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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 62: Brown 73
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Winter was considerably more comfortable after that. Morani tended to credit his insulation and the soul of the tree, but Derek could tell that his mother suspected something. When he was chilly, he would find a quiet corner in which to sit, stare at the air in front of him, and create another warm breeze. More than once he realized as he released the warmed air into the room that she was watching him.
Winter ended and the walls came down to let them back into the world. They slept still in the warmth of their tree bed, but days were spent outside. Derek realized that he was now almost two–a very strange concept for a boy who had died at twelve and lived a decade or two beyond that as a twelve year old. Lelach began taking him out of the clearing quite a bit, mostly foraging for nuts and berries and small fruit which would become part of their meals.
She also took time to teach him about fire–first how to tend it, to keep it burning enough but not too much, how to find and recognize good firewood for it, and ultimately how to start it. This was most fascinating for Derek, as it was completely unlike anything he'd known before. He was tempted to think it magical, yet it was more the sort of magic of butterflies and chameleons–a thing that sprites could do because they were sprites. First she built a fireplace, light bits of wood with shredded leaves and dried grasses. She then took some very fine shreds of grass, strands thinner than sprite hair, chopped up almost to powder, and held these in her hands. The light in her body grew brighter, and particularly in her hands, until suddenly the grass burst into flames, and she dropped it in a shower of sparks and embers onto the waiting tinder below.
There was a lot to this. It wasn't some magical incantation that created fire. He had to learn to prepare the tinder–there was a spritish word, mithissela, for this that was finer than tinder, but no English equivalent. There was more to building a fire than merely stacking wood; it had to be designed to carry its own heat and flame throughout itself so that it would burn evenly. Of course, most important was learning to focus his own body heat into his hands, to warm them enough to ignite the mithissela. This he could not do at first; it took him most of the summer to learn to do it. He was tempted just to use his mind to heat it, but it seemed important to him to learn to do what sprites did, to be in every way he could an ordinary sprite first, and an extraordinary one second.
Gathering wood was a different matter. His mother now let him move out of her sight for moments here and there as they foraged, as long as he did not go too far. Now he started looking for larger animals to contact. These were still rare, and generally only seen in fleeting glimpses; but he managed to get a solid look at the mind of a deer, which he imagined might someday be useful (although he chose not to call any deer to himself).
Breaking the wood was challenging in itself. He did not have much weight to put into it, so he was forced to rely on his still limited strength. He realized that this would help build up his muscles (and thought that might be why they wanted him to do it, since he wasn't otherwise very good at it). But sometimes he could not break a particular stick no matter how much effort he put into it. He wondered about solutions for this, and eventually thought of one. The hardness of the stick, he reasoned, was because of its structure at the molecular level. He had already affected things at a molecular level–that was the best explanation for why his heating trick worked. Could he perhaps weaken the bonds in one specific place, such that it would give when he applied pressure? It was worth trying. It was so worth trying that even when he did not succeed the first time, he tried it again the next day, and again periodically over several weeks, until finally he was successful.
If he could weaken molecular bonds, could he do other things to the structure of materials? He wondered what might be useful; but in his present situation, that generally meant what things had practical applications to his rather sequestered life. He took a nap each afternoon still, lying on the grass in the clearing. On a whim, he decided to try to soften the earth a bit, to make a more comfortable mattress, and succeeded in this. He could heat his cereal if it got cold, but also cool it if it was too hot.
One afternoon, by himself down by the water, he dredged up a bit of clay and began to shape it. He wasn't thinking too much about what to make; he was more interested in whether he could cause the clay to harden by a process other than heating or drying. He started to make a toy soldier, but couldn't get the detail right. A trumpet came to mind, a simple bugle sort of thing he could blow; but he couldn't create tubing, so it wouldn’t function. In the end, he decided on a toy gun, something simple but detailed enough that he, at least, would recognize it, with a barrel and a trigger and trigger guard. Focusing into the clay, he hardened it easily, and then thought about what to do with his new toy. It reminded him again (he had so long ignored that sense of direction that he had to stop to find it) that somewhere he had a gun, a very nice laser rifle, probably buried under the ground nearby. It was useless in this world, most likely, quite apart from the fact that it was far too big to be any use to him. But the toy was a nice replica, even if of a far more primitive weapon.
When his mother came down to check on him, the sight of the gun upset her greatly.
"What is that?" she said.
Derek was not at all certain he could explain a gun to his mother; even the word seemed completely alien in this place.
"It's just a toy I made; it's nothing really."
"Morani, did you ever see something like this? Anywhere?"
Derek had still never ventured to tell his mother he had lived other lives in other worlds; he was not about to do so now. But the gun was solid evidence that he knew something she didn't know he knew. "No, mom. In a dream, maybe. It was just something I saw in my head, so I made it."
"Morani, if you ever see anything like this, anywhere, stay away from it. These are very dangerous, and will hurt you."
"Yes, mom. I will."
She stared at him a moment longer, as if she did not believe his protestations of innocence. "Come, it's time for lunch. Wash your hands–and get rid of that thing."
She headed back up toward the clearing, and Derek tossed the clay gun into the water. This was serious, he realized. His parents had spoken of the need for a deliverer, but he had no idea what he was up against. Someone had guns in this world, and it wasn't the sprites.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #183: Verser Transitions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: