Seren and the Geomancer looked down at the dead body of Elwanda. The witch lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. Seren turned her over with his foot so that she lay face up. From this side you could see dark purple bruises against her pale white flesh.
“Death by strangulation, by the looks of it.” Seren said.
“But that doesn’t make sense! The monster killed Gwyrdd by ripping her stomach out. Like he wanted her to be in a lot of pain as she died. Why would Elwanda be any different? It sounded like she had more to do with this than Gwyrdd! So why did she get a gentler death?” The Geomancer said.
“Maybe someone else killed her.” Seren suggested. “Didn’t the note said she’d cursed some girl or something like that?”
“But she knew that the girl would be angry, the first thing she would do would put up a protection against her.” The Geomancer said.
“Maybe the girl found away around it.” Seren said.
“But how?” The Geomancer wondered.
“The witch turned her into a dragon. What if she learned how to turn back into a human? And when she did, what if the girl had changed so much that the spell no longer worked on her?” Seren asked.
“I’ve never heard of that happening. But I’ve also never heard of something like the monster being possible, so maybe.” The Geomancer said thoughtfully.
“Well, are we done here?” Seren asked.
“No. Search the house.” She ordered.
Seren disappeared into the back of the cottage and Silt searched the front. All that she found was a stove and several jars of dried mushrooms and herbs.
“Silt! Come look at this!” Seren shouted. The Geomancer ran to join him.
She found him in a tiny room at the back of the house. In the corner there was an empty cradle. The mattress was spotted with dried blood. The blankets were gone. A strand of orange hair that bordered on scarlet rested there. The Geomancer picked it up and examined it. The dragon part of her knew that there was something wrong with it. It smelled…like something mixed together. Like dragon blood mixed with human and witch blood. The Geomancer realized that some of the scent was rising from the spots of blood.
Fire, earth and air…
“It may have been the cursed girl. But there was something else like her here, something that was probably a normal human baby before Elwanda got her hands on it. Something that she took with her when she left.” The Geomancer said.
“So now we’re looking for a vengeful monster and a vengeful half dragon with some kind of monster baby with her? Great. Just great.” Seren sighed.
“C’mon, let’s see if the next witch is still alive.” Silt said, leading him outside to the nearest tree. She called for the roots, and they sank underground.
The next cottage had smoke drifting from the chimney. They opened the door. The cottage was empty.
“Ah!” They heard someone shout behind them. The Geomancer whirled around, Stones ripping free of the earth and flying towards the voice. There was a scream as they hit their mark.
“Cressence?” The shocked Geomancer said as the witch pulled herself out of the pile of stones.
“Silt. What are you doing here?” Cressence asked hostilely.
“There’s a monster wandering around. It’s already killed Gwyrdd, and probably Awelye, too. Someone else killed Elwanda. Corina and Farina have disappeared. What do you know about this?” Silt said forcefully.
Cressence paled. “Get inside. Now.” She ordered. They followed her into her cottage and she locked and bolted the door. “We did an experiment that we shouldn’t have done. It got out of hand and our test subject escaped.”
“When did this happen?” Seren asked.
“Almost two months ago.” Cressence swallowed. “He was wounded when he escaped and ran into the forest. I thought that he was dead.”
“You didn’t do anything?” The Geomancer asked incredulously.
“No. All of us were sure that he was dead. We simply continued our experiments on other subjects.” Cressence said.
“On what? Do you have any of these subjects right now?” Seren spat. Cressence narrowed her eyes at him.
“Why do you want to know?” Cressence asked suspiciously.
“Because these experiments shouldn’t happen!” The Geomancer exclaimed. “Do you even think of the lives you ruin? Do you even think of the consequences of these experiments?”
“Come with me.” Cressence said, standing. They followed her into a room at the back of the house. One wall was covered in tanks and jars.
The largest tank was occupied by a glowing blue salamander that floated on it’s back in the clear gel that filled the tank. Another by a heap of earth. The back wall was home to a cradle.
Inside the cradle was a dark-haired baby. A pair of pointed, pale silver ears stuck out of his black curls. Two strips of pearly gray scales ran down his cheeks and neck. Claws protruded from his pudgy fingers.
“What have you done?” The Geomancer whispered.
“Elwanda discovered how to merge fire, earth and air. This is the result of all our experimentation!” Cressence said excitedly.
“And you’re proud of this? Its barbaric!” Seren growled.
Suddenly there was a crash as the door splintered inward. Seren scooped the child up and they backed toward the small window. “Distract him!” Seren whispered to Cressence.
“Why me?” She hissed back.
“Because this is your fault!” Seren growled.
Cressence ran out of the room and Silt broke the glass in the window. Seren boosted her up and handed her the baby as soon as she was out. Then Seren dropped out beside her. They ran to the nearest tree and she called for the roots. But the roots refused to come.
Seren grabbed her free hand and dragged her into the trees. “We need to get to the darkest part of the forest!” he hissed. “We’ll be hardest to find there!”
They didn’t stop running until they were deep into the trees. The canopy overhead was thick that nearly no sunlight filtered through. Silt flopped down on the leaves, dragging her brother with her. She glanced over at him. His black hair was matted with sweat, his moss green eyes burned with a mixture of fury and fear.
“Is he okay?” He asked, touching the babies clawed hand. The Geomancer shook her head. “What’s wrong with him?”
The Geomancer put a finger to her lips and concentrated. She focused on the baby’s gray eyes. It was like diving into ice cold water. She saw deep into his core. His core magic was a tangle of different colors. Four main threads stood out against the rest. His life threads.
A black the color of rot twisted around a glowing thread of amber that pulsed weakly. A tan thread looped though the rest of the treads. A pale gray thread in the middle of the mass grew thinner and thinner. The Geomancer reached into the child’s chest and tried to brush away the rot. Instead, she snapped the amber thread.
She gasped as her focus rushed out of the child’s core and her hand slid out of his chest. She blinked a headache back and glanced down at the baby. The blood in his veins glowed orange and he started wail.
“What does that mean?” Seren asked.
“It means he’s going to die.” The Geomancer gasped weakly. She heard deep rasping breathes behind her. Her head snapped around to see the silhouette of an unknown creature.
“Give…me the child.” The monster rasped.
She saw Seren’s fists curl in the dim light. “We have to.” She whispered to him. “I’m out of strength. If we fight, we’ll die. As soon as I give him the boy, turn into a dragon and fly away as fast as you can.”
The Geomancer stood shakily and handed the baby to the monster. It was to dark now to see what the creature looked like. His hand brushed hers as she handed him the baby. It felt rough, like tree bark, or dried fish scales.
Behind her there was a whoosh as Seren turned into a dragon. He snatched her in his claws and broke through the canopy into the evening sunlight. As they rose high into the air, the Geomancer lapsed into unconsciousness.
Silt woke in her bed at home. She pulled the blankets off and slid out of bed. As soon as she was in a standing position, pain raced through her head, almost knock her off her feet. She gripped the bed frame and squeezed her eyes shut until the worst of it had passed and walked into the main room.
Seren jumped up out of his chair and eased her down into it. “What happened yesterday?” He asked after he had handed her a cup of mint tea.
“I used to much earth energy. It started to suck my energy away.” Silt explained to her brother.
“Earth energy?” Seren asked, tilting his head inquisitively.
“I used earth energy to find out what was wrong with the baby and when I tried to heal him.” The Geomancer said.
“But something went wrong.” Seren said.
“Yes, I snapped one of his threads. When you use earth energy to look into someone’s core, you can see their threads. His threads were all tangled into one big knot. One of his threads was black and rotting. I tried to brush away the rot but snapped one of his other threads instead.” The Geomancer said.
“And it will kill him?” Seren said.
“Almost definitely. It was one of his life threads. If it had been one of his characteristic threads he would simply lose that characteristic. But it was one of his life threads. Yasin, the previous Geomancer, never told me what would happen if a life thread was snapped. I don’t think he knew.” Silt said sadly.
“Um…Silt?” Seren asked in a slightly worried tone.
“Yeah?” the Geomancer said distractedly.
“Someone just entered the clearing.”