High Wizard Jeanne Nox was in the place of magic and madness where imagination blended into reality. Her cauldron bubbled a perfect shade of puce, the scent of lavender clashing with rancid rafflesia. Rainbows danced across the basement’s stone walls. She bellowed, “Moira, more eye of newt!”
“Here, master.” Moira handed her a jar full of tiny eyeballs twitching and looking in all directions.
Jeanne poured in half the contents. The cauldron hissed. The High Wizard, no stranger to such ominous noises, ducked under the nearest steel table, dragging Moira with her. The explosion rocked the tiny room. Two of Jeanne’s Best Potions awards crashed to the ground. A bookshelf fell forward, smashing into a chestnut table, toppling a lute and a fragile crystal ball. Worse, a candle embedded in a skull set alight her snow-spider silk carpet. Jeanne’s knees creaked as she stomped out the flames.
“Master!” Moira cried, rushing forward to grab her arm. “Please be careful.”
“Be careful yourself, girl.” Jeanne glared. “Those were spider’s eyes.”
“…Sorry, master.” Moira bit her lip. Jeanne’s apprentice had a perpetually worried face, dumpling-round and big-eared. Bits of frizzy red hair escaped her bun in all directions. The flush on her cheeks ate her freckles alive.
Jeanne sighed. Moira had the talent to be the next High Wizard — her greatest weakness was her lack of self-confidence. The teenager tried to shrink into her brown robes, which wasn’t easy for someone tall as a bear. Likely her own gruff nature wasn’t helping her student’s anxiety. She patted the girl on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Everyone gets those two confused in the beginning. See, my enchantments will take care of the damage.”
The gold and silver charms on the walls glowed. The bookshelf sat itself back up again, the books floating back into place. The lute hummed as its strings regrew. The crystal shards snapped into a ball, and the carpet knitted new designs of spiders.
Jeanne approached the cauldron. Glowing threads coming from her pentacles had trapped the bubbling liquid inside. Her hands darting at a pace which belied their age, she tossed in jars of powders and liquids until her puce color returned. She dipped a ladle into the brew. Not quite thick enough. “Where’s the eye of newt?”
“Right here.” Moira handed her a jar full of moving eyeballs. A lock of grey hair fell over her forehead. No, it was red. Her apprentice’s hair had always been red as the heart-blood of a lion.
Shaking aside her brief confusion, Jeanne measured out half the contents into the brew. Then she waited to see if she’d need to run. Rainbows bubbled up from the surface. The High Wizard grinned and resisted the urge to cackle. At her age, it would look funny. She’d finally perfected the first cure for dementia! This would mark a ten-year streak of Best Potions’ awards. And it was important that she finish quickly…for some reason…
Just as she turned to grab the empty flasks, she remembered one last ingredient. “Moira, pass me the eye of newt.”
“Yes, master.” Moira already had the jar in her hands.
Jeanne smiled at her. “Thank you. Don’t be afraid to tell me if I’m forgetting something. This old mind isn’t what it used to be.” She laughed. Moira didn’t. Instead, the girl placed a hand over her eyes. Was she…crying?
“Are you alright?” Jeanne stood on her tip-toes to peer at her apprentice.
“Fine, master.” Moira squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them. “Let’s bottle up the potion.”
“What’s wrong? Did you break up with that bi — uh, Luna again?” Jeanne had been tempted on multiple occasions to slip her apprentice’s cheating girlfriend an Elixir of Ugliness so the outside would match the inside.
Perhaps it was her overprotectiveness talking, but Moira was far too good for Luna, who reminded her of the noble-born idiots who bought her potions because they hadn’t any charm or courage of their own. Jeanne hesitated, torn between blunt speech and sincere concern. “I’m sorry. If your poor old master may offer some well-meant advice: don’t take Luna back! Because she’ll come crawling to you once she’s tired of her current fling just like last time.”
“I realized that a long time ago, master.”
“Ah, that’s right, you’re married now to…what’s her name?” A beautiful ceremony on a boat hovered at the edge of Jeanne’s memory.
“Erica. We’ll be celebrating our twentieth anniversary in a few weeks.” Moira smiled. There, that was genuine happiness on her girl’s face. Good to see.
Jeanne patted her on the back. “I’m glad.” Uncomfortably, she cleared her throat. “Now, where was that eye of newt?”
High Wizard Moira Taggan handed Jeanne a jar as a knock came from the door. She hastened over to let her apprentice in. “Is it time already?”
“We’re going to be late for the Wizards’ Council.” Eun-Hee Park frowned, her thick brows furrowing. “Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt you. I know what the former High Wizard means to you. It must be hard to see her like this.” Her apprentice glanced at the elderly woman standing in front of her hospital bed, shaking jars full of nothing into an empty bowl. The room was barren and smelled of sickness in a way which had seeped into the walls. Moira had spent a fortune making the place wizard-safe after the last explosion.
“She’s the one who saw potential in me even when I didn’t think much of myself.” Moira glanced down at the wrist scars peeking out of her robe. “I’m grateful I can make her so happy by pretending.”
Behind her, Jeanne Nox called, “Moira, dear, could you pass me the eye of newt?”
“Of course,” Moira Taggan said. Then she fetched an empty jar for her former master one more time.
Katherine Toran has had short fiction published in Abyss & Apex Magazine, the Whortleberry Press anthology Strange Changes, Every Day Fiction, and Short Fiction Break. Also, she received an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. She’s currently working on her economics PhD at the University of Kentucky, and writes fiction as a relief from the endless math jargon. Her Twitter is @bookgirl_kt.