Chapter 42

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The rain soaked deep into Anele's hair, diluting the clay massaged deep into the locks so dark water ran down the flecks of blood on her cheeks. She stood in the garden, arms folded and eyes on the grass between her feet. The rain that glued her ragged shawl to her shoulders was warm and summery, but it was practically chilly against the heat in her blood.

Wenyanga turned one of the dead mages over onto their back. "What do you think?" 

"Think of what?" Salleh said. She kicked over another corpse, though she may as well have been absently kicking a pebble into a stream.

"Our young witch."

Anele looked up at Wenyanga through a curtain of rapidly frizzing braids. They pressed their good hand against the dead mage's liver and the five rings on their fingers glowed pale yellow in the haze of rain. The pressure in the air shifted slightly as they flexed their soul, smothering the mage's spirit before it grew unstable and exploded. They were only a Refined, so it wouldn't have been half as dangerous as the Chief's soul hovering over the town. Still, Anele's ears popped when the mage died their spiritual death.

"She's not our witch," Salleh said.

"Not yet."

Salleh, a Perfect, could staunch the soul of a Refined just as well. Her process wasn't as smooth, though. She pressed her foot against another mage's stomach and shot a bolt of orgone through her heel, flooding the soul until it spilt out onto the grass like a moonlight seen through mist. 

"What does not yet mean?" Salleh asked, kicking over another mage.

Wenyanga knelt beside another mage and looked up at Anele, smiling slightly. "I still have to convince her to let me be her mentor."

"Convince her on your own time. We need to get out of here before the Paramount actually arrives."

"Listen, the Paramount would have been here in a breath if she wanted to be."

"That cloud still means someone from her party will be here soon, and it won't ward off the rest of the scavengers for long. If anything, they'll try and loot what they can before the royal envoy gets here and strips the town clean."

"Where'd you bury him?" Anele asked Salleh.

She hugged herself tighter against the Seer's gaze. She wasn't shivering, but her day-long separation from the earth had still left her... lightheaded. Lighthearted? Her soul felt like acid, so even though the Seer still had her cowl up, when she faced Anele, the brightness of her stoneiris alone was like staring at the sun. 

"His soul is with me. You'll find nothing on his corpse, but try and raid it and I'll kill--"

"Carrion is for vultures, and you don't owe me the Judge's soul." Anele cocked her chin at Wenyanga. "They do. How they get it from you is their problem."

"So why do you ask?"

"Doesn't matter anymore." Anele turned her back on them both and hunched her shoulders. "Was just gonna help you guard it from looters, is all, at least until the storm passes."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Right!" the chipperness in Wenyanga's voice made Anele flinch. "Think we're done here. We can discuss anything else inside while we pack our things."

They walked ahead towards the medic temple's front door. Salleh followed beside them, and Anele trailed a few paces behind.

Wenyanga opened the heavy oak door with a shove of their shoulder. "You still haven't answered me, Seer."

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