Second Part of Healing Story 4

I’ve finally finished the rest of the fourth healing story! This ended up longer that I anticipated, so it probably would have been better to update it over the course of three or four posts… Oh well! It’s all done now, so I will post the rest of it here now. The first part of this story can be read here. And with this remainder now uploaded, the story of Cossette and the bee shall conclude.

(Note: If you want to read the full story all together, you can head to the page for healing story 4.)

* * * *

Evening arrived, but the sky was still light with summer’s lethargy. Cossette led Busby outside in order to exchange the bee with the plush doll, but it appeared Roger and his mother had not returned yet. Instead, Cossette found Lili and Marcelle—and, curiously, Sybille. Lili was sitting on a bench, hunched over with her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees. Meanwhile Marcelle and Sybille were kneeling on the ground, on either side of a large, pyramid-like pile of sand.

“What are you three doing?” Cossette had to ask.

Lili sat up straight and leaned her head to the side a bit. “Marcelle came to visit. And then Sybille showed up? It seems they’re building a sand castle.”

“More of a sand cone,” Marcelle said. The girl was dressed in one of her usual bathing suits, which made this whole scene look more like it belonged down below at one of the beaches.

Busby descended to the ground and began crawling toward the pile of sand, which Cossette had to assume was brought up from a beach.

“D-Don’t… Don’t…” Sybille spoke up, shakily shuffling back a few paces from the approaching bee.

Cossette tugged the leash to hold Busby back, and the bee returned to the air to buzz about in circles. To keep the insect from looping around her, Lili held her arm straight out and made small circling motions along with the bee.

Sybille clutched at her ragged hair, and opened her mouth as if about to say something. Or maybe she was just trying to breathe?

“It’s okay, this bee won’t hurt you,” Cossette said. “Why are you building a sand sculpture here though?”

Marcelle spoke up in Sybille’s place. “She thinks she can learn something from the way water runs down this pile of sand.” Marcelle demonstrated accordingly by raising her right arm over the sand, her fingertips dangling above its apex. Water dripping from her body landed on the sand pyramid, and after a couple seconds a thin rivulet began to form.

“Wa-wait!” Sybille cried. “Not… I’m not ready.”

Marcelle pulled back and folded her arms. She looked more tired than upset. How long had Sybille been working with her today?

“Good luck, Sybille,” Cossette said with a nod. “I have my own healing procedure to attend to.” She glanced up at the giant bee circling above her. “Or something along those lines.”

Lili gave a slight laugh. “The things we do in the name of magic…”

Indeed, Cossette couldn’t help but agree that everything they were doing was pure nonsense. But if she felt there was a chance there was something to glean about Busby from the bee doll she sewed together, then perhaps Sybille could figure something out regarding Marcelle’s condition via her… precision magic. That was how Sybille termed it, at least.

Cossette didn’t really understand how Sybille’s methods were meant to be utilized, but that was for Sybille to work out. For now, Cossette had to focus on ensuring a spiritual link had been formed between Busby and the doll she crafted in the bee’s image.

* * * *

Upon making the switch with Roger, Cossette took the plush bee back to her room that night in order to perform what felt rather like a doll autopsy on her desk. She began by writing down everything she could observe about it: that it looked dirty, that the stitching for one of its legs had loosened a bit, that it smelled of salami, and so on. She noted every specific thing she could, including the size and shape of each dirt smudge as well as how firm each portion of the plush felt when she squeezed it.

“Fair Lady Cossette!” cried the sudden voice of her roommate. “Enjoying yourself, this loveliest of evenings?”

“I’m working still.”

“Working still?” Lien exclaimed. “I understand such a desire though. All this day, I too have been busy as the bee—and also busy with the bee, ah ha! Ahhh, so tired…”

Lien slumped down to rest her arms on Cossette’s desk, placing her back near Cossette’s face. With a gleam in her eyes, Lien looked back and smiled.

“You were squishing that doll so… resolutely! I deign to allow your tender hands to squish my shoulders for a time.”

Cossette leaned back and stared straight ahead, hoping Lien would just leave already.

“If you need help, I would still be more than happy to show you how it’s done! Isn’t there the saying… you massage my back, and I’ll massage yours?”

“That’s not quite right,” Cossette said. “And really, I don’t have the time. I need to concentrate on this doll right now.”

Lien stood back up straight and pointed at the plush bee. “It really is a wonderful doll you made though. How do you heal with it?”

“I won’t necessarily heal with it. My main hope is just to learn something about the bee’s spirit from it. Then I can decide what to do from there.”

“You have quite the system down, I see. Not bad for a newcomer! I wonder if my magical magnificence has rubbed off on you?”

“I doubt it.”

Lien placed her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What makes you say such things?”

Cossette gave the slightest of shrugs. “I don’t know. Have you ever healed anyone before?”

“If you need proof of my healing prowess, you need only ask for my assistance. And then you shall see firsthand just how beautiful magic can be! We will laugh, we will cry, and we will dance until the sun rises.”

“Lien, have you ever healed anyone before? A simple answer: yes or no. I want to know if you’ve ever used magic to fully heal someone of her magical malady.”

For several long seconds, Lien stood rigid, her hands behind her back. Somehow she was able to maintain her smile through all this, until she finally answered.

“Well, if you’re asking if I’ve ever completely healed someone…”

Cossette sighed. This was the sort of moment that could be considered the final straw for most people, but Cossette didn’t have the energy to get mad at her roommate right then. “So the answer is no. I get that you want to spend time with me, but now just isn’t the time. If complications arise and I feel that acupuncture healing magic is what’s needed, I will find you then.”

“I… I see,” Lien said, folding her arms. “I’ll leave it to you then.”

She didn’t exactly sound mad… Cossette wasn’t sure what feeling it was exactly that Lien’s words were coated in.

And Cossette didn’t get much time to focus on it. Lien left the room, finally allowing Cossette to wrap up her analysis of the bee plush.

After waiting a few seconds to make sure Lien didn’t come back for a final one-liner, Cossette slid out a tiny sewing kit she kept in her skirt pocket. She took out a pair of small scissors and used them to cut apart the seams of the doll’s abdomen. Careful to not tear into the fabric itself, Cossette clipped each of the near-invisible lines and pulled out the bits of string holding that part of the bee plush together.

Upon inspecting the fluff inside and jotting down what little she could observe, Cossette sewed the doll back up again and repaired any other spots she felt could use a little improvement. She considered washing the doll as well to make it good as new, but it was starting to get late. Lien was going to have to come back pretty soon in order to sleep, and Cossette wanted to attempt establishing a spiritual connection with the doll beforehand.

She sat cross-legged on her bed and held the bee plush in front of her. There wasn’t much of an official method to sensing magical elements held within objects—Cossette had to hope that her focus on the doll’s essence would be enough for her mind to piece together a new thought that could prove useful to her.

Perhaps it was a form of intuition; perhaps it was only her own thoughts dictating what she wanted to hear. But if there was a chance she could sense something important that Roger spiritually placed inside this doll, she had to make a full effort to uncover the mystery hidden within.

After a few minutes of silently holding the bee plush, never moving a muscle, Cossette’s mind settled on a specific thought.

A book. I need to read a book.

She had recently been to the library to ask Sybille for a couple books, she remembered. Was that just her own thought then? It was difficult to completely separate her mind’s day-to-day memories and wanderings from the task at hand. She focused harder on the bee plush, and tried to not let her thoughts drift past anything outside of what she knew about Busby and Roger.

That same thought returned, clear and crisp.

There is a book I need to read.

What book though? Cossette focused on this thought for a few minutes, but nothing specific came to mind. She thought of all the different types of literature—fiction with all its many genres of storytelling, and nonfiction with all its many fields of knowledge. Nothing stood out in Cossette’s mind. She thought of the books that she wanted to get from the library, but it didn’t feel like those could apply to Busby’s situation.

Cossette spent the last few minutes trying to unearth anything more from the doll, but her meditative efforts had left her spent. It was time to sleep, and hope for better results the next day.

Tomorrow, she could visit the library and bring the doll with her. And if luck was on her side, there was going to be a specific book that would help Cossette find the cure Busby needed.

* * * *

There was no specific book to help Cossette find the cure Busby needed. She took her time searching each aisle of the academy’s library, but there wasn’t a single book or shelf that stood out to her in any way. Carrying the bee plush with her as she scanned the titles didn’t seem to help as Cossette had hoped—she didn’t think or feel much of anything while conducting her search.

A red-haired woman with dead-looking eyes leaned into the aisle Cossette was standing in. It took Cossette a couple moments to realize this was Sybille, who had been volunteered into a librarian role for the academy a few weeks ago.

“Anything I can help you with?” Cossette asked.

Sybille shirked back and muttered, “I… I was… That’s my line.”

“I’m not looking for anything in particular this time,” Cossette said. More accurately, she was looking for something in particular—she just wasn’t sure what it was yet. Trying to explain the entire situation to Sybille right now would have been more hassle than it was worth though.

“However,” Cossette added, “have you been able to find any of the titles I requested before?” They were for a long-term personal project of hers, so they weren’t urgent needs.

“Y-yes, the souls. Right? The books on… the transfer of souls, and the creation of souls? They arrived today, from another library.”

“Oh, you were able to find them? I will check them out now, if that is manageable.” This worked out perfectly, actually. Cossette was expecting a package to arrive soon—one she had prepared in advance to be shipped from her previous home. The books she wanted were intended to assist in her efforts with the contents of said package.

Cossette followed Sybille to a desk covered in books and paperwork. Once Sybille unearthed the two weathered tomes in question, Cossette signed off the check-out papers that would allow her to keep the books for the next few months.

“By the way… er…” Sybille looked off to the right, her left hand anxiously twirling a strand of her long hair. “Why do you want to know… what these books…”

“Merely a topic I find interesting,” Cossette said. She did not want to go into any specifics about her personal project with anyone. Nobody would understand the reasoning behind her objectives, so it was best to simply keep it all to herself.

She even considered telling Sybille to keep quiet about her checking out these books, but doing so would possibly result in her bringing it up with a professor or classmate—ultimately achieving the opposite effect. Sybille fortunately wasn’t a sociable woman though, so as long as Cossette didn’t make a big deal about any of this then it was unlikely Sybille would even remember anything, let alone bring it up in conversation.

“Until next time,” Cossette said, turning to leave.

“Ah, see you outside… probably. I’ll be with the girl. Marcelle again, tonight. You’ll be seeing the bee again, maybe?”

Cossette nodded. She had told Roger’s mother that she would find something today that would help her know how to attempt healing Busby. Considering how things panned out in the library though, it was possible their meeting tonight would have to be a short one.

* * * *

After dropping the books off in her room, Cossette paced the academy hallways with the bee plush in tow, her mind still on the topic of books in general. If there wasn’t a book that had the information she needed to proceed with Busby’s healing, then there had to be some other way books fit in to all this. As was typically the case for any magic procedure, Cossette knew she needed to think outside the box.

Perhaps one of the books about bees I looked through has a hint? Cossette considered. Or maybe it was a book in the first place that had a magical effect on Busby.

Bees can not read, but it was possible that Busby made contact with a book at some point. Could it have landed on one in Roger’s room, and that’s what caused it to change in so many ways? Of course, it wasn’t Busby’s size that the insect’s caretakers were concerned about—it was the bee’s flying ability. Cossette still had to figure out if that impairment was caused by magic as well, and if so, whether or not it was related to whatever magic made Busby large and carnivorous three years ago.

Cossette stopped at the end of a hall.

Children’s books. That’s what Cossette needed to examine. If Roger had books in his room at the time Busby first appeared in his life, it would have been—and still would be—children’s books in his room. Collections of fairy tales, poetry books, and boys’ adventure stories.

Was there a book about giant bees? There wasn’t a specific fairy tale or poem that came to mind, but it was possible there was an applicable adventure story Cossette was unfamiliar with. She decided to head back to the library and try asking Sybille about it, if the precision practitioner was still there.

* * * *

“Charitable Insect-Lover Cossette! Continuing the earnest effort with the bees?”

For some reason Lien was there at the library—apparently she had been talking with Sybille.

“Yes, I need to ask Sybille about any children’s literature that might be housed in this library,” Cossette said. Looking to Sybille, she added, “Particularly anything to do with bees, creatures changing in size, or the difficulty of flying.”

Sybille didn’t move, blink, or breathe for a good ten seconds or so.

“I don’t know one,” she finally said. “Me and L-Lien… Lien and I, we’re about to leave I’m afraid. I can show you the section with children books first though.”

“I know where the section is,” Cossette said. “I can browse through it easily enough. I only wondered if a specific book would come to mind, since you organized everything recently.”

“Ah… sorry,” Sybille said. “I couldn’t be of help.”

Lien grabbed Sybille by the shoulder and pulled her over to lean right against her. “You don’t have to memorize every book in the world. And besides, Cossette is my roommate! She will find the book she needs in no time.”

What being Lien’s roommate had to do with being able to find a specific book, Cossette could never begin to guess.

“Lien, you’re… too close.” Sybille tried to slink away, but Lien only held her tighter.

“Now, let us depart! To help our dearest, wateriest friend, the little Marcelle.”

Cossette raised a hand. “Wait a moment. Are you going to try healing Marcelle too?”

“But of course,” Lien said. “This shall be the day the child will feel the power of acupuncture-style healing magic firsthand!”

So Lien was interfering with Sybille’s efforts with a patient too, apparently. Cossette would normally doubt that Marcelle would allow Lien to stick needles into her body, but perhaps Marcelle was willing to try anything at this point. Cossette didn’t feel good about Lien’s pushiness though, especially when someone as easy to push over as Sybille was at the receiving end of her theatrics.

Once Lien and a fretful Sybille departed arm-in-arm, Cossette returned her attention to finding the sorts of books Roger would have in his room. There were only a couple shelves devoted to children’s literature at this library, so she decided to pull out each book one at a time and give them a quick look-over.

The Invisible Island. About a group of children marooned on a desert island. Cossette did not feel anything special about it.

Journey to the Bird Country. About a boy lost in the desert, who comes across an oasis full of mythological birds. Nothing in particular caught Cossette’s attention here either.

Seas and Sand. About two young brothers who stow away on a ship and are the only survivors when a shipwreck leaves them on a desert island. What was with all the surviving in the desert-themed stories? Cossette felt she needed to find a story with a more unique premise.

Seas and Sand II: The Arrival of Strange Birds. No…

Cossette went from book to book, finding very little in the way of originality, let alone something that seemed tied to Busby’s condition. But if the selection of children’s literature in this library covered the most popular works from recent years, there had to be a decent chance some of the books here were the same ones Roger had.

The Adventures of Ambroise and Dorian. The cover of this book included an illustration of a young boy standing on a log floating down a river, accompanied by a small dragon that flew happily by his side. The eponymous Ambroise and Dorian, presumably. Skimming through the first few pages, the story seemed like a simpler read than most of the other books. There was an illustration in every chapter, and the subject matter appeared quite tame. All in all it was a series of straightforward and innocuous tales about a boy who befriends a friendly cat-sized dragon. Curiously, nobody pays Ambroise and Dorian any mind as they take a train to a lake, climb trees in the forest, and sled down snowy hills. Everyone they meet treats the whole situation as if it was perfectly normal for a child to have a pet dragon and go out and about so far from home.

With the exception of that last point, Cossette couldn’t help but find the whole premise reminiscent of Roger and Busby’s circumstances. The dragon was much smaller than what one would normally expect of such a creature, but its unusual size made it more manageable to keep as a pet. It continually flew alongside the boy who took care of it, always ready to play whatever games the boy would come up with.

Cossette flipped to random pages, taking note of the various illustrations that were depicted. Near the beginning of the book was a drawing of the boy finding a huge dragon—or rather, a normal-sized dragon—the kind that could easily tower above buildings. This was Dorian apparently, but the next illustration depicted the beast in its cat-sized state, which it appeared to retain in all the subsequent illustrations.

A couple chapters later, Cossette found an illustration of the little dragon struggling to fly. Why was Dorian having trouble flying? Cossette frantically searched from line to line, her vision blurring for a moment as she tried to read words from all across the pages her eyes scanned. She shook her head away and blinked a few times. Upon this moment of recovery, the realization of what she had discovered hit her like a bullet. Roger must have been reading this book when Busby flew into his room, prompting the bee’s change in size. And then, presumably more recently, Roger read the book again, leading to the bee’s struggle at flying in very much the same manner as the dragon was going through.

And now Cossette was reading the book with the plush bee in tow. She looked down at the doll and discovered there was a slight glow to it—a faint and warm yellow light not unlike the glow that Valerie’s halo would often give off. The doll was reacting to the words Cossette had read in her mind… It was possible that through her magical efforts, the book was having an effect on the real bee as well right now.

What happens next then?

Cossette flipped ahead to the next chapter. It looked to be about the lead characters catching various insects with a net… Nothing about the dragon appeared to have changed though.

The next chapter was even more banal, and the chapter after that simply featured the boy celebrating the dragon’s birthday.

Wait… there was an illustration that stuck out here. The dragon was doing something new—something for the very first time, Cossette realized.

The dragon was lighting the candles on its birthday cake by blowing fire out of its mouth. The illustration featured the boy dropping the cake in surprise and leaping backward to avoid the sudden stream of flames rushing by directly in front of him. What would be a very dangerous situation in real life was presented here as a moment of lighthearted amusement.

What mattered though was that the dragon was breathing fire. That was the next significant development in regard to the dragon.

Cossette’s eyes widened. She ran over to where the library’s clock was situated. It was already time for Roger and Busby to come meet her here at the academy. Over the course of searching through the children’s novels, Cossette had lost track of time.

She immediately ran out of the library and on down the academy hall, slipping past a couple surprised classmates. There was no time to explain anything.

The image of a startled boy and a fire-breathing creature remained firmly in Cossette’s mind as she sprinted through the academy. Cossette couldn’t be certain of anything yet, but if her reading that novel with the doll had affected the real-life bee…

She was probably already too late.

* * * *

“What’s going on over there?”

As soon as she ran outside the academy building, Cossette heard someone voice confusion in a raised voice. In the distance, she saw Lien, Sybille, Lili, and Marcelle, all standing around that pile of sand Marcelle had dripped water on the day before. They weren’t looking at the sand pyramid though—they were watching something further ahead. Cossette kept running and looked in the direction Lili was pointing.

“It’s the giant bee. Looks out of control…” Marcelle said. She turned as Cossette passed everyone by. “Huh?”

There was no time for Cossette to stop and explain the situation. Or rather, the possible situation… She didn’t know anything for certain yet.

“Busby!” cried a child’s voice. Cossette ran on, finding Roger standing at the top of the stairway leading up to the island. Roger’s mother was a few steps behind him, running to catch up. But where was the bee?

“Cossette!” cried Lien’s voice behind her. Was she chasing after her? Cossette had to assume she was.

The sputtered rumbling of the massive insect’s wings reverberated from above. Cossette stopped in her tracks and scanned the sky, squinting against the gleam of the setting sun. It turned out Busby was flying a lot higher than she expected—at least twenty or so meters above at the moment. But from one second to the next, Busby kept changing trajectory. The bee flew further upward, weaved in random turns left and right, divebombed a good ten meters, flew backward in vertical circles for several seconds, then rushed down the length of the island in a sort of shaky zigzag.

And then it happened. A burst of flame erupted from Busby’s mouth. Or rather, from the space between the insect’s mandibles, Cossette assumed. But regardless, it was very much the same kind of fire-breathing commonly depicted in drawings of dragons. The trail of fire lingered in front of Busby for several seconds, but fortunately the bee barely managed to avoid the top of a nearby tree.

“Busby!” Roger called out again.

The bee stopped breathing fire, flew in a couple horizontal circles, and turned back toward Roger. For a moment a small trickle of flame spluttered out from Busby’s mouth area—more than enough for a surge of fear to jolt Cossette. But before the bee could get near Roger, the bee turned a couple more times, then started flying straight up again.

Another burst of fire erupted from Busby, and this time the creature careened into the direction of the academy. The bee shifted its height at random moments, but continued flying past Cossette, the trail of fire still raging strong before it.

Cossette had to deal with this immediately. But how was she supposed to reverse the magical effect the book in her hands had enacted? Destroying the book wouldn’t do anything—the story was still a thing that existed as a thought, as words, as a series of events that both Cossette and Roger had transmitted to the bee in some fashion. Roger had done so directly, presumably through verbal communication. Meanwhile, Cossette had transferred the concept mentally via the plush bee she had sewn together. She had these basics facts worked out in her head, but no time to run any kind of experiment to determine how to proceed.

There was no time for anything. Roger was in danger. The academy was in danger. Everyone was in danger.

The bee was in danger too. Busby was clearly frightened to death by this sudden development, and likely still didn’t have full control of its flying ability either. But if Roger kept beckoning for Busby to come to him…

Just as Cossette thought this, Roger called for Busby again—and the bee reacted again. It flew in a figure eight for several seconds, the fire it panted starting and stopping at no set pattern. Roger was a few meters to Cossette’s right now, the boy’s mother closing in from behind him. The bee suddenly turned around, the fire fully dissipated. At least for the moment. But that could change. And the bee was closing in, straight for the boy’s outstretched arms.

There was no time for anything. Cossette leaped toward Roger and his mother, pushing them away from the incoming bee. Busby rushed by directly behind Cossette, the beating of its wings ringing in her ears.

“What is this, a dragon bee?” Lien yelled.

From where, Cossette couldn’t tell at the moment. She felt dizzy, out of breath, and at a complete loss for how to extinguish Busby’s fiery breath. If she could at least calm the bee down… But how was she supposed to communicate anything to the bee when it was in such a frenzied state?

“Busby! Calm down, Busby!” Roger yelled. The boy tried to squirm from his mother’s grasp, but she held his arms tight.

“Roger, wait! Busby is not himself right now. You have to stay back!”

“Yes, please get as far away as you can,” Cossette said, her words somehow sounding calm and direct despite her rapidly-pounding heart and thought-tangled mind. “I will deal with Busby, so please head back down the stairway for now.” She forced herself to come back to her senses. If she couldn’t do anything about Busby, her best option was simply to get everyone else away from the bee before it could inadvertently descend into a fiery rampage. Everyone in the academy needed to be warned.

And really, one of the professors would know how to settle things here, right?

No… not necessarily, Cossette reconsidered. This insect patient was entrusted to her. She was the one who knew Busby’s condition best.

This wasn’t a learning experience. This wasn’t a lecture or assignment or test. Real-life patients were in actual danger of falling victim to unexplainable magic. Cossette had to make sense of it all, and she had to do so quickly.

Lien appeared in front of Cossette, followed by Marcelle, Lili, and Sybille. Lien glanced from Cossette to the giant fire-sputtering bee twirling haphazardly far above them. With a light laugh, Lien snapped her finger and looked back to Cossette.

“Got it!”

Before Cossette could say anything, Lien grabbed the plush bee from Cossette’s grasp and simultaneously pulled out a couple needles from her own sleeve.

Cossette raised a hand forward. “Wait! What are you—”

Lien placed two long needles into the doll, at the very top of the plush bee’s thorax, to either side of its head. The spots Lien had been “massaging” for the actual Busby the other day. The bee’s “shoulders.”

“Need to calm Busby down,” Lien said. She turned to Marcelle and added, “And need to douse the flames! Oh child of water, do you trust me?”

Marcelle stepped back, leaning away as if cornered by a wild creature.

“What are you saying?”

Lien pulled out a couple more needles and proclaimed once more in a lofty voice, “Oh child of water, do you trust me?”

“What? What kind of—”

Lien immediately jumped behind Marcelle, dropping the needled plush bee in the process, and proceeded to poke her second set of needles into the back of the water girl’s shoulders.

Marcelle screamed, and Cossette and Lili each tried grabbing Lien to pull her away. Lien dodged and pulled a startled Marcelle along with her.

“Calm down, everyone!” Lien yelled, gripping Marcelle’s arms to hold her still. “I doubt this will work if Marcelle panics.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Lili replied.

Cossette held her tongue and glanced back toward the bee. Busby was still performing somersaults, twists, and turns through the air, sporadically spitting out small bursts of fire. It was a safe distance away at the moment, but it was only a matter of time before it would fly either toward the academy or down to where Mrs. Giles and Roger were heading.

“Please hold still,” Lien said, pulling the needles back out. “I need to adjust these a bit. It won’t hurt, okay?”

Marcelle continued to squirm. “You are crazy. All this magic, and all of you—everything here is just crazy!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lien said. She glanced at Cossette, Lili, and Sybille. “Please, back me up here. This will definitely work.”

“How can you say that?” Cossette asked. She didn’t want to start a fight at a time like this, but she couldn’t help but question Lien’s rash efforts. The idea that Lien was truly in control of this situation was too preposterous to just go along with.

“I am Lien! The proud, unstoppable, most highly-respected… the esteemed, mighty, and unstoppable—and beautiful and mysterious, the lovely and flawless Lien! The practitioner who never goes back on her word, who never lets her friends down, who never fails!”

Marcelle turned her head to look back at Lien in dismay. “I can’t believe you said all that.” She forced herself from Lien’s grasp, but Lien didn’t make an effort to retake her.

“It’s true though,” Lien said. “I’ve fixed the needles, so now there should be a spiritual connection between your water and Busby’s fire. They are both magical elements; they should cancel each other out.”

So Lien was gloating dramatically in order to distract Marcelle enough to place the needles in their current locations. Lien was always adamant about her needles being placed in very specific spots, and she apparently managed poking them a second time into the water girl without her realizing it.

Cossette turned back to the bee, which was now approaching them, drunkenly veering a bit to the right for a few seconds but quickly redirecting itself back on track. The fire had disappeared, Cossette realized. There was a thin trail of smoke leaking from between the insect’s mandibles, but was that evidence of the fire being dissipated entirely?

The bee slowed down and began flying in small circles, looking incredibly weary while doing so. It seemed to consider landing on the ground, but it was having trouble acting on that decision. Busby shakily continued to spin about, sometimes leaning one direction or the other, and never quite managing to bring itself to rest on the grass.

“What is going on?” Marcelle asked.

“It’s reacting to Lien’s efforts,” Cossette said, unable to hide the worry in her voice. Lien had used magic rashly, and there was no way to be certain of all the ways Busby would be affected. Successful magic required creativity—and Lien indeed did piece together a creative magical procedure befitting the situation—but magic was regardless a force unnatural and unpredictable by nature.

Everything connects to one another in some way. You can’t expect to escape a sudden bout of magical interference completely unscathed.

Busby was still acting strangely, but it at least had stopped breathing fire. And for the time being, the bee was sticking to one small area.

“Busby! Are you okay?” cried a boy’s voice in the distance. Cossette found him and his mother far away, at the top of the steps leading to the island proper. They must have returned when they saw the bee had stopped flying all over the place in a frenzy. The bee was calmed, but there was no assurance Busby was safe to be around yet.

“Please wait!” Cossette yelled back. “Stay there until we can check that Busby is all better.”

Roger’s mother held Roger tight, and Roger stood still, gazing near-breathlessly from a distance at his pet. Even from here Cossette could see the fear in his eyes, as Busby was still acting in an unusual manner.

Cossette turned back to Lien. Her roommate was on her hands and knees, her entire body shaking rapidly. Her breathing was ragged, and puffs of white smoke were sifting out from her mouth. Cossette kneeled down and placed a hand on Lien’s head. Her face was so freezing, Cossette’s automatic reaction was to pull her hand back immediately. She shivered herself for a second.

“What’s going on? Your entire body is…”

It had to be a magical reaction to the procedure Lien just performed. For whatever reason, Lien was in this bitterly cold state, and couldn’t even stop her teeth from chattering enough to say a single word.

Lili ran over to Marcelle. “Damn it, we have to reverse this spell right away!”

Before Cossette could try to stop her, Lili pulled the needles out from Marcelle’s shoulders.

“What? They were still in there?” Marcelle exclaimed.

Lien began taking deep breaths, and after a few seconds managed to stop trembling so much.

“M-my, th-that was… a l-little cold.”

Cossette gritted her teeth. This situation has gone completely out of control, she thought. But what would she have done differently? Busby’s fire needed to be stopped right away, and Lien had managed it. And once it was clear Lien would freeze to death in reaction, Lili took this risk of pulling the needles back out. That was the right thing to do though, wasn’t it?

When magic is involved, there is no right solution, is there? At least not when they had so little time to work with.

“Ah!” shrieked a new voice. It took a moment for Cossette to realize it was Sybille, who was pointing straight ahead. “Look out!”

Cossette turned around to find Busby flying directly for her and the others—and the bee was breathing fire again.

“Get down!” Cossette yelled, pinning Lien down. The noisy bee and its accompanying trail of fire rushed over them both, and once the danger had passed Cossette checked to see that everyone else had avoided the flames safely.

“Should we just try catching it?” Lili asked. “We can work something out with the fire afterward.”

“If you have an idea for how to go about that…” Cossette began, her focus interrupted by Busby’s turning back to fly toward them once more.

“No worries!” Lien said, standing back up with an arm raised toward the bee. “I can handle being cold for a bit. Just find me a coat, will you?”

That obviously wasn’t going to help if her body was magically freezing. It wasn’t like it became cold outside once the needles were placed in Marcelle and the plush bee—the reaction was affecting Lien from within.

But before Cossette could try stopping her, Lien was already sticking needles into Marcelle’s shoulders again. Marcelle looked worried, but she didn’t put up as much of a fight this time.

Busby meanwhile dived toward Cossette and the others, but the insect’s fire dissipated once more and it returned to wobbling about in little circles just a few meters before them. The magical reaction took place once more, and Lien fell back to her hands and knees, shivering uncontrollably.

With none of the variables altered, Lien knew this would happen again, so why…?

The answer came to her before she finished the question. Lien was counting on Cossette. Lien was saying she trusted her, and was willing to put her life on the line for her and her patient. Lien had done all she could do to help her beloved roommate… That surely had to be what she was thinking. And now Cossette needed to find a way to help Lien in return. She had to counter the magical element causing Lien to turn so cold.

No, she could end up creating all-new problems if she focused on a magical side effect. She needed to deal with the root issue at hand: Busby’s existence as something that is not a bee. Busby’s change in size, difficulty with flying, and ability to breathe fire all tied to the story of Ambroise and Dorian. Busby was supposed to be a bee, but its spirit was that of a storybook dragon.

Busby is supposed to be a regular honeybee. This thought was what stood out the most to Cossette at that moment.

She acted while still working out a plan. She took out her sewing kit and knelt beside the plush bee, Lien’s two needles still stuck in the doll’s “shoulders.”

“What are you doing?” Lili asked, her voice tinted in apprehension and misgiving. “Don’t just do something without—”

“I know what I’m doing,” Cossette said, barely having any clue what she was doing.

Busby’s side effects of trying to be a storybook dragon… I can’t deal with those individually. They are all tied to the character Dorian, that small dragon.

Something creative. She needed to think of something creative.

For a moment Cossette nearly glanced away to check on Lien—but there was no time for that. She had to focus on Busby. She had to find a solution within this small window of opportunity Lien was providing her.

She had to do something about that bee. Its spirit had to return to what it once was: the spirit of a bee. This was what Cossette should have focused on from the very beginning, she now realized. The bee needed to return to its natural state. It was too dangerous for a child to have a giant bee with a dragon’s heart as a pet. No logical reality could support such a nonsensical existence. And so, Cossette chose to counter magic with magic.

She opened her sewing kit and took out her tiny pair of scissors. It was time to operate.

Acting as quickly and calmly as she could manage, Cossette proceeded to cut the seams holding the plush bee together.

“Gah!” Lili gasped. “If you change that doll! The bee! There…”

Cossette focused harder on the task at hand. Lili’s words faded behind her. Cossette cut through the string and pulled apart the pieces of fabric composing each section of the doll, releasing all the stuffing that was held within.

She felt cruel. And indeed, maybe she was cruel. She had made her choice, and she was determined to see this through to the end. The world of magic could decide what to make of her offering, and she would accept full responsibility for the consequences that would follow.

All of the doll’s insides lay strewn across the earth before her. Without a moment’s pause, Cossette proceeded to cut pieces of the fabric into new shapes. There was no time to be exact about any of it. She had to work as quickly as possible. For one brief moment she felt her arms begin to shake in fear for the time limit Lien’s shivering represented. But Cossette couldn’t afford to allow the pressure of her situation to affect her. She was a healer. She had to work efficiently and effectively.

Once she had cut the fabric strips as best she could manage within a half-minute, Cossette frantically began sewing the pieces together.

Lili or someone else was saying something, but Cossette tuned it all out completely. She sewed, up and down, up and down, working the fabric onward between her fingers, up and down, up and down, she sewed.

Busby… my patient, Cossette thought, pushing the resewn fabric of the new doll out through the hole she left open. Your life is in my hands…

She stuffed the cotton filling through the hole, then finished sewing it up.

Cossette breathed.

The surgery is finished.

The finished product resting in Cossette’s hands was the crude likeness of a dragon, only vaguely reminiscent of the familiar in the story of Ambroise and Dorian. In the span of mere minutes, she turned a bee into a dragon. Its insides were the same; only the shape of its felt shell had changed. The opposite of what happened with Busby.

Cossette grabbed Lien’s needles and placed them in what she decided constituted the grotesque plush dragon’s shoulders. Cossette wasn’t the one trained in acupuncture, but there was no chance of Lien working the needles in her current state. And plus, it was just a doll… In her mind, Cossette was the one trained to work with dolls, so this procedure still felt sound. Or at least sound enough, she hoped. It was a hasty end to a hasty operation.

She looked to Lien, who was still lying on the ground. Her shivering seemed to be slowing down a bit, but it was going to take a few seconds to know for certain if she was warming back up again. In the meantime Cossette looked over to where Busby had been flying in circles.

It was gone.

Cossette stood up, her eyes scanning everywhere around her.

The giant bee was nowhere to be found. Did it completely disappear?

Wait, there was something still there. A tiny bee, flying in tiny circles.

It had to be Busby, but it was just the size of Cossette’s thumb now. Busby had returned to its original size as a normal honeybee. And as Cossette hoped, the bee still wasn’t blowing any fire.

She knew better than to expect everything to have worked out perfectly though. She checked on Lien again to see if she was still affected in any way from their combined magical efforts. Cossette placed a hand on Lien’s forehead, as if checking for a fever.

“Are you all right?” Cossette asked. Lien didn’t feel cold anymore, and was no longer trembling so much.

Lien took a couple deep breaths before answering with a smirk. “But of course. As if a little cold would—” She stopped suddenly and leaned back, wide-eyed. “The bee!”

Cossette looked back just as Busby dropped to the ground. The way the bee descended… There was something off about it.

“Busby!” Roger cried, running over to where the bee fell.

Cossette stood up but couldn’t move any further. It was already too late, she realized.

Roger slid to the ground on his knees. He picked up the tiny bee and held it gently in his cupped hands. The bee simply lay there, unmoving. It rolled onto its side, as guided by the light summer’s breeze.

“Busby?” Roger repeated. He looked over to Cossette and asked, “Will he be okay?”

Cossette stood perfectly still. She couldn’t bring herself to say it.

No. Busby is a bee. In the book she skimmed through, it said a drone bee only lives about three months. Busby had been with Roger for three years, living on borrowed time through the dangerous power of magic. That bee was supposed to have died over thirty months ago.

“Please! Can you help Busby? He isn’t moving!” Roger stood up, stumbling a little in the process. He walked over to Cossette, holding up the lifeless bee like an offering.

Cossette couldn’t lie to the child. But she couldn’t callously just tell him the harsh truth either. Busby is dead. All pets have to die eventually. Busby actually lived a lot longer than bees are supposed to. And bees aren’t supposed to be pets at all in the first place. But the good thing you had has come to an end now. I know this isn’t the ending you wanted, but I can’t make everything magically perfect.

Damn it. Magic is supposed to make dreams come true, and make that which is impossible become reality. But all it did here was kill a boy’s pet.

She held out her hands, allowing Roger to release Busby into her grasp.

Tears were streaming down the boy’s face. But what hurt Cossette the most was the fact there was still a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He still wanted to believe Busby would be all right. He still thought magic could make everything better.

“Please… please save Busby… He’s my friend…”

Magic… is truly the wost, Cossette thought.

“I will do what I can.”

* * * *

Cossette took Busby to the medical examination room and set the fallen bee on a white, folded-up handkerchief. There wasn’t anything left to do for it, as it was all too clear that the insect could only be pronounced deceased. And if there was one thing magic was never going to be able to do, it was bringing someone back to life.

The room was completely silent, and Cossette could think of nothing to do but stand there. Alone with her thoughts, Cossette examined every choice she made over the course of this assignment. Her task was to heal Busby’s flying ability, but that was not the true issue at hand.

Regardless, Cossette’s actions ultimately brought about Busby’s death. She knew she had to accept that. She knew she would have to live with that, and with many more tragedies that would surely come in a life of healing. There was only so much she could do. That was a fact of life Cossette was fully aware of, but it didn’t take away any of the pain and confusion stirring inside her. She had let down an innocent child. And though it was only a bee, she had allowed a patient to die.

But the most upsetting thought that crossed Cossette’s mind…

I would do it again, though.

Busby was a threat to Roger’s safety. Busby was not Dorian, and Roger was not Ambroise. Life doesn’t play out like an innocuous boy’s adventure novel.

Busby was supposed to be a bee, and Cossette had made him a bee again. What she did was right. It was a cruel thought, but it was not a false one.

Eventually Roger’s mother entered the room after a quiet knock. She explained that Roger was with Lien and the others, who were keeping the boy occupied with a simple card game in the main hall, helping to calm him down. She walked over to the fragile bee lying on its funeral bed, and looked it over carefully for a good, long minute.

“There is no hope for recovery then?” she asked.

“I am afraid not,” Cossette said. “I am willing to inform Roger that his pet has passed away, but I can leave it up to you to decide how to go about that.”

Mrs. Giles simply kept gazing down at the bee. “I can tell him. You don’t need to worry about that.”

“I am… sorry,” Cossette said. It was the best she could offer.

Mrs. Giles nodded. “It will hurt, but hurting is part of growing up.”

There was a long silence. Cossette wished she had something more to say, but her spirit felt utterly spent. She had given her all, but fate played out its course unhindered.

“You did very well,” Mrs. Giles said with a weak smile. “You and your friend. The island and your academy could have caught on fire, if the two of you hadn’t been such quick thinkers. We all could have gotten hurt, if it weren’t for you. You deserve our thanks.”

“It was my own shortcomings that led to the situation in the first place, I’m afraid,” Cossette said. “I apologize for allowing things to escalate as far as they did.”

Mrs. Giles looked back to the door, looking defeated. “I can’t pretend to understand how magic works… but I think you have chosen a life that does not readily dole out successes. And though I’ve only spent a little time in your company, I think it’s clear you have the resolve and the fortitude to see this through.”

Cossette did not ask for sympathy, but she was willing to allow Mrs. Giles to think and say what she wished. It was Mrs. Giles and Roger who needed support at this time—not Cossette. But at times like this, Cossette rarely knew what to say or do. She usually followed the lead of others in such circumstances.

“Thank you,” Cossette said. “Please let me know if there is anything more I can do for you and Roger. For as long as you are in town, feel free to find me, and ask anything of me.”

She gently wrapped the bee inside the handkerchief and tied each end with a small red ribbon. In silence, Cossette placed the wrapped insect corpse in Mrs. Giles’ hands. Mrs. Giles then buried it in her pocket.

The assignment was completed.

* * * *

It was late night by the time Cossette returned to her room. She had chosen to get all the necessary paperwork out of the way before going to bed. Perhaps she did so in order to feel like this episode was officially all in the past now. Or perhaps she just didn’t want to have to face any of her classmates, who had to witness her failure. Who had to witness the death of a patient.

It was just a bee. Cossette knew this. It was just a bee. And yet she couldn’t help but feel like she had allowed a fellow human being to die. It was just a bee. She kept telling herself this. It was just a bee. But… it was Roger’s friend. It was just a bee. And she had allowed a precious bond to die.

How fragile these things are… Bonds, and life itself… In seconds, happiness can be devoured by the fickle appetites of magic.

Cossette opened her bedroom door. Lien was sitting backward on her desk chair, her arms resting atop its back. Her head rested on her arms, but she raised her head and sat up a bit straighter upon Cossette’s entrance.

“Good evening,” Lien said.

Cossette closed the door but didn’t sit down. “Good evening.”

Lien gave the semblance of a smile for a second, but seemed to think better of it. She looked up to Cossette with a blank expression… No… there was a kind of sadness in her eyes. It was a strange sight to behold.

“Cossette… is it okay to talk a bit before you sleep?”

“What do you need?” Cossette asked, hoping to get to the point. She did not feel in the mood for discussing whatever Lien had in mind.

Lien did not turn away. She kept staring up into Cossette’s eyes, unwavering. “I am concerned about you, as my precious and inspiring roommate.”

“I am fine and well. If anyone needs comfort, it is Roger.”

“Roger’s mother has explained everything to him,” Lien said.

Cossette did not respond right away. She could only imagine how painful that would have been for the both of them. Roger had to learn a harsh reality at a young age, and his mother had surely put a lot of hope in the magic academy—and in Cossette specifically. But she had let them down, and so all their efforts were wasted.

“He probably cried a lot,” Cossette said.

Lien nodded. “Probably.”

Again, a long silence.

Lien posed a question, maintaining a grave expression. “Did you know… the bee would die?”

Cossette did not want to answer that. “I did what I felt I had to.”

“You knew, didn’t you?”

“Magic is unpredictable. I can’t be perfectly certain of anything when committing to a procedure.”

Lien gripped the top of the chair’s back. “But you suspected it at least, didn’t you?”

Cossette closed her eyes and frowned. “It was a strong possibility. I was aware drone bees only live about three months, so yes, I did suspect it. But what is done is done. You and Roger and everyone else were in danger, and it was time Busby was returned back to normal. It was supposed to be a bee, so I made it a bee again.”

When Cossette opened her eyes again, she found Lien standing in front of her chair. The proud roommate stood with such a weariness that Cossette felt made the situation all the more uncomfortable.

“Supposed to?” she repeated. “I don’t like those words, Cossette. Supposed to. Maybe Busby wasn’t supposed to be a normal bee. He was happy with Roger the way he was. If we had kept looking for another way to help them…”

“Don’t give me that!” Cossette said. “Bees are supposed to be bees, not dragons.”

“Says who?” Lien cut in suddenly. “I don’t think that at all. Nothing is supposed to be anything!

“Enough with you delusions already.” Cossette shook her head, exerting herself to keep from raising her voice. “Some things you just can’t control. The existence of magic is a perfect example of that.”

“You are being silly, Cossette! As long as you can control something, you can find a way to affect everything else. Isn’t that what we’re all doing here? And just look at me, Cossette! Do you think I am supposed to be here? All the way in Livre, half a world away from my home? Would anyone think I’m supposed to be here, trying to get anyone to accept my style of healing magic?”

“I don’t know. You are about as eccentric as magic itself. It will take some time to understand anything about you.”

“You’re the one that’s difficult to understand. Magic is just a mystery you want to figure out. It’s like you don’t care about magic itself—you only want to make sense of it because you want everything to make sense. That’s not how anything works though.”

Cossette turned around and shook her head again. “I do not care what you think about me. You can think whatever you would like. I am going to sleep now.”

Cossette did not look back at Lien after that. Lien sighed once Cossette started getting ready for bed, but said nothing more.

With that all over with, Cossette changed into her nightgown and went to bed. She let Lien turn off the lamps. In the pitch black darkness, troubled thoughts filled her mind, but Cossette chose not to dwell on them. As she had said, what was done was done.

There was no going back. All she could do was try to do a better job the next time.

* * * *

She went through the following day, thinking as little as possible about all that had previously transpired in regard to Roger and Busby.

That was wrong of her, she recognized.

She was left with such an empty feeling inside. She felt like a doll, moving along by the strings it was pulled by, going through the motions of a regular day. The puppet show must go on, it seemed.

Night fell, and Cossette had managed to avoid talking very much with anyone the whole day. Sitting alone at one of the tables in the main hall, Cossette tried thinking of what she could do to regain any of her energy. She was never a particularly enthusiastic person, but she had to learn how to move on from her failures more effectively.

She had offered to be of assistance to Mrs. Giles and Roger if there was anything she could do for them, she remembered. Was there anything she had in mind though? Mr. Giles was going to be returning tomorrow in order to pick up his wife and child. The three of them were going to return to their home city and probably never come back here again.

Was it right to just leave things at that? She could try apologizing to them all once more, but what good would that do? For the next hour or so, she sat still, silently thinking over what she could possibly do for Roger and his family. There was no making up for what was lost…

But maybe there was something she could still do. And maybe it could affect everyone involved… at least a little bit.

* * * *

After lectures concluded the next day, Cossette walked down the steps to the mainland and on to the inn that the Giles were staying at. She knocked at the door to their room, and it was the father who answered.

“Ah, Miss… Noel, wasn’t it? How can I help you?”

Cossette held up a cardboard box wrapped in a thick blue and white paper decorated with fleurs-de-lis, all of it wrapped together with a red ribbon.

“I wanted to leave a parting gift for Roger before you all departed,” she explained. “If you can give this to him, I would appreciate it.”

Mr. Giles accepted the present and nodded. “I can do that. Would you like to give it to him yourself?”

“No, no need.” Cossette thanked him again and wished his family a safe journey back to their home.

* * * *

Cossette unceremoniously began walking backward up the 234 steps leading back to the academy. She did not know if Roger would care for the gift she delivered to him, but she at least felt less empty inside. She had made an effort to make things better, in some small way. It was the best she could do.

As she trudged cautiously up the stone steps, her thoughts turned to her own childhood. How would her younger years have been if she had a close companion like Busby in her life? Maybe the entire course of her life would have been altered. The idea of having a friend who would always be by her side… It was a lovely, romantic concept.

In the end Roger couldn’t even keep that friend for long, though. Would he be all alone now? He could still have his precious memories of the time he spent with Busby, at the very least. Cossette could hardly remember any special events from her childhood—at least, not anything that positive.

She didn’t mind though. She had found her own type of happiness over the years… Crafted it, bit by bit, gradually finding new ways to improve it. In due time, her happiness would be perfected. Her personal project she would continue to conduct in secret… That was the foundation underlying her reasons for coming to this academy. If she could help some other people along the way, so much the better. If she could heal her own magical malady somehow, that would certainly be nice too. And if she could discern the mysteries behind how magic operates…

It was perhaps far too much to ask for. But if she could make some kind of sense out of this nonsensical world, perhaps she would feel satisfied. Perhaps she would feel content. Perhaps she would feel at peace.

Cossette stopped at about the halfway point up the long, zig-zagging stairway. Below her, she could make out three individuals hurrying up the steps.

It was the Giles family. What were they doing here? Did they forget something at the academy?

Cossette remained where she stood, ashamed to continue up the steps backward in front of them. Were the Giles coming to her specifically?

Roger was the first to reach her, stopping just a couple steps below where she stood. He took deep breaths to recover from going up the stairs this quickly, but still he wore a smile on his face.

In his arms he clutched tight a large plush bee doll. It was the parting gift Cossette had decided to leave him. She had all the material and knew how to make it, so she spent the previous night sewing the giant life-size Busby doll back together—back to its original state.

“Cossette!” Roger called out to her. “I…”

The boy leaped up the last couple steps and wrapped his arms around Cossette, pinning the plush bee tight between the two.

“Thank you, Cossette! Thanks for this Busby!”

Cossette opened her mouth, but she couldn’t think of what to say. This had all happened so suddenly, and from out of nowhere… Why would Roger be thanking her? Why would he go to all this trouble to run over and find her, just to thank her?

Perhaps she was thinking about it too hard. Roger was just a child, and he just wanted to thank her, regardless of how everything turned out. And if Roger’s parents had talked with him about Busby… maybe he was more understanding of the situation than Cossette had expected of a child.

Cossette bent down a little so she could return Roger’s hug. Once the boy was satisfied with the embrace, he let go and hopped down a step. At this point the boy’s parents had caught up with him, and they each smiled at Cossette.

“He insisted on finding you as soon as he opened your gift,” Mrs. Giles said. “And we wanted to thank you more properly before we left in the morning.”

“Thank you, Miss Noel,” Mr. Giles said. “Thank you for caring about our son. To be honest, we weren’t sure what to think of practitioners, and were hesitant to come here. But if we ever need assistance with something magic-related again, we’ll be glad to return here.”

“You’re too kind. Really…” Cossette said. Considering the outcome of this whole ordeal, there shouldn’t have been a need to thank her for anything. She couldn’t understand why they all wanted to make this effort for her sake.

She chose to not bring this up, however. Instead, they simply wished each other safe journeys, and the best of luck in their future endeavors.

It was better this way, than to leave things unsaid, Cossette realized. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Just as she had surmised in the past, it was these little things that left a lasting impression.

She continued up the stairway backward, her thoughts looking forward to what was ahead. For both her, and for Roger.

* * * *

The next evening, Cossette received a luggage she had mailed to herself from the town she used to live in. Since she only had so much room in her bag, she planned ahead to have some of her things shipped to the academy at a later date. She didn’t want this package to arrive too soon after she arrived herself. She wanted to ensure she got a good feel for the academy for a bit before her personal project took up all her free time. Also, showing up with a large secret box right from the start would seem too suspicious, Cossette felt.

Lien was not in the room at the time, to Cossette’s good fortune. She pushed the heavy trunk inside and locked the door behind her. If Lien arrived, Cossette would have some time to hide the contents of the box.

With the books Cossette recently obtained from the academy library, she was going to be able to try new things with her project. In due time, she felt confident she would start making much greater progress than she ever had before.

She unlocked the latch of the trunk and opened the lid. Inside rested the things she had packed away before her sojourn to the Coeur Healing Academy.

They were an assortment of body parts. Or more specifically, two full life-size sets of extremely realistic doll parts made from porcelain and composite materials. The glimpse of a passer-by could easily lead to a much darker assumption than what the trunk’s contents actually entailed. The corpses stuffed inside this box had never been alive.

But that will change one day, Cossette thought.

Welcome home, Big Sister. Welcome home, Little Brother.

* * * *

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