Luz awoke in her bed, in her room in the owl house. The sun was just cresting over the horizon and peeking through her window, illuminating the room. Luz sat up, stretched, popped a couple joints as she did and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Planting her feet on the hardwood floor and grabbing the railing of the bed she looked down at her hands, then up at her wrists and arms.
Magic circles were tattooed up both her arms in a straight line. Two on her forearm and two on her shoulder. Or at least, there used to be two on her left shoulder. The third glyph up was now replaced by a big batch of scar tissue, a constant reminder of her last fight. One she hopes she never has to repeat.
Tenderly massaging her shoulder, she shook her head, trying to rid herself of the negative thoughts that came with focusing too much on it, on him.
She went to the corner of the room where her witch's robe and hat hung. She quickly got dressed for the day. When fully garbed, she wore a white robe, matching white witch's hat, and special-made fingerless white gloves that had metal sigils embedded into the palms. As for accessories, Luz always carried around her trusty spellbook, a thick tome filled with magical glyphs that had a leather strap attached to its spine for easy carrying. Luz also carried a much smaller notepad sized book filled with glyphs, however, they were slightly incomplete. Finally, Luz had a bandoleer of sorts that she wore around her waist with three scrolls.
Fully dressed and ready to face anything the day threw at her, Luz went downstairs and found Eda already awake, making herself something to drink to wake up. King was still napping in his bed that was too small for him in the corner of the living room.
"Oh, Eda, up already?" Luz asked, walking into the kitchen.
As Eda turned to her, She could see the bags under Eda's eyes, the sag in her skin, the withering around her nails, the thinning of her hair. The curse had really accelerated her aging these past five years and it was starting to show.
"Yeah, gotta go get some stuff from the market, before I set up shop myself that is," Eda said.
"But Eda, the summer festival is today, why don't you come with me and Willow and Gus?" Luz coaxed.
"Oh, pssh, you don't want an old bag like me hanging around." Eda scoffed. "Besides, festivals like that tend to draw the Emperor's coven's guards and I'm a wanted 'criminal' if you don't remember. Now that you are one too, and all." Eda smiled and pointed at Luz as she said that last part. "So if you are really going to go to that thing, don't get arrested." Luz looked off to the side before answering.
"Yeah, I know. We had planned to have Gus disguise me before we went in. I learned from the best on how to not get caught." Luz smiled back at her mentor.
"Alright kiddo, have fun tonight. Where are you heading to now, though?" Eda asked, as she started to sip at her drink.
"Library, I'm still trying to master that new spell," Luz answered, walking towards the door.
"Oh, I swear Luz keep that up and you'll be a better witch than me someday," Eda said, sipping more at her cup.
"Someday?" Luz smiled back at her. Eda glares daggers at her.
"I may have taught you everything I know, but that doesn't mean I can't still kick your butt!" Eda chided back to the younger witch.
"I know, I know." Luz laughed. She stopped at the door and looked to her left, King was sleeping on the floor in the corner of the room. With a small blanket draped over his back. Luz remembered when King was just a tiny little baby demon, sometimes she wished that was still the case, he was so cute and it was fun to be able to pick him up and hug him, even though he didn't like it. What lay in the corner of the room now only resembled King in the face.
King's upper body was disproportionately larger than the rest of him, while his legs and head remained mostly unchanged. The result being that when he 'stood' he was up to shoulder height on Luz. He now mainly walked on his massive fists while his feet could barely touch the ground and his shoulders were so big they nearly engulfed his head. If Luz had to describe it, she would say King looked like a gorilla on steroids with baby legs and a tiny head. But, Luz and Eda loved him all the same.
Luz sighed before walking out the door and into the dimly lit outside world. It's warm, but her robe is fairly breezy. She quickly made her way to the library in the middle of town, passing through the market, just as all the shops were starting to open up. She waved to some of the stall vendors that she frequented as they greeted her. Luz also tried to ignore the people on the street that took a step sideways away from her when they noticed who she was, undoubtedly from her wanted posters that were plastered all over the city, right next to or over Eda's.
Luz made it to the library steps and walked up them to find the head librarian just unlocking the door.
"Hi, Mildred." She said, spooking the older mutant lady. Mildred had grayish curly hair and a single eye in the middle of her face. With a big, bifocal monocle.
"Oh, Hello dear. I was just opening up. You are here rather early." Mildred said as she turned around.
"Yeah, I know, I just wanted to get an early start on finishing up this spell I've been working on before going to the festival tonight with my friends," Luz explained with a smile.
"Oh, that sounds like fun. Well, I won't keep you, go ahead. With that, Mildred opened the door and let Luz inside the building. Inside, was a two-story building with Books lining every crevice. Every kind of book. From how to cook purple worms to what Luz was actually interested in, ancient magic history.
Luz had found out a few years ago, by pure luck of Eda mentioning it in passing, that before Witches developed a bile sack to cast spells they also used to use runes to cast spells. Looking into it, she was able to find old dusty tombs at the library filled with spells using the old rune system that she could copy and practice. It was truly a breakthrough moment, up until then she was stuck with only the magic she could see done over and over again by Eda. This was like a whole new teacher.
Luz took her library book and a stack of paper with a pencil in hand to a section of the library that was a little odd. It was like an in-door firing range for magic. Since the library didn't let you check out books anymore, and it had several magic-teaching books it only made sense that witches and wizards would want to practice the spells they learned from the books before leaving the library.
Upon taking her spot at the 'firing range', which she was alone in she took a second to collect her thoughts. She reassured herself that it's okay to not master this spell today, there would always be tomorrow. She knew the spell was of high difficulty.
She reminded herself of Eda's teachings, she actually remembered the little monologue Eda gave by heart. More or less.
'Magic is more than just drawing a circle and casting anything you want. It's about bending reality to your will. There is a reason that a novice spellcaster can't cast master-level spells. As you cast a spell, you must know the intention, power, limitations and sometimes even the appearance of the spell or the spell will fizzle and fail. On top of this, you must have the concentration to hold the spell's form despite whatever is happening around you and the willpower to will the spell into existence. This is why spellcasting is a dangerous and difficult art.'
It's about the only time Eda sounded like an actual teacher and gave Luz a proper 'book' lesson. All the other lessons were practical lessons of dodging fireballs or making sure she could counterspell correctly.
Luz flipped to the page of the spell she had been trying to master for a few days now, drew the rune on a sheet of paper and concentrated. Then she tapped the paper and the Rune glowed. The paper crumpled and floated into the air. The paper ignited. Luz raised her hand, and with her palm facing forward pushed the air ahead of herself. Burning, the paper flew downrange away from Luz until it hit the far wall of the range and then the small ball of fire exploded outwards in a fiery explosion for about twenty feet in every direction.
"I- I did it!" Luz cheered. Thrilled over her first successful casting of the new spell she spent the next couple hours making sure she had it right, recasting the same spell over and over. Once she was satisfied, the last step was to put the unfinished rune in her small note-pad sized book so she never forgets the rune again. She kept at it until it was about time to go meet Gus and Willow for lunch.
"Bye, Mildred." Luz waved goodbye as she left the library and headed for a nearby tavern, The Witch's Brew. She was running a little late, but she knew her friends didn't mind too much.
Upon entering the tavern, Luz looked around and saw the bartender across the room from her, a couple waitresses serving food and drinks, and all sorts of people, mostly monsters and mutants, a couple witches, a few miscellaneous creatures, and finally she saw Gus and Willow sitting at the side of the tavern with a couple mugs of something, clearly waiting for her.
Willow had thinned out a bit over time and let her hair grow longer. That being said her face still had some roundness to it and she was still quite cute. Gus, while now technically a man still couldn't grow much more facial hair than peach fuzz to save his life. These were the life-long friends that Luz had made while on the boiling isles.
"Hey, sorry I'm late," Luz says as she rushed over and took the seat next to Willow at the small table.
"Hey Luz," Gus said.
"Not a big deal," Willow said, putting her drink down.
"I was at the library, time got away from me, but I just learned a new spell!" Luz proudly proclaims.
"Another one?" Gus asked. "What's this one for? To give yourself gills?"
"It causes an explosion of fire," Luz said very matter of fact way. Willow just stared at her.
"When are you going to need to use that?" She asked Luz.
"Well… You never know." Luz laughed.
A waitress walks up to them. She is wearing a green skirt and a white blouse."What'll you all be having today?" She asked.
"Oh, just whatever is on the menu for today will be fine, thanks." Luz answered for the group.
"Alright, three of today's special." She said as she walks off towards the bar.
"So, ready for tonight?" Willow asked her two friends.
"Oh yeah!" Gus exclaimed.
"Yeah, it should be fun. I tried to get Eda to come with us, but she said she's too old for that kind of thing." Luz sighed.
"Well, King still wants to go, right?" Gus asked.
"Yeah, of course," Luz responded.
"Well, you can't force Eda to be social, Luz," Willow said.
"I know… I just bums me out to think Eda will just be home doing nothing while we are out at the festival tonight."Luz shook her head. "But, I guess that's her choice."
There is a silence for a moment before Willow breaks it.
"I remember back when I was little, going to the festival with Amity." There is a stillness in the air between the three of them for a moment.
"Wh-what do you think happened to her?" Willow asked, looking down at her mug, a confused sorrowful look on her face.
"No one knows, four years ago she just upped and vanished."Gus reminded her.
"Yeah, I guess I just hope… It wasn't painful, she didn't deserve whatever happened to her," Willow said.
The waitress came back with three plates on a tray and set one down in front of Willow, Gus, and Luz. Each plate had what appeared to be the roasted leg of… something sticking up from it, covered in gravy and surrounded by some kind of fruit. The waitress also set down a mug of honey cider for Luz who hadn't been present when Willow and Gus had gotten their drinks.
Luz looked at the plate with mild repulsion, but like with most things on the boiling isles you never actually know if something is going to make you vomit until you try it. The roast mystery meat actually wasn't half bad. The group ate, paid their tab, had a friendly conversation about what they were going to do at the festival later that night, then parted ways, agreeing to meet at Luz's house at sundown.
Upon arriving back at the owl house Luz found Eda gone, 'must be at the shop trying to sell human curios like always.' Luz figured. She found King awake, rummaging in the kitchen for food.
"Hey, King." Luz greeted him from the living room.
"Oh, hey Luz," Hey said, leaning over out from the fridge.
"Ready for tonight?" Luz asked.
"Yeah, the summer festival is awesome! I love winning all the games and being drowned in prizes." King said as he fished something out of the fridge and started to munch on it.
"Alright, well I've been up since the crack of dawn and I think I might have eaten some bad mystery meat that isn't agreeing with me, I think I'm going to go lay down for a bit," Luz said as she headed for the stairs.
"Okay, just don't oversleep you only have a few hours until the festival starts." King reminded her.
"I know." She soothed him and headed up the stairs. She gets to her room and shuts the door. She disrobed, taking off all her gear and putting it in its usual spot in the corner of her room. She sat and then laid on her bed, her stomach did feel a bit jumpy, but she wasn't sure if it was from the meal or not. Soon enough, though she drifted off to sleep.
She awoke a few hours later, judging by the sun's position in the sky, it was just about sundown when Willow and Gus were meant to be meeting with her at her house. Also when all the shops in the market close, including when Eda normally closes up shop and comes home.
Luz got up and re-clothed herself and came out of the room, she went downstairs to find King lounging on the sofa playing with a ball, throwing it in the air and catching it.
"King, what are you doing?" Luz asked.
"Waiting on you and your friends. You are my ride to the festival, after all." King said, catching the ball and holding it.
"Well, they should be here any minute." Just as she says this, there is a knock on the door. "Well, wouldn't you know it?"
Luz goes to the door and opens it to find Gus and Willow on her doorstep.
"Hey, guys." Luz greeted them.
"Hey," Willow responded.
"Hi." Gus waved.
"Ready to go?" Luz asked them.
"Yeah, if you are," Willow said.
"Alright, King, let's go," Luz said.
"Finally," King said, throwing the ball to the corner of the room before getting off the couch and walking over to the door and following them out.
Once outside Luz and King can now see that both Gus and Willow and brandishing their flight staves. Willow's staff has a peacock at the head and Gus's an eagle. Both animate and flap their wings during flight and work much the same way as Eda's. Since Luz was an outcast of 'traditional' school she never graduated and was never properly awarded one. Luz has her suspicions about how Eda acquired hers.
"Alright hop on," Willow said to Luz as she mounted her staff. Luz does so and looked over to Gus, who had also mounted his staff, however, King was a bit big for the staff and was having trouble staying balanced on the thing.
"Gonna be alright over there?" Luz asked King.
"Yeah, yeah, it's not that far of a fly," King responded.
Luz noticed, right before they left the ground a strange-looking black crow was sitting atop the house. There were no other birds around, just this single black crow, it looked at Luz. As if it knew it was being watched. But it just continues to sit there, staring.
The four of them took off from the owl house and flew towards where the festival is taking place, the next island over. All in all the trip took ten minutes. They arrived a little ways away from the festival entrance. They could already see the Emperor's coven guards at the main gate. Gus quickly casted a couple spells and to everyone except Gus, Willow, and King, Luz looked like a three-eyed green-haired witch in a black robe and hat.
"Just don't let anyone get too close to you, or like, I don't know, touch your fake eyeball or something or they will realize it's an illusion." Gus reminded Luz.
"Got it. Thanks, Gus." Luz said.
"Don't mention it. Now, who's ready to get in there?" Gus smiled.
The three of them made their way to the front gate and to the ticket seller, Willow, King, and Gus bought their tickets without a problem. Luz went Last, She started to sweat when the ticket seller acted like he recognized her. He rubbed his chin, like he was pondering something before shrugging and giving her a ticket, and passing her through.
The first thing that hit the group once they were on the festival grounds was the smell. The smell of cooking food, pastries, sweets, and all kinds of delicacies. They had all eaten not too long ago so none of them were that hungry yet. So they made their way past all the food stands towards the game section of the festival. They knew they were in the right place once they started to hear barkers yelling at the crowd of people walking by, challenging them to play their games.
The group slowly made their way around the game area checking out every station to see what the game was and what the prizes were. Playing some, skipping others. They played a balloon popping game with 'darts', if you can call them that. They were just pixies with really sharp hats strapped to their heads. They played a game where the objective was to get the ping pong ball into the goldfish bowl without it bouncing out of bounds or a goblin snatching the ball away first. And they played a game about throwing a ball to knock over a few dastardly heavy bottles.
At one point a voice from beyond the crowd called out. "Hey, Tiny man!"
The group turned towards the voice. It was a barker. He stood next to a strength tester machine. One of those games where you whack the base of the machine with the mallet and try to ring the bell. He was a big guy, muscular, at least six and a half feet tall. And he was looking right at King. King was looking back at him, his eyes narrowed.
"Want to test your strength?" He had the mallet under his hand, the head of the hammer resting on the ground.
"Luz… Hold my stuff." King said in a low tone before shoving his stuffed teddy bear that he had won earler that night into Luz's arms. King saunters up to the guy, walking on his knuckles more than anything puffing his chest out.
"Yeah, it should be fun." He said with a look of defiance. He payed the barker for the game.
The barker reached back and grabbed a smaller mallet and went to hand it to King. King put a hand up in the stop motion, shook his head, then pointed at the big one under the barker's hand.
"Oh, you want to use Big Bertha, eh? Alright…" He hefted up the large mallet with some effort and offered it to King who used both hands to take it.
King took the mallet and felt its weight, the showman was serious about the mallet, it weighed more than it looked. King slung it over a shoulder, lined himself up with the platform. A few onlookers stopped and watched him about to perform his feat. After a moment, he took a deep breath and with a little yell, came down as hard as he could on it.
The little chunk of metal flew through the air and struck home as it let out a shrill ding that was heard throughout the immediate vicinity. Some onlookers clapped before going back to their games or food. Luz, Gus, and Willow cheered.
"Wow, I didn't think you had it in you. Well, congratulations. You can pick anything you want." The barker told King as he waved his hand to a nearby wall of prizes. Up at the top, there was a small medallion necklace that he chose. The barker got it for him and KIng clipped it onto his collar.
The game stands were fun. They won some prizes, and by the end of it once they had done the full circuit, they were all carrying around some stuffed animals, a new shirt, a glowing toy wand, a hat, and a new ball for King to play with.
Now, it's time for some grub. They made their way over to the food stands. All kinds of foods were available. Meats on sticks are what King gravitated towards. Gus and Luz both got a sticky bun, a pastry with some kind of sweet ooze or sap coating it. Probably best to not ask where it came from. Willow, on the other hand, tried her hand at something deep-fried.
With their stomachs full, arms overflowing with prizes, and wallets nearly empty from having gone through the entire festival it seemed the night was coming to a close. All that was left was to watch the fireworks at the closeout ceremony. The four of them mounted upon their flight staves again and found a nice hill overlooking the festival, nearby were some other festivalgoers who had also found the hill to watch the fireworks. Gus went ahead and dropped the illusion on Luz at this point.
Soon enough, the fireworks started. They were bigger, brighter, louder, and more beautiful than the ones Luz had been used to on earth. The display was more complex too than anything she had seen during a Fourth of July celebration. The four of them 'oohed' and 'Ahhed' and muttered back and forth about their favorite designs during the show. The show lasted roughly twenty minutes, finishing off with a grand finale that left the black sky checkered grey with falling ash from the spent fireworks.
With the firework show done, and the festival officially over it was time to go home. First stop was the owl house to drop off Luz and King before Gus and Willow could go their separate ways.
They flew the ten minutes back to the owl house and when they arrived something didn't seem right.
All the lights were off. Luz didn't expect Eda to be in bed already. She wasn't THAT old. Luz got off Willow's staff and had a worried look on her face.
"You okay, Luz?" Willow asked.
"Uhh, yeah. Can you guys just stick around for a minute?" Luz asked.
"Sure?" Willow shrugged at Gus.
Luz walks up to the front door and notices something else off. The front door is ajar.
"Hooty?" Luz called out to him. Silence. She takes another couple of steps up to the door and sees that Hooty is unconscious. King, who had been following only a few steps behind Luz swallows loudly before calling out.
"Eda?" He half-shouted at the door.
Luz turns back to him with a deadly serious look, shushing him. She grabs her spellbook from around her waist and flips it open, quickly finding the spell she wants. She holds the book out in front of her with her other hand hovering over it like it's a loaded weapon. She gently opens the door.
The living room is trashed, things that used to be on the walls litter the floor, the furniture was flipped upside down. Scorch marks cover the walls. Beyond the living room, she can see much the same in the kitchen. Windows are broken out, shattered glass lays on the floor.
Luz quietly stepped inside and motions for King to follow. Getting the clue that something is up, Gus and Willow get off their Staves and cautiously approach the house. Luz searched the living room, checking corners and closets, finding nothing. She then checked the upstairs, which seems to have been untouched. With no intruders still in the house, Luz put her book away. Until Hooty wakes up she can't ask him what happened.
"Uh, Luz? I think you should see this…" King says from the living room. He was crouched down next to the couch. He put a hand on the couch and rolled it over, revealing what lay underneath: Eda's staff. And right next to it, an emblem for the Emperor's coven with a torn bit of fabric still attached.