War and Despair

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Chapter 28

Sixty-two was a very curious girl, as the Geomancer soon learned. She didn’t have any memory of most of the plants and animals in the forest and didn’t know anything about the ones she didn’t recognize. But she wanted to know everything she could about them.

She would make a good apprentice, if she decided that was the path she wanted to take. The plants almost seemed to bend towards her, and the animals had no fear of her. Twice, robins had fluttered down to perch on her shoulders. A fawn had even crept out of the bushes and brushed against her hand.

Silt had hoped not to take an apprentice for many years, but there was a chance that the creature could kill her, and the world could not be left without a Geomancer. That would be disastrous. She hadn’t been able to finish her apprenticeship, and she’d worried that she wouldn’t be able to be the guardian of the earth. Luckily, the roots and the heart tree had been able to fill most of the gaps.

Sixty-two would be perfect for the job. She had so much power waiting beneath the surface, but her what the witch had done to her would complicate things. Also, Sixty-two seemed to be safe from the creature. That would give her plenty of time to learn. If Silt herself didn’t die soon.

“I think I’ll take you up on your offer to be your apprentice.” Sixty-two said suddenly.

“That’s good!” the Geomancer said, forcing a smile.

“When do we start?” Sixty-two asked, an enthusiastic smile spreading over her odd face.

“As soon as possible. Maybe even today.” The Geomancer promised, her smile becoming genuine.

An hour later, they made their way back to the cottage. Silt sent Seren in to prepare them some food, while she and Sixty-two started their first lesson. She led Sixty-two over to the stream.

“Lesson one: balance. While you’re still new to this, you’ll need to use another element as a counterweight, so as not to lose control completely. Water and air are almost always available. Air is hard to grasp, while fire is unpredictable, and water doesn’t want to be controlled.” Silt said. “You can’t use earth as your counterweight, obviously. Out of the three, water will be the easiest at first. All you have to do is beat it into submission. Give it a try, take your time.”

Sixty-two bent down and stuck her fingers in the stream. She shut her eyes and concentrated. The water burned bright blue for a moment, and she gasped. Her eyes flew open. A small globe of water hovered above her hand.

“First try! That’s good!” The Geomancer congratulated. “Now release it.”

Sixty-two let the globe splash back down into the stream. The Geomancer produced a seed from her pocket and buried it in the ground. Sixty-two looked at it questioningly.

“Now, imagine that you are part of the earth. Draw on the water and try to make the seed grow.” Silt ordered.

Sixty-two drew up the globe of water again and shut her eyes again. The earth above the seed trembled, and a little green shoot sprouted. It trembled, and a bud appeared. The bud blossomed, and the little yellow flower stretched its head towards the sun.

“That’s much better than my first attempt! I couldn’t even get it to blossom!” The Geomancer said, impressed.

Sixty-two nodded tiredly. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted. The flowers and leaves on her wrists crept to the ground and began to bury themselves.

“Seren!” The Geomancer shouted. Seren dashed out. “Hold her up!” Seren kept the rest of Sixty-two’s body off the ground while the Geomancer dug the plants that had rooted themselves in the ground out.

Seren carried her inside and laid her down on the bed. “Is she going to be okay?”

“I don’t know.” The Geomancer sighed.

“What happened?” He asked.

“I pushed her too hard, I think. But it looked like the plants were trying to return to the earth.” The Geomancer said.

“You should investigate her core and try to find out what’s wrong.” Seren suggested.

The Geomancer nodded and concentrated on looking into Sixty-two’s core. There was the tangle of threads again. Most of them were translucent, something that she had never seen before. The rest of them were a cracked black, golden light shining through the cracks.

The Geomancer pulled back. “Most of her threads were translucent. I’ve never seen that before. The rest were black. But they were cracked, and there was golden light shining through the cracks. I don’t know what either of those things mean. But I probably shouldn’t touch them.”

Seren nodded. “We can’t risk that.”

They ate while Sixty-two slept. They tried to wake her, but she was too deeply asleep. She could have been mistaken for a corpse if she hadn’t been breathing like she was running from a monster. A few hours later she started to thrash and scream.

“No!” She screamed. “I can’t! I can’t! I can’t…No!”

The Geomancer sat down beside her on the bed and started to sing softly. The lullaby seemed to soothe Sixty-two, and she fell still again. The Geomancer brushed the vines off her face and stood up.

“I didn’t know you were a singer.” Seren said.

“I am. Yasin wasn’t really a big fan of songs, but the earth taught me the words. Plants like singing.” The Geomancer explained.

“Well that’s nice.” Seren said.

“You have no clue what I’m talking about, do you?” She laughed.

“Nope.” Seren said, smiling back.

“I’ll just show you, come on.” The Geomancer said, leading Seren over to a patch of grass. She started to sing softly. The grass started to wave wildly, even though there was barely a breeze.

Now I see what you mean.” Seren said, nodding. “That is pretty nice.”

“It is.” The Geomancer agreed. “I think we’re going to have to sleep outside tonight. If we go dragon it’ll be a lot warmer.”

“Fine.” Seren said. The two turned into dragons and curled on the earth. The two were asleep in minutes.

The Geomancer woke the next morning after Seren accidentally slapped her with his wing. She yawned and shoved his wing away. She rose and stretched her long, serpentine body. She flapped her wings and rose into the air. She circled the clearing twice before landing next to Seren and whacking him with her tail

“Whazzat?” He groaned, opening one eye.

“Get up, lazy bones!” She ordered.

“Why?” he moaned, covering his head with his wings. The Geomancer fetched a pitcher from the house and filled it with water. She returned to Seren’s side and dumped it on his wings.

“Fine! I’m awake!” He yelped. The Geomancer smiled.

“You get to fix us breakfast. I’ll try to wake Sixty-two.” She said, walking towards the house.

She found Sixty-two sleeping peacefully. She shook her awake. Her eyes flew open and she screamed.

“Sorry!” She apologized.

“Its fine. Do you want to try another lesson before breakfast?” The Geomancer said. Sixty-two nodded.

“This one doesn’t require magic.” Silt said, leading her apprentice out to the herb patch behind the house. “Today you’re going to learn what all these plants are and what to do with them. That one is mint. Guess what it does.”

Sixty-two bent and rubbed the leaves between her fingers. “It smells good. It makes good tea?”

“It does. But it also helps queasiness and anxiety. Another common use is to put a few sprigs under your pillow to help you sleep. Try some.” The Geomancer said. Sixty-two nibbled on a leaf.

“Its very sharp!” She said, surprised. “I like it.”

“That one with the purple flowers is lavender. It can work as a pain reliever and speeds the recovery of wounds. Like mint, it can also be a sleeping aid. Got it?”

“Yes.” Sixty-two said.

“Do you know this one?” She asked, pointing at the next plant.

“Is it sage?” Sixty-two asked.

“Yes. It’s good for stomach pains.” She said.

Sixty-two’s stomach grumbled. “Are you hungry?” The Geomancer asked her. “Seren’s cooking breakfast. Hopefully it’ll be edible. If its not we can pour cold water on him while he’s sleeping.”

Sixty-two grinned. “Or we could cover him with centipedes.”

“That would probably make him die of fright.” The Geomancer said.

“Then who would do all the cooking and cleaning?” Sixty-two asked, grinning evilly.

The two laughed and walked to the house. Seren had prepared mashed beet and rabbit stew. He was in the process of trying to feed some of the mashed beet to Marigold. His attempts had earned him a shirt splattered with beet.

“Try feeding her some of the stew.” Sixty-two suggested, ladling a bowl and spooning some into Marigold’s mouth. Instead of spitting it out, the child swallowed.

“I think she likes the meat flavor.” Sixty-two explained. “After all, she isn’t exactly a normal baby.”

“That would probably explain why she hates vegetables.” Seren said thoughtfully. “Anyway, shall we eat?”

They all sat down to eat. Sixty-two seemed tentative about eating the mashed beet but took plenty of the rabbit stew. Seren ate whatever was put in front of him. Silt tried to eat a little of everything.

When they had finished eating, the Geomancer went outside and dug her toes into the soil. The roots seemed restless. She could feel them moving and whispering beneath her.

“What is it?” She whispered.

“The not-dragon comes nearer. She brings death with her.” The roots whispered back.

“Death?” The Geomancer asked.

“He is a killer. And he will be free of her soon.” The roots said. “She was a fool to think that she could keep him as a prisoner.”

“Is it the creature?” The Geomancer asked.

“No. He is a different death. He would see all of you and your brother’s kind killed.” The roots said.

“He has a vendetta against dragons?” The Geomancer questioned.

“Yes.”

“Keep me informed. If he gets free, I need to know immediately.” The Geomancer said.

“Yes, my lady.” The roots said.

“Thank you.” She said.

“Excuse me?” Sixty-two said from behind her. “What do you want me to do next?”

“Come with me.” The Geomancer ordered, leading her to a patch of flowers and grass. “I’m going to attack you. Try to stop me.”

“How?” Sixty-two squeaked.

“Send your presence down into the roots. Imagine that you are down in the soil, among the stones and roots.” The Geomancer instructed.

Sixty-two shut her eyes, and the Geomancer charged. The grass shot out of the ground and wove a tight barrier. The flowers near her feet wrapped around her legs, anchoring her to the ground.

“Good.” The Geomancer praised. “You can stop now.”

The plants that had wrapped around her ankles crawled back into the ground. The wall untangled and receded until it was just short blades of grass again. Sixty-two stood there beaming.

“Someday you’ll blow us all away, Sixty-two.” Silt said. “You’re shaping up to be one of the most talented Geomancers ever. Remind me to always stay on your good side.”

“Will do.” Sixty-two said happily. “What next?”

“We’re going to see if you can speak to the roots.” The Geomancer said. She hoped that the roots would be impressed with her apprentice. She hadn’t known Sixty-two for long, but she liked the girl. Despite what the witches had put the girl through, she was still able to laugh and smile like nothing had ever happened.

“Come over here and bury your toes into the soil and mentally call out to them.” The Geomancer said.

The two stood, side by side with their toes dug into the ground.

“There’s someone I want to you to meet. My apprentice.” The Geomancer told the roots mentally.

“We feel her.” The roots vibrated

“Speak to her, please.” The Geomancer willed. She saw Sixty-two tense beside her as the roots spoke to her.

A few minutes later her tenseness melted into a smile. In a few more minutes, the roots finished speaking to her, and she stepped back. The Geomancer was happy for her, happy that the roots had liked her, happy that she had a chance for a normal life.

They left to practice using water and air as counterweights. Sixty-two picked up on air so quickly that the Geomancer suspected that in a few months she wouldn’t even need a counterweight. Sixty-two managed to make nine sunflowers grow in twenty minutes. And after a short break and a meal, she was able to throw up a wall of soil. They spent the rest of the day practicing, and when nightfall came, they helped Seren roast two squirrels.

They cut off some of the more tender bits and fed Marigold. After Marigold had fallen asleep, the three lay in the grass staring up at the stars. Seren pointed out patterns in the stars and made up stories to go with them for Sixty-two. The Geomancer listened to them talk, smiling.

The three of them fell asleep under the stars. The Geomancer was woken near midnight by a root that had pushed its way out of the ground.

“The death-bringer has escaped.” The roots hummed.

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