There was a slight bounce in Drina’s step when she entered the common room. The colorful folds of her wraps swayed with each strut she made towards the counter. Behind her cheerful smirk was a low hum of an upbeat song once sung back home. Ocan could tell she was in good spirits just from the abundant glow on her face.
Leaping to her feet, Ocan rushed to her side. Speaking in their mother tongue, she eagerly wanted to know what transpired that morning. “Did something good happen?”
The playful tone gave away her subtly, one Drina caught right away. Raising her eyebrow, she reached casually for the pot of hot water sitting over a small flame.
“Yes. In fact, something absolutely wonderful happened.”
Ocan gasped with wonder, hooked on Drina’s every word as she poured the water into a cup. After putting in a tea bag and grabbing the handle, she turned to narrow her eyes. “I didn’t die. You still have your sister to take care of you. How lucky.”
The look on Ocan’s face made Drina cackle. Her face flatted with absolute disappointment.
“Come on, Lana! We saw you this morning! What happened!?”
“I don’t know what you're talking about. Nothing happened. We fought demonic spirits that tried to murder us and barely escaped with our lives.”
Drina leaned against the counter and stirred her cup with her pinky. It took everything in her to force the smile away from her cheeks. It was a serious topic that should be met with a serious tone, yet she was unable to. Especially after Hestar walked into the room fresh from a shower.
Ocan crossed her arms, tired of her sister's game. “Lie all you want, I know something happened. Besides, I already knew you were in a fight. We helped drag you into the room last night after all the noise.”
The smirk on Drina’s face dropped from the news. “Wait, you saw me last night?”
Ocan softened her face, looking at her sister's scars on her arms. It was quickly brushed away with a mischievous grin, one she knew very well. “Of course! Lulu helped Hestar clean your wounds. Lulu also took your clothes to repair them. You used too much of your power and were frozen. So it was my idea that Hestar stayed to keep you warm.”
Drina stopped stirring her tea and pierced her lips. Turning her head, she glanced in Lulu’s direction. She caught the sly woman innocently smirking and pretending not to listen while mending her garments. Drina clicked her tongue with irritation. If Ocan and Lulu already knew she was in that condition, why did it feel like she was set up? Lulu may have given them trouble but she was just as evil as Hestar.
“Is that so? Good thing you already knew that I would have been fine either way.”
Ocan giggled at her success. She managed to get under Drina’s skin so flawlessly. Drina could only retort with a scoff, turning back to the counter to place her cup down for a moment. Picking up a small cube of sugar, Drina turned it about in her fingers. Despite what she said, Drina was grateful for the warmth. This was the first time she had ever drained her soul well that much. If she was usually cold, to begin with, how cold was she after nearly depleting her power? The thought that death was closer than anyone realized sobered her. Still looking at the cube, Drina whispered enough that only Ocan could hear.
“Jeta, thank you. I haven’t been a good sister to you, but you’ve been a good one to me.” Ocan tsked at her, sneaking under Drina’s arm to hug her.
“To be honest, I was scared when I saw you.”
Drina bit at her lip in shame. Pulling her sister in close, she kissed her on the top of her head. Drina wanted more than anything to ask for forgiveness and to say she was sorry. She opened her mouth but the words got stuck in her throat. How could she promise not to do it again when she knew that she would break it? After all the mess was cleared away, she would come clean and apologize properly.
Pushing Ocan away from her side, Drina took the opportunity to flick her on the forehead. It was hard enough to shock Ocan and cause her enough pain to respond with an “ouch”.
“That’s for teasing me.” Drina chuckled softly, picking her cup of tea up to walk away. Ocan dropped her jaw in shock before following behind with a pout.
Hestar shook her head while watching from the table as it rested on her propped fist. “How is it that no matter what is happening, your language sounds so enthralling.”
Drina tilted her head as she approached the table while Ocan walked around Lulu to sit next to her.
“Have you heard it before?”
“No. Like I’ve said before, it's not easy to approach travelers. It also didn’t help that Lulu discouraged it.”
The sisters flung their heads toward Lulu with surprise. Drina decided to test her theory. “That’s like calling the kettle black, is it not?”
Lulu dropped her hands with a sigh, placing the stitching aside. Unable to ignore the conversation any longer, she folded her hands neatly in her lap with a motherly stern look.
“Can you blame me? You of all people, know what our kind is capable of. With your power, is it that surprising?”
Her accent was thick and light, indicating that she had been from the eastern side of the continent. It was a pleasant reminder to Drina of the old country. The melody was smooth like warm honeyed milk. Drina felt homesick from her dialect while at the same time, she completely understood what she meant. It was a harsh truth about her people and their customs. Drina looked down at the table for a moment to reflect on her words. If Hestar was this entranced by Drina, imagine if it was with the wrong type of traveler. Not all of them were gentle, kind souls.
Hestar flipped between Lulu and Drina with curiosity before looking to Ocan. “What did they say?”
Drina shot a warning towards Ocan, hoping she would catch it. Instead, the child leaned in and whispered loudly in her ear. “Drina asked Lulu permission to date you. Lulu said, ‘what do you have to offer our family’. It’s a custom thing.”
With a scowl, Lulu gruffed at Ocan, sending her into a howl. Drina pinched the bridge of her nose with a shake of her head. Out of the corner of her eye, Drina caught Hestar staring at her with a sigh. Their eyes connected while Lulu continued to reprimand Ocan.
The kindling fire within Drina sparked once more as the corner of Hestars lips curled into a devilish smile. She bit the front part of her bottom lip, sending the memories of only moments ago to flood her mind. Memories she would never forget.
A cold wet nose tapped her on the elbow, breaking her from the trance Hestar locked her into. It spooked Drina for a moment until she realized who it came from. Glancing down at the hellhound sitting at her heel, it struck a frightening cord.
The mutt gave a stern glance, one that served as a warning. It didn’t take much for her to understand what kind. Whipping her head towards the window, Drina inspected the position of the sun. It was nearly past noon and they were running out of time.
It steeled her emotions like a rock. This needed to come to an end and last night's events gave Drina a clue where to look. Hestar pushed from her chair and stood close to her side, following her gaze.
“What's the plan now?”
Drina took a long sip of her tea, placing it down half-finished. It was bitter despite the sugar. Raising her hand in front of her, she stared at her hand. Concentrating on her power, she managed to summon a small swirl of power in her hands. The light blue tendrils licked at her skin with a smokey flicker. Testing her soul well, Drina had recovered fully.
Ocan gasped, breaking Drina’s concentration. The smoke dissipated from her hand as she dropped her hand. She hardly noticed when Lulu had stopped punishing her for them to observe her. Could they see it too?
“When did you learn that?” Ocan spoke with wonder.
“Last night, while she was protecting me. I saw it too.” Hester replied, staring hard at her hand.
Drina’s eyes widened. How were they able to see the power she could summon? Shaking her head, she dropped the question. Now was not the time to get into it. “As curious as we all are about it, now is not the time to get distracted.”
Reaching into the small satchel at her side, Drina pulled out a few items and walked around Hestar to sit in her chair. On the table, she placed a small candle, her deck of cards, and her fan. Opening a pocket deeper within, she pulled out the small bottle of red paint she used during her performance.
“Lulu, how safe would you say the protection around the hostel is?”
The color on Lulu’s face drained with only a small hint of fear in her eyes. Her mouth dropped open while she contemplated Drina’s words. Not waiting for her response, Drina opened the bottle and dipped her finger into it. She began to draw sigils on the back of her hands and wrists.
“What are you planning to summon?” Lulu’s usually calm voice cracked, unsure of Drina’s intentions.
“Is it strong enough?”
Drina locked eyes with her, brushing the line from her mid-forehead down to the tip of her nose. Lulu’s breath had quickened, understanding what she was asking. Looking between the two girls at her side, Lulu pushed from her chair and dropped her stitching.
“Come girls. Help me remove gems from each corner of the house. Ocan, you know the spell, correct?”
Ocan nodded her head, panic spread across her face from the urgency in Lulu’s voice. She looked to Drina for reassurance before rushing to the common room’s corner. Lulu pulled at Hestar’s arm roughly and began to explain the words she needed to repeat. “You need to say these words exactly as I say them. Say them with me, ‘I’shieal Th’iramal kovi’stur’ …”
Lulu’s words were cut off as they left the room. This gave Drina enough time to finish preparing her own spell. Lighting the candle in front, Drina paused to take a deep breath. Releasing her breath, she spoke to Wiggles sitting beside her. “Hope you're still hungry.”
Starting her chant, Drina had to do her best to ignore Ocan, who was chanting at the same time. Strengthening her focus, the candle’s flame began to swirl.
Ocan finished her chant and grabbed a small little satchel tied together with a small twine. Running past Drina towards the door, she slowed down to a stop to watch the candle’s flame spiral and change color. The moment the flame touched the base and snuffed out, she continued down the hall with loud footsteps.
Drina blinked her eyes several times while the smoke enveloped her face before glancing at the door. It was the first time Ocan had witnessed the spell. There was a reason she held it hidden from her, but at some point she would need to teach her. Without a doubt, Ocan would remember the chant. Drina sighed heavily with a sinking heart. Once a gypsy held the knowledge of a spell, they would never forget it.
Standing up, Drina dipped her finger into the paint once more and drew a sigil on her stomach. This time, it was different. During the seance, she used one for calming. Today, she invoked an old god her mother used to call upon. It was one Drina avoided, knowing there was always a cost. It was also a shame it was the strongest sigil she knew.
With one last look at the sigils on her hands and wrists, Drina sat back down. Taking the tarot deck on the table, she shuffled it quickly three times and cut it twice in front of her. The sounds of rushing footsteps down the hall signaled that the barrier was removed completely.
Glancing towards the door, Drina pulled a card from the left pile and placed it down. Lulu was the first one to walk into the common room out of breath. The other two followed, carrying two satchels each. Lulu stood a few feet from Drina, pointing at the floor around the table as Drina pulled the second card.
“Quick, place the pouches in the same corners they were moved from. Try to keep it even.”
Drina held her hand over the pile and waited while the girls placed the bags in each corner. Watching Lulu, she saw her lips move subtly to chant the spell around her. A small waiver of energy floated past Drina with a disorienting shock. The two spells had mixed with a disturbing collision of powers. Drina grabbed the edge of the table for support at the sudden lurch in her stomach.
“Serves you right. Should have waited.” Lulu’s tone was harsh and her eyes stern with motherly disapproval.
Drina frowned, grabbing the last card sharply to place it down with a heavy thud.
“How much time do I have?”
Lulu’s eyes were cold. “Not enough for this.”
“I’ll never have enough, it seems.”