“You might not want to stay around here too long,” the man in the shop warned the woman at the counter. “They burn witches here.”
“I’m not a witch,” she said calmly.
“Try telling them that when they have you tied up to a stake and doused with oil.”
“What, you people burn everyone who passes through town? I can’t imagine that helps your economy.”
“Not everyone. It’s just, your reputation precedes you.”
She rolled her eyes. “So you burn everyone interesting who passes through town.”
“Yep. Look, I’m not saying I agree with it, which is why I’m warning you.”
“Well, I thank you for that. I’ll be gone as soon as I finish what I came here to do.”
He didn’t ask her what that was, just handed her her change and watched her walk out of the store.
Mindful of his warning, she eschewed the main roads, taking a more circumspect route through unsavory alleys that grew even less savory as she reached the poorer part of the town. Finally, she came to a ramshackle tenement. She circled around to the front and climbed up the rickety stairs to the topmost apartment, the cheapest due to the long climb and extreme danger in the case of a fire. She knocked three times on the door.
It was opened by a middle aged man who crossed his arms and stared at her suspiciously.
“Yes?” he demanded.
“I’m here about your daughter. May I come in?”
The suspicion did not leave his face, but he let her inside. The room was small and shabby, and had no furniture but for a large bed and a wood stove. A woman and a girl of perhaps ten were sitting on the floor in the far corner, next to the window that was the only source of light, sewing.
“What does she want?” the woman asked without looking up from her sewing.
“She says she’s here about Kayli.” He turned to their visitor. “I’d offer you a seat, but as you can see, we don’t have any.”
“That’s not a problem,” she replied with a smile, and gracefully seated herself on the floor next to the child. “Are you Kayli?”
The girl nodded but said nothing. The visitor turned back to her parents. “I hear they burn witches here.”
“So?” the man demanded.
“So if someone from here were to have magical ability, it would be wisest for them to study away from home.”
“What are you saying?” demanded the man as the woman told her daughter, “Kayli, go play outside.”
The girl wordlessly left the room, and the visitor had to suppress a smile as the finding spell she had used to get here told her that Kayli was right outside the door listening at the keyhole.
“Surely you’ve noticed.”
“Noticed what? What are you going on about?” Kayli’s father demanded, but the girl’s mother ignored him and said quietly to their visitor, “Yes.”
“You can’t really think she’s safe here.”
“As safe here as anywhere,” Kayli’s mother said bitterly.
“Riantha, what’s going on? What are you talking about?”
Riantha ignored her husband. “You see? If her own father doesn’t know, it’s hardly likely anyone else will.”
Their visitor shook her head. “For now, maybe. But when she starts levitating things or causing explosions or turning people into rats? There’s too much magic in her to stay quiet for long.”
They both stared at her. Finally, Riantha demanded, “So are you saying she’s doomed?”
“Only if she stays here.”
“Are you saying my daughter’s a witch?” Kayli’s father demanded.
“No. Witches, and most magicians, are merely people who know how to use magic. Kayli has magic in her blood.”
“So you’re saying my daughter’s worse than a witch?” he demanded furiously. Without giving her time to answer, he bellowed, “Then you don’t have to worry about her staying here! I won’t have a witch under my roof!”
“Wait,” Riantha pleaded. “Maybe she can be cured, exorcised, something…”
Their visitor shook her head. “It’s not like that. She can learn to control it, of course, but she’ll always have magic. It’s not some kind of disease; it’s part of who she is.”
Riantha began to cry. “So she really is doomed,” she said. “She really is doomed.”
The visitor looked at them sadly. “If that’s how you want to see it.” She turned towards the door. “Kayli, do you want to come with me?”
The door opened slowly. Kayli’s eyes were red and wet with tears, but she nodded. The woman took her hand and looked back towards her parents, but neither protested.
“I promise she’ll be safe,” she told them anyway, just before she and Kayli disappeared.