Chapter 63

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A sharp sensation breaks Somnazu's concentration. That is the first thing that makes him rise out of his throne. Little catches a Voidgod by surprise -- the Chaos is too large, the mages of the Deadwater too small. This hits his awareness perfectly, not a peer but as close as he's felt to one for so long. The second thing, the one that worries him now, is that this signal travels through the rift to reach him.

The Deadwater. 

He does not step around a startled Wenyanga, he simply walks through them, his leg ghosting through their shoulder. Somnazu walks the twenty paces to the rift in a tight silence, nose crinkling and brow creasing with the force of his concentration. What is that? What is that?

When he reaches the rift, he lays both hands on the edges of it like a man keeping his balance on a doorframe. He does not move through the rift into the Deadwater, though he could. Oh, the temptation is there. But there is a reason the Voidgods live between the stars, as far from all of them as they can get.

Somnazu is... Chaos help him, he's panting. What is that?

Though he cannot enter physically, he pushes as much of his awareness toward the Deadwater as he can. Half of it, three quarters, leaving just enough to sustain his form in the Chaos. It is still not enough to grasp the full meaning of what he has just sensed. Four-fifths, nine-tenths. So much of himself is travelling through the rift that his hands grow slightly transparent before him, but he pushes on, until his awareness pierces into the heart of the Deadwater.

Then he sees.

And he hisses.

"That." The word spikes out of him, feverish with conviction. "I want that."

"What, Great God?"

He has no patience for making a human understand just now, so he thrusts a fraction of his awareness into Wenyanga, just as he gave them a piece of his own soul to aid Tello once. There is no need for words because now they see what he sees.

"Oh, that," Wenyanga says. "That's Anele."

**

Zula kicked at the witch's gut, but he was the one who stumbled back. Rain lashed and so did he, a strike to the head, the neck, the knees. She didn't move. He was striking iron with pillowed hands and she just stared with those dead eyes. 

His movements were wild now that his target no longer moved, but every failed blow boiled his soul and tightened his jaw until his teeth threatened to crack. An Earthwitch, daring to stand up to him, and now she wouldn't even fight. He had even given her a chance to ascend, if only to make her death more meaningful for him, but this was a greater insult than dying weak. It mas mockery. And he was Cloudriver II Rhazula. He would not stand for it. He could not.

He flexed his soul.

Lightning lashed from the heavens and struck them both. It energised him and should have burned her to cinder. Blue lines ran down her unmoving body, disappearing into the earth, dying.

His scream shook the street. Enough of this.

Zula stepped back into the middle of the street and turned his awareness inward. His soul sat beneath his liver, a thick golden cloud forever turning towards its centre in the Cloudeye Cycling Technique, designed to condense Wind and Water aura into the bright flashes of lightning that lit up the hidden depths of his spirit. 

He inhaled, once. Deeply. All moisture dried up on the street and the rain that fell disappeared the moment it fell below his stoneiris. All that Water aura. He absorbed it all, and took what Wind ghosted up the street to drive rain into the face of the Earthwitch. Oh, his eyes were on her, but his focus dug down to the seed of his soul, a frozen droplet from a Worldcloud. A rare gift even for him, but his Path and power were rooted in it. 

And that is where his orgone gathered, transmuting from a watery silver to a thick liquid blue embedded in a gold cloud.

"Cousin no!" a distant voice yelled.

Zula's blood threatened to burst out of his body with the force of the power he held within. He hadn't perfected the technique yet, but he knew enough of it. Lightning curled around his heart hand, which curled into a fist. He tore up clods of mud in the street as he launched himself at the Earthwitch, fist lancing up towards her liver.

**

Anele sits in Earth's heart and listens. She is soulless for the moment, because all that is her she has given over to the one who calls her name without words. She knows that molten heart around her is so dense that the friction from its impurities alone produces heat enough to melt a mountain. She does not fear. She is not a mountain, Earth tells her.

She is an Earthwitch.

And in that moment, the name changes meaning. Earth aura to Anele has always been a beautiful thing. It is what shapes the mountains and puts a richness is coffee beans and planting soil. It sweetens the grass which darkens the meat of Sister Henna's goats. It thickens the milk of their kids, feeds wombs, and makes solid the ground where lovers meet... and the cycle goes and goes. Life. Earth, as she has always known it, is life made solid.

Not here.

This place, the heart of the one she now calls Earth... it is not a place for anything so delicate as life. The things here must pass through thousands of miles of stone and soil before they are filtered to anything useful to life. Here is the heart of the world, that does not care for the little crawling things that build kingdoms on its back.

Here is the thing that puts reverence in the voice of a divine beast as great as Older Sister.

Here is the thing that makes a Voidgod stand up in his throne.

Here is True Earth, and it has taken Anele's soul. It gives it back because she is Earthwitch, and she is the first to understand what Older Sister has tried to teach so many others. Anele does not know how deeply she has always needed someone to call her their child until Earth does so. Then it pushes her gently away, back towards the surface. The shove is tender, but she travels so fast the mantle and sleeping shells above it blur past.

Her awareness burns with insight, and her stoneiris drinks this so readily it almost burns the bone in the skull it is embedded in. As for her soul...

**

Zula's strike had a name. The Gravedigger Lightning Technique, being that it was designed to lift an opponent off the ground while electric charges burned through them. An effective way to counter mages who had learned to ground lightning. Deadly, requiring a precision strike to the soul, difficult to use against an active opponent. Active. Not the case here.

His lips were halfway to a grin, halfway to a grimace as he planted his feet and rocked a furious fist up towards the Earthwitch's midsection with a raspy, "Die!"

A hand caught his wrist, hard as iron, ridged with scars. Zula's technique fizzled as the Earthwitch turned his wrist over, forcing him to twist to keep it from breaking. He looked up into her eyes in time to see her blink to consciousness and frown slightly. Then her gaze met his.

Gods. He almost buckled just under that alone. There was a weight to the gaze of most powerful mages, or those who simply practised elemental paths, but hers made the cartilage in his knees creek and put a pressure in the back of his skull. He had to flex his soul twice to keep from blacking out.

This wasn't right. The pressure of her soul was astronomical, but in his stoneiris she still only registered as a newly-minted Refined. How? How?

He yelled the question. "How!"

She let go of his wrist as if he didn't exist, took three steps down the street so that her back was to him. Wrist in his hand, Zula glared through her back, his stoneiris wide open, his mouth only a little way behind. The grey rags of her soul stitched together around...

Around...

Cloudriver II Rhazula had no name for the new molten seed in the core of the witch's soul. He saw it for only a heartbeat before the ashes of her soul closed around it in patchwork harmony, making her whole.

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