelle asked after a lick of her candy. She beamed with smug pride when she added, “I bet you can’t do magic like my big sister can.”

    Sophie raised an eyebrow, suddenly intrigued by this casual mention of another skilled mage. She would insist, later on, that her attention was struck only because she cared about magic itself and not because she wanted anything silly like friendships or meeting deliriously beautiful girls.

    “Oh?” she asked. “What kind of magic does she do?”

    Isabelle Belle smiled smugly. “All the magic.

    “…All the magic?.”

    “All the magic! And she can do it better than anyone!” Isabelle continued, the little devil taunting Sophie with her smile. “She can float me up almost six feet!” She licked her lollipop, or what remained of it at least. “Can you do that?”

    “I can do more than that,” Sophie replied, the answer pleasing Isabelle and surprising Sophie herself.

    Sophie Clarke, let it be known, was not someone who particularly liked to show off. Magic was not a show to be displayed, but an art to be respected. She shared the awe of the same people who were impressed by her effortless feats of magic.

    And yet.

    And yet, you see, from the rich noble city Sophie Clarke came from, magic was hardly rare, and even less so skilled magic users. Her entire family from the northern cities were known for their prowess in the arts of psychokinesis. If she’d never learned to show off, it was simply because she’d never truly had the opportunity to.

    Until now, that was.

    She jumped to her feet and turned to Isabelle. “You said your sister can levitate you?”

    “Uh-huh!” she replied, practically lifting her arms in preparation for Sophie to do the same, right up until she remembered the pretty dress she was wearing. “Wa-wait!” she gasped, lifting a stopping hand toward Sophie. “I have my dress on!”

    Sophie smiled, eyeing the bench Isabelle sat on. “Oh, that’s no problem. You’re not the one I’m levitating.”

    My little sister faltered for a moment until her falter became a panicked screech when Sophie snapped her fingers and fwoosh! The entire bench soared up eight feet into the air, Isabelle holding onto it for her dear little life.

    There was a moment of silence as Sophie looked up toward the bench, her amused smile turning concerned. Then Isabelle’s head peered down from the bench, her eyes widening.

    “You’re a jillion times better at magic than my sister!” she gasped. 

    I’d be offended were it not true.

    After allowing Isabelle a few minutes of “oohs” and “ahhs” and occasional “higher!”s—and even more occasional “lower!”s—she eventually remembered she had an errand to complete and put the bench back in its place. Grabbing her map, she cleared her throat and smiled at my sister. 

    “Now, can you tell me how to ge—”

    “You should be my teacher!” Isabelle rudely interrupted, practically launching herself at the poor mage.

    “Y-your teacher?”

    “Mhm! I’m a good learner, promise! Please, Professor Sophie?”

    Professor Sophie?” She stepped back, her bewilderment at the situation clouding her desire to point out that she’d need a masters certificate in psychokinesis to be called a professor. “But I can’t! I’m not a—! I mean—!”

    Isabelle nodded, inflicting upon Sophie my deadliest weapon.

    The pout.

    Her eyes grew large like a doll’s, her lips quivered, and the hint of a tear formed in her right eye. It was almost masterful in how completely shameless it was. Were I there, I’d have been both immensely proud and incredibly mortified.

    “I can show you more magic spells, if you want?” Sophie hesitantly offered, and sighed with relief when Isabelle jumped back, clapping her hands.

    “Can we have our first class at Bakers Delight on 5th Street on Friday?” Isabelle asked. “The owners will give us free cupcakes!”

    “I-I don’t see why not?” Sophie stammered. 

    Satisfied, Isabelle grabbed her bag, moving forward to hug the mage. “Wait until I tell my sister!” she exclaimed, overjoyed, then rushed off into the street, waving to Sophie as she did so. “Goodbye, Professor Sophie!”

    My darling beloved watched her go, the poor dear still unsure of how she’d gotten herself roped into whatever it was she’d gotten herself roped into. Such was her distraction, in fact, that she remembered a very crucial detail just as Isabelle disappeared behind a corner.

    Wait! You didn’t give me directions!”

    I watched the drop of blood come to life on my fingertip.

    I watched as it traveled down the length of my finger, onto my palm and finally died out halfway, leaving behind a red trail. It felt oddly poetic. It reminded me of my favorite childhood book in which a lonely woman pricked her finger and let a drop of her blood fall into a love potion of her own design.

    It was a quiet moment, I felt.

    It hardly lasted.

    “Nora!” protested Isabelle, sitting on the other side of my bed, her legs awkwardly tucked under a white nightgown six times her size. It would fit myself fantastically, but her… not so much. “Were you even listening?”

    I briefly glanced her way before taking a nearby tissue and wiping the blood off my hand. That done, I returned my gaze to my sister and asked, “Listening to what?”

    Her groan of utter exasperation amused me endlessly, and I placed my index finger in my mouth, stopping the flow of blood with a quick suck of my tongue.

    “Ew!” Isabelle continued. “That’s gross!”

    “Is it?” I asked. “You know, it’s said that when humans first came to be, we lived under the earth and had veins made of solid iron and copper until we came out into the surface and the sun melted them into blood.”

    Isabelle’s delightful face scrunched into a frown, mouth opening and closing. “That… You just made that up!” she declared, crossing her arms.

    I sighed theatrically, as one does. “Maybe I did, maybe I did not! It certainly won’t stop you from asking your teacher tomorrow regardless, now will it?”

    “Why’d you ask me to stay here tonight if you’re just gonna tease me?” she asked in a huff. “We were going to eat chocolate cake at school for dinner!”

    I laughed, finally allowing my sister respite from myself. I grabbed the needle that had pricked me and returned to sewing a dress together. “All right, all right,” I relented. “You were telling me about how you approached a complete stranger, struck up conversation, and then cheered with shameless abandon as she flung you into the air without a care for your safety?”

    Isabelle blushed. “That’s not what I said! And she wasn’t a stranger.” She lifted her nose in the air, and with no small amount of condescension, told me the sublime name of this strange mage. “Her name is Sophie Clarke.”

    “Sophie Clarke,” I repeated, tasting the name on my lips. “Sounds posh. Figures she’s a mage.”

    My sister nodded furiously. “And she’s going to give me magic lessons so I can be like you!”

    I raised an eyebrow. “Magic lessons?”

    “Uh-huh! We’re starting next Friday at Rose’s.”

    I put down my needle and fluttered my eyelashes at her. “And pray tell, dearest, how exactly are you planning on paying for this private tutor, hm?”

    “With my allowance.”

    I leaned in, smiling dazzlingly. “With your grand allowance of ten coins?”

    “Fifteen coins!” Isabelle interjected. “You gave me a raise last week!”

    I leaned back, a flicker of light purple magic bringing forth my glasses and putting them on. “Oh, I’d forgotten about that. Well, dear sister,” I said, the smile vanishing from my face, “I imagine you’ll have a frightful time convincing me not to punish you out of attending this worryingly cheap class.”

    “P-punish me?!” she gasped, moving back. “Why are you punishing me?”

    “Miss Marianne visited my shop today,” I said curtly, taking no pleasure in seeing Isabelle’s face turn a shade paler as she quickly buried her bruised hand into her nightgown. “She told me you were involved in a physical disagreement at school, to put it nicely. Should I also punish you for lying to me about where you got those bruises?”

    “I—I—” She gulped and tears quickly wet her eyes. “It wasn’t my fault!”

    “Oh?” I put my sewing materials away and took off my glasses. “So Miss Marianne was lying when she said you started it? Are you calling her a liar? You do understand that is quite the accusation, don’t you? Was she lying?”

    Isabelle Belle said nothing. She simply shook her head.

    “Then why did you hit that Stevenson girl?” I asked with severity.

    Head bowed, she whispered, “she said something real awful about you.” 

    A heavy silence followed, heavy as the weight in my heart. I didn’t ask why. There would be no point. I could only be angry at others, and admittedly, at myself. I would never be shamed into leaving my profession, but when it affected my sister, well… It was hard not to wonder if I was making a mistake out of pride. 

     “I’m sorry,” she said, mistaking my silence as anger towards her. “I won’t do it again…”

    “I should hope so, Isabelle,” I replied, putting my glasses back on and then gently taking her hand in mine. “After all, rather than hitting her, I think you’ll feel much more satisfaction in the future at her jealousy when she sees all the fabulous magic spells we’ll pay this Clarke woman to teach you, mm?”

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