Inside the cave, three novices paced. Tonight, their skills would be put to test. Tonight, their worst afflictions would be slain. They leaned into the cauldron and examined the roiling broth.
"What if I can't do it? What if everyone hates what comes of my spell?" one asked.
"Faith is the key," said another.
" You just have to trust..." added the third, wiping beads of steam from her face. They all moved back from the fire.
At the far end of the cave, three warlocks gathered, chatting and slapping each other's backs. Occasionally, one ventured forth with a long metal rod to stoke the fire that raged beneath the smouldering pot.
"Here, let me do it - that's not how you stoke a cauldron fire," one said, taking the rod from his warlock friend. He proceeded to dig and poke at the fire, dispatching glowing red flecks into the musty air.
A sudden gust swept through the cave and at once, the din of voices fell silent. The fire crackled a welcome, and the novices turned to the cave's entrance, their robes still settling from the flurry of air. Before them stood the sorceress. She glided toward an altar, where she lay down her magical tools. Her hair was jet black, her eyes glistening, catching the flare of the fire beneath the cauldron. She surveyed them all, her hands clasped daintily before her. They were hands of ritual magic. Hands that could make or break those before her. If that's what they chose.
"Who goes first this evening?" she asked. A moments silence slithered among them before a trembling novice emerged from the crowd.
"I do," she said with an unsteady voice. She was small and frail, with one eye gummed shut.
"Come forth," the sorceress said.
The young girl edged her way to the front as the sorceress lifted a roll of parchment from her satchel.
"This is your spell you wish to cast?" she asked the novice.
"It is," the novice replied, licking the dryness from her lips. The sorceress glided toward the bubbling pot, detached and methodical. She lifted the parchment high in the air and then thrust it deep into the bubbling stew, unbothered by its blistering heat. The only sound was the crackle and spit of the parchment as it purged its secrets into the brew.
The others looked on, opened mouthed, their breath caught in their throats as the cauldron took on the spell and diffused it into the air. Slowly the novices closed their eyes, inhaling the scents, kinking their necks to the sounds, their eyelids filling with fantastical sights.
"So?" The sorceress asked the coven once the spattering cauldron had settled.
"I think the beginning could use a dash of eye-bright, you know, might help clear up the point of view, " a brave voice offered.
"And perhaps some eye of toad might stop all that head-hopping," said another. They all nodded in agreement.
"And what about structure - perhaps a set of Mojo bones might come in handy - had you thought about that?" asked one of the warlocks.
The novice trembled and slipped her hands slick with sweat into the pockets of her robes. Her good eye watered and her other stung as their words filled the cave and her spell was dissected again and again.
"Some balm of Gilead might help all that passiveness, as might a dash of the old Devil's claw but overall, I think your spell has great potential..." said someone at the back.
The young novice watched them all nod again and then turned to the alter where the sorceress stood with a sleek black quill in her hand. She scrawled furiously upon a clean sheet of parchment, and then lifted her arm and thrust the paper into the pot. The cauldron roiled again and a diaphanous mist rose to the roof of the cave. It hovered for a moment and then fell slowly to settle about the young novice. The novice shuddered and her eye pained and she thought she might cry. A single tear fell from her good eye while her closed eye wept only with pain.
She rubbed at her stinging eye, and felt the gummy slit of her eyelid widen. A needle thin shaft of light split the darkness and pain filled her head. She staggered a little and then slowly prized her afflicted eye wide open. Silence fell over the room and she stared at her fellow novices, their heads bathed by a murky white light . She rubbed again at her eyes, and slowly her vision cleared. A miracle. At last she could see the work to be done. The curse had been broken and now she had hope. The sorceress stepped forth and handed her a clean sheet of parchment and a new purple quill.
"Here, you'll be needing these..." she said with a smile. The novice watched her glide back to her alter, wishing one day to be half as smart.
"Shall we break for some tea? I think one of the warlocks brought fairy cakes..." the Sorceress announced, licking her ruby red lips. An appreciative murmur rippled among them and the novice breathed a sigh of relief.