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A Measure of Solace

Chapter Three

“So, why don’t you think my people are good enough?” Zeera asked suddenly, as if they were continuing a conversation.

Solace had been drifting in and out of consciousness for several hours as they traveled east, his wooden body bumping along softly across her back. The girl had been walking on a rough path, climbing up the side of the valley, through trees and scrub, and over rocky slopes covered in scree. Though Solace had no eyes, he could discern what was around him with his magical senses, with living things especially bright in his consciousness.

The bow considered her question for a moment, aiming to be as courteous as he could manage. She was, after all, helping him do what was simply impossible to manage on his own.

One such as I requires a wielder with a steady hand, he began. But even more important than that, my master must have both a calm heart and a controlled spirit.

“All right. That makes sense. And?”

 

And the sense I have gotten from those I have met and from you as well—in no small measure—is the great passion of your people.

Solace felt the girl’s offense, swift and sharp. “What’s wrong with passion?”

This is what I mean. You are quick to anger, Zeera. This is typical of your people, and therefore not suitable for me.

“You equate a fiery spirit with a lack of control?”

How can I not?

Zeera’s steps slowed, but only for a moment. “I would have thought you’d like anger and that sort of thing. You’re a weapon, after all.”

I am indeed a weapon.

They were both quiet for a time as Zeera climbed to the top of the slope. A vast sea of nothingness stretched out before them, and she inhaled deeply. The expansion of her chest stretched Solace’s bowstring, almost as if he, too, were breathing.

What is ahead of us? I can sense nothing but a distant blur of life.

“We’re at the top of a bluff, looking east toward the town of Velzuna. That’s where your new master is waiting—I’d bet anything.”

Zeera began her descent, slipping on the scree and having to find secure footing one step at a time, using her walking stick to clear a path. Once the ground leveled out, and the rock gave way to dirt once more, the girl spoke.

“Why is control so important? Is it for truer aim?”

Aim is important, certainly. But for one such as I, control of one’s spirit is what fuels magical essence.

“What do you mean?”

My master’s emotion fuels my emotion in battle, and combines with it.

Zeera’s steps slowed. “I don’t understand.”

After a moment, Solace decided it would be easier, and far faster, to simply show the girl.

Have you wondered why you found no arrows at the base of that cliff? No quiver?

“No. Not really.”

Stop and hold me up, as though to aim an arrow.

“But I have no arrows.”

You have no arrows yet. Please, just do as I say.

She sighed. “All right.”

The girl unslung Solace from her back and brought him up, one hand on his grip and the other gently grasping his string. “Now what?”

Now summon forth your despair at having lost your mother, the most desperate sorrow you can remember experiencing.

Solace waited, the warmth of Zeera’s hand tingling his grip. Soon there was more there than just warmth. The want, the need, the emptiness of loss pulsed from her hand and flowed into Solace.

Yes.

He let it fill him, and as it did, he let out his own feelings, the heartache he had been keeping shut away, a little at a time, like a tiny stream from a punctured waterskin.

The emptiness grew and swirled, like storm clouds circling and darkening within him. He felt the tingling, buzzing power of his magic as it came to life.

Yesss.

The tempest filled Solace, equal parts despair and loss, need and want. A crackling spark of energy formed where Zeera’s fingers held his string, and she squeaked in alarm, letting him drop. As he clattered to the hard ground, the magical spark and the swirling emotion both faded to nothing, eventually winking out like the last red ember in a bed of black coals.

“What happened?” Zeera asked, steadying herself and looking down at Solace. “It felt like you shocked me.”

I assure you, it would not have harmed you, nor would I want it to.

“Then what was it?”

My magic. Your emotion, through me, creates the arrow. It begins at my string and forms the shaft as you draw.

She stood staring at him for a moment more before picking him up. “I’ve never heard of such magic.” She dusted him off, though the wood of his body was as pristine as ever. “I’m sorry I dropped you.”

You are forgiven, Zeera. You simply lack the focus and emotional control to wield such as I.

She sighed, slinging Solace back over her shoulder. “So it seems.” The girl peered around at the darkening sky. “We won’t make it to Velzuna before dark. I guess I’d better find a tree.”

A tree?

She nodded. “Safest place to sleep out here. Nothing can climb except lemurs, and they don’t care about people.”

After finding a suitable tree, the girl scrambled up with the agility of a lizard and settled down in a crook where two large branches met the trunk. She removed Solace and nestled him securely between two other branches. Before long, her breathing had deepened.

“Good night, Solace,” she said, her voice slow and soft with impending sleep.

Good night, Zeera.

As the girl drifted off, Solace pondered her failed attempt at forming an arrow. The hope he had fostered, the wisp of optimism he had allowed himself only hours before, began to fade. It seemed his chance of finding a worthy master among the local population was slim indeed.

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