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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Remembrance In Stone

Amanda C. Davis is a combustion engineer who loves baking, gardening, and gory low-budget slasher films. Her short fiction has appeared in Shock Totem, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and others. You can follow her on Twitter (@davisac1) or read more of her work at amandacdavis.com. Go to www.dailysciencefiction.com to read her other stories for DSF.

Fire sings of pain: the tingling victories and the scorching failure. When Badra calls on fire, her skin lights up in sympathetic memory. When she gets her scars too close to the flame, they prick the way they did the first time they were burned. The scars recall the wound.
Fire is pain, and air does not quench it. Air is a blow from behind, disorienting pressure, empty lungs. Air is so heavy. Badra had no idea. If Gera had lived to teach her air, she'd have been prepared. Instead the air runes fell on her shoulders like boulders, squeezed her life out breath by breath, until she was so weak and so afraid she called back the runes and broke the spell. Air sings of cowardice, because weeks passed before Badra dared to try again.
Gera taught her water. Rune by rune, they built ponds out of droplets and rivers out of trickles. They drank magic and bathed in magic and danced under magic when the clouds burst.
But water was not Gera's strength, only her first lesson, and there came a day of too much water.
Badra hates to think of it, but it drives her like a demon.
After the soil had nearly dried, and Gera had gone to ground, Badra ran to the sea. She called it to her ankles, to her knees. She met it the rest of the way: waist, shoulders, the top of her hair. Enveloped in her new enemy, she let her feet leave the sand and filled the sea with every rune she knew: every command, every blessing, every curse. The swollen sea paid her no attention. Its waves were heavy as falling air. With the sand as its cudgel, it rolled her like a stone in a sack of boulders. Badra welcomed the abuse. Dared it for more. Water sings of its own crimes.
At last the sea heeded her rune of apology--or maybe grew tired of her--and she rolled to shore, half dead. Not dead enough.
She cast fire on the shore, but it was weak and neither warmed nor dried her. She called air, but it was cold, a feeble breeze. She trudged home to Gera's cottage, aching inside and out.
The soil on Gera's grave was still fresh. At the door to the cottage Badra stopped and looked across the rough rectangle that she hadn't even managed to dig straight. She'd never find another mentor. She'd live forever half-trained, insufficient. And look where insufficiency had gotten them. "You were supposed to be powerful," hissed Badra, surprised at her own venom. "You were supposed to never leave me."
The sunlight winked through a droplet of water shaken from a leaf by the gentlest breath of wind. Badra watched the drop fall and, imperceptibly quickly, sink into Gera's grave. She remembered something about earth.
Deliberately, rebelliously, Badra stepped her bare feet onto the fresh grave, so she stood above, with her mentor below. Soil shifted under her feet. She made runes with her toes. Stones rolled over ground and tapped her ankles.
A handful of dirt is a stone crushed by uncountable years. It is diffuse, but press it hard enough, and it still knows how to be stone.
Badra closed her eyes and let the runes of earth work through her skin. Memories filled her mind. There was Gera using runes to build walls and tear them down. To whisk air onto a dying fire or over a cooling meal. To wring water from wet laundry. To burn. And yes, there were the runes Gera had desperately sent into the rushing flood--runes that buoyed Badra to the topmost branches of a tree, along with glorious, failed runes that tangled Gera in the lower ones.
Badra was never taught those runes, but she has seen them.
Water is loss, and sacrifice. Stone is remembering.
When Badra lets the fire sing, lets the air beat her, lets water tear her, she casts runes to call stone to her aid, and Gera's teaching, and everything she could not teach, lodge in her mind, boulder-strong. She'll leave the cottage when she's a master like Gera was. Find a pupil of her own. But now she draws on pain and cowardice and loss and turns them into power, courage, and love. Her runes transform her. She has no mentor. But she did once, and Badra honors and retains her, through the songs of the runes, and the memories that fill her mind, stubborn and solid as stone.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Author Comments

This story came out of a challenge-prompt from my local writers' group, for whom I'm incredibly grateful.

- Amanda C. Davis
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