I'm sorry, Grandmother.

I din't mean it. I didn't mean to do it.

I was angry, angry that you didn't understand, and angry that you understood only too well.

Those eyes of yours pierce me through, see every corner of my soul, but your mouth doesn't know the secret that your eyes do. It speaks as though it thinks I am happy with this life.

I was mad at you for decieving yourself.

She was babbling happily about the preparations.

"Danka and Tetmanti are making a new cloak for you from the rabbit fur they have been saving. It will keep you warm in the winter. Your little cousins, Danti and Ji'er, have something special planned so I won't go into it right now. Your mother--"

I wasn't listening to her. I was staring into the dancing flames of her fire and tracing my finger over the carved shapes on her staff.

It was leaning against the plain hard stone of the wall; that was its place and it was never to leave that spot...

"--and started on the roof. It should be done soon and then--"

But still she took it from its place every night, took it from her house to the side of the campfire outside where she told its stories.

She told of how it was made from the wood of the Nambi tree long ago, and how the Nambi could only be found in a little valley far beyond the sea, the valley of dreams. Then she would tell us a story...

And I sat there, tracing every line of the carvings, lost in my own thoughts.

"--Ji'an?"

I was suddenly snapped back to reality. "What?"

She stared at me with those all-seeing eyes, but her mouth spoke as if it knew nothing at all.

"What's wrong, Little Sparrow?"

Those eyes knew. She knew. But she kept pretending that she didn't know... and suddenly I hated her. I hated her hypocrisy. I hated her face. I hated her little knobbly hands and her wild hair.

But, most of all, I hated that mouth.

She was the storyteller of our village, and that mouth was her tool... but she also had another tool... one that was within my grasp now.

I was on my feet in an instant, a sudden raging fire in my breast. I must have seemed the very devil at that moment. I was staring into the fire... those violently crackling flames... In my hand was the wooden staff...

I stood there. Still. In that moment. Time almost stopped as I stood there, staring at the flames.

"Ji'an?"

The sound of her voice, that croaky tinny, aggravated me even more.

"I hate this place!" I screamed, and, before I knew what I was doing, I was no longer holding the staff. It was crackling in the flames.

Centuries of history. Lost.

In horror, I turned to her.

Her eyes were wide with shock, full of tears.