The materials were acquired over the course of the day, and by that night the girls were very much exhausted. They’d assorted their herbs, meticulously drawn out their alchemic circles, and placed everything where it ought to be. Their living room appeared as if the baking isle of a grocery store had collided with an antique shop and explosively scattered its contents over every inch of floor and furniture. The house was filled with the strong scent of burning candles, spices, and dusty books. The tome in question had, in fact, rather unraveled with the girls’ use, and was left in two piles on the kitchen table; the relevant pages needed for the charm had been removed, and were currently scattered about the floor.
For the vessel they hadn’t had much to work with, as most of their things were still back home and room in the car had been limited. In the end, however, they’d settled on small bear carved out of a block of wood – something they’d picked up in town at a shop that made similar creatures of varying shapes and sizes. In fact the bears carved from wooden tree stumps seemed to be a theme around town, and one could hardly go in the door to any shop without finding a knee-high bear standing there, ready to bid you Welcome with a sign clutched in its wooden paws. If nothing else, Amber and Ash figured that their good luck charm to be would blend right in.
The ritual itself wasn’t supposed to take long, but it warned it could be taxing, and Amber and Ash were exhausted enough as it was. Leaving everything set up, they decided to wait until morning, when they could give the spell their full attention. After all, they figured, it wouldn’t do to have a weak spell. This one would be bursting with energy.
The girls practically leapt out of their beds that morning, wolfing down a bowl of cereal as they once again went over their notes. After all the preparations they’d made, it seemed simple enough. Amber would sit on one side of the circle, and Ash on the other (for multiple conjurers, the book said, it was best to be spaced equally about the circle,) and then they would both start channeling their magic into the circle. And hopefully, the charm they’d drawn out (in salt, chalk, and herbs, anchored at each star-point with a candle,) would do the rest.
“It’s just like chemistry,” Ash said excitedly. “You follow the instructions, and set up the experiment, and mix the ingredients… and then get to see what happens!”
“I’m not sure that’s how chemistry works,” Amber said, but she was too excited to start the spell to spend much time arguing. Amber sat cross-legged, and held her hands out over the circle. “Ready?”
“Ready!” Ash agreed. Then they closed their eyes, and began to focus on their auras.
The energy flowed readily, as if drawn to the anchor the girls had formed. Amber could feel the warmth pool in her hands, then spilling down into the circle. After a moment she realized she didn’t need to close her eyes to concentrate, so she opened them once more, to watch the magic work.
It was there, just barely. She could almost see wisps of it around Ash’s hands and her own, and the lines they’d drawn on the floor also seemed to have a faint glow. The smell of spices became much stronger, and the candles flared as they came in contact with the magic. Fire, Amber remembered hearing from Nan, was a natural attractor to magic. They were both types of energy, which was why fire was usually the first element a magician could conjure. Amber watched the candles now, realizing that was how Jack was able to do it. She wondered if she could do it, too.
The bear at the center of the circle began to rattle. Ash had also peaked her eyes back open, and gasped when she saw their charm was taking hold. The little wooden animal was imbued with light, which worked its way into its seams, tracing along its contours, lighting up its eyes. The magic was become more palpable by the second, to the point where it hung almost heavily in the air. Ash took a deep breath, finding the air moving sluggishly. She looked over at her sister, and Amber looked back, a flicker of concern passing between them.
“That’s probably enough,” Amber said, pulling her hands back. Ash dropped hers as well, but the magic that had been summoned was not done yet, and the spell was still working. The bear had become encased in the light, and was shining brighter by the second. Ash and Amber nudged away from the circle, unsettled by the magic that was now out of their control.
“Stop,” Amber ordered, reaching out a hand to try to influence the workings. “Go back!” she tried, but it didn’t seem to heed her. The air was still growing thick – too thick now, and both breathing and wading through the thickness was becoming difficult. Amber stumbled over to Ash’s side, feeling as if she were pushing through molasses, to try topull her sister away. Maybe outside the air would be clearer. Was being inside so much magic even safe? But before they could reach the door, the magic suddenly burst, like a popped balloon, and went rushing out in all directions. The girls felt a brief wind, and then it was gone.
“What happened?” Ash asked, hesitating before the door.
“I don’t know,” Amber said. “Maybe… that’s just how the magic works?” The spell book, however, had said nothing about what the girls experienced, and they walked back over to the alchemic circle with slight trepidation.
“I guess we should see if it’s lucky,” Ash said, reaching out for the bear. But just as she was about to close her hand around the piece, the bear’s head turned to look up at her.
“Waaaaa!” Ash scream, falling over backwards and scrambling away. The little wooden bear dropped down to all fours, and made a tiny grunting sound.
“Amber!” Ash said, climbing up onto a chair and pointing down at the figure. “Amber it’s moving!”
“I know!” Amber exclaimed, equally as shocked.
“It’s not supposed to do that!” Ash said.
“I know!” Amber exclaimed again.
“What do we do? What if dad finds out?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know!”
Giving the bear a wide berth (it turned around and followed Amber with its head as she moved about) Amber quickly gathered up the scattered papers of the spell and hurried back to the table. The little wooden bear stood back on its hind legs and looked at Dusk, who gave a caw of challenge. The bear returning it with a pathetically small roar.
“I don’t understand! It was just supposed to make it a good luck charm. What did we do wrong?”
“What does the writing say?”
“Just what I’ve been reading to you all this time,” Amber said, frustrated. “Maybe we-”
She cut off mid sentence, staring at the bottom of one page. She flipped to the next, then went back to the previous. Then she groaned.
“What is it? What is it?” Ash pressed. Amber pointed to the sheets.
“What page numbers are these?”
“Fifty two and fifty four.”
“And this one?”
“Sixty six.” Ash paused. “Oooooh.”
“The stupid pages are out of order!” Amber exclaimed. “What spell do these steps even go to? What was it trying to do? Is mixing spells dangerous?”
“I don’t know,” Ash said, staring at her sister as if waiting for her to figure out what they were supposed to do next.
Amber smacked her forehead with a groan. “This was so stupid! We should have double checked-”
“Ahhhh!” Amber jumped and Dusk cawed as Ash screamed again. “It’s bigger, Amber! It’s bigger than before!”
Amber looked down at the bear. It was definitely bigger. Before it had been the size of her finger, and now it was the size of her hand.
“Oh, no,” Amber said. “We have to get it outside! We don’t know how big it might get!”
“How do we do that?” Ash asked. “Will it bite us?”
Amber hoped off her chair and dashed to the kitchen cabinets, pulling out a plate and a mixing bowl. She gave the plate to Ash.
“You get the door, I’ll try to push it out.”
“Hurry, Amber!” Ash said, opening the door and then hiding behind it, peaking out at her sister and the wooden bear.
The animal did not like being prodded along, and bared its teeth and attempted to scratch at Amber’s bowl. It was still small enough, however, she was able to keep her fingers out of harm’s way, and she was able to rather forcefully push it out the front door.
“Thank goodness,” Ash sighed, but Amber had stopped in the doorway. “What is it?” Ash asked, seeing her sister. Then she heard the roar.
Their mail post, which had also, at one time, been a bear-shaped stump holding up their mailbox, was currently wandering about their front yard, very much alive and mobile. Ash and Amber gaped as the small bear and medium sized bear faced off, huffing and growling.
“Oh no,” Amber said, remembering the wave of magic that had washed out as the spell had completed. “If it’s happening to our mailbox too…”
“What about all the bear statues in town?” Ash gasped. “What about the wood shop? We have to warn them!”
“If they haven’t found out already,” Amber said, running back inside to gather up the papers and try to fold the book back together again. “We have to stop it!”
“How?” Ash said, following after her sister and hoping from one foot to another.
“No idea,” Amber said. “But maybe the answer’s somewhere in the book. Quick, now, we have to get to town.”
The girls were a sweaty mess by the time they managed to stagger into town, the sun barely starting to peak over the nearby mountains to light their valley. The morning fog still hung heavily about the town, especially clinging to the river. The result was neither of the girls could see more than a block or two away before everything dissolved into grey white. Nervously, they tried to still their breathing, listening and watching for anything out of place.
“So which spell did we accidently use again?” Ash asked. Amber had been trying to leaf through the pages as they ran, though their energy had only lasted in spurts and she’d ended up doing more walking than she would have liked.
“Enhancement,” Amber said. “It was part of a spell meant to exaggerate and energize traits. I guess it took our toy as a pattern and applied the spell to everything else like it. So if we can undo that spell, then they should go back to how they were.”
“But how do we undo it?” Ash asked.
“I’m still working on that,” Amber sighed. “It doesn’t say here how to undo the spell. Maybe there are spells to undo spells? I don’t know…” She went back to skimming the book’s index once more, though holding it all the loose pages together while doing so was easier said than done.
A grunting noise sounded nearby within the mist, and Ash jumped to Amber’s side, grabbing her arm.
“There!” she pointed at a shadow not far down the street. It was wandering through the middle of the lane.
“Are you sure?” Amber said, squinting at the figure. “Maybe it’s just a…”
“Bear!” Ash squealed. “Full sized bear!”
The wooden lawn ornament began to lumber in their direction, grunting and huffing as it came.
Amber squeaked and turned tail, sprinting after her sister. In an attempt to get out of the bear’s line of sight, they turned quickly down a side street, and immediately ran into Jack.
The group collided before they could stop, pages exploding into the air around them in a papery snowfall.
“Oh no!” Amber gasped, struggling to grab all the papers that had scattered from her book. Jack meanwhile, was doing the same.
“Watch where you’re going! Jeez!” he cried, grabbing up some papers and stuffing them into a bag at his side.
“Hey, those are mine!” Amber cried, pulling a page away from him.
“No they aren’t,” Jack said, pulling one back. “What are you doing? I’m trying to deliver the newsletters…” Jack stopped speaking as he realized the page he was holding was covered in cryptic writing and diagrams. “What’s this?”
“It’s ours, like we said,” Ash said, snatching it away.
“Oh, no,” Amber said, realizing a couple of the pages she’d picked up were, indeed, a short newsletter for the town. “They’re all mixed up!”
“Crud,” Jack said, trying to sort through the mess. “This’ll take forever.”
“We don’t have time!” Ash said, looking at her sister in panic. “The bears!”
“Oh!” Amber tuned back around, trying to see if the bear had followed them around the corner. She couldn’t see anything yet, but it surely wasn’t far behind. Amber turned back to the papers and haphazardly began gathering them up. “We’ll sort them out later!”
“You girls are crazy,” Jack said. “Just let me have my papers! I have to finish delivering them-”
“BEAR!” Ash cried, grabbing the last few pages herself and darting away. Jack looked up, and his eyes grew wide.
“Go!” Amber said, running after her sister without waiting to see if Jack had headed the warning or not.
The three ran down the street. At the intersection, however, another shape was waiting for them.
“Another one!” Jack exclaimed. “What’s going on? What did you guys do?” he added, looking down at one of the spell book pages he held.
“No time!” Amber said. “Have to warn people!”
“We’ll get in trouble!” Ash objected, though even she knew they were in over their heads.
“What are they?” Jack asked, backing away. “They don’t look normal.”
“They’re wooden bears,” Amber said. “They came to life. Now come on!” They turned down another street and kept going.
Not paying attention to where they were going, they didn’t realize they were surrounded until it was almost too late.
“Hey! Stop!” Ash suddenly shouted, a wisp of fog blowing by to reveal a large, fully grown wooden bear not four paces away.
Amber cried out, and Jack swore rather vulgarly, and at their exclamations there came a chorus of growling and grunting, their attention drawn to the kids. Other shadows in the mist moved – they must be close to the river, for the fog was much thicker here – and it soon became apparent that there were many more than just a few of the animals nearby.
“We’re by Mal’s wood shop,” Jack said. “All of his carvings must have come to life! And he’s got hundreds of these guys!”
“Ash, get behind me,” Amber started, but before she could finish Jack threw his paper carrying bag at them.
“Hold this!” With a flick of his wrists Jack summoned two bright fires to his hands, then threw them out into the fog. Some of the mist evaporated with their passing, and the bears watched the bright light as it fell to the ground several yards away.
“Back away,” Jack ordered, summoning more fire and continuing to throw it as a distraction. The flames petered out as they reached the ground, but for now it seemed to be enough to keep the bears from coming too close.
“Watch my back,” he added. “We need to clear a path.”
Slowly, the group backed away from the shop. Dusk cawed in warning as Amber nearly ran into another one of the creatures – this one larger than the girls were tall – and she hurriedly stepped aside, pulling Ash and Jack with her. In this fashion they maneuvered out of the throng of bewitched bears, and eventually found themselves clear of the last one.
“Now run!” Jack said, throwing one last ball of fire, and they ran. Blindly at first, but with more direction as their surroundings cleared, the girls clutched their papers tightly as they fled, fearing they’d drop one and have to go back.
It wasn’t until they were almost at the doorstep that Amber realized they’d been running to someplace specific the whole time. They burst through the front door of the café, sending the bell clattering wildly as Willow looked up in surprise.
“Jack? Here with the paper- oh- Amber? Ash? What’s going on?”
Amber dropped the spell book and loose papers on a nearby table, panting hard. Jack (who had taken his bag back as they’d run) also dumped his newsletters out, and Ash added her small stack to the pile as well. The three began sorting through it.
“We made a mistake,” Amber said, not looking at Willow. She was both too concerned, and too embarrassed. “But we’re going to fix it! Ash, start getting the pages in order.”
“Right!” Ash said, taking a stack off the table so she could start making small piles on the floor.
“What’s going on?” Willow asked again, smiling in bemusement. “What book have you got there?”
“They went and woke up all the bears!” Jack exclaimed in exasperation. This was met with a blank look. “Wooden bears! They got a spell book from somewhere and made all the wooden bears come to life!”
“Oh,” Willow said, growing more serious. “Have you warned the rest of the town? They should be able to set up some barriers pretty quick – buy some time to figure out the counter spell.”
“Oh,” Jack said, pausing. “I didn’t think of that.”
“Well,” Willow said with a sigh, turning back to her counter to shut of the boiler. “Guess that’ll be me. You kids figure out what spell you used – I should be back here soon. Don’t sweat it.”
Amber sagged in relief, happy there was an adult there to take the reins. “Okay,” she said. “We’ll figure out how to fix it!”
Willow gave the kids a wink and left her shop with the twinkle of the door’s bell.
Jack was shaking his head. “What a mess you guys made! I can’t believe it. A spell book? How did you even get one? Why did you even think you could use it? That’s stupid.”
“You’re stupid!” Ash cried, throwing one of his newsletters at him (which fluttered harmlessly away, ending up behind her rather counter-productively.)
“Stop it, both of you!” Amber said, trying to find the pages related to the spells they’d used. “Don’t you think we’ve got more important things to worry about?”
“You guys do,” Jack said. “This isn’t my problem.”
“I don’t think the bears will care who’s problem it is!” Amber exclaimed, shooting Jack an angry look. The gaze caught him off guard and he held it for a moment, before looking down sulkily and taking a seat at the table.
“So what’s your plan?” he asked.
“Going to read through the spells we accidentally mixed and see if it says anything about how to undo either of them,” Amber said. She was relying rather heavily on the hope that the book would have exactly that. “Otherwise, see if there’s some kind of… I don’t know… general spell? Something that breaks down other spells.”
Jack frowned (more than usual.) “I haven’t heard of anything like that.”
“Well!” Amber sighed. “Maybe we’ll get lucky. Here, you help. Start looking for something… uh… useful.” Amber slid what remained of the spell book across the table. Jack picked at the pages cautiously.
“This thing is old! You can feel the magic coming off the pages. Where’d you get it?”
“Mom’s trunk,” Amber said, distracted by the spell she was trying to read. She frowned, turning to Ash to see if she’d found more of the missing pages that went with the spell of Empowerment.
“But, like, then where’d she get it?” Jack asked.
Amber shrugged, trying to focus on the pages. “Wherever people get spell books from I guess.”
“Spell books are really rare,” Jack said, gingerly turning the page. “This is the first one I’ve ever seen.”
Amber looked up in surprise. “Really?”
But before Jack could respond, a distant roar shook the shop, sending glasses and bells tinkling quietly. The kids looked at each other.
“That didn’t sound good.”
“They’re grownups, they know what to do, right?”
“I hope so.”
Uneasily, they went back to their papers.
It took Ash a few minutes to sort out all the pages on the floor, but she prided herself on being good with numbers, and it wasn’t long before she had all the pages back in the right order.
“These ones go here,” she told Jack, trying to fit them back into the book. “And this stack goes in later.”
“Leave those ones out,” Amber said, pointing to the pages about the Luck Charm and Enhancement spell. “They’re easier to read out of the book. Jack, have you found anything on a way to undo magic?”
“Maybe,” he said, keeping a finger in the book to mark the spot as Ash set about inserting her pages. “There’s something here about magical wards that can repel certain minds of magic and creatures. Honestly, though, I don’t understand most of it.”
Amber was having the same problem. The charm wasn’t so bad, but the enhancement spell was far more complicated, and it seemed to assume the reader had a better magical understanding than either she or her sister did.
“Okay, let’s switch,” Amber said, pushing the pages about the spells they’d used over to Jack. “You’re better at magic. Maybe you’ll understand this. Ash and I will look for any kind of counter spell.”
“Okay,” Jack said, giving Amber a strange look. Amber stared back.
“Nothing,” Jack said. Then he smirked a little. “Just didn’t think you’d admit I was better at magic than you.”
Amber flushed, then buried her nose in the book angrily. “Only because you’ve had more years to practice,” she shot back.
“Yeah, we’re going to get better,” Ash added. “We have a magic book!”
“Uh huh,” Jack said, not seeming convinced. Even so, the comment seemed to have put him in a better mood.
The kids worked in intermittent silence. Ash scooted into the booth next to Amber, and helped her leaf through the pages of the book. She wrote down page numbers (in Amber’s notebook) that Amber thought where important and didn’t want to forget. They had just stumbled upon an interesting footnote on the binding properties of fire when Willow burst back through the front door. The kids jumped out of their seat, rushing to her.
“What’s going on?”
“Did you stop them?”
“Is everyone okay?”
“Whoa, whoa,” Willow said. “One at a time, guys.” She shook her head at the kids’ questions. “Well, you guys were right – we’ve definitely got a problem. Have you figured out a way to undo it yet?”
“No, we were hoping you guys would have stopped it!” Amber said.
“So what happened?” Jack asked.
“The bears are getting into everything,” Willow said. “Already caused a bit of damage down at Chuck’s shop. Drawn to the smell of food, I think. They’re hungry, and the more they eat the more they grow. I got some of the other mages up to try to help out – the guys from Black Moon Society got there about the time I did – but none of our barriers seem to have any effect on them. Quite the spell you girls put together.”
“We didn’t even know what we were doing!” Amber cried helplessly. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“I reckon they’ll be more responsive to your magic,” Willow said. “If you can’t stop them, then try to control them. Ash should be good for that – you’re a floramancer after all, right?”
“What?” Ash said, astonished. “Me? I, uh, I don’t know. What would I do?”
“I think you girls will be able to figure something out,” Willow said with an encouraging smile. “Now, don’t worry, I’ll be there to back you up. Come on, leave your pages behind – they’ll just get in the way – and let’s go take care of these guys before they decided my shop smells too good to resist.”
The kids looked at each other, then the spell book. Dejectedly, Amber set it down. “I thought we could figure it out,” she sighed.
“Maybe if you were a bit more experienced,” Willow said. “Now let’s go – we’ve got some bears to catch!”