He pushed forward beneath arching trees that he realized were mage-tended. Prune and bind as you like, you’d never get so many trees to form an archway quite this perfect. Not to mention their branches fused together at the middle.
“And now we have arborimancers,” he said. “One truly can’t go home.” This did gall him. Starvation, disease and the wickedness of rotten spirits plagued the world, and yet those born with the Gift sold it to petty lordlings for childish displays like this.
Some would’ve laughed at Tervud for thinking he had any right to bemoan “rotten spirits.” In truth, he wished for nothing more fervently than that someone had stopped him, in his darker days. They had not.
A part of Tervud’s mind, the newest, strangest part, wondered how one might alter the cells of the trees to do these things naturally. He embraced this part; it was his future, and he’d never understand it by flinching away.
At his left hung the main-hand sword, dread Sonderhau. Its blade matched its sibling, so too the offset D-guard, but its guard’s faces were gold inlaid with black geometric patterns and its grip-leather was somber violet. Both scabbards were lacquered cloudy white with black-iron rings. He’d meant to give Sonderhau a childish placardry like its sibling’s, but some warrior instinct held him back. He named it five years later when he met a Stoßdärer philosopher during a night’s heavy drinking in a forgotten tavern. The man explained his project: to create words for all the emotions, the states of mind, language had failed ’til now. One word lodged in Tervud’s mind, clung to his lips: Sonder. “The realization,” the philosopher said, smiling sadly, “that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
Tervud had smiled back at him. The next morning he gleefully dubbed his main-hand sword, adding “hau”–the old Black Havener word for hew, to cut clean through. He came to regret the name in the same instant he learned to treasure it: when, at the death-instant of a duel, an Ansethi warstock maiden hurled herself atop the gasping ruin of her beloved and beneath the blade’s edge. In stories, Tervud would’ve held his stroke at the last moment, but she moved too late. Her brow passed beneath the edge; the rest of her head was less lucky. Before she finished tumbling upon her love, Sonderhau clove through the back of her head, severed her fine jaw, split her plump lips, and embedded in its true target’s skull.
Tervud had killed hundreds by his bloodlust’s high-water, cleaving his way to high graces in the Cult of Ten. But he’d never killed anyone he didn’t mean to. At that moment, Tervud had thought something broke inside him. It was only later he realized something ruined years ago had been remade. Perhaps this was delusion; better this than that she’d died in vain. He’d torn loose the crimson gambeson of the Cult, thrown it in the nearest cesspit, and sought death in the Barrens Feral.
Instead, he found a teacher. But Jaeziil remained in the Barrens, as she must. In life, her people conquered gods. In death… perhaps best not to think too much of Jaeziil’s people for now. She’d warned him against it.
When he neared the end of the archway, Tervud saw what he already knew he would. His parent’s cozy hut, nestled in a ground-divot, rounded by ferns and years of sun-hardened clay sculptures, was gone. He remembered baking days spent slopping wet clay on each year’s Seed-Sculpt alongside his family, one of the few traditions that always brought them together. All of it, gone.
In its place stood one of the spiral homes which were the latest fashion in wealthy Keshad… twenty years ago. The newest houses were sprawling one-story things connected by greenhouses, rooms filled with plants, aping Temana in the Age of Splendors. Tervud preferred the spiral homes anyway; they were something originally Murit. Teman architecture was all well and good, but Temana already did it better.
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