With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!
“I don’t understand,” I frowned, holding out the rotted fruit. “Claire, how could this happen?”
“Keep your voice down,” Madam Claire replied in a hushed whisper. “I’m not Claire right now. Not to them.”
The Love Sorceress nodded with her chin, gesturing to where Mia and her father stood, not but a short walk away.
The morning sun fully shone over the orchards now. Mia and her father worriedly tended to the trees, cutting off the injured limbs. All the while, Toren silently gathered the rotted fruit into a woven bin. We would have to burn the infected parts, in hopes of mitigating the damage. But we still didn’t know what caused the blight, or how to stop it from spreading.
With every branch she broke, Mia looked more crestfallen.
Toren stopped what he was doing and dashed for one of the healthier trees. He plucked off one of the ripe fruits, and brought it to Mia.
He offered it as if to say, ‘Look! We still have good ones left!’
Mia put on a weak smile from the gesture. “Thank you,” she mumbled, splitting the fruit in half. She offered one part to Toren, then quietly ate the other half herself.
Watching this, the sadness in my chest grew. I turned towards Claire.
“How could we have missed the attack?” I asked.
Madam Claire stepped towards one of the sickly branches, running a fingertip along its rough surface.
“The branches are damp,” Claire murmured, “but the root of the tree isn’t. And we didn’t have any rain last night.” She let out an aggravated breath. “I still don’t sense any magic. If I had to guess, it looks like someone put poison specifically onto the fruit branches.”
“But why would someone do that?” I shook my head. “Why would they poison the branches, instead of the whole tree? And how would they have the time?” I gestured towards the twenty-some trees that were affected. “Sure, they didn’t poison the whole orchard, but this is still too many. We would have seen it! I should have seen it!”
“Calm down,” Claire eased. “We won’t get anywhere if we’re upset.”
“You’re right, I know that, but...” I grumbled. “Aren’t you able to read the stars? Shouldn’t you know the culprit? Can’t you look into the past, or the future?”
Madam Claire slowly ran a hand through her hair, turning her sights to the pale blue sky. Although it was daytime and the stars could not be seen, I had a feeling she was staring towards the constellations that hid behind the light of the sun.
“Time moves constantly forward,” she said softly. “I cannot see the past, and I can only guess to the future.”
“Well, guess then!” I pleaded. “Don’t you have some idea who caused this?”
“For goodness sake, Roki. I can’t guess,” Madam Claire admitted. She spun around, looking at me with sadness in her eyes. “I can’t see my own future. I don’t have any stars.” She gripped her hands, not wanting to say it. “The more involved I get in this, the further we move from the expected order. We’re already too far from the path for me to tell the future. That’s why I didn’t want to do this...”
Madam Claire took in a few breaths, slowly regaining her composure. I fell quiet. A breeze flowed through, the sickly smell of overripe fruit decaying in its wake.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, guilty.
“I know you’re desperate to help Mia,” Madam Claire sighed. She put her hands on her waist, hiding her face behind the brim of her purple hat. “We’re both upset and we haven’t gotten much sleep lately. Rather than arguing, we should focus on this poison.”
The Love Sorceress summoned a towel and bottle from the air. Using the towel, she brushed the strange poison from the branches, then rung the fabric to extract a few drops into the bottle.
“I’ll look into this poison,” Claire said bluntly, holding up the glass. “But I don’t know too much about alchemy. It might take some time. I assume you can watch the orchards without me tonight?”
I had the sudden, chilling feeling that Madam Claire was avoiding me. “Sure,” I nodded. What else could I say?
With a polite nod, Claire flourished her fingers, and the edges of a nearby tree shivered in a mirage-like wave. She stepped through her invisible portal, which closed behind her.
Why did I say all that? Why did I always push her to have the answers?
Feeling like an idiot, I tried to stay steady. But just for one moment, I thought over what Madam Claire said.
“Claire...doesn’t have any stars?” I murmured. What did that mean?
Madam Claire always talked about me and Mia being born under heralding stars that dictated our future. How could someone be born under a starless sky? Were there worlds out there where the stars had gone out?
But didn’t Claire tell me that she was from Farelle? Wasn’t this her home world?
I let out a shout of frustration and ruffled my hair. I didn’t know anything! I didn’t know anything at all!
With that thought, I marched towards Mia, prepared to tell her about the poison
It was true: I didn’t know anything — not about Claire, Mia, or why I was really here.
But maybe it was time I stopped relying on that ignorance, and started trying to seek the answers on my own.
Night approached, lukewarm and muggy from the lake air. Mia and her father took the news of poison with heavy hearts. The day had been spent wiping off the trees and gathering the poisoned branches, taking them as far from the fields as possible.
As Mia got ready for bed, she quietly questioned, “Who would want to poison our orchard?”
I told her not to worry too much, and promised I would find out why this was happening. I only wish I felt as confident as I sounded.
Mia fell asleep soon after. Working long hours under the summer sun, at least, meant she would be too exhausted to stay up worrying.
The same couldn’t be said for myself.
Though I’d helped all day with the cleaning efforts, it was my responsibility to watch over the fields at night. Nervous energy kept me from feeling tired. It reminded me of the days I’d spent working overtime so I could pay my rent. Except now, I was in a totally different world, and the Faralinds were depending on me. I couldn’t call up my dad and crash on his couch if things went wrong.
Pacing through the fields, I saw a shadow atop the glowing trees. Thinking it was the perpetrator, I ran towards it. But to my surprise, when I looked up, it was Toren sitting on a high tree branch.
“Hey!” he called, hearing my footsteps approach. He nimbly leapt down, landing with ease. “I know what you’re thinking,” Toren laughed, “cats are supposed to sleep a lot, right? So why am I awake?”
Actually, I was thinking he shouldn’t be in the orchards at night while we’re looking for a perpetrator, but…
“I’m a bit of an insomniac, really,” Toren grinned. “Sensitive ears, you know? Sounds always wake me up.” He flicked his cat ears. “With ears like this I hear lots of things — lots of conversations that I probably shouldn’t.”
Conversations? My breath caught in my throat. Did he overhear me and Claire earlier today?
“Let’s talk, Rokkun,” Toren chuckled, his gaze falling. The smile fled from his face. “Because I think...I think I might already know who’s behind all this.”