Aura burned in Anele's eyes. The street was not brick and rain, it was Earth and Water aura burning black and blue in her sight, so vivid it hurt. She didn't blink. Rain beaded on her lashes before it ran down her eyes, lacing down the sides of her nose to pool in the hollow between her nostrils. The breath she exhaled was hot enough to evaporate it.
Slowly, the natural world gained back its natural order. The buildings appeared as aura faded, luminescent Water faded to plain sleet, and the red clay of the street shone through the dark aura. Anele's stoneiris shone so bright it lit a two-foot circle around her, and as that circle faded she became more aware of her body.
Her flesh had been heavy before, but now she carried mountains on her shoulders. The meat and sinew wrapped around her spine was iron solid, the fat around her belly and arms hard as suet. Her bones were a frame carved in bedrock, her heart as tough as a knot of wood, pumping blood thicker than sap. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, Anele gained a deeper awareness of the vessel her soul sat in, the threads of orgone knitted into her bones and tendons, soaked into every cell in her body, even the dead scar tissue packed down over her forearms, legs, the back of her hands.
And her soul... A tear welled in Anele's eye. A grey orb floated under her liver, like a ball stitched together with patches of old leather. It looked old and worn and ragged even despite its perfect sphere. An ugly little thing sitting inside her. She loved it so much. So much.
When her awareness filled her entire body, the rest of her senses took over, texturing the world in ways she could have never imagined. She tasted the rain that turned the street to mud. She heard how the drops that lashed against the roof sang a different chorus to the drops that splashed in shallow puddles. The earth under her feet was cold, but half a foot beneath her heels the clay still trapped the desert's warmth. Her locs were long black ropes draping down the sides of her face, and the frizzed hair tickled her cheeks so much she almost laughed.
She'd fallen asleep in the heart of True Earth and woken up physically unchanged but alive with the love of her own flesh. Her ears and nostrils and tongue brought her new wonders. Her skin was alive with the textures of wind and soil, the rain a stinging cold that couldn't penetrate to the smouldering coal of her heart. This is what it meant to be Refined, to be aware of the world and the world within.
Her lips threatened to smile. Tears ran down her face instead, boiling hot streams against the cold rain washing down her cheeks. Only one thing killed that laugh that almost bubbled up. She lifted her gaze to the Pettygod.
"What?" Somnazu asks, turning around to glare down at Wenyanga. He endures the image of himself mirrored in their gaze, such is the breadth of his annoyance. "You demand the world then you demand a pebble more. What else can I possibly give you?"
Their face is solemn. "Release the Pettygod."
"A master cannot have two heirs."
Anele stared unblinking at the Pettygod. The Airmage was staring at her, and behind, she sensed the Cloudriver boy, gathering orgone. For what?
"You've ascended!" the Airmage said, clapping, her face wraps stretching with a wide grin. "Oh gods, I can feel that." The smile dropped from her face, hands freezing in the air. "Wait, I shouldn't be able to feel that much of you. What--"
The Pettygod's head lifted. The Airmage's reactions were quick. She flexed her soul and landed on the roof above, but the Pettygod hadn't been looking at her. Anele met the force of his gaze. She was brimming with new power but he was still a Pettygod at peak power, and the force of his attention made her take a step back. Her footprints were deep in the mud, deeper than those she had made in her fight with Zula. A diamond circle marked the heel of each one. She had two heartbeats to contemplate this, then the Pettygod flexed his soul.
Anele put her hands out in front of her, but the force still hit her in the chest like a trio of hammers. The nearest buildings cracked and the iron fence of the medic centre blew apart, iron rods flying through the air to rain down around her. The Airmage had just enough time to leap to the next building before the one she'd been crouched on began to collapse. The Pettygod kept his pose as the building crashed between them with the cracks of splitting timber and shattering bricks.
Anele put her hand up to block a moment before he exploded through the ruins. She still barely checked his blow. Gods, he moved faster than she could follow. In his wake, displaced air clapped into place. Instinct alone had saved her. His wrist hissed and vibrated in the split second her palm connected with it, and the stench of burning iron filled the street as she backed away, leaving more diamond-studded footprints in the mud.
They kicked up a mist of rain in that brief scuffle. Anele's eyes, newly sharpened with molten orgone, caught a glimpse of Zula fleeing through it. Then their eyes were back on the Pettygod. His gaze slammed into her again, and she retreated a step to keep her balance. He charged.
Slipping under his fist was alchemy between instinct and newly-enhanced reflexes. Unwilling to cede a rare advantage, Anele burned a good deal of orgone in planting her feet and hooking a fist into the Pettygod's side. A hot line of melted iron opened up along his ribs, as if someone had dragged a finger across wet putty. Puddles evaporated in a radius of three paces around Anele, turning the street from mud to cracked clay.
Anele flexed her fingers to make sure none of them were broken. Liquid iron flicked off a throbbing knuckle, retreating again to open up a bit of reaction time between her the Pettygod currently staring at his ribs. His expression was one of curiosity. Anele expected fury next.
The Pettygod smiled gently, touching the red line gingerly as if it physically hurt. The most frightening thing was watching his mouth open in a silent laugh. In that moment, he actually looked like a man, not just the imitation of one cast in metal. Nodding, he held his hands out to her and applauded. The crinkles along his eyes gave him an almost grandfatherly expression.
Anele's body was on fire, her orgone channels scorched. She'd only pushed her body for a second to land that blow but now it felt like she was growing scabs inside her veins. Not good. She searched her new soul for the last of the orgone from Salleh. A shallow puddle at the bottom of a dry dam.
Not good, said a voice in her bones, sharper than it had been in years.
"I can see that," she hissed between clenched teeth. Gods, even her voice sounded different. It had always been a little deep, husky around the edges, but there was a music to it now. A texture like roots scratching under the soil.
No, child. Kinetic aura. Not good.
A third voice ran through Anele, this one powerful and explosive, an earthquake crawling up her heels to rattle her stoneiris. A voice older than ages.
ARE YOU NOT EARTHWITCH?
Hey, wanna scream and shout at me about this book? Did you know I have an author discord? I started a little community for readers of Earthwitch (and my other works but you're here now, aye?) so come through and hang! Link is in the inline comment to this A/N!