Chapter 6

"I don't understand," Carrie admitted, once the priestess and her bodyguard had left.

"What about?" Divine stood carefully. The room didn't spin again. Good.

"Everything!" she exclaimed. "You're saying I'm not alive!"

"I'm not," he corrected. He traced the stone. "And that depends on how you define being alive."

"Uhh… doing what we always do, I guess?" When Divine didn't acknowledge the answer, she continued. "I mean… eating, sleeping, working… dreaming."

"And thinking and choosing," Divine agreed. 'But babies don't work. Are they dead, then?"

"No, they cry and that's their work. Working to eat, to be cleaned… to stay alive."

"I suppose. Then what choices does a baby have?"

She couldn't answer that. "Babies are reliant on instinct, and the help of others. Priests and others who can see aura consider them alive only because their aura is red."

"Red," she repeated. "The priestess said my aura was blue. A dark blue."

"Still is," Divine sighed. "A light blue is death. Purple is a sickness that's devouring the body and soul."

"Someone who's going to die soon?"

"Essentially. But the aura grows lighter the longer a person is dead. It's never as dark as yours. And yours isn't red - doesn't even have a trace of red to say you're alive."

"Then you are saying…"

"That is based purely on your aura," Divine reminded. "You are no different otherwise than before, are you?"

"Guess not… It's everyone else that's gone."

He turned to her. Her face had drooped again. "I'm fine." She'd caught his gaze, then. "They weren't the first and I'll always be sad when I remember them, but i need to keep on living as well. It's just… at the time…"

"Yes," he agreed. "Unfortunately, that's what I usually have to deal with."

"That's the other thing." She looked calmer now that they'd agreed she was alive, regardless of the odd state of her aura. "Why don't you and the priestess like each other? Don't you do the same thing?"

"We disagree on how, I suppose," Divine sighed. "Some of it is bitterness. They have the recognition and stability we don't, but they pay too high a price for it."

"She is blind," Carrie noted.

"They're all blind. Or, rather, they all become blind, so all they can see now is the colour of auras."

"But you don't have to… to see auras."

"No," Divine agreed. "That's something you're born with."

"Oh. So I'll never see the colours."


"Oh," Carrie said again. "And magic?"

"Anyone can use that." Divine stared at her again. That wasn't innocent curiosity. "It's just people here don't know how. Or don't have an energy source they can willingly sacrifice for it."

"Do I?"

"You should be able to answer that yourself." His other runes were okay. It was just the one on his head and the stone… Both she'd touched.

"I know I don't know how." It was almost cute how she sounded exasperated in that moment. But such images were fleeting. Children - company in general - were far more complex. And Carrie was complex as well. "I meant if I had access to an energy source."

"If your body isn't pouring all its resources into keeping you alive, then yes. Though who knows if it's enough to accomplish anything."

Her eyes brightened at that, and she lifted her hand. He saw the healing scars - light pink drawing out the rune for heat he'd given her when they'd first met. "I have this. It's the same as your stones. I tried to sweat the fever out of you but I guess it didn't work."

"I was tired and low on energy," Divine relied, and marvelled at how he was comforting her again. People, by habit, didn't latch on to him. He wasn't the sort of person who invited them, and yet she stayed. The guard was right regarding that. She'd walked a day and part of a night to the village because she'd worried for him. Or perhaps that was guilt, whether he'd pushed himself too far trying to send her off or if that strange aura of hers was more telling.

They were walking blind with that. In the eat they could search the library and perhaps find something of note but priests ruled the east. He wasn't returning there for anything. But ignorance wasn't an option if her mere presence would be a leak in all he connected: his own energy that became his weapon, and the energy of the dead that became his livelihood. She could tip the sick who clung to life into death, but also could free the dead who clung to the earth. Or perhaps it was an affinity only to him who'd poured his strength into coaxing her on until they'd been flung by the third part interfering. Or maybe it was a side-effect of that and would fade with time, or maybe it was a simple overexertion cause.

The priests were slippery after all. They were blind by definition but saw more than they admitted. He didn't like them. He didn't trust them… But did that also mean he was disregarding his own hypothesis because a priestess agreed?

"Mister?" Carrie had come closer while he'd checked over his things, but not touching. Instead, she clung to herself to avoid doing so. But they didn't know if it was touch or proximity that did it, or if she was just a distraction from the true cause. They'd find out, he supposed, if she wasn't going to leave and he wasn't going to kick her out.

"It can be done." It took a moment for Divine to recall what they were talking about; his mind had wandered so far. "And it does need direct contact, with the contact a conduit - but it's dangerous if you're not the stronger spirit. The other person can leach enough heat to kill you if you can't pull back. It's safer to carve the rune onto them because the only energy it costs you is the initial burst. Then the rest is up to the other person."

"But they can't always?"

"The alternative is draining yourself dry for someone else." And he didn't. But she had walked a day and a night through the snow for him: an essential stranger. "You have the greatest responsibility towards your own life - but sometimes, parents think themselves the exception."

"You don't think that man - Bal - "

She didn't latch onto the issue of parents, at least. He realised a little ate he could have opened up that topic all over again. "No," he said instead. "In the spur of the moment, perhaps, but to choose that consciously when there are all too many opportunities to pull back and salvage yourself instead… no."

"That is sad," she decided. "But maybe it's good. The power to decide who lives and who dies… At least we can blame nature and God instead of each other."

That was unexpectedly wise, but naive as well: blaming intangible concepts until they need to channel their bitterness into something that's there. But their souls said differently. That which they didn't channel through life screamed loudly in death - and the easiest souls to send on were the all caustic ones who were more than pleased to leave a world of humans behind.

He double-checked himself. He had everything except food and drink in his stomach. "Have you eaten?" he asked.

She shook her head. He sighed. "I showed you where the food is kept," he scolded her.

She looked horrified. "I couldn't!" she exclaimed. "I'm already imposing - and then you weren't walking up and I had to find someone to help - "

"I suppose it's not fair," He interrupted, "since I've just told you now, but while you stay with me, you are to take care of yourself before worrying about anyone else. That means eating on time - whether you forage for yourself or use my stores - sleeping on time and not taking any unnecessary risks. And if I ever tell you to stay or run, you do that."

"It's okay?" she asked hesitantly, "for me to stay?"

"If it wasn't." He went outside. They both needed a good meal. "I would have asked you to leave already."

"But why?" She followed him outside and then back in, staring at the earthcrops and slab of meat - which he cut into quarters, and then two of those into finer slices and put the other two back.

"Because you chose to stay. And I chose to not force you to leave."

"Oh," carrie said. She did that a lot - or was that something all children did? "Are you going out hunting?"

"We are," he corrected. "Going to the watchtower, at least." He'd lost three days, after all. And now he had a soulstone that may not be able to handle as much strain as it once could.

"Where the heat magic is?" At Divine's nod, she added: "Is there other magic there too?"

'You'll see when we get there." He checked the food. The meat he flipped, but the earthcrops needed to thaw some more.

"Aww." Carrie pouted at him. "Why don't we use more magic here?"

"Who knows?" Divine shrugged. "Maybe the same reason as to why the Easterners are so steeped in it. Having said that though, some reject it."

"Reject magic?" Carrie asked. "They hate it?"

"And act on it. Here, at least, the worst internal quarrels are between the priests and spiritual mercenaries and they tend to have an unquenchable well of patients - and intolerance."

Carrie frowned, processing that. "Then you weren't always here?"

"The eyes didn't give it away?" he asked dryly.

She stared hard at him. And it was rather amusing to realise she'd never looked - or noted - the colour of his eyes amongst all the other colourful things in his home. "The priestess lady is more obvious," she defended herself. "She has hair."

He did laugh at that. "That's a trouble I do very well without."

"You don't have to brush it twice a day," Carrie agreed, fingering her long single braid. "At least."