The first thing he feels after being brought back to life are the gentle strokes of wispy fingers trying to touch him. They clamor around his body—weak voices in his ear imploring him to describe every delicious detail of what he can see and feel, when he breaks through the surface of the world gasping and sputtering for air.
Today it’s the moon that has him thinking of long ago, but lately anything might do it: leaves blowing over the river, the goosegirl driving her angry geese along the road, the clatter of hooves on the bridge. The turtles. He built the turtle pond in the first month of his exile, a gesture of defiance: you will not make me other than I am! As though anyone in this district would understand the pond’s significance to an alchemist, or care.
Starvation felt familiar. In my past life I had known how to endure it, how to live for months without the taste of food. I would not call on that knowledge now. My fixed intention was to die. Until a voice spoke from the air. It misunderstood the purpose of my fast, thinking I sought through austerity to accomplish some other end. It offered to grant my desire.
Desire exploded in the girl's heart at the mention of safety and stability, rest... She quashed it. What would she do in such a world? She was a hunter. But these were gifts that would benefit her pack, gifts worth taking risks for. Even if they came with a large sense of foreboding. "Can you make me invulnerable?" she replied, giving in to the image of her death, the boar's tusks sinking into her and what it would mean for them all if she did indeed die.
Too late did the witch understand what sort of comfort the boy had sought in having his free will removed. He had not wished to know his future but to become bound to it inexorably. In this way, he felt himself absolved. He stood helpless before the sorrow given to him and blameless in the wake of the sorrow he gave to others. Neither guilt nor grief had any power over him now. It left her speechless.
It all comes down to such tiny differences; if I was one inch taller, then by standing on tiptoe and really, really straining, I could reach the apple on the branch. But when you lack it, one inch, half-inch, quarter-inch is the same as a mile. Depends where you're standing. In my line of work, we call it perspective. A quarter of an inch is all it takes to separate heaven from hell.
The bees laughed with their witch, a flurrying spiral above her head, spinning the shadows of the room like a top, and Catalina flinched. She didn’t look away, even as the Witch spoke, and those eyes showed her herself, and other things.
Something hardened in my world, the way it did every time my father told me I had to become a man and that being a man meant being brave. As something acquired another layer of earth crust, fossilizing more completely inside me, something else emerged from its cocoon like a late summer moth, soft and fragile, dancing around flames.
She took the seeds he counted out, five this time, into her hand and ate them all together. The fire did not know words, so she did not use them. She tried to fix in her mind with the same flashes it had shown her last time. She thought of arrows flying, leaping wolves, a hand pulling Hadi from the saddle, the tent around them burning. The vision burst on her tongue, sweet, tart, and peppered.