Chapter 14: Straws
The dirt road was in poor condition and showed no signs of maintenance in recent years. Still, several fresh tracks from men and animals revealed that the road was in use. Ada and Rayn stood at a bend. One way led due south. The other followed the south bank of the river, towards the Jaw Mountains in the east.
‘I’m going to die if I don’t get to eat soon,’ Ada said, pointing south. ‘If there is a town nearby, we’re more likely to find one in the lowlands than in the mountains.’
‘Stop thinking with your feelings.’ The half-elf had already walked a dozen steps on the eastbound road, indicating her preference.
‘Hunger is not a feeling! It’s a very real problem. People die of hunger.’
‘In four days, hunger will be a problem. Today, it’s an unpleasant feeling.’
‘How come hunger is a feeling, but your weird obsession with a stone is a real problem?’
‘Because the stone is part of me,’ Rayn said.
‘That’s just silly.’
‘No, it’s not. We’ve bonded. If I lose the shard, I lose a part of myself.’
‘Bah! That’s even sillier!’ Ada waved her arms in frustration.
‘No. A fact is just silly because you don’t understand. It’s still a fact. Your ignorance is silly. You live your life feeling much and knowing little.’
‘Right. Explain this to me then. Does everybody bond with any shiny bauble they fancy, or does it only apply to rude half-elves?’ Ada asked.
‘I’m the only one in Sandcastle.’
Ada snorted. ‘Because you’re so special?’
‘Because I’m a crystal mage.’
Ada shook her head in disbelief. ‘What is that?’
‘Someone who works her magic by the use of stones, gems and crystals.’
‘And you can do that?’
‘Yes. How come you haven’t noticed?’ Rayn said.
Ada took a moment to consider the question. ‘The healing salve? That was your crystal magic?’
‘Yes, of course. That’s part of it. Do you think you can just sprinkle a handful of sand on a burn wound and watch it heal within a few hours?’
‘No, probably not,’ Ada said.
‘Good. I’m glad we talked. The shard has been carried to the east, somewhere not far from here. Let’s go!’ Rayn started walking up the road.
‘Now what?’ Rayn turned to look at her.
‘Your being a crystal mage doesn’t change anything. We still need food, and we’ll freeze to death as soon as we stop walking.’ Ada briefly examined what remained of her torn clothing. ‘Besides, our clothes provide neither warmth nor privacy. If we walk into a mining town looking like this, we’ll draw attention from all kinds of predators. You’re even worse off than I.’
Rayn looked down at her nightgown and pulled at it lightly with her fingers. She nodded but did not seem overly concerned. ‘As opposed to your warm and peaceful town to the south, I guess?’
Ada sighed. ‘We’ll draw straws.’ She picked up two thick straws from the side of the road and broke them into unequal lengths. As she walked to Rayn, she tucked them into her fist, concealing one end of both.
Rayn pulled out what proved to be the shortest straw.
‘I win!’ Ada said, and started walking south with a smug smile on her face.
‘What?’ Ada stopped and turned.
‘We can’t make important decisions based on luck or coincidence.’
‘But you agreed! Why did you pick a straw if you never intended to follow me south if you lost?’
‘Because there was a one in two chance you would stop whining,’ The half-elf said, turning her back on Ada and resumed dragging her feet up the dirt road in the dark.