To read Part 8, click here. All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

Dry leaves on the forest floor, dappled in late-afternoon sunlight, crackled underfoot on the dusty path. Ina barely noticed them because the crickets trilled so loudly, announcing the change of seasons. Sunlight glinted, also, from the silver clasp that Luz always wore in her glossy dark hair.

Soon the path took a right turn beside the river, winding ever upward. Water tumbled over moss-bright rocks in the shade of a narrow ravine. Thick ferns jutted out of the banks, with trees clinging to the slopes above.

Photo of a river tumbling over dark, mossy rocks.

They had passed Daphne some time ago, standing as still on the riverbank as if she had been a tree herself. Her eyes were closed and her face blissfully serene.

“She is becoming one with the moss as it grows,” Luz had murmured, in a voice so quiet that it almost could not be heard over the constant background sounds of the crickets and rushing water.

Climbing higher, they had passed Phoenix as well, gazing out from a ridge toward the half-moon on the horizon. Luz had given a brief explanation for that, as well. “She is listening to the moon’s song.”

The path narrowed, taking another turn through a dense stand of laurels before coming out on a stony rise. Only one tree grew here, a majestic oak with a wide-spreading crown that overshadowed the low bushes and grass around it.

“Five hundred years old, at least,” Luz said, following Ina’s gaze toward the tree. “We’ve come far enough; now you must begin your task, which is to feel the storm in the air.”

The sky ahead was clear to the horizon. The cool, crisp air held no hint of rain, and Ina felt only the lightest breeze at her back. She turned her head to glance from one side to the other, perplexed.

“But there isn’t a storm.”

Luz only smiled.

Turning all the way around to look back down the hill they had just climbed, Ina saw a distant line of pale gray clouds. That didn’t look much like a storm to her, but it seemed to be the closest thing she was going to find. The breeze coming from that direction grew stronger as Ina focused her attention on it. Her long sleeves flapped in a sudden gust. Yes, now that was starting to feel more like a storm. The clouds were darker than they had been a minute ago, and definitely closer. The air had gotten thicker and heavier. It was unsettled and full of potential…

Ina felt the lightning strike an instant before she saw it. Although the sky overhead still looked perfectly clear, a huge bolt crackled through the air, striking the old oak tree and splitting it down the middle. The halves, both burning, fell into the dry underbrush. Flames leapt hungrily into the grass and shrubs nearby.

“Oh! I didn’t mean to do that—oh, the forest will burn, everything is so dry.” Ina stood helplessly wringing her hands in dismay as the fire went on spreading, driven by gusty winds that continued to grow stronger.

“You must put out the fire, Ina, now.” Luz cut through her confusion and fear with a brisk command. “Remember all the days you practiced in the library this summer, putting out candles with only your thoughts. Bringing a forest fire under control is within your power, also.”

The roaring flames swept farther into the dry forest, not in the least resembling the tame little candles on the desks in the library. Ina tentatively reached her awareness toward it, feeling its greedy delight as it consumed brush and trees, casting sparks high into the air. The fire felt her presence, resented her interference; it wanted her gone. It snarled in her thoughts, angry as a bear interrupted while gnawing on a fresh kill—and it turned to attack her.

Sensing the change in the storm before it happened, Ina already had leaped backward by pure reflex before a powerful gust lifted a blazing branch from the ground and flung it viciously in her direction. She shrieked, unable to help herself, overcome by terror; but Luz, who looked as calm as ever, made a small hand gesture that sent the branch falling harmlessly into the charred grass.

Ina took a breath of the smoky air and tried to compose herself. The air still felt thick and heavy, and the sky overhead was getting darker—not just with smoke, most of which was still blowing in the other direction. Was it night already? But no, those were thunderclouds above her; she had felt them earlier, just as Luz had instructed, and she had brought them here.

The clouds were so high above the ground that the fire’s intense heat could not reach them. Instead, the swirling wind carried with it the heaviness of the clouds cooling as nightfall approached. Ina searched her thoughts for the word that described this process: condensation. Small droplets coming together, growing larger and heavier until the clouds could no longer bear their weight.

She felt a raindrop on her face, and then another. All at once it was pouring, the rain coming down so heavily that Ina wouldn’t have been able to see Luz, only a few paces away, if the woman’s faint silhouette hadn’t been backlit by the orange glow of the flames. But that glow soon faded; and the rain stopped, just as abruptly as it had begun, leaving a gorgeous orange sunset and a forest that was mostly intact but for a small, soggy blackened area.

“I’m s-sorry,” Ina said through chattering teeth, folding her wet arms across her soaked clothes. She felt that whatever she might say was nowhere near adequate. “I didn’t want to kill that beautiful old tree.”

“It is nature’s way. Everything that lives must die.” Luz turned away from the tree’s charred remains, taking a step toward the path that led back down the hill. “We care for the forest and the world as best we can, but nothing endures forever.”

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