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By Jeremiah Ukponrefe

Dreamweed grew no matter what resistance the elements conjured to stop them, manging to rise past the dominance of the vengeful winds of autumn, the melting of summer heat, and bitter snowflakes.

They surrounded my shop like they were an army holding a siege. Their bodies were long, thin, and projected sprawling leaves from their sides. They didn’t look how they were supposed to, according to most herb manuals. This far into the season, they were supposed to show their maturity by having bright purple stems that would distinguish them from all other greenery, yet those in my field of vision remained green.
Humans tend to have an eye for them. Being especially watchful with their colors. Stating to me that they wouldn’t be sold anything is false. Yet Ive seem dream-weed often trampled by the irritating marching metal feet of soldiers, no matter what stage it has grown to. Ive only took active resistance twice against their destruction. Once, when I was a girl, I was told that dreamweed likely doesn’t grow into anything much anyway, and the second time was last year, when a dreamtree was cut down. Instead of denying its existence, I was informed that there needed to be room for additional vegetation in the field.

When used in dexterity potion, it was supposed to be easy to swallow, smelling sweet, and leaving the breath with a minty aftertaste. For me, it was thick and difficult to swallow due to its irritating burn. Even with the sweet rewards of a minty taste afterwards, it wasn't worth it, and afterwards I felt empty as a peasant satchel of coins.

I turned away and headed back inside my shop. Its emptiness was far from the fullness that I believed it would have, my wishes lacking the results as if I had uttered them to a calculating jinn. Instead, my shop had become accustomed to long stretches of silence. It’s the result of placing myself on the city's outskirts as opposed to within the city, where noblemen strode, not peasants with pockets more filled with air than coins.

It's not like I hadn’t tried to gain traction. On Iki’s road, I had made a sign that advertised the existence of my shop. Marked by brash red paint, the words Brenna’s Potions and Brew were sprawled across its wooden surface, protected by a three-shield charm with a hint of divination that tailored a specific potion available based on the needs of whichever creature passed by.
It worked on me too. When I took it from its stake last week, the words underneath shifted themselves to advertise that “Cherries of Grick” were available inside. A bitter red berry that had the appearance of a cherry, and the aftereffect of forgetting everything that had happened in the past ten years. It was often used to help humans revert to a childlike state. For me, it would force me to remember when I was in my early two hundred and twenties, when, for a brief moment, I had spent a summer clearing weeds for the defense of a city that had since fallen. It was tough work on my body. Each day, my fingers were tanned from both the heat and the expulsion of spells. Yet my mind each day was at ease, not worrying about what the next day would entail.

“Fuck,” I harshly whispered as my hands harshly slammed against the mahogany counter. Concurrently,  the front door opened, and my greeting bell shouted through the atmosphere. The kiss of the wind pecked my skin. It’s autumn breath, which is cool and refreshing. A welcome exchange to the musky scent of the shop's interior.

“Hey!” Leta’s high-pitched voice was greeted, peppered by cheers. I would be too if I were here. Long, dark black hair that gathered consistent attention. Her robes were clearly designed straight from Wickeds. Marked by its stitched purple moons that always shifted shape based on whatever stage the real moon was in.

“Hey,” I replied with the small amount of excitement I scrounged together.

Luckily, Leta couldn’t tell as she kept her smile. "So... what should I do?”

"There are just a few cauldrons that need to be packed." I informed her, pointing to the bottom edge of a shelf on the shop's right side, where a stack of cauldrons awaited departure.

“I can think of a few places where they can go,” Leta insisted. The first was small enough that she managed to lift it with the grasp of her hand. The second was aided by the flick of her wand, and the third took both of their efforts. All three fit into her charmed satchel, widening its mouth to indulge in whatever was given.

I wondered if they would be stored in her house. Her house was far different from my dwelling. Even at my age, I still lived among other witches. Our home was not large, only filling enough space for two singular rooms and a central area. For a while, it felt as if the peace of the countryside made it feel worth it. She had the opportunity to live within the castle's walls. A place that I loved, with the exception of the constant striking of loud noise within.

“Thanks,” I stated. It's annoying how she seems to have connections everywhere, while I only have three people who I would consider to be real allies.

“What?” Leta flatly asked. Her eyes were narrowed, and her upper teeth snapped into her lower lip. Both of her thin eyebrows were elevated, and her hand freely tapped against a shelf. 

“What?” I replied, trying my best to project the illusion of innocence.

Now she’s clairvoyant too? What doesn’t she have?

“It’s something,” Leta accused as her shoulders escalated.

“Whenever we talk, there's something that you want to say but never do."

“I put all my coins into this shop... All of it,” I flared.

Leta stood silent for a moment. Keeping herself distracted by flipping her wand between her fingers, she said, “If I know one witch who can fall and rise again, Its you-“

“Or I fucked up." I admitted, "No. I did screw up. It's not as if a prophecy told me that this would work.”

“Nothing worth the trouble was ever an easy treasure to acquire.”

It's easy for a witch like her to make such claims. Anything is worth facing the trials of hell if, on the other side, a life like her own awaits on the other end.

“Save the common phrases for human visitors. Next you going to tell me live, love, cast,” I answered whilst my fingers dug into my robe, searching for warmth.

Leta bent low, gathering a bundle of faux wands. A toy that once waved its ends sent forth small fireworks, a way to entertain simpletons, trolls, and myself during long days when I dueled with boredom.

Their detailed engravings showcased waves, stars, and sparks. Whittled by the same exteriors used by real wands in the form of culled unicorn horn, griffin teeth, and dragon scale, but their interior needs the power of a real witch with a real desire to use it in order to actually cast a spell.

Why humans have a desire to be like us is a fantasy I’m yet to understand. When I was a girl and my inherited talents were discovered, my friends expressed clear envy. Once magic is discovered, witches have no choice about where we go to school or for how long. Those among us who have the highest talent are given the greatest curse. Forced into the servitude of the nobility of kings. Where seasons are free from war, they are spent in basements doing nothing but brewing potions in preparation for the next one. My former friends were incorrect in their feelings. My talents led me to an empty shop, where all my coins vanished.

Leta focused her hazel eyes on her dainty hands as she separated the wands by size. The slight edges of a smile curled upon the edges of her thin lips as she worked, her mouth transmuting into an open whistle: “I have to do this every morning at the broom shop."

She’s welcome to do all the organizing she wants. I hate doing it.

"It must be worth it, at least. Mahogany sells for  thousands.

“Not when you consider what it takes to get it... The storm last summer. Roland and I were traveling in the midst of it. I had to make a nightlong shield charm for protection. The longest I’ve ever held a spell, but by the end, we were right by a fallen tree with enough broken pieces for only a few broomsticks worth... And that was the easiest it ever got.”

“A charm... all night?” I questioned with disbelief, crossing my arms, and shivering at the thought. A few minutes in the rain were stertorous for me; an afternoon was as if I were in the eighth circle of hell. Doing so with Leta’s husband sounded like the ninth. He’s a serf, third-born, forcing what was supposed to be nobility to live under the chains of modesty. He crafted long rants, which left me bored. The kind of man who was a fanatic of jousting but was yet to ride on a horse while holding a lance.

"There are a few shite parts about running a shop... Are you aware of that?" Leta replied as she nodded, her hands weaving the bodies of the faux-wands with a tight knot of string. With a snap of her finger, she sent a charm that prevented curious hands from taking them by force, but if one had enough sheer will, both the string and charm would break.

“But each night when I turn to slumber, I get to know that each broom gifts a witch or warlock with the opportunity to escape to the skies, away from whatever fools remain down below."

“I like coins,” I admitted with a shrug of my shoulders. I never really took an interest in how each potion would be used. Despite their differences in effect, each substance underwent the same journey to enter the throat.

I won't apologize for not being an idealist. My life is far from a stone's throw from the famous witch I thought I would be when I was younger. On this occasion, I dabbled in various arts, hoping to find greatness in one. The only thing I excelled at was herbalism, but there is not enough coin to be found in the dirt. Instead, I ended up known as that “witch with the potions shop on the outskirts.”

Leta looked on with disapproval of my answer. Her nose was slightly elevated like a charmed broomstick, and her eyebrows dug downward like gnomes searching for treasure. I don’t know why she thinks she’s above seeing customers as something more than beings who should be helped and who, at the same time, are helping us.

“Is there anything wrong with that?” I questioned.

“No… Absolutely not,” Leta replied, straddling the last of her faux wands into her satchel. At various points, its leather was bulging, seeming as if large bulbs protruded from its innards.
Of course, she thinks the coin doesn’t matter. It's easy to be idealistic when you can afford silk robes.

Leta grunted as she slung her pouch sling over her shoulder. She struggled to take her steps under the weight of its heaviness. Once stability was found, she let out a relief and a smile, seeming to enjoy her fate.

“Where are they going?” I asked with brewing curiosity. Leta’s allies were just as wealthy as she was; most of them were anomalies in their existence, leading to roads where, if I asked for a favor, present at her last supper was a troll with the mind of a scholar and an elf with the gall to live amongst men. It would at least give me a better title than failed potions shop owner. The likelihood that they would be granted was high.

“The Gatherer,” Leta replied.

He was a warlock with a reputation. All those who had apprenticed under him were well aware that no amount of coin was worth it for a man whose only task he had for you was to sort ingredients for brews.

“I’d rather not,” I answered as I used my sleeve to wipe away what little dust remained at the table, dirtying my gray robe in the process.

Leta cringed as I undertook the task of using my robe as a rag. Despite my robes being considered slightly higher-end, meshing fleece with silk, I didn’t care much for dust eating away at their fabric. To me, the most important part of a robe is that it feels comfortable.

I thought for a moment. The many directions that I could travel were set upon many paths, waiting to be stepped on. This time I will choose one with at least some enjoyment to be found within its path, willing to search through dirt to find it. 

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