On the small street of Ghiosa Way, right next where it came to a dead end, was a small yellow cottage, with a white railing and posts on the front porch, a white-framed window just left of the white front door, and a similar window looking down from the attic between the eaves. The cobblestone pathway leading up to the front steps was lined with large ferns of the type commonly found in the area, and the yard was filled with pines and a maple that had been there far longer than the house.
Near the back right corner of the little cottage’s yard, about halfway between the house and the nearest trees, was a large barrel in which trash was burned once or twice a week. The smell of fire wasn’t quite enough to cover the smell of paper that had once held wrapped food. It was these smells that sometimes drew velociraptors to the yard. They were two and a half feet tall and five feet from the tip of their many-toothed snouts to the ends of their tails. Hairy feathers covered their bodies—yellow near their small arms and green everywhere else, but for a black band around their necks and a black tuft at the ends of their tails. Easily mistaken for a more benign bird from a distance, those familiar with them were wary because of the teeth and clawed hands, but mostly because of their feet, each of which had a three-inch claw curving upward, used to disembowel prey. On this day, half a dozen of the creatures invaded the carefully cultivated yard, sniffing and searching.
“Get out of here, you horrid beasts!”
A woman came running out the door of the house, waving a broom. She made every effort to swat the velociraptors, but they easily evaded her, running around in circles until she tripped over one and went sprawling. Then they were no longer mere birds, but feathered monsters. They snapped at her, one biting her ankle and tearing the skin. Another leapt on her, preparing to use its toe claw to best effect.
Suddenly the velociraptor on the woman exploded. The others jumped away as five colorful balls of magic, just like that which all had failed to see flying at their leader, flew toward them. These little missiles, blue, green, red, yellow, and orange, didn’t fly straight, but soared around in a swirling pattern. But each eventually reached its target and one after another the remaining velociraptors were hit, and they exploded into a bursts of feathers.
“Why, Bryony Byenthal, you were almost eaten by velociraptors,” observed Senta, coolly. “Has no one told you not to chase after them?”
“You saved my life!” cried Bryony, still lying upon her lawn, bleeding from the ankle.
“Yes, I did. Didn’t I? Come along. Let’s get you inside and see to your injury.”
Helping the woman up from the ground, Senta put her shoulder under Bryony’s and led her in through the side door.
“Mommy! You’re hurt!” cried a small child, barreling from the parlor and colliding with his mother’s knees.
“Mommy is fine, Kerry,” said Bryony.
“Well hello, Little Baxter,” said Senta. “Not to worry. Auntie Senta is here to take care of everything.”
She reached into her purse, pulling out a brown bottle of healing draught. Biting off the cork and spitting it on the floor, she handed the bottle to the little boy.
“Pour this on Mommy’s boo-boo.”
The boy dumped out the bottle, some of which landed on Bryony’s injury, fizzing, but most going on the floor.
“Now, about tea,” said the sorceress, sitting down at the table.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting you,” said Bryony, removing her shoe and wiping away the blood and excess healing liquid from her leg and the floor with a tea towel, before slipping the shoe back on.
“I can see that, obviously, or else Little Baxter would have been hidden away with some friend or another.”
At that moment the front door opened and in walked a blond girl of eleven. Her straight hair was parted in the middle, but a fringe covered her forehead. But for the bright yellow day dress she wore, she looked very much like Senta. In fact, she looked exactly like Senta had looked at the same age. Seeing the sorceress, her eyes and lips became very thin.
“What are you doing here, Mother?”
“I’m here for tea, and to save Bryony Byenthal’s life, apparently.”
“Bryony Baxter,” said both Bryony and the girl at the same time.
“Quite so. Quite so. But you are still Senta Bly, the bastard child of a much more accomplished and altogether more impressive Senta Bly.”
“Why don’t you go away and leave us alone?” said the younger Senta.
“Why don’t you make me?”
“Uuthanum eetarri,” hissed the girl, waving her hand.
“So disappointing,” said the woman, unaffected. “All that natural talent and you refuse to learn anything. You’re not hurting me, you know. You’re the one who will be sorry in the end.”
“I’m going to my room,” said the girl to Bryony. “I have no appetite.”
“When I was your age, I was casting all kinds of crazy spells and raining destruction all over the place!” the sorceress called after her, as she retreated down the hallway.
“Can I go play with Sen?” asked the little boy.
“Yes, but take a biscuit,” said his mother, retrieving said biscuit from the kitchen, along with another. “Give one to Sen, too.”
“Goodbye, Little Baxter,” said the sorceress. “Now about tea.” She raised her finger and made a circle in the air. “I could just whip something up.”
“No, no,” said Bryony. “I’m sure I can put out an adequate high tea.”