Chapter Two:

In the morning, Lamia appeared in the courtyard of her palace in a shower of red sparks. She wore a scarlet kirtle, and her black hair was tied neatly behind her head. The Witch-Queen wore an expression of grim determination, as she stalked towards the other woman – she was determined not to be tricked again.

Khynar nodded as she passed. In either hand, the witch wielded a long blade of volcanic glass, the surfaces of the knives glistening, as though with blood, in the bright light. Lamia shuddered as Khynar handed her one of the knives, its glass wickedly cool even in the heat of the sun.

"The second task," she said simply. "For the heart of a star."

With the other blade, Khynar gestured at the lake. There was a shivering and shuddering as the black knife channeled her spell, drawing together and pulling apart the water. A moment later, it was not a lake but a perfect mirror.

Lamia walked over to its flawless surface, admiring her own perfect reflection. Somehow, the glass seemed to increase her own beauty, casting starlight in her black hair and causing her eyes to twinkle seductively. She stood, transfixed for several moments before Khynar spoke again.

"You must use the knife to separate the surface of the lake," she said calmly. "If the mirror has been cleft into a perfect half by the time the sun reaches the top of the sky, then you have succeeded."

Lamia nodded, the faintest traces of an ugly snarl on her face. She walked gingerly on the surface of the lake, as though expecting it to crack; but it was as strong as iron beneath her weight. She moved to the perfect center of the lake, and raised the knife high above her head. She thrust with the strength of all her unnaturally long life, using sword and spell to shatter the mirror –

And then as she looked down, she faltered.

Her own face was staring at her, utterly flawless. Her skin seemed to catch and drink in the rays of the sun, becoming as brilliant as the star she sought, while her teeth gleamed and sparkled. Her hair was long and lustrous, their shade of black darkening until it was greater than night itself. It was so beautiful, and the Witch-Queen could not bring herself to destroy it.

She let go of the blade. It clattered to the floor, with a loud clinking of glass, but Lamia did not notice. She sat down with a sigh, the silks of her kirtle flowing around her, and stared wistfully into the glass. Above her, the sun inched towards the preordained mark – but she was far too entranced by her own beauty in the magic mirror. She refused to destroy such a beautiful thing, and stared deep into its reflective depths, until at last, midday had come.

Khynar had not moved a muscle since the beginning of the task, and had stared at Lamia with cold eyes for the last six hours. As she had expected, the Witch-Queen had failed.

Clearing her throat loudly, she approached Lamia, who did not stir from her trance. Only after she tapped the other woman's shoulder with her blade, did the shrew awake from her own pride. She seemed shocked, and blinked furiously as she rose unsteadily to her feet.

"What?" she asked groggily. "I have not yet finished the task… let me…"

She picked up the blade and swiped half-heartedly at the mirror. It bounced harmlessly off its hard surface, and Lamia dropped the sword again. She ambled towards it, but Khynar sharply cut off her movements with a spell.

"You have failed," she said. "Again."

Lamia seemed enraged, and awaking from her stupor, conjured a bright green flame on her fingertip. She advanced on the other woman, black smoke hissing from the flames; but Khynar blew at them mildly, and they were extinguished.

"There are no limits to your trickery!" exclaimed the Witch-Queen. "Your tasks are foul and cheating. Even your magic is petty."

"The task was fair," countered Khynar. "It was your pride that prevented you from breaking your own reflection."

Lamia hissed, and a tongue of flames rushed from her mouth. They dissipated harmlessly on an invisible field of crackling power that had suddenly engulfed the other witch, who with a flick of her finger, sent Lamia's mouth flying shut.

She glared in protest, but could not speak as Khynar moved forward again.

"One task remains. You have to but pass this one, single test to earn the heart. Be ready," she finished, flicking her finger. The mirror collapsed, again taking on the freedom of water; but she and Lamia were already standing on the opposite shore.

"One task," she said, and then was gone.

The Witch-Queen sucked in a breath of air. The petty witch's game had gone too far… when they met again the next morning, she would not be alone.

She raised her hands in the air, twisting the power of nature to her own blackness; and then with a great cry and burst of emerald flames, the Witch-Queen shouted,