This has been a long week, and I'm not entirely sure my brain is working right now. Anyhow, I've learned the art of pushing myself and so here I am with the update.
This chapter was definitely challenging to write. I had two important questions to answer to, namely: "what does being an ecomancer mean?" and "how does it feel?"
I hope you'll like it and please if you have any suggestion on how to make it better, don't be shy and let me know! :)
I know it may sound repetitive but comments are and will always be welcome!
The island was a remote fragment of heaven on earth, untouched by men and unspoiled by the Dark Water. Tula had wandered for hours around, relishing the marvelous colors, and letting the sweet scent of thousand flowers and ripe fruits seep into her until she felt drunk with it.
She had taken her time to stroll among the trees, brushing her fingers across their trunks and had let the leaves caress her in return. For no more than a heartbeat, she had been one of those leaves, brushing against her own skin. Tula had felt it, her skin, and the smell of salt on it. Then she had come back to reality, shoving that feeling back from where it came. It was getting harder and harder to keep it at bay, and she wondered if Teron's presence might have had anything to do with that.
In the end, Tula had found a pond, the water so clear she could watch the tiny fish swam in circles, blissfully unaware of the dangers looming in the water.
She had bathed in that pond, letting the cold water wash away the dirt and the uneasiness of the past days. It had worked, Tula had felt instantly better and she had smiled as she floated over the water. It had felt almost ecstatic to be able to bathe without the constant fear of a pool of Dark Water emerging from the depth.
After bathing, Tula had laid on the edge of the pond, letting the sun dry her body. Little by little, the sweet warmth of the sun had seeped into her skin, she had closed her eyes and upturned her face to the light. There had been a distant, soft chirping echoing from the treetops. Tula had let herself get lost in it, clearing her mind. Slowly, the voices in her heads had quietened down, leaving a blank, comforting emptiness.
It had been then, as her focus ebbed down, that it had happened again. Her hand had brushed over the grass, and suddenly Tula had been a bulb, laying deep into the ground. When she had opened her eyes a beautiful flower had blossomed next to her.
Somebody had spoken then, Ren. A warm smile was on his face, and Tula had wondered if Ren was aware of how handsome he was.
It was not long before they were playing in the crystalline water. Tula had laughed, genuinely and wholeheartedly. She had felt so grateful for that moment of fun, she had been afraid her heart might burst.
Tula stood now perched on the taffrail of the Wraith, relishing the memories of the previous day. It was their third day on the island, and she knew it was also the last. She would miss this place, and the little child inside her head pouted and stamped her feet at the thought of setting sail. Yet she knew the importance of finding the Thirteen Treasures of Rule, as she knew that if they failed to find them the Dark Water would eventually reach this little heaven and turned it into ashes.
Like Andorus. Her throat clenched at the thought. If they failed to gather the Thirteen Treasures this beautiful island will end up like Andorus.
"How are our plants doing Tula?" Niddler squawked from behind her.
No matter how many seeds of awareness Daron had tried to plant into her brain. Tula's head was a barren land. She hoped Daron was still alive, somewhere.
"They're all good, Niddler," she answered. "We'll get more water today before we set sail."
Something had changed in Niddler after their last ordeal on the Maelstrom. During the first part of their journey together, the monkeybird had spent every waking moment trailing after Ren, but now Niddler seemed to enjoy being at her side.
Tula didn't mind him. The more time they spent together, the more she realized Niddler was as sweet as those minga melons he loved so much. And the more time they spent together, the more the guilt for leaving him and Ren behind consumed her. Ren had been right, they should have stayed and destroyed Jargis together. Tula was not sure she could ever forgive herself for forsaking her crew, and every time she scratched Niddler's head, every time she smiled at him and laughed at his silly jokes, she hoped the monkeybird would forgive her, one day.
"Will you come with me to the stream?" she asked.
"I don't know," Niddler said. His beak was a curious thing. The top of it was like the beak of a parrot, pointy, yellow and hard as a rock. The bottom was not much different from a human lip, and Niddler spread it upward when he smiled. "What if I get hungry?"
"I think I saw some minga melon trees around there."
Niddler flicked his wings and in less than a heartbeat was up in the air.
"I'll get the flasks!" he announced, flying away.
Together with six empty flasks, Niddler brought a minga melon to share as they walked to the stream.
It was another beautiful day, and when they reached the place, they dipped their feet in the stream, enjoying the caress of the cold water.
"You know, Tula, I could live here," said Niddler, spreading his beautiful wings in the sun.
"Maybe we could come back, once we've saved the world!"
At first, Niddler nodded, but then some sort of hesitation crossed his face.
"What?" Tula asked.
"What about Ren?"
For a moment she was lost for words. "He'll be crowned king of Octopon, and he'll rule over his lands."
"I want to stay with Ren," Niddler said. "But I also want to come back here."
Tula smiled. "We can kidnap him when the moment will come. We'll let Ioz rule."
Niddler laughed, the sound so sharp in the quiet of the nature around them.
Tula reached out for an empty flask and plunged it into the water. Niddler proceeded to help her, handing over the empty flasks, and taking them once they were full of water.
"Here's another one!" Tula said as she handed Niddler the fifth flask.
He panted. "How thirsty are your plants?" As he spoke, his eyes flicked from the bushes to the treetops. It would not take long before Niddler decided to fly away and gorge on whatever fruit he could find.
Tula felt her lips spread into a smile. "Just one more!"
She dipped the last flask into the water when a funny image of Niddler sneaking away to haunt for melons flashed in her head. It was just a moment of distraction, and yet it was enough to cause a breach in the walls she had erected, and suddenly Tula was the water. She was the flow and every single drop. She was a tiny fish, she could see her own hand gripping the flask underwater. She brushed against it, feeling the rough skin. A hundred tiny bodies wriggled all around her. And Tula was the stream, swirling them around her hand.
Then she breathed and shut the feeling back inside the walls. She opened her eyes and quickly looked at Niddler, hoping he didn't notice anything was amiss. But Niddler was gaping at her hand still underwater.
Tula looked down and gasped. What seemed to be like hundred tiny tadpoles were swimming in circles around her hand. And her hand was glowing with a soft blue light.
"You're..." Niddler looked at her, shock plain on his face. "Pretty popular with the tadpoles, Tula!"
"Yes," she stuttered, removing her hand from the water. She dropped the flask in the process and watched as the stream carried it away together with the tadpoles. "Isn't it?"
She examined her hand, the blue light still engulfed it like a cold flame.
"That light, again!" She tapped her hand over her legs, trying to extinguish the blue flame.
"Just as I suspected," a voice cut in from the thick vegetation behind them.
Tula cursed, she couldn't help it. "Teron, what are you-"
"You have the elemental touch," Teron said, as he slowly paced towards her, his cane rattling so loud Tula wondered how in the twenty seas had she failed to hear it. Daron had always been right, she was a clueless, unfocused easy prey.
She forced a laugh. "I think you should go back-"
"The power of an ecomancer!"
Tula jumped out of the stream, shaking her head. She had committed a deadly mistake, Teron should have never seen that. He had said that out loud, it was too late. And yet she would not let him win.
"Impossible!" she shouted. "I'm no ecomancer!" she turned her back to Teron.
She heard him approach this time.
"Can you feel it, child?" Teron smiled as he cupped her hand in his. "Because I can feel it," he closed his eyes and the blue flames were back, engulfing their joined hands.
"The ecomancer's fire grows strong within you. You have it, my child. The power to control nature."
Her eyes closed on their own will, and Tula was the wind, she was the ground under her feet, she was a dagron flying in the sky.
"Stop!" she shouted, sliding back into her body. She yanked her hand away from Teron's clutch. "I'm no mystic! I'm a warrior, a warrior! I was raised for battle!"
"You were raised for battle, but you were born an ecomancer." Andorian flowed gently and warm from Teron's mouth when he said, "Sometimes a person's true calling comes when she least expects it."
Tula shook her head. "I don't want this."
Teron reached out to cup her cheek. "You were given a rare and precious gift, my child. Who gave it to you?"
A gift. Tula looked away.
"Who gave it to you?" he asked again.
"Father," she spat.
Teron nodded. "As I suspected."
Tula shouldn't have been grateful for the roar that breached through the sky, but for a heartbeat, that was the way she felt. Then the shapes of three dagrons appeared above their heads, and whatever gratitude she had dared to feel turned to ashes.
"Dagrons!" screeched Niddler.
Tula recognized one of the riders, she had met him, cornered him and then let him sneak before her eyes. Konk.
"Niddler!" she said, eyes trained on the dagrons. The familiar sense of calmness preceding a fight flowing through her body. "Take Teron!"
"What about you?" Niddler peeped.
"Now," Tula uttered. "Get back to the Wraith."
Niddler did as she commanded. He got hold of Teron and soared skyward.
Tula heard Konk's grunt something she did not catch over the sound of the winds, but it didn't matter, she figured that out when two riders steered their dagrons her way, and the piglet's dagron dashed after Niddler.
Tula had fought more men and women that she could count, humans and humanoids alike, trained fighters and stumbling drunkards. Never in her life, she had to face a beast the size of a dagron. Let alone two.
It was too late to flee. Instinctively, she assumed the fighting position, her body shifting sideways, right foot in front. However, when her hands reached for the weapons, she couldn't help the cry of horror escaping her lips.
Tula had felt pretty in her new clothes, their silk was the finest fabric her skin had ever touched. The weapons had looked so out of place that for once, Tula had allowed herself to be a silly, vain girl. She had left her blades under her mattress. A mistake she would pay dearly.
Her chest tightened again, a feeling igniting inside it. Don't let it. Be still. Focus.
Daron had one, indisputable rule: when you fight, you don't feel. Tula chased the feeling away, smothering it, letting the familiar numbness spread inside her chest. She felt it flow down into her limbs, taking over until she was a warrior again. An unfeeling, warrior, ready to kill.
With what? A voice shouted inside her head. She was unarmed, and the feeling slammed back into her chest.
She saw the dagrons diving downward. They were coming for her.
At least you'll die wearing pretty clothes.
Or maybe they wouldn't kill her. Maybe the order was to bring her back to the Maelstrom. Where Bloth would kill her.
And what if Konk caught Teron? And Niddler. Would Konk let his dagron kill him or would he bring him too back to the Maelstrom? Would they torture them to find out how to get to Ren? Would they kill them after that?
Yes, they will.
A small gap breached through the walls, and a distinct feeling sneaked through it. It was fear.
Still, breathe, fight, don't feel.
But it was too late not to feel. The fear morphed into anger.
The gap in the walls expanded.
The dagrons roared and she felt it deep inside her gut. The anger was a burning, living thing. Anger for Bloth, anger for the Dark Water, anger for being a silly girl and forsaking her weapons.
But the anger flared into a pure, scorching fury when the winds carried the foul stench of dagron right to her nose.
The walls came crashing down. And as the feelings took over her body and mind, Tula was the dagron.
She felt her wings spread wide, and the winds blowing hard against them. She saw the blue stream below and a girl standing next to it still as stone. She was flying down towards that girl. The rider had ordered her to, and she had to do as he said or pain would follow. She craved to tear the girl apart. They hadn't fed her in days, she was starved.
Then she felt the hit of a kick, she felt the string of the saddle tight around her body. She heard the rider yelled ya, it was an order to fly faster.
She roared and relished the rider's fear when she reached for his leg and dived her long fangs into the flesh. She tasted the blood on her tongue. The rider bellowed when she yanked him off the saddle and let him fall down. He screamed one last time before crushing to the ground.
She looked to the other dagron, who had stopped mid-air and was now floating aimlessly in the sky. It was ignoring the yells of its rider, whose panic was plain to see.
Before launching herself at him, she threw her head up in the air and roared. The rider shouted as she crashed over him, closing her jaws around his neck. He was already dead when she opened her mouth and let him fall down.
Then she turned to the girl still standing next to the stream and launched herself down at her.
Tula opened her eyes and the first thing she realized was that she was shaking as a leaf. Her hand flicked over her arms, shoulders, chest. She was still human, still her. She raised her head and saw the dagrons coming for her.
An instinct made her lift her hand and shout, "Back!"
At that, the dagrons stopped.
"Down!" It was Andorian coming from her mouth now, but the language made no difference to the dagrons. She felt the bound with them, and they did as she ordered them to.
The dagron she approached did not protest when she climbed on top of the saddle and gripped the reins. The stench of the beast almost made her gag, but she reached out for its neck and patted it. Its green skin felt rough and scratchy under her hand, it was like touching a jagged stone. Tula secured her feet in the stirrups.
"Fly!" she uttered, and the dagron soared up into the sky, obeying like a well-trained dog.
It was the power of an ecomancer.
Tula shook her head, no time for that kind of musing, she had to find Niddler and Teron, and warn Ren. "Find them!" she yelled to the beast, who suddenly changed its course. It knew who she was talking about and it knew where to find the third dagron, the one Konk was riding.
As the dagron changed direction and she looked at the sea, she saw the shape of a leviathan over the horizon, that made her blood run cold. The Maelstrom. She had to warn Ren, immediately.
The Wraith looked even smaller from the sky, and from that height, she realized how truly beautiful her white sails were when spread.
She reached out for the dagron's neck. "Down!" she said, and the beast started to slowly descend.
As Tula approached the ship, she could see her crewmates preparing to cast off. They must have seen Konk's dagron chasing Niddler.
Both men unsheathed their weapons when they heard the flapping wings behind them. At first, she saw the horror on their faces, which then quickly shifted to something akin to shock.
"Follow me!" she shouted. "We have to save Teron and Niddler."
She didn't hear his voice, but she saw Ren mouthing her name.
"Maelstrom on the starboard, they're approaching," she said before commanding the dagron to chase Konk.
As fast as Niddler could fly, he couldn't keep up with the speed of a dagron. She saw Konk producing something from the saddle, the wind spread it out like a sail. It was a net. Tula had to act fast.
"Get him," she said, placing a hand over her dagron's neck. "Fast."
The beast roared, and then launched itself at Konk.
The piglet had been spinning the net above his head, ready to throw. His hand froze in the air when he noticed the shadow looming above him. The net fell limp in his hand. Konk looked up, eyes filled with terror.
"Seize him," Tula said.
Her dagron dived downward, and Konk screamed when its paws clutched around him. It was easy for the dagron to yank him off the saddle.
"Release," Tula said.
Obedient, the dagron let him go, and Konk went down into the sea with a loud scream.
Tula kicked her dagron's flanks, and the beast flew like the wind. It didn't take long before she reached Niddler and Teron.
"Tula?" Niddler screeched, his voice so loud she could hear it with no effort over the roaring winds. "I never thought I'd seen you on a dagron!"
"Bring Teron here!" she answered. She had a lot to explain to her crew, but it could still be delayed for a while.
Niddler obeyed, flying above her, he lowered Teron until he was sitting behind her in the saddle.
He wrapped his fragile arms around her waist. "Good work, my child," he said. "Where's Ren?"
"Following in our path."
"Then let's fly on," he said. "Towards the north, he can catch up to us there."
"What's north?" she asked.
"You'll see, my child."
Tula didn't have time to ask further questions. She looked north and ordered the dagron to fly on. "Niddler," she shouted. "Follow us!"
The monkeybird obeyed too.
It was after some time that Tula noticed the other two dagrons had been following them. She hadn't ordered them to, but the dagrons had been Bloth's property, any desire for freedom had surely been beaten out of them. Tula pitied those beasts.
Teron's hand came to lay on her shoulder. "We're almost there, my child. I can see the shore."
She looked straight ahead, Teron was right. Land stood out over the horizon. And as the dagron stroke its powerful wings, the scrap of land grew bigger and bigger in front of her eyes, finally revealing the shape of an island spreading out for leagues and leagues over the sea. It almost looked as big as Andorus.
It was not long before Tula noticed something about the island was terribly wrong. No land should have looked that dark, where was the green of the treetops? She could make out the trunks, and the hills behind, but the island was as dark as the night. It looked completely barren. Even worse, it looked dead, why would Teron-
Tula's eyes felt on the shape of a tree towering above all the others. Even from the distance, she could see its trunk was thicker than any trunk had the right to be. But it was absurd. That couldn't be. That couldn't just be.
"That island," she said, a silent question she couldn't bring herself to ask.
She heard Teron sigh behind her. "Don't you recognize your homeland anymore?"
The feeling was like an ice cold dagger in the guts. Stabbing once, twice, ten more times.
Tula had left Andorus on a boat heading south. She hadn't looked behind once, as the sails had caught the wind and the boat had skimmed over the sea. Taking her away. She hadn't looked behind once.
The feelings were smothering her, and Tula was not strong enough to fight them. She let the dagron fly them to the devastated land.
UPDATE: The next chapter of Andorus will be up on March 9.
UPDATE 2: Sorry, guys, I know I've already changed the publishing date twice, but life got in the way and even today I won't be able to post the new chapter. I promise it will be up on March 14. Sorry again!