6.4 – Water. Fire.

Brittle remembers. It all flows together in the riverways of her being just like the torrent of foam she let loose all those years ago. Water and fire. She is aware of herself as she was back then, at one with the forest. She is aware of herself as she is now, in the in-between space plucking the memory rings of the War-Begone-Tree. She is aware of being the cascading flood, held in chains for all too long. She is aware of being the consuming fires, fuelled by white hot rage with no path of release except destruction. No. Not destruction. Devastation. The desire to lay waste to it all. This is the eternal battle. Water. Fire. Create. Rip asunder. Inhale. Exhale. And dive back in. To pick up the final pieces of this long forgotten, dammed up life.

Fwwwwwrrrrsh! Roots bursting out of the earth on her command. Thorns all over her tails. Carapaced men erupting from the flames like locusts. Brittle in the center of it all. A spear wielding woman fell to her right, abdomen pierced by a blackened sword, her blood catching fire just before she hit the ground. The flood was not enough. The waters turned to steam. For every death by iron, the fire grew. Trees engulfed. A white fox screaming as it burned. Death and horror all around. Pushing them back, thrown about like flotsam on a river rapid of churning blood.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

The leaves threw off their morning dew. Trunks exposed themselves in hideous snaps to pump out sap. Old water far below the ground groaned upwards to reach, to help, spilling up between the cracks and rocks and forest grasses. But it was not enough. Not enough. She was the forest. Through her link with Cutting. Through the sap in her remaining tails. And she could feel its pain, its shock at being overwhelmed, at facing the unfaceable. A hail of arrows gave some relief, finding chinks in the swordsmen’s shells. Back there, on the hill, where were they now, impossible to tell in the smoke and the chaos and the din, a giant badger, a girl, a bow far too big for her, and reborn, red-haired Breem ululating as she rolled down the hillside, wielding the long shafted stone club of her ancestral self. So they had come. But still. It was not enough. Death. Fire. Burning. Like a nightmare without end. She must have been crying, but in this heat, her tears evaporated before she could notice them.

„Behind me!“ Feather-cloaked Breeze faced the flames, her fingers interlocked before her like grasping talons. Kneeling, she put her folded hands on a small pointed boulder jutting out of the ground. Breeze inhaled, filling her chest with searing hot air. All of the Daughters and their kin on the field of fiery battle backed away, all but Breem. Lifting her club, she ran over to Breeze and with one, precise, sickening swing she brought down the old spattered stone head on to the clutching fingers, smashing them into a melded mass of meat and bone. Breeze, her light and birdlike frame hardly shuddered at the impact. Instead she rose, raising what had recently been her hands above her head. A slight tremor ran through her. She exhaled. A powerful, pinpoint scream of pain. And on it rode the wind.

The force of the sudden gale grabbed hold of the flames, pushed them back, back, against their will. And all the while slender Breeze did screech, as if she could go on forever and never draw breath again. Brittle saw the fire wall retreat, resisting every step of the way. Breeze’s cry was like a flood of air, an unrelenting tidal wave of agonized breath, exposing scorched and smoldering earth and charcoal trees. A big and solitary birch, black and denuded, was liberated from the struggling flames. Pressed against its trunk, his face contorted by the wind, Brittle saw him. Their leader. Further back, the remaining swordsmen were revealed, flattened against the ground, tumbling about like gaping fish in a dry riverbed. Breeze ran out of air. The wind, though lessened, still kept blowing. Now. Before they had a chance to recover.

Brittle ran with raised tails, reaching her adversary just as he was finding his balance. He reached for his sword on the ground. Fthrnk. A root from below flipped it a good distance away. She felt a phantom itch in the middle of her back. He looked at her with a curious glint in his burning eyes. „Hunger still unsated?“ she asked him. And thrust her spiky upper tail straight into his mouth. Through the back of his skull. Through the bole of the tree. Her blood was on fire. She leant in close to watch the light die. „I win this dance“ she said with clenched teeth. His fire eyes flickered, and just as they went out, his wide mouth widened further in an eerie grin. Brittle retracted her tail and let the body fall. No life. Gone. Then why this overwhelming sense of wrongness?

Yeessssssss.

The prone swordsmen arose as one.

I feeeel it in you. The rage is so pure it is golden.

One of the men took a step to the front of the group.

And not only from this life. Nooooo. From the next. And the next. Hoho.

The single man came closer, approaching the spot where the root flung the sword.

Do you seee it now? I live in you too.

Picking up the sword, the man looked up at her. His face was marred, almost entirely covered by a red, sweltering scar. Somewhere in the background, Breeze gasped. „Brute!“. If Brute registered his mother’s dismay, he didn’t show it. He smiled a smile that was not his own.

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