Wren lets the gentle flames play along her arms. They blend into the wisps of sunlight splattering through the canopy above, spots of vague warmth, welcome from the chill she’d felt all day sitting at school.
She kicks at the waters below, her pant legs rolled all the way up to her knees.
She blinks down at her legs, guessing that even in the body of the Empress, she’ll have to shave. Would people think an Empress with hairy legs was gross? Or, it might not really matter, though she wondered if they had shaving gel in this place. She hoped so, because the Empress looked beautiful. Soft, blameless tan skin, a sinewy frame, and pretty lashes framing green irises, long locks of dark hair that fall to her waist.
Wren considers herself for a moment, before bursting out in quiet giggles.
‘Sinewy.’ Ew, gross, her poetry class was rubbing off on her.
The Empress’s body gave her a little bit of confidence, so maybe if she used words like ‘sinewy,’ aloud, no one would blame her. She’d just look like a pretty girl using pretty words.
She reaches down and laps some water over stomach with a wave of her arm. She wanted to experiment while she was here. Try wearing shorts, for once, or a cute summery dress.
God, dad would kill her if he knew.
The thought makes her roll her eyes, and she slips deeper into the river waters, sitting right in the shallows until all but her upper torso was underwater. Flames still flicker on her skin’s surface, and she watches the blood reds and fiery oranges with fascination.
That is, until there’s something that starts to bother her.
Something that niggles at her consciousness, like an itch she couldn’t quite scratch. She looks up, over her shoulder, and that’s when her eyes find someone else’s, through the trees. That gives her a startled scream, and she scrambles forward, falling face-first into the water, and she swallows a mouthful.
“Stay away!” She splutters, sitting up. “Who are you, you creep?”
She feels a blush darken from her face all the way to her shoulders, as her heart hammers in her throat. She was fully clothed and everything, and hidden by the water to boot, but she’d been enjoying the quiet while she had it, and she’d been soaking in the feeling of being something like a main character from a manga. She hadn’t wanted to be rudely interrupted-- She blinks. Well, unless it was by a hot dude, just like from a manga. It would make the perfect meet-cute, now that she thinks about it.
She peers curiously into the trees now, wondering if that was it.
It was a storybook world, after all.
Would it be so far-fetched if she was destined for a Prince Charming?
But the person who steps forward into the clearing is a girl, and Wren’s heart sinks. So much for a Prince Charming.
“Empress.” The girl says, as Wren sighs in irritation.
“What? Are you another one of those servant girls? I told you to leave me alone for a while.” And then, because she wanted to sound a little more dignified, she raises her nose up in the air, using a deeper inflection of her voice, “Your Empress wishes to explore this world undisturbed. Leave me to my brooding.”
The other girl snorts, and Wren blinks, blush darkening.
“Shut up.” Wren snaps. “I’m your Empress. You dare mock me?”
“Empress, I don’t think we’ve met.” And the girl comes forward. She’s wrapped in a white dress, summery, just like the kind Wren had thought of wearing a few moments before, though there’s something off about the girl. The dress seems to be made of tatters of ribbons wrapped around her, the girl’s skin is so pale, sometimes, Wren thinks she can see right through it, as if the girl could dissolve into the air any minute. The other girl’s hair is a beautiful wild blond, wispy around her head in a windblown cover-model way. Wren would pin the girl to be the first to die in a story, if this really was like a manga. The pretty fragile-looking ones in white always turn out to be the naiive sacrifices. Either that, or the naiive heroines. Or the haunting ghosts.
No sooner had the thought struck, than the girl kneels by the riverside, offering her a hand.
“I’m the Hero of this city.” The other girl says. “Amisra. Of course, I’ve already heard your name.” With a smile that sends a flutter through Wren’s stomach, unbidden, the other girl speaks the Empress’s name, like it’s nothing. “Cellica. We’ve been destined to meet for a long while.”
Wren shies away from Amisra’s hand. Oh nonono, it was terrible timing thinking this girl was cute. Hero, she’d said? Heroes are bad. At least, to the Empress, the destined Villainess, they were.
“What do you want?” Wren asks. “I’m not falling for that smile. The pretty ones always turn out to the be the dangerous ones.”
Amisra’s smile is sudden, with a laughter like the sound of clear bells. “I don’t know if I’m dangerous. Pretty, I’ll take.”
“Are you a ghost?”
“Do I look like one to you?”
“Yeah, you kinda do.”
“I’m not,” she smiles.
“And I have to just believe that?”
“Did I ask you to prove if you were alive?”
Wren narrows her eyes at the other girl. Well, enemies-to-lovers, or ill-fated-love stories were popular, too. Wren wasn’t into the whole Romeo-and-Juliet type of thing, though, since it seemed like a ton of trouble and came with so much drama. Nah, if the Empress was gonna have a love interest, she’s going to make sure it’ll be someone she’ll have a happy ending with.
“I’m not getting out of this water,” Wren says. “Go away.”
Amisra’s smile is easy, as she sits down and puts her legs in the waters. Wren notices the dirt and the water shift, reacting to Amisra’s touch like they would any regular person. “Okay. We can talk like this, anyway.”
Wren stands up quickly. “Didn’t you hear me? Shoo. Go away.”
She could almost see the romance flag pop up. Misunderstanding on the first meeting? Classic meet-cute. Do those happen with girls too since Wren is bi? She had no idea. But she had to make this go away.