Chapter 8:

With a Love Sorceress, I’ll Hear the Gears of Time

With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!

I whistled down the road, sauntering away from Mia’s household and towards my borrowed cottage. All the while, I had the stupidest grin on my face. For a first date it hadn’t gone exactly as planned, but I felt this spinning excitement in my chest. Mia actually liked me! It wasn’t love yet, a single date couldn’t manage that much, but she was willing to see me again!

For now, I wanted to revel in this small victory for as long as I could.

In the darkness of the village, I fumbled for my keys. It was then that I noticed my cottage had...two door handles? I squinted, wondering if I was seeing things. The cottage most certainly only had one iron handle this morning. Now, below the iron, sat a golden knob with intricate etching. With just a bit of hesitation, I tried the golden handle.

Instantly, the door flung open and pulled me inside. I stumbled against the maroon rugs, finding myself in the mansion-like hut of the mystical Love Sorceress. I was back to my human form, wearing my pressed business suit. The switch was unnerving, but compared to getting flung off a kelpie, all this other magic stuff was starting to feel pretty normal.

“Madam Claire!” I exclaimed upon seeing her in her armchair. “Look, look!”

I concentrated my mind on Mia’s Language book, and the journal appeared before me in a puff of sparks. I flared out the pages.

“Look at how many entries I’ve filled already!” I grinned, then read aloud, “She likes thrills and motion rides, she doesn’t mind insects, she’s happiest when she’s working towards a goal...”

Madam Claire kept silent while I read. She listened while I prattled on and on about all the little things I’d learned about Mia.

When I finally glanced up from the journal, I saw something unexpected.

Madam Claire was sitting in her armrest, one hand propping up her chin. She slowly leaned forward, listening to my every word with the most caring expression on her face. Her smile. Her eyes. How could she look at me with such...tenderness?

“W-what?” I stuttered, off-guard.

“Nothing,” Claire covered her smile with a slow shake of her head. “”

I felt a flutter in my chest.

“I’m happy for you,” Claire said more clearly.

Nervously, I took a breath and held my beating heart. What was that look? What was happening?

Claire and I were strangers...right?

The sorceress then waved her index finger, and the journal of Mia’s Language floated closer to her. Claire peered over the entries with an approving hum.

To ease my frantic state, I cleared my throat and considered the last few events of the evening.

“But Madam Claire, where did you go?” I asked. “I don’t remember seeing your bird after the lake.”

With a chuckle, Claire closed the journal, and the magical book disappeared into smoke.

“Roki-kun,” she said knowingly, “you and Mia were comfortable. If I hung around much longer, it would only make you nervous.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I mumbled. Admittedly, I felt pretty nervous right now too!

I shook my head, ruffling my hair. “But still, Madam Claire, I owe this all to you. I couldn’t have done this without your help. I feel like a fool for not knowing these things about Amamiya sooner.” I let out a small sigh. “It’s no wonder she ran away from me. I thought I loved her, but I didn’t really know her at all, did I?” I guiltily stared at the floor.

“You did and you didn’t,” Madam Claire assuaged. She let out a wistful sigh. “Your heart was in the right place, but your ideals stood in the way. At least you’re starting to see it now.” The Sorceress cast me a side-long glance. “Maybe you’re ready for the second phase.”

I choked. “Second phase?”

Madam Claire stood from her chair and strode closer to my side. She leaned in, staring deeply into my eyes. My thoughts stopped. I felt heat rise to my cheeks and tried to find a safe place to look. If I glanced up, I saw her eyes. If I glanced down, I saw her lips. Nowhere was safe. Instead, I scrunched my eyes and turned aside. Mia was the only one for me! I couldn’t look at anyone else!

Madam Claire chuckled and backed away, tapping me on the forehead with her hand-mirror.

“No, not yet,” she determined. “You need to focus on Mia first.”

Was that a test of some sort? If so, I wasn’t sure what I should’ve done differently.

Claire casually walked across the floor of her hut, running her hands along the intricate carvings of a grandfather clock.

“Things will change soon, Roki,” she warned. “Your presence in this world will cause waves. Not everything between parallel worlds lines up neatly.”

She pulled on the hinges of the grandfather clock, revealing the gears within its inner workings. Suddenly, she reached in and tore one of the gears out. The clock continued to move, but in a stilted and broken manner.

“Our worlds shift,” Claire murmured, “and I’m sure that soon enough, you’ll begin to feel those differences. Thus far, I’ve focused on showing you on how Amamiya and Mia are similar but Mia is her own person. This world’s path won’t follow the same as yours. The stars differ.”

I watched Claire with a growing chill in my arms. I tried to blame it on the void outside.

The Love Sorceress abruptly shoved the gear back into place, and waved her magic over the clock, repairing its pieces. She closed the hinges, and it continued to chime as usual.

Madam Claire whispered, her voice soft. “I can only hope I’ve bought us enough time.”

“What was that?” I asked, having not quite heard her.

In a single breath, Claire spun around. Her dress flowed with the twirl, her strawberry-blonde hair tumbling and settling upon her shoulders.

“Find your place in this village, Roki. Then, take Mia on a few more dates.” The sorceress hid away her concern under the veil of a grin. “That’s all you need to know for now.”

Claire swung out her arm, and a satchel appeared before my hands. I reached out to grab it, pulling on the drawstring and seeing coins resting within.

“You’ll need some money, I assume,” Claire chuckled, “because even with your elven hair, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the countryside rich enough to trade such things!”

I felt over the pieces of metal in my hand, my thoughts racing. “I’ll have to buy Mia a gift!”

“Focus on food first, would you?” Claire sighed. She rubbed her temples. “For a moment, I forgot you were an idiot.”

“An idiot?” I opened my mouth to object. Then, with a half-hearted sigh, I thought better of it. “You know, you’re probably right.”

If I’d learned anything today, it was that I wasn’t the brightest person alive.

Also, that kelpies are horrifying. But that aside.

Claire tossed something at me.

I grasped onto the smooth object, feeling over the stone in my hands. It was almost translucent in appearance: changing between blue, pink, and yellow as I turned it in the light. I held up the opal-like stone, mesmerized by its shine.

“Keep that with you,” Claire advised. “If you tap upon it, my bird familiar will appear instantly.” A small twinkle shone in her eye. “Though don’t think just because I’m giving this to you that I won’t follow you on my own. I have to make sure you don’t go running off to propose to some other girl you’ve never met.”

“Hey! I only did that once! Because I thought it was a dream.”

Madam Claire raised an eyebrow.

“Right, right,” I grumbled. Once was still way more than enough.

“Get some rest, Roki-kun.” Claire made the purple door appear. This time, the exit on the other side showed my cottage bedroom.

I walked towards the opening. Then, I turned back around and added, “Thank you, Madam Claire. Really, this is more than I could’ve ever asked.”

But the mysterious witch shooed me off with a wave of her hand. “You may thank me once you are married, Hiroyuki-kun. It was just one date! You still have a long way to go!”

I laughed and bid her goodnight, stepping towards the purple door that awaited.

If only I had turned one more time.

If only I had looked back, and seen that loving smile on her face as she watched me go.

Maybe things would have ended differently.

Maybe I could have saved her.