It was a delicate operation.
Every year Kiala grew her fingernails nice and long for the occasion. Filed and painted them until they were suitably sharp and pretty. The prettiness didn’t help with the operation but it lent ten dainty splashes of holiday colour to the ritual.
She leaned forward in her chair. Bathed her face in gold. She could feel the light on her cheeks, like shining droplets of water or dabs of a glittery buttery moisturiser.
It was like one of her spell preparations. The meticulous routines that her master, Kuchenmonger, drummed and drilled into her time and again. The necessary steps before any magic could take place. Not that much ever did.
Very little anyway, beyond a piff of smoke or a floaty bubble of light that popped before it could drift too far. Kuchenmonger, of course, altered the spells to ensure the results were always limited. Actual magic – actual power – was not something to be entrusted to the hands of a girl of six years old. Or seven or eight or nine. Or, as she’d learned, all the way up to fourteen.
Maybe next year, Kiala mused, she would be allowed to graduate up to eruptions of smoke deserving of the full title of ‘puff’.
But she didn’t want to think of Kuchenmonger and his strict rules and regimens of study, practice, study, study, practice, study, practice, practice.
Today – the whole weekend! – was a holiday.
The Wester holiday.
Wester was unheard of in her homeland. Sinoa had its share of festivals throughout the year: festivals of ghosts and a hundred million gods, or more than could awarded a day of their own. Luckily her parents had embraced the regional traditions very soon after they had brought her here to Tortenschloss.
Wester was a magical time. A time when the limits of magic weren’t set by teachers. If there were any limits at all, they were down to her. And this year – this year – she would pull off the spell that had eluded her annually since her first taste of this calendar treat.
For her earliest attempts, she had sat cross-legged on the bed, with the subject nested in her lap. Not the steadiest of platforms. Especially with the anticipation trembling through her like her blood fizzing in her veins.
In more recent years, she’d transferred the ritual to her dressing table, taking care to shift it to keep the subject out of direct sunlight.
Stationed to one side of the window, it still caught the lion’s share of the morning rays sliding in to wake up the dust. The particles, engaged in a celebratory ballet, would be the only witnesses to the event. If it happened.
It would. It would happen.
This year was the one.
Kiala rubbed her hands on her robes. Slowly, with a patience conjured from some other realm, she moved her hands to circle the cushioned stand that she’d fashioned from a jewellery box. This year’s subject, or patient as she’d grown to think of each one, couldn’t have been more comfortable. Or more stable.
Gently, she curled her fingers in to run their tips over the golden skin. She read every ridge and wrinkle by touch.
She found a ragged crease, like a tear. One edge lifted ever so slightly. A paltry microscopic slice of a degree.
She froze. Breathed in. Out. A real puff.
The dust went from ballet to full-on barn dance.
She slid the nail of her right little finger under the fold and ran it like a feathered razor along the opening.
She had a good feeling. But like a good horse she had to rein it in. If it ran ahead of her pulse she’d lose control and then it would just turn to nerves.
Kiala licked her lips.
Her fingernail carried on. Gradually, she let other fingers move in to assist.
Peeling off the gold foil skin.
Undressing the egg.
It rewarded her with her first glimpse of chocolate shell.
Oh yes. This was going to be a Happy Wester.
She had no idea what would happen. She simply knew – like she’d known since demolishing her first Wester egg as a giggly little girl – that a higher magic lay in waiting.
If only she could remove the foil wrapper in one whole piece.
[To Be Continued…]