The thick, honey-gold liquid flowed slowly from one end of the bottle to the other. Megan was fidgeting; turning the bottle end over end, waiting for the contents to settle, turning it over again. Through the bathroom door, the muffled murmurs of Delfine’s voice were indistinct and droning, like a repeating pattern in some alien tongue. Once or twice, Megan thought she saw a flash of greenish light peek out from under the door, only to vanish as soon as she snapped her attention to it. She wondered if her mind was merely playing tricks on her, the effects of whatever had been in the pill confounding her senses even still.

Hours seemed to pass as she watched whatever was in the bottle make its journey from one end to the other, and she grew restless. Finally certain it had been long enough, she moved toward the bathroom; maybe this was all a dream, and there’d be nobody inside. She reached to turn the knob, and the door creaked open from the other side. Delfine stood in the doorway.

The thick-looking wintery jacket that had hidden her figure when Megan let her in was gone. In its stead, a flattering emerald dress that reminded Megan of a fairy-tale garden; thin, vine-like strips traced her arms, and the bodice resembled broad leaves that clung tightly to her skin, moving as she moved. The skirt hung loose, reminiscent of ivy covering the facade of an old castle, its naturally-uneven hem hanging inches from the floor. Delfine’s bare feet peeked out from below, her nails painted in a deep brown that accentuated the greens above. Her hair was tied back in a thick braid run through with a deep green ribbon. Megan found that words, once again, failed her. Delfine broke the growing silence.

“Alright, we’re all good. You, uh, doing okay?” Her voice had been kind before, but now seemed somehow softer. The steel-blue of her eyes seemed gentler, as well.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m – I’m fine. It’s, you know, a lot to – how are you even here?”

“I know, sweetie. It’s a lot. Don’t worry, we’re here now, together.” There was something in Delfine’s words that sparked a vague memory, like something Megan had dreamed a lifetime ago. “For now, well – if you’d like to go sit down, maybe? I need rest.”

The two made their way back to the living room, Megan still absently cradling the bottle. Delfine all but collapsed onto the couch; Megan wondered just what she’d been doing that had taken so much out of her. Despite the obvious weariness, Megan found herself thinking how beautiful this strange woman was. Was it normal to feel this way about bizarre intruders who’d stepped out of a hallucination and into your living room?

And so, they sat, relaxing and talking. Delfine’s words were a blur, and Megan struggled to stay focused as the conversation wound through the day like a mountain path. They spoke of the little orange pill, a catalyst to help guide those with a gift to those who could help them. They spoke of the Five, an important council of women who worked in concert to maintain a certain kind of order. They spoke of magic, of powers that defied scientific scrutiny, and of the role that it had played in human history. They spoke of its role in the future of humanity, and the dangers that those who knew of this faced. They spoke, as dusk began to take hold outside, of Olivia.

The very way that Delfine spoke the name dripped with venom. Olivia, the betrayer. Olivia, the deceiver. Olivia, the great shame of the Five. Olivia, the last to bear the white cloak that now hung on Megan’s own shoulders; she had turned her back on the Five and their mission to maintain an order to the world. She had not only left a hole in this mysterious cabal, but had nearly thrown the entire world into ruin. This, of course, was where Megan entered the equation.

Though it had seemed it, her selection — such as it was — was not by chance or circumstance. No, it had been Lillian’s considerable work that had helped them reach this decision. While all of them had within them the capacity for great and potent abilities, Lillian was unsurpassed when it came to matters of things to come. She was not an oracle, in the traditional sense of the word, but from under the cowl of her purple garb she could sense and trace the lines of fate; not a true forecast of some certain future, but an insight into potential paths that were laid out before them. It was along one of these roads that Lillian had come to know Megan.

It was through this connection that Megan’s destiny had begun to unfold. Of course, the choice was always hers; the others could no more force her into this than they could stop Olivia from breaking ranks. Even Lillian could not force someone to act against their nature, or remove their freedom to choose which path they took. She could light the way or suggest a course, but ultimately the decisions always rested with the individual. This was not a limit to her power, but the very core of the delicate balance that the Five held dear.

It had still been the choice of the acolytes to leave the pill on a dirty diner table, hoping that the right hand would find it. It had still been Megan who chose to wash it down with cheap wine, opening her mind to whatever would come. It had still been Delfine’s choice to meet her on the beach, and guide her to the others. All of it, every step that led her here, curled on the faded cushions of her couch with a new friend — for she no longer seemed a stranger — had been a conscious, deliberate act.

Outside, the streetlights flickered to life, and a swelling wind brought with it a freezing rain. Megan found herself wondering when, or where, Delfine would go from here; she quickly brushed the thought aside. She did not want to be alone. Moreover, she — for all the confusing twists of the last twenty-four hours — wanted no other company to keep. An entire day was gone, and somehow felt as though it had been an eternity and an instant. She wanted it to last forever.

Maybe it was this thought, this desire for Delfine to stay, that spurred her impossible garb into shifting again. Maybe it was — well, something else. Whatever prompted it, Megan felt the fabric sliding, twisting, becoming something new; it was almost imperceptible, yet she felt keenly aware of each stitch and thread as they rewrote themselves across her skin. In a split-second, the rainbow-hemmed skirt, the leggings, and the tunic melted into silken-smooth, loose-fitting pajamas that seemed still as though they had been sewn only for her. Her face reddened as she shied away, fighting an impulse to hide herself.

She felt Delfine gently place a hand on her shoulder, and her embarassment deepened. “Look,” the visitor’s voice whispered. Megan glanced meekly over her shoulder, and found that she was not the only one whose attire had taken new life. Delfine was draped in a delicate nightgown of deep, foresty green. “If you’re asking me to stay…” her words trailed off as Megan leaned into her arms.

“Please,” Megan spoke softly. “Please stay with me.” She felt a warmth and comfort in her companion’s embrace, and together they drifted into peaceful sleep.

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