Part IV - The Choice
T.W.: violence, the topic of self-harm.
Auic ran after Arcandor, but before she can catch up with him, she hears magical words and he flashes forward. He used the speed spell. Auic is stubborn and just keeps running. Part of her says that she is doing it out of principle, but another part wants him to get there first. Maybe he will hear Venus.
Arcandor uses the spell two more times and reaches the house. He enters and Peter is the first one to greet him.
-Hey, you're back! - at first, Peter is relieved to see he is alive. Then he is disappointed - Where is my cheese?
-Venus, is that really you? - Arcandor asks entering the kitchen, completely ignoring Peter.
Venus is taken aback.
-How did you...? - she asked weekly
-Wait, this Venus... Peter began to connect the dots.
-Yes. This Venus is my friend. What did they do to you?! You don't have to be afraid anymore, I will take you with me before Auic reaches us. She is the one responsible for
this? - Arcandor asked while getting close to his friend, tears in his eyes. He had looked for so long. She was not dead and he was grateful for that but now... she was a plant.
-Well yes... - Venus started. And Arcandor decided that was a good enough answer and took her pot, he could only think of getting away, the theory of kidnapping becoming more and more plausible to him, but with an awful twist.
-STOP! NO! - Peter and Venus started screaming.
-What? I am saving you!
-I DON'T NEED SAVING! - Venus Screamed. - PUT ME ON THE DAMN TABLE.
Not even Peter had seen Venus scream like that. Arcandor was confused but obeyed.
-I don't get it. These people turned you into a plant! And now they are keeping you hostage don't you want to get away?
-wow wow wow, hostage?? Are you mad? we are friends, always were! - Said Peter offended.
-Oh my, you were a human too?? - Arcandor asked Peter.
-And Auic did that to you? - Arcandor's stomach dropped. He couldn't believe he was attracted to the kidnapper of his friend, a truly evil witch...
-Look, I know that you may be confused. You may have heard stories, but let us tell you the truth. - Said, Venus. She could see Arcandor's mind working furiously and getting to all the wrong conclusions.
-After you left to study, I went to a new magic school. - Venus started. - I was so lonely with you across the ocean. I was never that good at magic, but Auic and Peter didn't care. They immediately absorbed me into their group. Peter is a brilliant wizard...
-And Auic was even brighter. Beyond talent, she is a scholar. - Interrupted Peter.
-Yes, and they were fun and would help me with homework. But they would also experiment and try new stuff.
-We were ambitious. Auic and I wanted to create new spells and leave our mark. Be remembered.
-The old factory was their experimenting spot, and after a few months of friendship, they showed it to me. - continued Venus. - we could only go there at night. Of course, my parents didn't like that, and I had to sneak out. We argued one day, they didn't want me to continue to see my friends, but I went out anyway.
-That day, everyone wanted to be someone else, something else. And we started playing around with transmutation spells. First with small things, then with the bigger things in the factory, and finally with ourselves. We don't really know who transmuted who. We just know that I asked to be something else with my name. And Peter asked to be hot. - Peter and Venus shared sad silly smiles, - and Auic asked to be able to fly. Only two of us got what we wished for. And since Auic left unscathed, she blames herself. She promised to find a way to turn us back into humans, and we had no reason to believe she wouldn't be able to.
-But we knew that if we stayed... the consequences, she wouldn't be able to try. We did this, we would solve it. - Said, Peter.
-We chose secluded places, we moved a lot in the beginning and there was an adaptation process, to our new forms. Until we got here. Auic kept her promise all these years, she never stopped looking not for one second. And to be away from everything for us meant that we could be ourselves, our new selves I guess. And we could try and forget what was left behind. And be almost happy that our parents couldn't see our struggle.
-But... it also meant that Auic had nothing else to focus on. We got to a point... We don't want to change. We know that there is no turning back. But she keeps trying to find a cure. a potion, a spell...
-That is what made you unwell, Peter?
-Yes. The autumn hyacinth potion... and now... - Peter didn't know if he should mention it. He hasn't told Venus yet, but now... Arcandor was not just a stranger anymore. And he knew that he couldn't fight Auic alone if he had to. He didn't want to have to fight her, but he knew how determined she was. For all this time, he thought that the factory accident was the worst thing that could happen, but now he was not so sure. - Now, she found out about human sacrifice.
Venus widened her eyes.
-She can't be serious. - Venus, said
- it was all over her desk. I... I want to believe she wouldn't be able to do it, but I don't know.
-And who... - Arcandor started, but he received a very sad look from Venus and Peter. He realized it was a ridiculous question. He was the only one available. He was silent. Processing all the information he heard. He wanted to help Venus, and now Peter. He spent so much time trying to find her, all based on half-truths and lies. And in the end, there was the biggest irony of all. - The funny thing is...- Arcandor said, looking at the floor and smiling, sadly. - it might work.
- WHAT? Peter and Venus said in unison. And they heard the couch scratch the floor. They all looked and a shocked Auic was holding herself, trying to catch her breath.
Arcandor was now looking Auic straight in the eyes.
-Yes. According to some books at the kingdoms library. There, it is strictly forbidden to transmute a human because that was the only way to turn back. - He said pausing. Almost defying Auic. But wished with all his heart that she wouldn't harm him.
Auic held his stare. She had an intriguing expression, that mixed anger, and excitement for being right. she reached for her knife slowly. Peter tried to say something but Arcandor held an Arm up. Then Auic's expression changed into the deepest sadness anyone there has ever seen. Still looking at Arcandor's eyes she mouthed: Take care of them. And she darted into her room.
They were all frozen in their spots, they were not sure of what was happening. Then Arcandor realized what she meant. He took Venus' pot, but this time asked for permission first, which she granted. And followed by Peter they went to Auic's room. She was on the ground, her studies spread on the floor with candles lit all around her. Through the tears, she started chanting. She didn't intend to harm anyone else but herself.
-No! You DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS. - Peter screamed. But Auic simply closed her eyes and kept going. The knife getting closer and closer to her arm.
-Auic LOOk AT ME. - Venus screamed. Auic opened her eyes, startled, but kept chanting. Wind started blowing, and everyone had to brace around Arcandor. Venus and Peter shared a glance. Venus pointed at one of the candles, and Peter grabbed it.
- Auic, we love you. It was not your fault. We were reckless and imprudent and these are the consequences. That was an ACCIDENT. But this right here is a CHOICE. Losing you is not a price we want to pay. Venus finished toppling the candle from Peter's hand. The candle fell on the papers and the wind that was blowing made it spread faster. Auic tried to hurry the enchantment, but Arcandor left Venus with Peter and rushed to disarm her. The fire spread to her books and potions and some of the glass started to break. Peter and Venus flew out of the house and Arcandor carried Auic out.
The wind blowing inside stopped once Auic couldn't continue reading the spell. but the damage was done, the house would burn and there was nothing they could do about it. Or better. There was nothing they wanted to do about it. Auic was too stunned to speak, she could only contemplate the fire. Once they were at a safe distance her legs gave up and she dropped to the ground. Tears washed her face. Arcandor kneeled beside her. Peter placed Venus carefully on the floor and Peter landed slowly on Auic's shoulder.
-It could have worked... Auic mumbled.
- We thought we didn't need to tell you this, because there was nothing to forgive. but if you need to hear it. We forgive you. - said, Venus.
- We totally do. - Joined Peter
Auic cried harder. She really needed to hear it. But most of all Venus's words echoed in her head. They chose to stay that way. And that was Auic's biggest source of guilt, to have taken their choice. But here are they, choosing to be as they are, choosing to burn the house they lived in for the past 2 years, choosing to burn her studies, choosing to leave it all behind, and ultimately also choosing her.
-Come on, guys! Faster! - Said Peter, flying ahead and spinning in the air, losing some freshly grated cheese in the process.
-Not everyone can fly like you! - Said Auic, faking resentment.
-You're wasting all of that good cheese I gave you! - Screamed Arcandor.
-Soon enough, I will be self-sufficient in that department! - Peter answered back. He had plans to start a vegan cheese factory.
-And we are carrying stuff! - said, Venus
-We?! Arcandor and Auic answered in unison, they were sharing the load of the picnic basket that included a very nice purple pot with Venus inside it. Eventually, Arcandor had gone to the village and grabbed the purple pot for her. She reconciled with her parents and the gift inspired her to start on pottery. She had made the prettiest and tiniest pots so far.
After some time, they found a perfect spot and stretched a stripped blue cloth.
-Ok so I prepared some sandwiches, jam, juice, pumpkin pie and a cake! And I think you will love this one. -said, Arcandor looking a Peter. Arcandor became responsible for all the food since he was the best cook among them. Of course, Auic helped, especially now they were living together, and she knew what was coming, and started giggling.
Peter looked at them suspiciously. And Arcandor takes out of the basket a pepperoni Pizza. Peter looks amazed and offended at the same time.
-I dare to bring the perfect cake! - Says Arcandor. bursting in laughter.
Peter rolled his eyes, but he couldn't hide it was the perfect joke.
-It has the best of both worlds: your looks and it's edible. - Said Auic, laughing.
-You are spending too much time with him... I am starting to think he is a bad influence on you, Auic. - Said Peter raising an eyebrow.
- Oh! How are you so sure that she is not the one being a bad influence on me? - Answered Arcandor.
-HEY! - Screamed Auic, starting to tickle Arcandor in retaliation.
They all shared a laugh and then started eating. That was now their tradition. Every autumn, they would go back to the mountains and enjoy as much as they could their time together. They would fight sometimes, but they would quickly solve it and let it go. They knew that they had wasted so much time on guilt and resentment and that they went through too many hard and ugly feelings. That wouldn't go away easily. But they tried their best. They would always revisit the choice to move on. And create new memories. a new future. It was in one of those picnics that Arcandor asked Auic to date him. And where Peter got the idea for the cheese factory. They were now scattered around the country, each one choosing every day to live as best as they could.