The chittering chaos of countless insects rises from the emptiness before you, the grating noise of chitinous limb against shell, of mandibles gnashing and antenna curling in anticipation–
"No, that's not it at all. Look again."
Nine candles ring the pit, eight pinning the world into place and the last opening it up, each burning with the power of the turning year; inside the circle the hardwood gives way to churning void, to vast things moving beneath, strange crustaceans shifting by candlelight–
"You're so close, witchling. Again."
The mirror rests against the wall just as it always does, carefully angled so that you never see your own reflection; bright tape on the floor marks where proximity would become unsafe for someone of your short stature.
Just inside the reflection your teacher drifts, a translucent film badly pasted atop the popcorn ceiling, her curling horns sending little sparks dancing across the mirror's frame where they brush against it.
You can still hear insects swarming within the circle, waiting–
"No, you can't. Goddess, you're really not getting this, are you?"
"It's not that easy!" you huff and sprawl back on the floor, limbs akimbo, the drama of the moment only slightly undercut by the moments spent carefully removing your hat and setting it aside.
"If it was easy it wouldn't be worth doing."
"You say that about everything ..."
"It's true about everything. If you wanted easy you wouldn't have conjured me. Now try again."
You roll onto your side, facing the pit, cheek pressed against the cool floor, and–
From here you can't quite see inside the circle, except as a rim of emptiness, a void sucking up the light of the candles; with one ear you hear the static screams and hisses echoing up from it, and with the other–
Nothing but the floor's silence.
Which can't be right.
With how much noise the things in the pit are making, with all the movement you've seen in it–the things reaching out over the edge, those nightmare insects grasping for you, trying to pull you in–the floor should be nearly as full of sound as the air.
But it's not.
"Good. Try to hold onto that."
The dissonance cuts at your mind, distorts your thoughts, this gap between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-you-see-it, this splinter suddenly formed deep beneath the surface of your thoughts.
You grasp it as tightly as you can as you sit up, as you take another look at the circle and the thing within–
But it's not a thing, really. It's ...
"There's nothing there? But–"
There isn't even floor, much less a world of hungry insects. There's not even noise.
"Well done," your teacher says. "You'll probably lose it in a moment, but this is a good start, witchling. You need to be able to see what's really there."
You smile at their praise, distracted, and a great mouth gnashes at you from within the circle, thick hairs almost spilling out of it, sending you ungainly scrambling away as your teacher laughs.