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alderwitch

Hell on High Heels

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The Espadas School of Swordsmanship and Sword-Fighting (!) was just a little busier than the last time Raina had shown up for her lesson. It was a small knot of largely older ladies filtering out through the door and gossiping as they collected their belongings and gathered up to leave. When she stepped past the still-empty receptionist area, the only instructor visible was Talya as she spoke with one of the older ladies in friendly tones. Unfortunately, the attractive male teacher was no where to be seen. Oddly, as Raina drew closer, the crisp British accent was gone and Talya's half of the conversation was softer voiced, her tone pitched a little higher and the faint traces of a midwestern accent and phrases peppering her speech. She hustled the lady off with a friendly smile before putting up the sign for a private lesson in progress.

"Sorry about that. Delightful lady, really, but I made the mistake of mentioning that I know how to knit and now it takes a few minutes to extricate myself from discussions of patterns post class without fail," Talya sounded once more herself, assuming of course that this was the actual natural intonations of the woman in question. Today, she wore black tights that ended at the calf and a leotard over that. "Put your things down in the corner and we'll stretch out just a bit first. The last thing you need to do is cramp a calf. How's your week been?"

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"Pretty good," Raina told her, setting her backpack down in the indicated corner and pulling her blonde hair back into a ponytail. Merlin had decided not to come today, citing the profligate spending habits of certain high school students as a reason to hang back and work on his computer. Raina suspected he just wanted to play Skyrim, but since she didn't want her allowance cut off by her own monkey, she'd let it go. "Almost Halloween, that's an important time of year! Plus midterms, ugh." She twisted at the waist, then began some easy lunges, dropping her head and stretching her arms like someone who'd had some yoga classes somewhere along the line. "And you?" she asked with surprising politeness.

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Talya watched for a moment, to observe and make sure that the stretches were sufficient for whatever she had in mind and then, seeing that Raina had it in hand, she turned away to start wrestling large rubber mats onto the floor from where they'd been stacked up against the wall. She shoved over the roll and then began rolling it out to protect the floor with a nimble foot. "Mia's cutting a tooth so no one's been sleeping much, I'm afraid, but other than that - I can't really complain. I always enjoy the fall weather. You'd think I'd be used to the heat by now of this country, but no. Sadly not," Talya replied with a friendly sort of smile as she glanced up from positioning the mats into place. "If you drop your hips just a bit further, it'll really help warm the muscle up. We're going to do a bit of sprinting today."

She finished pushing the mats into place, ensuring that the floors were well protected as she walked back towards Raina, "Halloween is a fun time of year, especially at your age. Any plans?"

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"We're running?" Raina asked, obviously dismayed by the news. "If the gods wanted us to run, they wouldn't have given us cars." Still, she obediently dropped further into the stretch, wincing a little as she went. "I've got some observances for Hallow's Eve, but I haven't got a circle or a coven so I'll probably just do them by myself. And a friend is having a party I might hit up, just to class the place up a little." She shifted into triangle pose, then lifted into a passable balancing stick pose, then dancer pose. "I guess you'll just be trick or treating with your kids?" she hazarded. 

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"Ah," Talya hesitated for a moment about how to answer that particular question. After a moment, she answered it settling on matter of fact as the manner to address it. "Well, they're fairly little for the holiday, really. Eden is three and Mia isn't even a year old. Technically speaking, they're the children of Erik and his wife, Min, who you haven't met yet. She doesn't teach classes down here so it's far less likely that you'll catch her down here than either of us. It's an unconventional family dynamic."

She turned as she spoke, collecting a small stack of what looked like shoe boxes. "I wouldn't be dismayed yet. The top one is for practice. The bottom is for when you prove to me that you won't drop your weight on your heel at the wrong angle and kill yourself."

They were both in Raina's size. The top was a sensible nude pump with a modest two and a half inch heel, while the bottom pair was a black patten leather peep toe with a stiletto. Both had a tell-tale red sole and both were new. Without comment, Talya went over to fetch her own pair of heels from where they had been safely stored in the corner. "Make sure to stay on the matting. Erik will cheerfully strangle me if we punch holes in the floor of this place."

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Raina's eyes widened as she took in the shoes, but she was pretty sure she managed to avoid actually drooling. "Okay, I can run. Running is good. Running in heels on mats is going to be a little more challenging," she admitted. Despite that, she quickly switched out her socks and shoes for the calf-length stockings and pumps, cooing a little bit over the buttery softness of even the less striking pair of shoes. She stood and stepped onto the mat, taking a few practice steps to get used to the extra inch of padding. It was a little weird, but she hadn't been lying when she said she'd been wearing heels nearly as long as she'd been wearing shoes. "All right, how do we do this?" 

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The thief smiled briefly but refrained from comment about Raina's appreciation for the footwear. Talya slipped her shoes on as she stepped on the mat, pulling the peep toes up onto her heels. "It's necessary to point out that in most circumstances, you'll be better off kicking the shoes and then running. It's not always something you can do, though. And with practice..." Talya turned and pivoted, kicking from the hip to lead with the heel. It turned the spike of the stiletto into a lethal weapon. "Still, a single fight will destroy a pair of heels."

Settling on her feet once more, Talya gestured, "Your weight, as you know, is on your toes. It's not unlike dancing in heels, you have to adjust for the fact that your weight is shifted forward. Running heel-toe is going to snap your heel and send you tumbling and landing flat footed will be jarring. So, weight stays on the toes and there's more push in the knees to get the speed than the calf. Make sense?"

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"Sure," Raina agreed, "and if you've gotta back some asshole off, stomping 'accidentally' with the heel works most of the time." She grinned beatifically and did a few practice steps, bending her knees slightly with each pushoff as advised. "It's kinda like running on a sprung floor," she observed, "or like a bounce castle." She tried the pivot and kick, and though she managed not to fall over, it clearly had only a fraction of the power and aim of Talya's demonstration. "So how often do you end up actually having to kick some guy in the head?" 

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"Very much like," Talya agreed with amusement. She watched Raina's efforts with a critical eye, nodding slightly when the girl got her balance. Amusement lit her blue eyes as she answered, "More often, I think, than most people run into the need but mine is an exciting life. Usually though, I use a weapon as unlike Erik, I was not blessed with an abundance of natural upper body strength. He was, and he still uses a weapon. Hitting someone bare handed is generally, barring super powers, inefficient. Really, its about setting the fight up so that  you have the advantage, and knowing what works. Generally, your spells are going to be what you use and that's reasonable. It's your strength. What we're teaching you here is for the situations where you have to fall back on other abilities. For example, I'm strongest when I attack from surprise but a good half the time, I end up fighting hand to hand with no advantage of stealth. So, one has to learn to be adaptable."

Talya stretched one arm up over her head, pulling it slightly to the side with her free hand to loosen her shoulder muscle. "It would take me a long time to tally the number of fights I've gotten into in the last century or so. Weekly, I would have to say. I probably end up kicking someone in the face on at least a weekly basis."

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"The last century?" Raina paused in her training to blink and take another hard look at Talya. She looked absolutely normal on the surface, aside from being really, really beautiful, but when Raina extended her magical senses, she could taste the crackle and zing of magic, with faint coppery undertones. There was definitely more going on with Raina's mentor than fantastic shoes and a really mean snap-kick. "How old are you, anyway?" she asked, ignoring the rudeness. 

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"I was born in 1917. I'll be ninety-nine on my next birthday," Talya replied with a sunny smile as she let her arm fall to her side. "Ninety-nine years young, I might add. Catching immortality happened more often than you'd think when you fought Thule cultists during the war. Although, honestly, we think Ace just drank something he ought not to have. That man will put almost anything in his mouth, to be honest, especially if there's a party."

Talya spread her hands a little wide, pivoting under Raina's scrutiny like she was showing off an outfit. "But, I did spend a good quarter of century in jail so, I feel like I could probably round off a couple of decades. Nothing much happens in jail. I did learn to line dance though. Which, honestly, is just stepping to music for people who don't actually know how to dance."

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"You aged very gracefully," Raina agreed. "Lucky you were already an adult when it took. I'd hate to be sixteen forever, wind up like some freaky Twilight vampire." Her attention sharpened noticeably when Talya mentioned being in jail, but it didn't seem like worry or condemnation. "You went to jail?" she asked, her voice careful. "What did you go in for? Did they keep you in Blackstone, or was it like a regular prison?" 

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"Haven't aged a day which, while I wouldn't recommend the initial process does have significant perks," Talya's voice remained light and although she noticed Raina's sudden interest, she kept her expression serene and her tone easy. Reaching up with graceful hands, Talya swept her hair back into a tail and began pulling the elastic around her wrist to hold it in place. "Multiple counts of grand theft primarily. I would have ended up in Blackstone but I helped put a few nasty individuals much more unpleasant than me in prison by betraying their trust and managed, due to that, to get a lighter sentence in a less secure facility. Which meant that I could take many unapproved 'day trips' during my time there. Even I would have trouble breaking out of Blackstone."

Letting her hair go once it was swept back, Talya rested her hands on her hips, her posture relaxed, "I did a very good impression of being a harmless little old lady and was released early for good behavior. I have several enemies in Blackstone still. A few friends but mostly enemies. I've been on both sides of the fence, you could say, but my villainy was a long time ago and well before you were born."

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"Have you been to Blackstone before?" Raina asked, still treading with visible caution, "like as a visitor or something?" She began stretching again, not seeming to know exactly what to do with herself. "The process seems really complicated, like you have to take a car and a boat and get searched. And then if you're magic, you have to turn over any personal items, and if you're wearing the wrong kind of clothes they might make you change, and then you wear a suppressor too, while you're there." She rubbed her own wrist and shuddered a bit at the thought. "It seems like it would be kind of freaksome." 

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"I've been to Blackstone several times. I try to go through every now and again to taunt the people who want me dead the most, or see an old friend that never managed to really reform. I bring fruitcake on the holidays for the people I don't like." Talya's lips quirked up in a brief smile before she gentled her tone deliberately, "It's really not so very bad. Yes, there are a lot of rules and it can feel intimidating, certainly, but its not really a much different process than getting through an airport these days. Prisons are by and large a depressing place and the search is always onerous but the guards are used to it and rather matter-of-fact about the whole process."

Talya paused before saying very delicately, "Do you have someone you need to visit in Blackstone? I don't mean to pry but this isn't the usual line of questioning that I get when my felonious past comes up in conversation. If you don't want to talk about it, you certainly don't have to but if you would like to, I might be better able to answer your quesitons."

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Raina stopped her pretense of exercise and just stood on the mat, twisting a lock of blonde hair around her fingers. When she dropped the bold facade she wore like armor, she looked much more her real age, and terribly uncertain. "My parents are in Blackstone," she admitted. "They're awaiting trial, but it could be another six months before that even happens. And it's been eight months already, but everything is so slow!" She laced her fingers tightly together in front of her. "I've talked to them on the phone, and once on a video call, but I haven't gone to see them. They told me I shouldn't, that giving up your magic feels like dying, but that's what they have to live with every day, so why shouldn't I do it once so I can go and see them, right?" Her strident voice was nearly a plea, but even she couldn't have said what she was asking for, permission or absolution. 

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"Ah," there was a wealth of understanding in that one syllable. Talya took a step closer to the upset teenager, not touching her but stepping in sidelong to where Raina was. Her voice was very gentle, "I imagine that they want to shelter you from the harsh realities of the world. It's what good parents do. Of course you want to see them. They doubtless want to see you as well. I imagine they're only trying to protect you. It's very hard, to be in prison and not able to protect the people you love most. The best you really can hope for is to keep them away. Of course you ought go to see them if you want to. You must miss them dreadfully."

One hand came up then, very lightly to touch Raina's back between her shoulder-blades. "Trials can take a long, long time. Would you like some help in going to see your parents? The whole process seems byzantine the first time you attempt it. I imagine its especially overwhelming as a minor as that adds all new layers of authorization involved."

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Raina hesitated, weighing her options as she studied the surface of the practice mat. Anybody else, she'd have said no right away. Anybody else, she wouldn't even have said as much as she did already. But unlike most of the adults in her life right now, Raina got the feeling that Talya actually gave a damn about her, not as a job or a charity case or a problem, but just as a person. And even if that wasn't true, at least she cared enough to do a good job of faking it, and that was pretty close, right? And Talya had gone to prison herself. She couldn't get all judgey about somebody else being there, right? Having the supremely confident Talya along did seem like it might make Blackstone a little less intimidating, maybe. 

Realizing belatedly that she'd twisted her hair hard enough to cut off the circulation in her fingers, Raina released her hold and affected as much nonchalance as she could. "Yeah, that might be good," she agreed. "Maybe you could show me some of the old bad guys you know." 

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"We can do that. You'll have to tell me what appeals more to you, chatting with those that are pleasant company but have dubious morals, or taunting the truly reprehensible ones. I know both in Blackstone, really," Talya offered, letting her hand fall away and keeping her tone carefully modulated between interested and not overwhelming the teenager. Too much and she might erode the very fragile trust she had started to build. Fortunately, Talya had both practice in this sort of thing as well as the time to not rush the matter. "I'll contact your school to arrange the matter. I knew your headmistress's father so while I can't say as we're on the best of terms, she's not a stranger either."

She took one step back then, letting Raina reestablish her space and diverting her attention to the side to the younger girl a chance to reestablish her barriers. "They're allowed pictures, you know, in Blackstone. If you want to take a few of yourself, they'd probably enjoy having them. You'd best avoid any place markers of where you're staying as you can't trust that other inmates won't see them."

Whether or not Raina's parents might also not be trusted with that information lurked in the back of Talya's thoughts but she kept it from her features or tone. She didn't know enough to judge that - yet, but she was very careful to not voice any of those particular reservations. It was possible, after all, that Raina's parents were both good parents and bad people. That wasn't actually impossible. Talya had just never been blessed with an optimistic world view.

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"I could maybe do that," Raina agreed, "I could have Merlin take some for me. I grew out my hair since they saw me, and it's darker now. I was platinum blond back... back before stuff happened, but it was not a good look for me. Nobody can hang onto the towhead look forever." She shook herself to get back into a safer, less personal mindset. "So, we're gonna run around the room in high heels till I don't break my neck?: 

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"One's coloration does limit the potential hair colors. Personally, I look dreadful as a redhead. Makes me look sallow." Talya agreed as she stepped back to give Raina enough room to practice once more. "Though, I prefer wigs to dye when its a short term arrangement. Any chemicals and the curl is much harder to straighten into more tame-able waves. Be grateful that you were born after 'crimping' as a fad. Now there was a truly atrocious style."

Leaning her hip against the wall at the far end, she gave a brief beckoning wave, "No, not all afternoon. Just a bit in the low heels. I imagine you'd like to take both pairs home with you today so that's our goal. If we reach it early, well, less running for everyone and we'll move on to something more entertaining. Lady's choice, even. I'll let you choose between the options since today is an 'off' day in our schedule."

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"I thought it would make me ethereal, but it just washed me out," Raina agreed, walking to one end of the line of mats. "My Scandinavian is just a little too diluted. Did you ever do rag curls?" she asked. "My mom used to put them in my hair when I was little, because curlers were too uncomfortable to sleep on. But my hair is like flower-child straight without some attention." Raina bounced twice on her toes and then began running, a slightly awkward gait that seemed to owe more to the length of her legs and arms than any difficulty with the shoes. She ran like someone who was inexperienced in using her own body. 

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"If you can do it with your hair, then I've probably done it. Rag curls and pin curls both though my hair is naturally curly. It turns into a rather tangled mess if I go to sleep without doing something with it. Min, Erik's wife, has hair down past her ankles but she spends far less time fussing with it before bed than I do. Maybe a braid and then done," Talya offered, the words cheerful as she watched Raina run back and forth before stepping forward. "Hold on a moment. You've got natural balance and the heels aren't tripping you up at all. That's lovely. We'll be done early with the sprinting which I'm sure will make you pleased."

She came over to stand next to Raina, and watched her for a moment, "Just had your last big growth spirt, hm? Ever watch that show... what's it called... America's Next Top Model? The one with all the fainting and the arguing and maybe sometimes half naked pictures?"

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"I've caught it a couple times, it's not my favorite," Raina admitted. "But I grew two more inches last winter, and that sucked, except I guess I'm tall enough to be a model now." She smirked, recognizing the unlikeliness of that. "I just have to find a boyfriend who's at least 6'2 and I'll be fine. How does anybody even have hair down to their ankles anyway?" she wondered aloud. "That's so totally inconvenient, how would you even be able to walk around?" 

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"It's a generally dreadful show," Talya agreed, as she tipped her chin up to meet Raina's gaze. "But, it does point out that height can be an asset really. I know it's hard to believe - people have gotten so much taller over the last century - but when I was a young woman, the average height for men was right around my height, actually. You can use it to your advantage. Peering at people imperiously works even better if you have the height advantage to it."

 

She tapped one fingertip to her lips before adding, "You've done yoga before, clearly. Was it more of a mandatory thing or did  you enjoy it? What about dancing?" Talya asked as she cycled through enjoyable activities that might get Raina more comfortable with her longer limbs. "As to the long hair, I imagine its a combination of practice, grace and occasionally braiding it out of the way."

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