Chapter 54

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Salleh's slippers sank into the muddy garden soil. Her silks were made to keep the harsh desert sun off her back and shoulder while making allowances for gentle breezes, not storms and quagmires that made the fabric cling to her. So sparing a little orgone to flutter her robes and shake them off her skin wasn't out of the question, but even that small action reminded her of how little energy she could spare. And how little she had held as the Deathsage...

Shivering, Salleh ducked under a wide-topped tree with a twisted trunk and dark roots that curled in and out of the dark mud. The canopy was all thick branches and fat leaves that kept the worst of the rain out of its shadow, so it was no wonder the Earthwitch had chosen to tuck herself away here.

"What you're not going to do," Salleh said, "is sit there pretending to keep watch."

Anele didn't turn or bother saying anything. She faced one of the rose bushes she had crashed through only that evening, a thick hedge that showed very little of the street beyond, shoulders hunched, legs crossed. A golem resting between two roots that curled on either side of her like serpents.

Salleh stretched her spiritual awareness into the street over. Nothing. The next street. Ah. If there had been no rosebushes or fences or buildings, her eye line would have been aimed right at a nasty condensed storm of Lightning and Air aura two streets down. The occasional blue flash lit up a pair of buildings as the battle made its way up and down the street.

"You were handling the Airmage last I saw," Salleh said.

Anele grumbled something. Being a Seer, Salleh heard her perfectly but made a sound as though she hadn't.

"I said she was toying with me," Anele said, rounding her shoulders more. "Killing time or testing me out, can't tell which."

"Testing you out," Salleh said. "You don't strike me as someone playful."

"Yeah well, the funny thing about you Perfects is everything's a game until it's not."

Salleh briefly remembered shoving Anele aside in her rush to get to Wenyanga. The girl was clearly nowhere near a Perfect, but she'd be a mountain to anyone on her level. Voidhells, she'd traded blows with a Pettygod for a solid minute, so taking a hit wasn't an issue.

"You feel like a punching bag."

"Back at the abbey, some of the sisters kept hounds. They'd tie up boar hides and soak them in oil for chew toys to keep their teeth clean. Closer to that than a punching bag."

The abbey? Only the oldest Paths still referred to their training schools as abbeys or monasteries. Most were sects or schools now, equipped with the very best insight tablets and training facilities. Perhaps looking to distract from her own rawness, Salleh took the conversation a step off the beaten path.

"Tell me about the abbey."

"We trained. We bled. We ate. In that order."

"I've heard Earthwitches confine themselves to a sacred mountain range in the Midspires."

Three breaths passed.

"Nothing sacred about it, it just has strong Earth aura because it's built over a..." Anele waved her hand. "Migcayomlilo. A fire crack. "

"A fault line?"

"Mm. It's the only Earth pure enough to cycle safely on our Path."

"Somehow, I doubt that."

Anele turned to her then, and lowered her brow as if Salleh had sworn at her mother.

"You an Earthwitch?"

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