That was the difference between them: while Ingram was still worked up in a lather of neurotic stirrings, Nisa was sailing through her work with a lighthearted ease that in no way hindered her dexterity. But the witch did not consider it a divisive contrast that ran afoul of their friendship, rather more of a keystone that hoisted up and bridged the long-running span of their relationship.
She felt Nisa's freedom of mind breeze over her as the merchant renewed the conversation, leading with the subject of roads.
In the high-ceilinged caverns of a castle that had known no sound save the mechanical daily grind of the witch's domestic bustle, the stone walls rang with the energy of Nisa's voice, like a fresh draft of air and light disturbing the decrepit stillness. It couldn't have been over half a year since the merchant had last paid her the courtesy of lodging in her castle. So how could she have become so alien to simple conversation during the intervening months? Even the shape of the words in her mouth felt off, as if spoiled from disuse.
Still, the subzero temperatures seemed to have the same ability to preserve her pride as they did the goods in her pantry. In this way, she was afforded a mask of arrogance to hide her social inadequacy, and only at the expense of looking like a fault-finding lunatic near half the time. She hinged her head in a meager nod, succumbing to Nisa's subtle sales pitch. "Indeed. I would. I lost my entire soapbox cleaning those two filth-mongers..." The nagging voice of her social conscience barely won out. At last she paused to breathe and remind herself that she had saved a life and, soap or no, that was all that mattered. "I was afraid I would have to content myself with holding my hands to the heavens and praying for Arceus to deliver up a cleansing rain." Whether or not she actually revered the deity she referenced was about as debatable and war-torn a subject as any, but what she did know was that upon entering the castle she had held no belief in the existence of any higher powers whatsoever. After several weeks under the care of that formidable handmaid, the castle's sole resident when Ingram had arrived, she had become as god-fearing as a criminal at the gallows. She never spoke of what the old maid had done to instill such unrelenting piety, but judging by the soulless look in her eyes whenever the memories resurfaced, the conversion appeared to have banished quite a bit hope from her horizon. "Yes, you always come through when the situation looks dire. For this I will forgive your unfortunate disregard for my genius-like ideas."
She dragged her attention back to the kitchen and was almost surprised to find herself relocated before the sink, the spoon handle gleaming in her hand under a steaming shower of water. She siphoned the spray down to a limp drizzle, and the tap coughed and sputtered in compliance. Ingram interrogated her memory for answers. Realization struck like a violent attack: she had...