Her long, thin fingers stirred until the liquid became clear in small cauldron over the roaring fire. This was her crowning achievement, and she cackled triumphantly, her head tilted back to greet the full moon. The witch’s name would be remembered, and feared, by anyone who dared to practice her art. Portinica stared at the potion, cooing lovingly as if it were a newborn child.

The clearing in the forest near her home was dark except for the fire, and the shadows teemed with more shadows. Portinica feared nothing, though, especially now, because she ruled this domain. Her sharp, ice blue eyes struck fear into anyone who dared to step into her path. She was known as much for her beauty and youthful look as she was for her power. Not only this, but Portinica had enchanted a clan of werewolves centuries ago to protect and serve her whenever she wished. They lurked in the forest now, and every so often Portinica would see a pair of gold green eyes staring at her from the shadows.

She paid no attention to them, and shed her dark blue cape to embrace the coolness the night autumn air brought. She felt moist, and her long silk dress clung to her mercilessly. Sweating was one thing Portinica could never change, though it was her heart’s desire to find a way around this nuisance. It was a minor consequence to performing magic, but she sighed at the memory of a potion that backfired when she once tried to rid herself of the ability to sweat. Her skin was as blue as her eyes until she found the remedy – two months later. Portinica could finally put it behind her, and that brought the grin back to her face. Her Elixir of Youthful Health was worth so much more than a few beads of pesky sweat.

Portinica slowly made her way to a log by her cauldron. Her ingredients were next to it, for she knew she would want to lie across the length of it once finished. Staring at the stars helped to calm her buzzing mind, and allowed her to center herself within the magic once more. This is the perfect night, she thought, still smiling. She let the weary silence drift over her as her body calmed itself. The rustling of the wolves as they tread along the half-dead foliage mixed with the crackling of the dying fire and her own heartbeat. Portinica felt herself growing dreary, and sleep enveloped her like a heavy fog.

It could not have been more than a few minutes when she heard the distant sounds of a battle. Growls from the wolves and whoever fought them greeted her ears. A man, from the sounds of his shouts, had made his way to a place which he was not welcome. Groaning loudly, Portinica opened her eyes, hoping the wolves would take care of the intruder soon. She waited, almost not daring to breathe, until she heard the cry of several wolves pierce the air.

She turned her head toward the sounds, and instantly recognized a fire spell, the light softly outlining its caster. She knew this warlock. A wrathful heat burned away the comfortable fog of sleep as Portinica rose from her wooden throne to meet him.

A final yell brought Ivan to the edge of the clearing as he crashed through low-hanging branches to escape the wolves. He fell ungracefully to the leaf-covered ground, making Portinica wonder how he could ever be the next great warlock. One of the few things he had going for him was his looks, but with the way he kept rushing – or crashing –into danger, Portinica did not think that would last long, either. She had to admit she would enjoy scarring that hauntingly beautiful face.

Ivan stood as the wolves cleared the trees, and his hands began to glow with the light of the fire spell. If that’s all he knows how to do . . . Portinica began, and her sly smile returned to her face.

“Enough,” she said to the wolves.

In a few blinks they were gone, leaving only her and Ivan. A tense silence fell over them. They stared at each other, his orange red eyes meeting hers. She watched as he grimaced, and then spoke.

“Is that really it?” He said.

“Of course it is.”

“Then you know why I’ve come.”

Portinica’s smile widened as she cocked her head to the side. “Come to die?”

A laugh of his own escaped Ivan’s lips, but Portinica noticed the fire spell still building itself up in his hands.

“You know you can’t kill me,” said Ivan.

Portinica’s smile fell, and she quickly advanced on Ivan.

“Not yet, I can’t, dear. But when the day finally comes, I will be there!”

She threw a spell as Ivan threw his, but Portinica was weaker than she thought. The fireballs hit her square in the chest, and she flew back into a tree before slamming into the ground. Disoriented, the world colliding with itself, Portinica could just make out Ivan racing to the potion. She watched in disdain as he drained it into a flask he had pulled from his knapsack. Her vision cleared slightly, and she saw his eyes on her once again.

“You will pay for this!” She shrieked.

“Maybe someday,” said Ivan. “But for now, you can’t stop me.”

With those parting words, Ivan raced off in the direction he had come. Portinica would not let him get away that easily, though. She pulled the remaining dredges of her magic to her, and with all her strength threw the blinding spell at him. It hit him squarely in the back, but this only slowed him a little.

“After him!” She yelled from the ground.

The charge of the wolves was the last thing she heard before passing out.

Ivan opened his eyes, but knew it was pointless. The spell the witch had cast rendered him almost blind. His entire world had been reduced to nothing but a blur. Several shades of black took the place of trees and brush. The world whirled around him whenever the full moon and night stars came swam into view. He lost his direction each time they did. He could not pay attention to this, though. All Ivan could do was keep moving, because he knew they were not far behind him. Ivan had to put enough distance between him and the wolves to reverse what the witch had done. Breathing in the sharp autumn air, he pushed himself to keep going.

The tree came out of nowhere. Ivan tripped over a root – or his own feet. He couldn’t tell anymore. He only knew the pressure on the right side of his face was starting to build as it swelled to twice the size as his left. The pain, however, was nothing compared to what lurked in the woods. Ivan lay there for a moment, trying to catch his breath. His head pounded as he pulled himself into a sitting position. He groaned and held on tight to the tree, the rough bark sending pinpricks of pain through his hands as he listened hard.

His ear twitched as a low growling sounded far to his right. Ivan steeled his resolve, and began to rise, readying himself to set off again. He knew he had to make it back home. Back to her. The look on her face as tears streamed down her eyes as he hastily stuffed his backpack flashed through his mind. The memory, for a moment, made the world clear again. Ivan knew it was just a trick of the mind, but he could see the world for what it really was. Too soon, though, the darkness of the encroaching forest suffocated him, but he had to keep moving – if not to save his own ass, to save her.

He sucked in the cold air again. Hoping he wasn’t going the same direction he’d just come from, he ran. Ivan’s breath caught as a wolf howled behind him. He wanted to move faster, but losing his footing would cost more than a hurt knee or hand. All around him the thundering sound of paws was catching up to him.

His outstretched hands burned as they scraped against trees, and his legs hit the underbrush. Suddenly, he felt nothing around him but the open air. He’d reached a clearing. The bright moonlight seemed to help the blur, and Ivan could make out a cave on the other side of the clearing. He raced toward it with renewed energy.

This blackness made his heart swell with relief, and he sat down quietly, relishing it. He drifted easily into a meditative state, and allowed the magic to rise from deep within him. Ivan’s breath slowly evened, though the rustle of dead leaves and fallen branches signaled the wolves’ proximity. He knew he had to stay calm – in order to get back to her. He lifted the blindness spell, and the darkness and light became distinct instantly. He was reciting the fire spell before he even realized it.