“Place the items on the cloth,” the witch instructs. “Align them with the heart in the center, the rest in a circle around. Let yourself feel where each piece belongs—they’ll let you know.”
Cienna is not so sure, but she does as she’s told. The heart was the gold-plated fountain pen her father had gifted her long before he died. The other supplies she spread around it; a rosebud from her family’s garden where she grew up. Her favorite childhood book, the pages yellowed, tattered, and spine creased; The last letter she received from her father. The obituary from her sister’s death when she was a child.
With every item placed she closed her eyes and did as instructed, feeling where they belonged in the circle. She placed the remaining knick-knacks before letting out a drained sigh, surprised at how much effort it had taken to complete.
“Good,” the witch whispers near her ear. “Now, remember, I told you this part requires sacrifice.”
“The blood,” Cienna says with a nod. “I’m willing to do what has to be done.”
The witch’s mouth twitches in a slight smile, her crow’s feet crinkling in amusement at her eagerness. “Yes, that too. But remember, these items will be sacrificed as well. As will a part of you. Nothing comes from nothing, you understand? Are you certain of your path?”
Cienna breathes in the scent of lavender and rose that wafts from the nearby incense, gaze hazy on the circle of items.
“Yes,” she says. “My path is clear. This is what I was meant to do.”
The witch nods and picks up a dagger from a table next to the altar. She gently takes Cienna’s hand and makes a delicate slice along her finger. She winces at the pain, for all it’s not deep it bleeds quickly. The witch draws the finger along her own palm, a streak of blood remaining on the witch’s hand.
The deed done, Cienna watches with horrified curiosity as the witch turns towards the altar and wraps the cloth over the items, one side then another, folding it inward over and over again as if there was nothing in the cloth at all. Until all that remains on the table is a small square of folded fabric.
There is a static hum in the room when the witch places her hand on the cloth and begins to speak.
“Where once there was pain, now there is lucidity. Where there was love, now is laid bare. Where shadow and light collide there is truth.”
The witch places her bloodied hand palm down on the altar cloth, and though nothing outwardly seems to change, Cienna feels a crushing in her chest that takes her breath away. The witch unfolds the cloth, and with each unfolding Cienna feels a jolt of pain run through her veins like lightning. It isn’t until the final unfolding that she’s able to again breathe, ragged but with big gulps of blessed oxygen.
On the altar cloth now sits a leather-bound book.
“Is that it?” Cienna’s asks breathlessly. “Did it really work?”
The witch picks up the book and brings it to Cienna. It’s heavy in her hands, the volume thick. There’s no title, but on the bottom of the cover, she sees the name of the author.
“It worked,” her words come out as a breath. “This book is mine.”
“Of course it worked,” the witch says as she straightens the altar cloth, smoothing it with her hands. “A book is made of all your loves, your hates, your pain, your joys. Whether you write it or magic it into being.”
“I can’t believe it,” Cienna traces the book with her fingertips. “I can become published now. Just like father always wanted.”
The witch sighs, startling Cienna out of her awe. She looks up to meet the witch’s gaze. The witch is looking at her with a furrowed brow, mouth in a thin line.
“What? Cienna asks, but the witch only shakes her head.
It’s when the witch is leading her to the threshold and Cienna is closing the door behind her that the witch does speak, holding the door open just a fraction and whispering so Cienna has to lean forward to hear.
“A word of advice?”
“Yes?” Cienna asks.
“If you only ever follow the sun, you’re going to get burned.”